Back then, no one else would marry us!
In 1998, Harvard Law professor, Alan Dershowitz, wrote The Vanishing American Jew. He was sounding the alarm in response to news that the American Jewish community has been intermarrying with Gentiles at a rate of 52% since 1985. Twenty five years later, that rate has not abated.
Recently, at a Jewish Federation event in Vancouver, Canada, Dershowitz was asked to comment on assimilation and intermarriage among Jews of North America. He remarked with humor, “Everyone says to me, ‘Your generation was so good, you only married Jews.’ Of course we married other Jews. They were the only ones who would marry us!” (From “An Evening with Alan Dershowitz” September 28, 2010 by Max Moncaster at New Voices: National Jewish Student Magazine Online.)
Times change, and North American society has now become immensly accepting of the Jewish people. It has been such a positive reception that some Jewish leaders have complained that the Gentiles are “loving us into oblivion.” They are complaining that intermarriage will ultimately dissolve the uniqueness of Jewish identity in the melting pot of American society.
Throughout history, Jewish communities have gone through periods of large-scale intermarriage. Assimilation and erosion of ethnic identity have never been the eventual conclusion. After all, Jewish people are still around! That would go against the eternal covenant of God with Abraham to preserve the Jewish people (Genesis 12:3).
During the Babylonian Exile, intermarriage became prevalent among Diaspora Jews. Even the Bible reports that intermarriage had become common. Nehemiah saw fit to make a record of it in his Biblical excoriation of the Temple priests who had intermarried during the Exilic period (Nehemiah 13:23-31).
Warnings against intermarriage, whether modern or ancient, will not change the eternal destiny of the Jewish people. That is ultimately in the hands of God. In the meantime, intermarriage is a fact of North American Jewish life. So, what can we do to preserve Jewish ethnic identity and spiritual connection with God?
In light of the fact that today the majority of North American Jews are marrying Gentiles, we ought to encourage the preservation of Jewish cultural identity. Since culture is a set of acquired or learned aspects of identity, many of them are subjective preferences. However, we can find Biblical truths rooted in history that contribute to the formation of Jewish identity.
Those can include rites of passage like a Passover celebration. It can also be found in a lifestyle of Sabbath rest, which teaches perpetual and practical dependence on God.
Gentile partners can participate in these efforts to preserve Jewish ethnic identity. The fact is that Gentiles often find Jewish culture much more interesting than Jewish people find other foreign cultural practices. We want to encourage the mutual validation of uniquely different cultures while also pursuing preservation of Jewish ethnic identity.
Let’s be honest about religion as an aspect of culture. We’re defining culture as the accumulation of the learned habits of behavior, the way things should be done in daily life, the mandated aspects of rites of passage, the dictates of social authorities, the aspects of identification acquired through personal experience and the internal beliefs and core values. Like the layers of an onion, each aspect of culture is more tightly held the deeper we go into cultural identity. Religious beliefs reside at the core level, the deepest layer of cultural identity.
So it is that we often hear from evangelical Christians who are dating, married to, or even sometimes living with Jewish partners. So often, they want to find a way to present their religious faith to the Jewish love of their life only to discover a seemingly enormous obstacle. Their Jewish partner doesn’t understand evangelical Christian faith. The Jewish partner often doesn’t want to know about Jesus or doesn’t see it as a relevant issue. And frequently, the Jewish partner sees Christian faith as a threat to Jewish survival.
We think that Jewish-Gentile couples can overcome these obstacles. It requires learning to be sensitive to cross-cultural differences. We want to help Jews and Gentiles understand what culture is, how it effects us and how to appreciate one another in spite of cultural differences.
We also think that it is possible to find spiritual harmony between Jews and Gentiles. Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob gives you more in common than most people realize at first. We are here to offer resources for those Jews and Gentiles who are either in a family, together as a couple or who are contemplating marriage together. Let us know if you think that we might be able to serve you.