Battle Hymn Of The Gentile Mom
08/01/2011 - 13:04

With my vacation fading into memory (sob, sob), I’m finally catching up on intermarriage news from far and wide.

Or at least coming out of my erstwhile employer JTA (the full name, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, gives you a sense of just how long that media outlet has been around).

Sue Fishkoff, who has just been named editor of J, San Francisco’s Jewish weekly, has an interesting article in JTA about non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. If, like me, you’re already familiar with the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Mothers Circle (which, oddly, doesn’t get even a mention in the article) and have been following this trend for awhile (it’s even been covered in The Wall Street Journal, thanks to yours truly), you won’t find anything dramatically new in the article. Nonetheless, Fishkoff, who is herself the child of a non-Jewish mother, did a nice job of respectfully focusing on real people and their stories, rather than getting bogged down by abstract issues.

Before you get all self-righteous (I’m talking to friendly commenters who consider themselves the arbiters of true Judaism, as well as the woman who frequently and somewhat inexplicably claims, in these comments, that I think gentile women are better than Jewish women), Fishkoff underwent an Orthodox conversion, so she is Jewish according to everyone’s definition. Although I don’t think she currently identifies as Orthodox, which, I suppose, means that some in Israel’s Chief Rabbinate would like to see her conversion rescinded.

One aspect of the article I question, however, is the following assertion, which is not backed up by any data: “With most intermarriages involving Jewish men and non-Jewish women ...”

I need to research this topic, but I’ve always been under the impression that, while Jewish men intermarried more than Jewish women in the past, those rates have more or less equalized in the past decade or so. What I have heard consistently, however, is that Jewish women who intermarry raise Jewish children at much higher rates than do intermarried Jewish men.

Also of interest in JTA is an article about a recent study of Chicago’s Jewish population, which finds that while intermarriage (and the Jewish population) has increased, the percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children has also increased:

...the survey found that half of interfaith families are raising their children only Jewish. Previously only a third had been raising children solely in the Jewish faith.

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So basically this piece contained:
- Self promotion
- A swipe at the Israeli Rabbinate
- Some speculation, admittedly not based on research
- A link to an interesting JTA piece.

Could we please get something better researched and more informative next time?


I attended a panel discussion at Brandeis a few years back moderated by Shulamit Reinharz head of the Women's research center (the name escapes me) there. She claimed that the pattern is fairly steady: (Some/Many?) Jewish men prefer non-Jewish women (partially due to stereotypes of nagging Jewish mothers etc.), after a few years, the Jewish women, realizing that something is afoot, start to search out non-Jewish men. For several years, Jewish women suffered from negative stereotypes (nagging, "Jappy", prudish, money hungery etc.) while Jewish men benefited from positive stereotypes (responsible, family oriented, professional, stable, money earners, etc.) Hence, claimed Reinharz, non-Jewish women (and Jewish women) wanted Jewish men and Jewish men wanted blonde haired, easy going, respectful, non-nagging gentiles. Due to the absence of interested Jewish men, the Jewish women went searching for their own non-Jewish partners.

I don't know the stats on this, but the audience seemed to nod approvingly and take this cyclical formula as a given. You may want to speak with Reinharz or others researching this field. Maybe things have changed in the past 10 years -- or maybe the cycle has just caught up.

Either way, as you know my comments, I don't think it is positive for the Jewish future.

I'm pretty sure the 2001 NJPS showed that of intermarried Jews, 51% were men and 49% were women, i.e., a statistically insignificant difference. Thanks for pointing that out.