Women And Intermarriage

Nearly six in 10 U.S. Jews married since 2000 have a non-Jewish spouse. Are we losing identity or gaining family?

11/05/13
Jewish Week Correspondent
Heather Robinson
Heather Robinson

Jennifer Marcus Crivella, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mother and former elementary school teacher, the only child of protective parents, was raised in Pittsburgh to date “only nice Jewish boys.”

But as early as high school, the boy she really loved — now her husband — was Eric Crivella, 44, a Henry-Winkler-as-Fonzie lookalike.

“No matter what other boys I was seeing, I always wanted to be with Eric,” she said recently via speakerphone, while shuttling the couple’s children, Sydney, 3, and Tyler, 8, to play dates in the town of Katy, Texas, where the family lives.

The Crivellas’ story reflects a not-uncommon phenomenon: a couple falls in love, intermarries, the non-Jewish partner agrees to raise the children as Jews — then converts.

Never has this type of story been more relevant than at present, when, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “Portrait of American Jews” released last month, nearly six in 10 American Jews who have married since 2000 have a non-Jewish spouse.

Some Jewish communal leaders welcome interfaith couples.

“The goalpost has moved from ‘Do you marry someone Jewish?’ to ‘How will you raise your kids?’” said Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a national organization based in New York and dedicated to helping interfaith families connect to Jewish institutions and programs.

Most rabbis, even those who are savvy to the modern dating scene, take a harder line.

“I’m against Jews marrying non-Jews,” said Arnie Singer, an Orthodox rabbi who has created Jzoog.com, a new online dating website that matches Jews with other Jews and requires its users to be of the faith.

As for Jennifer and Eric, they developed feelings for each other in high school, but didn’t act on them because of the religious difference. They attended Penn State, fell in love, and after graduation, got engaged. But when Jennifer insisted that Eric convert to Judaism, he balked, calling off their engagement.

“He told me he didn’t want to feel like he was converting with a gun to his head,” she recalled.

Heartbroken, they went their separate ways, and Jennifer dated a series of Jewish men. One in particular, whom she describes as “nice,” wanted to marry her, but she didn’t feel it was right.

She never forgot Eric.

Years passed, and the couple reconnected. Jennifer agreed to marry Eric — on the condition they would raise their children as Jews. Then, several months after their wedding by civil ceremony, Eric volunteered to undergo a conversion within the Conservative movement.

“He didn’t want to be pushed into it, he wanted to do it in his own time,” said Jennifer.

Today the family observes the holidays and is planning to join Houston’s Temple Sinai.

Cases like the Crivellas’ prompt the question: will a Jewish community that shuns members who marry outside the faith be more, or less, likely to see those couples raise children as Jews?

One of Pew’s more striking revelations is that as of 2013, Jewish women are slightly more likely than Jewish men to be intermarried in the U.S.: among married Jewish women, 47 percent are married to a non-Jewish spouse, and among married Jewish men, 41 percent are married to a non-Jewish spouse.

Anecdotally, many Jewish women say that’s no surprise.

Millicent Levy-McCarthy, 40, a corporate headhunter in Charleston, S.C., grew up expecting to marry a Jewish man because doing so was important to her father, who was raised Orthodox. But at almost 36, after getting her heart broken by a man who happened to be Jewish, she found love with Enselmo “Mac” McCarthy, a naval officer who was raised Catholic.

“I married an officer and a gentleman,” she said. “I trust him without even a nanosecond of doubt, and that is more important than having religion in common would have been.”

As a single Jewish-American woman, I can’t help but wonder why it is more vital to “marry Jewish” than to marry a wonderful human being — Jewish, non-Jewish and interested in converting or raising a Jewish child without converting — when Judaism is (for two of the three main branches) matrilineal? (So any child I bear, if I am so blessed, will be Jewish). And when some of the greatest leaders of our people were not of “pure” Jewish ancestry?

King David was descended from Ruth, a great biblical heroine and Jew-by-choice, who famously said, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

I think of the words of Lebanese Christian poet Khalil Jibran: “When love calls you answer, though his ways are hard and steep … And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Then there are the words of Dora Iwler, my mother’s departed friend. A strong Jewish woman in every sense, Dora survived a Nazi slave labor camp and went on to raise a Jewish family. She valued Judaism and preferred to see Jewish couples marry. But when she overheard guests at a Passover seder “tsk tsking” an interfaith couple, she said: “In a world of so much hatred, we must have respect for love.” 

heather@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

05/15/2014 - 13:23

Comments

It seems clear that to some of the couples in the article, Judaism is just not that important to them so they marry non-Jews. Further, agreeing to raise the children Jewish does not make interrmarriage any less prohibited and exposes them to the uncertainties of a non-Jewish father. I would also question what kind of Jewish education by definition such children would receive in any event.

