Can Intermarriage Lead to an Increase in the Number of Jews in America?

November 9, 2015

Hopeful arguments to that effect have been proffered since the Pew survey two years ago. They’re wrong.

Could intermarriage be good for Jewish continuity? Could it actually lead to an increase in the numbers of American Jews, even committed and involved American Jews? Such an argument—which flies in the face of conventional wisdom—wasput forth by the social scientist Theodore Sasson two years ago, based on his analysis of data in the latest Pew Center survey of American Jewry. What led him to this conclusion was the surprisingly high number of under-thirty offspring of intermarried parents who identify themselves as Jews.

The thinking goes like this: given the high rate of intermarriage, we should naturally expect a diminution in the overall size of the Jewish population as children of such marriages tend increasingly to identify themselves as something other than Jews. But what would happen if half or more of these children identify themselves specifically as Jews?

The arithmetic is straightforward: when a Jew marries a Jew, we “use up” two Jews. But when a Jew marries a non-Jew, we “use up” only one Jew. If half of the resulting couples succeed in producing Jewish children, the effect of intermarriage for the next generation will be population-neutral. If more than half do, intermarriage can actually help enlarge Jewish numbers. (For simplicity’s sake here, I’ve set aside issues of halakhic status as well as the fact that intermarriages produce fewer children than in-marriages.)

Topic: Continuity, Intermarriage, Demography, Jewish Continuity

Genre: Opinion

Language: English

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Can Intermarriage Lead to an Increase in the Number of Jews in America?. 9 November 2015: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=22559


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