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Intermarriage - Judaism is the problem, Jewish Intermarriage and acceptance and Sex and the single Jew dealt with aspects of Jewish intermarriage. But intermarriage, as the title of the first article indicated, is not the problem, Judaism, or lack of interest in it is the problem. Intermarriage is not a concern because Jews are "racists," but because it is indicative of a trend. If the trend continues, the American Jewish community may disappear. Lack of interest in Judaism and a birthrate that is lower than the American average and below replacement levels, make the Judaicus Americanus an endangered species.

Two large studies done at the beginning of the decade found essentially the same picture and complement each other: The NATIONAL JEWISH POPULATION SURVEY 2000-01 (NJPS) and the American Jewish Identity Survey, Minor statistical and definitional quibbles cannot obscure the actual results. There are about 5.2-5.3 million self-identifying Jews, by whatever criteria. Changing the definition of "Jewish" can make the numbers seem larger, but it cannot obscure the fact that by the same definitions, there are probably less Jews than there were previously, and certainly there are not more Jews. A larger number, about 7.7 million in total, includes those who are of "Jewish background" but do not consider themselves Jewish. This population increased by about 900,000 since 1991. The Jewish community in North America and in Israel has been living with these data for the past five years, and even since the 1991 NJPS survey, like a person diagnosed with a terminal disease. However, other than yelling "Gevalt!" and asking for more money, nobody has done very much about the problem, and there may not be much that can be done.

Good News - There are several bits of good news. The first is that high intermarriage trends found among younger Jews seem to have stabilized at around 50% and are not increasing, but that might be an artifact of how "Jew" is defined by the survey. The second bit of good news is that Jewish are getting more more Jewish education, not less, as is sometimes still reported. About 78% of Jewish children were getting some sort of Jewish education, and 29% were in full time day schools. Young adults are showing a greater tendency to take university level courses in Judaism as well. Contrary to stereotypes, more secular education does not encourage intermarriage, as we shall see.

Jews are not religious - About 44% of the self-identifying Jewish population regards itself as secular or somewhat secular in outlook, and that includes some nominally orthodox Jews. This percentage is far higher than that of any other religious group examined. 1,120,000 adult Jews are estimated to be Jews of no religion by AJIS, and 1.7 million belong to this category including children. 60% of those identifying themselves as "Just Jewish" characterized themselves as "secular" or "somewhat secular." This was true of 48% of Reform Jews, 35% of Conservative Jews and even 14% of Orthodox! These findings tend to make various religious measures of "Judaism" such as synagogue affiliation, lighting of candles, Kashruth and holiday observances meaningless.

Education is not the problem - The stereotype regarding Jewish assimilation, based on the 19th century European model, was that Jews who "left the ghetto," pursued a career and became educated would be more prone to assimilate than others. The NJPS data do not seem to support the stereotype. Among all Jews, 34% of those with a high school education, 31% with a college education but only 27% of those with a graduate education had intermarried. Does education boost Jewish affiliation, or is strong Jewish identity associated with a desire to get more education?

Does Halachic law endanger Judaism? - By Halachic law, only children of Jewish mothers are considered Jewish. The AJIS study shows that this is a major factor in self-identification of Jews:

...[T]here are about 808,000 adults whose only Jewish parent is their mother and 780,000 adults whose only Jewish parent is their father. Among the former, 22% reported their religion as Jewish and another 29% indicated ďno religion.Ē Among the latter only 11% reported their religion as Jewish or Judaism and 36% indicated ďno religion.Ē

Being Jewish is expensive - One source estimates the total as high as $30,000:

* Synagogue Membership = $1,100
* Day School (two children) = $22,000
* Day Camp (two weeks, two children) = $1,200
* Resident Camp (one month, two children) = $5,000
* Jewish Community Center = $500
* Minimal Federation gift = $200
* Total (not including cost of kosher food) = $30,000

These costs are prohibitive for many families despite some income-dependent subsidies and sliding scales, and they explain why large numbers of nominal Jews exclude themselves from affiliation with the Synagogue and pass up Jewish education for their children. It is hard to convince someone who is not religious to spend $1,100 on a synagogue membership or to pay $10,000 or more a year to inflict on their child a Jewish education that he or she hated when they were a child. Community ties could be very important, if being a member of a community conferred special privileges. But such services as are offered by various Jewish charities (eg vocational counseling, marriage counseling, job placement...) are generally offered on a non-sectarian basis.

When we look at all aspects of the problem of the vanishing Jew, it becomes clear that many of the favorite solutions are not going to help. Intermarriage is a symptom, not a cause. Being accepting of intermarriage is the morally correct thing to do and the only thing to do in a liberal society, but it will not stop intermarriage and assimilate. Trips to Israel may help bring some Jews back to their people, but they have to want to go to Israel in the first place, and they have to be prepared to see Israel in a positive light. Jewish education is correlated with inmarriage and continuity, but we don't know if that is a cause or an effect. And what is to be taught in that Jewish education? Religious rituals and practices are meaningless to a largely secular people. Israel is a positive draw for only about half the Jews, and they are usually committed Jews in any case. What it all means, together, is that in the American Diaspora the "Jewish Community" has increasingly become a hypothetical construct, rather than a fact expressed in every day life. If we want to save the Jews, we must save the Jewish community.

More to come about that...

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000615.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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