Book on intermarriage posits: Americans love Jewsby daniel krieger, jta
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Over the past half-century, intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions — but among Jews at the highest rate.
Why that is the case is one of the questions Naomi Schaefer Riley probes in her new book, “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America” (Oxford University Press).
One of the main reasons, Riley finds, is that the older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry — and Jews tend to marry older than Americans generally, according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey. By the same token, Mormons, who tend to marry early, are the least likely to wed out of faith.
Another factor behind the comparatively high Jewish intermarriage rate is, simply, that Americans like Jews. Riley cites the work of sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who measured the popularity of various religious groups with extensive surveys for their 2010 book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”
“America, for the most part, loves its Jews,” agreed Paul Golin, the associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute. “It doesn’t mean that anti-Semitism is over, but there’s much more philo-Semitism than anti-Semitism in America.”
Riley said intermarriage is both a cause and effect of this phenomenon. “The more you have exposure to people of other faiths, the more likely you are to like them and then marry them yourself.” Riley, a Conservative Jew, is herself intermarried.
She said assimilation has been a good and bad thing for U.S. Jews. On the downside of interfaith marriage, Riley’s research showed that intermarried couples reported lower rates of marital satisfaction than inmarried couples. The children of interfaith couples tend to grow up to be less religious than inmarried couples.
Riley predicts what some might consider an ominous future for American Jewry, but one that comports to some degree with what several other scholars have hypothesized about American Jewry’s future: A small core of religious Jews will run Jewish communal institutions, and a large contingent of assimilated Jews on the periphery will have little enthusiasm for or connection to their faith.
What Riley doesn’t devote much attention to is who are the non-Jews marrying America’s Jews. In most cases, interfaith marriages may be the result of happenstance: People happen to meet and fall in love.
But some Americans are specifically looking for Jewish mates. Approximately 5 percent of the 750,000 members of JDate, the popular Jewish dating website, are non-Jewish, according to JDate spokeswoman Arielle Schechtman.
In more than a dozen interviews with JTA, non-Jewish JDaters talked about the reasons they were seeking out Jews (on the condition that their last names not be used), though practically all said they were not exclusively seeking Jews.
“I have a positive bias toward Jewish men,” said Elizabeth, 37, a teacher in New York who was raised Christian. “They tend to be very smart, successful, gentlemanly and less sexist. They are a safer choice.”
Neil, 47, a doctoral candidate in physics in Texas who was brought up Muslim in Iran, said he believes American Persians and Jews gravitate toward each other because their “common roots” enable them to communicate well and get along.
Mary, a 48-year-old African American psychologist who was raised Southern Baptist, said she decided she wanted to meet a Jewish man after discovering that a distant ancestor had been an Ethiopian Jew, and hearing positive things about Jewish men. She has met several prospective Jewish suitors through JDate, though none have progressed into a real romantic relationship.
“Whether I end up with [a Jewish partner], I don’t know,” she said. “But I do know that’s the caliber of man that I want.”
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