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Interfaith marriage in Judaism

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Title: Interfaith marriage in Judaism  
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Interfaith marriage in Judaism

Interfaith marriage in Judaism (also called mixed marriage or intermarriage) was historically looked upon with very strong disfavour by Jewish leaders, and it remains a controversial issue amongst them today. In the Talmud, interfaith marriage is completely prohibited, although the definition of interfaith is not so simply expressed.[1]

A 2013 survey conducted in the United States by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project found that intermarriage rate to be 58% among all Jews and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews.[2]


  • In the Bible 1
  • Later laws and rulings 2
    • Modern Attitudes 2.1
  • The exact definition of 'interfaith' marriage 3
  • Impact and consequences 4
  • Christian-Jewish relations 5
  • Israeli opposition to mixed marriages between Jewish women and Arab men 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9
    • Interfaith Groups 9.1

In the Bible

The Biblical position on exogamous marriage is somewhat ambiguous; that is, except in relation to intermarriage with a Canaanite, which the majority of the Israelite patriarchs are depicted as criticising.[3][4] This attitude is formalised in the Deuteronomic Code, which forbids intermarriage with Canaanites,[5] on the basis that it might lead to a son, resulting from the union, being brought up to follow the Canaanite religion.[6] The principle is essentially a general one, and the deuteronomic explanation doesn't clarify why it singles out the Canaanites in particular; one of the Talmudic writers took it to forbid all intermarriage with non-Jewish nations.[7] In Numbers 25, Phineas is praised by God for having punished an Israelite prince who publicly cohabited[8] with a Midianite woman (not from the seven Canaanite nations); this took place at a time when foreign (Moabite) women were inducing the Jews to perform idolatry.

In several places in the Jewish Bible, there are relations which appear to be intermarriages - for example, King David is described as marrying the daughter of the king of Geshur,[9] and Bathsheba as having married Uriah the Hittite.[10] Deuteronomy itself implies that intermarriage to Edomites or Egyptians was acceptable, by permitting the grandchildren of such people to be treated as Israelites.[11] Traditional commentators generally explain such verses as referring to situations where the Gentile partner had converted,[12] and explicitly so in the latter case, where grandchildren are understood as being the grandchildren of converts.[13] In places, traditional commentators suggest that the person involved is not a Gentile, but a Jew who has lived in a Gentile country,[14] or that the law of the captive woman[15] is involved.[16]

In any case, after the Babylonian Captivity disquiet seems to have arisen about such exogamy; the Book of Malachi declares that the intermarriages that had occurred were a profanity,[17] and several Jewish leaders eventually made a formal complaint to Ezra about these marriages.[18] Ezra definitively extended the law against intermarriage to forbid marriage between a Jew and any non-Jew;[19][20] he also excommunicated those people who refused to divorce their foreign spouses.[20]

Later laws and rulings

Although most of the rabbis in the Talmud considered the Deuteronomic law to refer only to marriage to Canaanites, they considered all religious intermarriage to be prohibited at least rabbinically.[1]

Christian rulers regarded unions between Jews and Christians unfavourably, and repeatedly prohibited them under penalty of death.[21][22][23]

Gradually, however, many countries removed these restrictions, and marriage between Jews and Christians (and Muslims) began to occur. In 1236 Moses of Coucy induced the Jews bespoused by such marriages to dissolve them.[24] In 1807, Napoleon's Grand Sanhedrin declared that such marriages were valid and should not be treated as anathema.[25] In 1844, the 1807 ruling was extended by the Rabbinical Conference of Brunswick to include any adherent of a monotheistic religion;[25] but they also altered it to forbid marriages involving those who lived in states that would prevent children of the marriage from being raised Jewish.[25] This conference was highly controversial; one of its resolutions called on its members to abolish the Kol Nidre prayer, which opens the Yom Kippur service.[26] One member of the Brunswick Conference later changed his opinion, becoming an opponent of intermarriage.[27]

Traditional Judaism does not consider marriage between a Jew by birth and a convert as an intermarriage.[28][29] Hence, all the Biblical passages that appear to support intermarriages, such as that of Joseph to Asenath, and that of Ruth to Boaz, were regarded by the classical rabbis as having occurred only after the foreign spouse had converted to Judaism.[30] Some opinions, however, still considered Canaanites forbidden to marry even after conversion; this did not necessarily apply to their children.[31] The Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries[32] bring various opinions as to when intermarriage is a Torah prohibition and when the prohibition is rabbinic.

