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Intermarriage: A Secular Humanistic Jewish Perspective

Jeff Treistman Seattle, March 2023

In recent years, the topic of intermarriage has become increasingly prevalent in the Jewish community. Many traditional Jewish institutions view intermarriage as a threat to Jewish continuity and identity. However, from the perspective of Secular Humanistic Judaism, intermarriage can be seen as a positive and enriching experience.

One of the earliest examples of intermarriage in the Hebrew Bible can be found in the book of Ezra. In this book, Ezra, a priest and scribe, returns to Jerusalem from Babylon and discovers that many Jews have married non-Jewish women. Ezra responds by leading a campaign to separate Jewish men from their non-Jewish wives and children.

This approach to intermarriage is based on a traditional understanding of Jewish identity as being defined by ancestry and the passing down of religious traditions from generation to generation. However, from a Secular Humanistic Jewish perspective, identity is a complex and multi-faceted concept that is not solely defined by religious affiliation or ancestry.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the book of Ezra was written during a time when the Jewish people were in danger of losing their religious and cultural identity due to foreign domination and assimilation. In the modern era, Jewish identity is not under the same threat and thus, intermarriage can be viewed as a way to strengthen and diversify Jewish identity.

Another example of intermarriage in the Hebrew Bible can be found in the book of Ruth. In this book, Ruth, a Moabite woman, marries Boaz, a wealthy Jewish landowner. Despite her non-Jewish background, Ruth is celebrated as a hero in Jewish tradition for her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi and her embrace of Jewish culture and traditions.

The story of Ruth is a testament to the fact that Jewish identity can be acquired through personal choice and dedication rather than solely through birthright. It also emphasizes the importance of inclusion and acceptance of non-Jewish partners and family members in the Jewish community.

The stories of Ruth and Ezra in the Hebrew Bible demonstrate the complex and multifaceted nature of Jewish identity and the importance of inclusion and acceptance of non-Jewish partners and family members in the Jewish community.

Additionally, DNA evidence has shown that Jewish men intermarried with local women wherever they settled throughout history. This is why Baghdadi Jews look different from Polish Jews, and why Sephardic Jews look different from Chinese Jews, Yemeni Jews, or Ethiopian Jews.

Rather than viewing intermarriage as a threat to Jewish identity, Secular Humanistic Judaism embraces intermarriage as an opportunity to enrich and diversify Jewish culture and tradition. Intermarriage can lead to the creation of new customs and practices that blend the traditions of both partners, resulting in a unique and meaningful expression of Jewish identity. Intermarriage can serve as a bridge between different communities and cultures. It can help to break down barriers and foster understanding and respect between different religions and ethnicities.

It is important to note that Secular Humanistic Judaism does not promote intermarriage as the only or preferred option for Jewish individuals or families. Instead, it recognizes intermarriage as a valid and valuable choice for those who wish to embrace it. Indeed, research shows that a significant majority of intermarried couples choose to raise their children with a Jewish identity.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 76% of intermarried Jews who were raising children said they were raising their children Jewish, either by religion or culturally. This highlights the fact that intermarriage can actually serve as a means of increasing the number of Jews who are actively engaged in Jewish life and tradition. The fact that a majority of intermarried couples choose to raise their children with a Jewish identity is further evidence of the value and potential of intermarriage.

Furthermore, intermarried families can bring unique and diverse perspectives to Jewish communities, contributing to a more vibrant and dynamic Jewish culture. This can help to break down barriers and foster understanding between different communities and cultures.

At the same time, it is important for intermarried couples to recognize and respect the different cultural and religious backgrounds of each partner. Communication and mutual understanding are key to maintaining a successful and fulfilling interfaith relationship.

Rather than seeing intermarriage as a threat to Jewish continuity, Secular Humanistic Judaism celebrates it as a means of enhancing and diversifying Jewish culture and tradition. It recognizes the importance of personal choice and dedication in shaping Jewish identity and the value of inclusion and acceptance of diverse cultural backgrounds.

In conclusion, Secular Humanistic Judaism offers a perspective on intermarriage that challenges the traditional approach and embraces diversity and inclusivity. By recognizing the value of personal choice and mutual respect, it offers a path to a rich and meaningful Jewish identity that is open to diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions. Intermarriage is not a threat but an opportunity, one that enriches and strengthens Jewish identity and culture.

Wed, 29 May 2024