This is the reality. We cannot fault or convince. The future of the Jewish People lies in Israel where the Jewish population is growing almost as fast as we in America are assimilating. For Jews who care to be Jews and who care for their children to be Jews, it is time to go home.

Tanna DeBei Eliyahu Raba, chapter 29:
A person who converts to marry a Jew is comparable to a mule (chamore).

Minor Tractates of Talmud, tractate Gerim, Chapter 1, Law 7:
Anyone who converts for the sake of [marrying] a Jewish woman,
or fear, or love [of money] is NOT a convert...
Anyone who is NOT converted from purely religious motives is NOT a convert.

Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah, chapter 14, paragraph 13:
Whoever converts because of worldly nonsense
[for example, to marry a RICH JEW] is NOT a righteous convert.

Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot, chapter 12, remez 213:
When a man converts because he wants to marry a Jewish woman,
G_d says to him: You converted because of a nebelah [non-kosher carcass].

Yoreh Deah, Siman 268, sif 12:
Potential converts must be investigated to find if they are converting to marry Jews.

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 145/19:
A Gentile who sins with a Jewess and converts, he may not marry her.

Syrian Rabbis 1935 Decree:
Conversions done for marriage are “absolutely invalid and worthless."

You are 100% right! Enough with the BS conversions! Let us agree, at minimum, to keep the Hebrew race alive!

Heather Robinson's article is insightful and well-written.
Many, if not most, affiliated Jews believe that intermarriage is not beneficial to the continuation of our people and the Abrahamic Covenant. That being said, as in every generation, the Jewish people face internal threats, assimilation and intermarriage (e.g., European Jewry before World War II had a high assimilation and intermarriage rates and one responsa from Rabbenu Gershom during the middle ages shows that 3 brothers had converted to Christianity while a 4th brother was a minor and there was a question of whether the minor could perform the levirate marriage), as well as external threats.
While I understand the arguments of those who oppose the following proposal (I completely understand the slippery slope argument), I believe that it may be in the Jewish best interests to recognize families where the mother is Jewish (even if the father is not) and the couple agrees to raise the children as Jews. Jewish law recognizes that children with only Jewish mothers are as Jewish as children with two Jewish parents. Following this "policy" allows for inclusion of those who are Jewish. Many Jews do a "Jewish background" check before marrying off their children, and if some inconsistency is found (i.e., that the mother was not Jewish), then if the couple to be married is committed to each other and to Judaism, then conversion can be a solution. Many converts have been some of the most committed Jews (e.g., the Bible commentator Onkelos during the Tannaic times). Finally, in Tractate Sanhedrin 99b of the Babylonian Talmud asserts that Timna (a person listed in the Book of Genesis) wanted to be part of the Abrahamic Covenant and approached Abraham to be part of the "Jewish family" but he did not allow her. However, she was so committed to being part of the "Jewish family" that she thought it better that she become a concubine of Esau's descendant (a descendant of Abraham) if she could not be a "true" member of the family. The Rabbis explain that her descendant was Amalek who traditionally is the forefather (literally and metaphorically) of all those who seek to destroy the Jewish people. It is a warning - it illustrates how we were punished for rejecting her and not recognizing her true aim. This an important issue, and I'm sure both sides can point to proof texts from the Talmud and Bible to support each side, but I am hoping that at least this may help us address this important issue to everyone's satisfaction.

Some people may be missing what seems to be an important point made in this article. Intermarriage is upon us. The Pew report, quoted by Robinson, makes it clear. But this need not spell disaster for our people. How disastrous is it to welcome the Jewish children of Jewish mothers? Wake up, co-religionists--and approach the situation positively.

Why glorify assimilation?

What our enemies have tried to do for 2000 years, with the crusades, progroms and camps to get rid of the Jewish People, we are doing to ourselves.

Today too many one think only about their "instant personal contentment" not with a greater responsibility, whether it be to family, community or world, which gives birth to this reality. It takes character and courage to pay forward for the next generation. These individuals think only about themselves, not about the generation before them that sacrificed for them to have the beautiful heritage of Judaism, not about their spouses whom the wiggle into a religion and not about their children whose identity if fraught with confusion.

The problem I have with Heather Robinson's
problem is what does intermarriage do to
the continuity of the Jewish community.
There is no problem with a couple like
the Crivellas because there is an
assumption of Jewish identity.
In regard to Millicent and Enselamo,
it may be wonderful from them that
they found a loving relationship. But
from the Jewish communal relationship,
it is a disaster because it will shrink
an already small community or water
down its identity.

ALAN LEVIN

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