A foundling - a person who was abandoned as a child without their parents being identified - was classified as a non-Jew, in relation to intermarriage, if they had been found in an area where at least one non-Jew lived (even if there were hundreds of Jews in the area, and just 1 non-Jew);[33] this drastically contrasts with the treatment by other areas of Jewish religion, in which a foundling was classified as Jewish if the majority of the people were Jewish, in the area in which the foundling was found.[33] If the mother was known, but not the father, the child was treated as a foundling, unless the mother claimed that the child was an Israelite (the claim would be given the benefit of the doubt).[34][35][36]

Modern Attitudes

The Talmud and later classical sources of Jewish law are clear that the institution of Jewish marriage, kiddushin, can only be affected between Jews.

Some of the more liberal Jewish movements - Reform, Reconstructionist, and Liberal (collectively referred to as Progressive internationally) - do not generally regard the historic corpus and process of Jewish law as intrinsically binding. Progressive rabbinical associations have no firm prohibition against intermarriage; according to a survey of rabbis, conducted in 1985, more than 87% of Reconstructionist rabbis were willing to officiate at interfaith marriages,[37] and in 2003 at least 50% of Reform rabbis were willing to perform interfaith marriages.[38] The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinical association in North America and the largest Progressive rabbinical association, consistently opposed intermarriage at least until the 1980s, including their members' officiating at them, through resolutions and responsa.[39][40][41] Today, however, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, according to Jack Wertheimer, seem not at all concerned about intermarriage and have nothing to say in public about it. Neither are non-Jewish spouses usually encouraged to convert to Judaism anymore.[42] Regardless of their attitude to intermarriage itself, most rabbis from these denominations do still try to persuade intermarried couples to raise their children as Jews.

All branches of Orthodox Judaism follow the historic Jewish attitudes to intermarriage, and therefore refuse to accept that intermarriages would have any validity or legitimacy, and strictly forbid sexual intercourse with a member of a different faith. Orthodox rabbis refuse to officiate at interfaith weddings, and also try to avoid assisting them in other ways. Secular intermarriage is seen as a deliberate rejection of Judaism, and an intermarried person is effectively cut off from most of the Orthodox community, although some Chabad-Lubavitch and Modern Orthodox Jews do reach out to intermarried Jewish couples.

The Conservative Movement in Judaism does not sanction or recognize the Jewish legal validity of intermarriage, but encourages acceptance of the non-Jewish spouse within the family, hoping that such acceptance will lead to the spouse's conversion to Judaism. The Rabbinical Assembly Standards of Rabbinic Practice prohibit Conservative rabbis from officiating at intermarriages. The Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism recently published the following statement on intermarriage:

In the past, intermarriage... was viewed as an act of rebellion, a rejection of Judaism. Jews who intermarried were essentially excommunicated. But now, intermarriage is often the result of living in an open society... If our children end up marrying non-Jews, we should not reject them. We should continue to give our love and by that retain a measure of influence in their lives, Jewishly and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism has new meaning for them. However, the marriage between a Jew and non-Jew is not a celebration for the Jewish community.....[43]

The exact definition of 'interfaith' marriage

Different movements in Judaism have different views on who is a Jew, and thus on what constitutes an interfaith marriage. Unlike Reform Judaism, the Orthodox and Conservative streams do not accept as Jewish a person whose mother is not Jewish, nor a convert whose conversion was not performed according to classical Jewish law.

