Responses to Jewish Intermarriage
Today, traditional Jewish policy generally falls into three categories. They are outreach, conversion and exclusion. The Reform movement in particular, and websites like interfaithfamily.com, works hard to appreciate and reach out to Gentiles who are in Jewish-Gentile relations. Ruth Abrams nicely summarized one philosophical approach to intermarriage when she told the Cleveland Jewish News, “We don’t promote it, and we don’t prevent it.”1
As a result, more than 25% of member families in Reform synagogues are identified as Jewish-Gentile family units. A 2005 Boston Jewish community survey found that 60% of intermarried families in their region were raising children as Jews.2 Therefore, inclusion is optimistically viewed as increasing the size of the Jewish community and improving the outcome of intermarriage. No doubt, there is a significant impact on the character of the Reform Jewish community as it seeks to include Gentile family members who formerly had no connection to the Jewish people or Judaism.
An alternative response to the potential change imposed on Judaism and the Jewish community is to expect Gentiles to convert. If a Gentile remains part of the synagogue without conversion to Judaism, how does the community absorb members who bring non-traditional faith practices and beliefs into the fold? One answer from traditional adherents to Judaism is to expect Gentiles to jettison any former belief, especially a faith in Jesus, and convert to Judaism. To do so pits Jewish-Gentile couple partners against one another and unfairly pressures Gentile partners to conform.
A third response has been simply to exclude Jews and Gentiles who are intermarried or interdating. Leading voices within the Conservative and Orthodox communities have taken this course. Their rationale is that the Jewish partner has already opted out of the Jewish community and traditional Jewish faith. Therefore, they are no longer worth any further expenditure of time, effort to include them, or finances to reconnect them. In fairness, some Orthodox groups do make an effort to welcome intermarried couples, with an eye toward eventually attaching both partners to Orthodox Judaism.
Much of the Jewish policy response is motivated by survival of the Jewish people and even more so of Judaism. The American Christian community is not motivated in the same way by the survival core value. Proven power in the resurrection life discovered in Jesus the Messiah has produced a steadily growing and historic community of His followers around the world. Thus, the American evangelical church practices inclusion of non-believers from all ethnic backgrounds and cultural traditions. The message of Jesus excludes no one, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” said Jesus (Matthew 11:28). Evangelical congregations do not set conversion as a precondition to Christian worship or participation in communal church life.
Christians welcome all people to discover faith and relationship with the God of Abraham through the Messiah Y’shua (Jesus). Ethnicity always comes along, too. Therefore, Jewish identity and traditions can be preserved in a Christian community that welcomes Jewish-Gentile couples and their families.
Messianic congregations are one excellent response to Jewish intermarriage and a suitable option for Jewish-Gentile couples. Messianic congregations often seek to include Gentiles and Jews together in a uniquely Jewish cultural worship environment. Rituals and traditions are practiced, which focus on Y’shua the Messiah. Gentiles, who tend to be fascinated by Jewish cultural practices, are included as full members in all aspects of Messianic congregational life.
We want to encourage Jewish-Gentile couples to explore opportunities for spiritual harmony in a mutually welcoming communal environment. For more than 25 years, the rate of Jewish intermarriage in North America and Europe has been between 40-50%. We believe that spiritual harmony can be found when Jews and Gentiles each pursue a redeemed relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Neither partner needs to jettison the uniqueness of ethnic heritage. Both partners have equal access to eternal life through the Messiah that God has sent. Y’shua defined it, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Y’shua the Messiah, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
What is your response if you are in a Jewish-Gentile couple relationship? Do you find yourselves pulled apart by different faith traditions or do you seek a mutually satisfying spiritual harmony together? We encourage you to ask the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to guide you in His way. Ask, and He will provide the gift of faith to all who seek Him. How might we assist you?