Seth Brown blogs on the topic of the “choice” of marrying Jewish.
First of all, the subtitle of this piece is a bit misleading. “Why are more children choosing not to marry Jewish?”, ask the worried gatherings of Jewish parents and rabbis, as if to suggest that many Jews of the younger generation sat down and said, “What qualities am I looking for in a life partner? Well, first off, I definitely don’t want to marry a fellow Jew.”
This probably isn’t happening very often. It’s less “choosing NOT TO marry Jewish”, and more “not CHOOSING TO marry Jewish” — in other words, simply not making it a priority. I think the framing here is important; the question as asked often implies that the person sat down and said, “I am making a decision about whether my spouse should be Jewish, and I’m saying no.” Whereas in reality of course, I imagine most Jews who have married non-Jews in the past decade or two would have been perfectly happy (and in some cases, even happier) if their partner had been Jewish. It simply wasn’t the basis for their choice.
When choosing a potential spouse, most people have a list of various qualifications, some of which are requirements, some of which aren’t deal-breakers but are highly desired, and some of which would be nice, but aren’t a big deal.
For previous generations, marrying someone from your groups — not only of the same religion, but probably the same race, and perhaps the same general social status as well — may have often been in the “more important” category. But most people considering marriage today have a different set of priorities, and while money and looks may remain constant considerations, the race and religion of one’s spouse becomes less important with each generation.
I’d argue that’s progress, as people begin focusing more on actual personal connections between two people, rather than presumed connections based on shared group membership. Never mind the potential societal benefits of people knowing (and loving) others outside their group, creating a more shared sense of humanity rather than a more tribal “us versus them” mentality. No, I’d say the main benefit is that two people who feel a deep connection and could grant each other a happy life, will no longer avoid that path simply because they worship differently.
But obviously not everyone agrees, or they wouldn’t keep asking “Why aren’t young Jews marrying Jewish?” I think I understand the underlying reason for the constant worrying, which is not an unreasonable concern:
The culture could die out.
For years, there have been various reports noting the decline in Jewish population, whether from assimilation or anti-semitism. Even if last year showed anomolous growth, the trend has still been an overall decline in population. Given these numbers, it is perhaps unsurprising that some are very focused on making sure the numbers don’t drop even more.
My hunch is that the main reason parents want their children to marry someone Jewish is so they will raise Jewish children, who will continue to carry on the faith. (With a growing percentage of Americans no longer viewing religion as something important, it’s easy to understand why some concerns might exist.) I had made clear to my parents long ago that I had no desire to raise children, and thus the religion of my partner was not a large concern for them.
My brother, who may well have kids in the future, on the other hand, is likely in for a few years of questions about maintaining the Jewish faith.
What’s your take? Do single Jews really have a choice anymore? Should we really just focus more on marrying a good person you can connect with, and less on marrying within the “tribe”? Is it less important to marry within the faith if you aren’t planning to have children? Let us know what you think by posting a comment below!
Seth Brown is a freelance writer, humorist, and poet. He is the author of four books, most recently “From God To Verse”, a line-by-line rendition of the entire Torah in rhyming couplets. His website is RisingPun.com.