Occasionally, a Jew marries a non-Jew who believes in God as understood by Judaism, and who rejects non-Jewish theologies; Jews sometimes call such people ethical monotheists. Steven Greenberg, an Orthodox Rabbi, has made the controversial proposal that, in these cases, the non-Jewish partner be considered a resident alien - the biblical description of someone who is not Jewish, but who lives within the Jewish community; according to Jewish tradition, such resident aliens share many of the same responsibilities and privileges as the Jewish community in which they reside.

Impact and consequences

In the early 19th century, in some less modernised regions of the world, exogamy was extremely rare - less than a tenth of a percent (0.1%) of the Jews of Algeria, for example, practiced exogamy.[44] But in the early 20th century, even in most Germanic regions of central Europe[45] there were still only a mere 5% of Jews marrying non-Jews.[46][47][48] However, the picture was quite different in other locations; the figure was 18% for Berlin,[49] and during the same period, nearly half of all Jews in Australia intermarried.[50]

In more recent times, rates of intermarriage have increased generally; for example, the US National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 reports that, in the United States of America between 1996 and 2001, nearly half (47%) of Jews who had married during that time period had married non-Jewish partners.[51] The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey reported an intermarriage rate of 52 percent among American Jews.[52] The possibility that this might lead to the gradual dying out of Judaism, much like the historic fate of Arianism, is regarded by most Jewish leaders, regardless of denomination, as precipitating a crisis. For this reason, as early as the mid 19th century, some senior Jewish leaders denounced intermarriage as a danger to the continued existence of Judaism.[53]

In the United States of America, other causes, such as more people marrying later in life, have combined with intermarriage to cause the Jewish community to decrease dramatically; for every 20 adult Jews, there are now only 17 Jewish children. Some religious conservatives now even speak metaphorically of intermarriage as a

  • Dovetail Institute

Interfaith Groups

  • Articles on Intermarriage
  • Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her- a dialogue on intermarriage

External links

  1. ^ a b Kiddushin 68b
  2. ^
  3. ^ Genesis 24:2-4
  4. ^ Genesis
  5. ^ Deuteronomy 7:3
  6. ^ Deuteronomy 7:4
  7. ^ Simeon, in 'Abodah Zarah 36b
  8. ^ that is, he publicly took her into a private area and cohabited with her there
  9. ^ 2 Samuel 3:3
  10. ^ 2 Samuel 11:3
  11. ^ Deuteronomy 23:4-9
  12. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Intermarriage, although there it is stated as a universal rule
  13. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sanctity, Laws of Prohibited Relations, 12:17-25
  14. ^ Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) on Uriah the Hittite (one opinion), and Itai the Gittite
  15. ^ Deuteronomy 21:10-14
  16. ^ Metzudot in the case of David
  17. ^ Malachi 2:11
  18. ^ Ezra 9:1-2
  19. ^ Ezra 10:10-11
  20. ^ a b Nehemiah 10:31
  21. ^ Codex Theodosianus, 16:8, 6
  22. ^ Heinrich Grätz, Geschichte der Juden (=History of the Jews) 4:363; 5:359; 7;27
  23. ^ Leopold Löw, Gesammelte Werke, 2:176
  24. ^ Moses of Coucy, Sefer Mitzvot ha-Gadol, 112
  25. ^ a b c  
  26. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, "Conferences, Rabbinical"
  27. ^ Ludwig Philippson, Israelitische Religionslehre (1865), 3:350
  28. ^ Berakhot 28a
  29. ^ Rabbi Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch III:4:10
  30. ^ Genesis Rabbah, 65
  31. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sanctity, Laws of Prohibited Relations, 12:22 and Maggid Mashnah ad. loc.
  32. ^ III:16:2
  33. ^ a b  
  34. ^ Ketubot 13a
  35. ^ Kiddushin 74a
  36. ^ Ketubot (Palestinian Talmud only) 1:9
  37. ^ Survey of the American Rabbinate, The Jewish Outreach Institute, [1] (retrieved 6th May 2009)
  38. ^ Summary of Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling 2003 Survey, Irwin H. Fishbein, Rabbi, D. Min., Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling, [2] (retrieved 6th May 2009)
  39. ^ Reform Judaism and Mixed Marriage CCAR Responsa (Vol. XC, 1980, pp. 86-102), American Reform Responsa 146.
  40. ^ Rabbi Officiating at a Mixed Marriage CCAR Responsa (Vol. XCII, 1982, pp. 213-215), American Reform Responsa 149.
  41. ^ Prayer for Couple Contemplating Intermarriage CCAR Responsa (1979), American Reform Responsa 147.
  42. ^ Jack Wertheimer: All Quiet on the Religious Front? Jewish Unity, Denominationalism, and Postdenominationalism in the United States New York 2005, American Jewish Committee.
  43. ^ Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, Statement on Intermarriage, Adopted on 7th March 1995
  44. ^ Ricoux, Demography of Algeria, Paris, 1860, p. 71
  45. ^ Prussia, Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia, etc.
  46. ^ Census for Prussian Statistics, 1902, p. 216
  47. ^ Census of the Baverian Kingdom, Statistics Bureaux, 1900, p. 259
  48. ^ Statebook of Austria" 8:283, Vienna, 1900
  49. ^ Statistics Yearbook, 1902, p. 61
  50. ^ specifically, 44% in New South Wales; Census of New South Wales, 1901, Bulletin No. 14
  51. ^ "American Jewry Today - Jewish Population Statistics - 2000 NJPS National Jewish Population Survey". 2009-06-11. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  52. ^ "National Jewish Population Survey: 1990 - My Jewish Learning". Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  53. ^ Geiger and Aub,Leipsic Synod 1869; Referate über die der Ersten Synode Gestellten Anträge p. 193
  54. ^ Chabad
  55. ^
  56. ^ Jewish Gate
  57. ^ Faith of our fathers
  58. ^ Jewish Outreach Institute
  59. ^ Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue (World Council of Churches)
  60. ^ Allan R. Brockway, "Should Christians Attempt to Evangelize Jews? Israel's Covenant with God Remains Valid"
  61. ^ Policies of mainline and liberal Christians towards proselytizing Jews (
  62. ^ Haaretz: "Why interfaith marriage is on the rise in Israel - and why it's a problem" by Judy Maltz June 2, 2014
  63. ^ Protecting' Jewish girls from Arabs"'".  
  64. ^ Cook, Jonathan. "Israeli drive to prevent Jewish girls dating Arabs".  
  65. ^ Reider, Dimi (2010-02-04). "Tel Aviv presents: Municipal program to prevent Arab boys from dating Jewish girls".  


See also

In February 2010 Maariv has reported that the Tel Aviv municipality had instituted an official, government-sponsored counseling program to discourage Jewish girls from dating and marrying Arab boys. According to supporters of the program, the girls are often ostracized for being Jewish, and (some) fall into drugs and alcohol or are prevented from leaving their Arab boyfriends.[65]

Many Israeli Jews oppose mixed relationships,[62] particularly relationships between Jewish women and non-Jewish Arab men. A 2007 opinion survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews believed intermarriage is equivalent to “national treason”. A group of 35 Jewish men, known as "Fire for Judaism”, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev started patrolling the neighborhood in an effort to stop Jewish women from dating Arab men. The municipality of Petah Tikva has also announced an initiative to prevent interfaith relationships, providing a telephone hotline for friends and family to "inform" on Jewish girls who date Arab men as well as psychologists to provide counselling. The city of Kiryat Gat launched a school programme in schools to warn Jewish girls against dating local Bedouin men.[63][64]

Israeli opposition to mixed marriages between Jewish women and Arab men

In Christian-Jewish relations, interfaith marriage and the associated phenomenon of Jewish assimilation are a matter of concern for both Jewish and Christian leaders. A number of Progressive Christian denominations have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews. They have made use of dual-covenant theology.[59][60][61]

Christian-Jewish relations


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