JEWISH EDUCATORS VS. MIXED MARRIAGES

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Joh Gutenberg Universitaet]On: 31 October 2014, At: 16:36Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    JEWISH EDUCATORS VS. MIXEDMARRIAGESAllen S. MallerPublished online: 13 Mar 2008.

    To cite this article: Allen S. Maller (1989) JEWISH EDUCATORS VS. MIXED MARRIAGES,Journal of Jewish Education, 57:2-4, 77-79, DOI: 10.1080/15244118908548035

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  • ONE PERSON'S OPINIONALLEN S. MALLER

    JEWISH EDUCATORS VS. MIXED MARRIAGES

    Mixed marriages are a hemorrhage in thebody of American Jewry. In the average He-brew school classroom 20-25 percent of thestudents will someday marry out. Even in dayschools 5-10 percent will marry out, althoughmost of them will influence their spouses toconvert. (Jewish children who do not receivea Jewish education will marry out in evenhigher percentages, and rarely influence theirpartners to become Jewish.) This exogamy(outmarriage) results in a doubling of the di-vorce rate. In addition, the majority of thechildren of exogamous manages do not iden-tify themselves as Jews. Can Jewish educatorsinfluence some of these children to conscious-ly seek Jewish mates? only if they try.

    The best time to try is prior to actual dat-ing. If each Jewish teacher planned four to fivelessons a year with this goal in mind, thenover a period of several years from 10 to 14,some seeds might be planted. The most effec-tive way is the indirect approach. The lessonshould seem incidental. Thus a bible classcould focus on Samson's problems with hisgentile wife's family and friends. A Hebrewclass could go from the word gar-dwell, toger-stranger/convert, and a class discussionon marriage customs could lead to divorce,and then divorce rates in mixed marriages. Inall cases, teachers would be wise not just tomoralize but to stress the hard facts of maritalsuccess and failure. Also, teachers shouldstress that this isn't just a Jewish issue. Cath-olics and others are equally concerned (in-deed, most of the following material has al-ready appeared in an article I wrote for ThePriest).

    Of 17 sociological studies published be-tween 1938 and 1980, 13 reported a direct,positive relationship between religiosity andmarital satisfaction. The most recent study,published in May 1985, showed that 9.6 per-cent of Catholics and 16.8 percent of Protes-tants had been divorced. Those with no reli-gious affiliation had a 25 percent divorce rate.

    In the past, humanists would ignore the ev-idence of these studies, by claiming that theconservative Protestant and Roman Catholicchurches didn't allow divorce, so that theirmembers stayed married even while they weremiserable. There is some truth to this, but it'sonly a partial truth. The same survey thatshowed the Catholic divorce rate to be 7 pointsbelow the Protestant rate, reported that 9 per-cent of currently married Catholics were dis-satisfied with their marriages versus only 5percent of Protestants. If we add togetherthose divorced and those dissatisfied we get18.6 percent for the Catholic, 21.8 percent forthe Protestants. Yet the nonreligious, whohave no religious opposition to divorce, havethe highest rate of all 16 percent marital dis-satisfaction, as well as 25 percent divorce fora combined rate of 41 percent). Thus the non-religious couples are both twice as likely toget divorced, as well as twice as likely to bedissatisfied in their marriages. Similar factorsare at work among Jews, where religious prac-tice is directly related to marital satisfactionand low divorce rates, even though Jewish lawhas always permitted divorce.

    The more Jewish the couple, the lower thedivorce rate. A recent study of 4500 Jewishhouseholds in the Greater New York areafound that, with all socioeconomic factorsconstant, those Jews who attend synagogueweekly have a divorce rate of only 6 percent.Those who attend off and on throughout theyear have a divorce rate of 11 percent. Thisrises to 15 percent for those who attend onlyon the High Holidays, and reaches 26 percentfor those who never attend synagogue at all.

    The Reform divorce rate, which is 18 per-cent is higher than the divorce rate for Con-servative (11 percent) and Orthodox (7 per-cent) Jews. Reform Jews however, have amuch lower divorce rate than those Jews whoconsider themselves nonreligious or secular.The nonreligious Jews have a divorce rate of29 percent. Actually, while those who do not

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  • 78 JEWISH EDUCATION

    belong to a synagogue have a divorce ratetwice as high as those who,are affiliated (21percent vs. 10 percent) the really big influ-ence on the divorce rate is religious observ-ance.

    The difference between those who observealmost all Jewish holidays, pray regularly, andkeep a kosher home, and those who do verylittle of anything Jewish is truly amazing.Those people who are low on the Jewish ritualindex have a divorce rate of 32 percent; themedium observers are in the middle with a 16percent divorce rate, and the highly observanthave a divorce rate below 5 percent. The di-vorce rate for the minimally observant istherefore more than six times as high as forthe highly observant.

    What is it that makes the traditional Jewishlifestyle so productive of marital harmony? Iwould argue that in the American value sys-tem self-fulfillment and individualism are in-ordinately stressed. The ideal of self-fulfillment is counter roductive to family lifebecause it stresses ego and selfishness, as op-posed to the Jewish values of sacrifice and ser-vice. If we are constantly seeking to maximizeour own happiness, we are much more likelyto create disharmony and dissatisfactionaround us. Jewish tradition emphasizes ourduties, not our rights. Jews are encouraged tofulfill the mitzvot and not themselves. This at-titude would influence people to be more will-ing to sacrifice their ego needs for the greatergood of the family and of the community.

    Also, the American stress on "happinessnow" is counterproductive. Jewish traditiondeveloped over thousands of years andteaches us appreciation for long term commit-ment. Happiness is not a very important Jew-ish value. Justice, peace, charity, sacred study,doing good, and faith in God are all more im-portant than individual happiness. These val-ues promote family stability. Indeed, studieshave shown that more religious couples, of allreligious groups, have lower divorce ratesthan the less religious, the irreligious, or eventrained marriage counselors.

    Many people are disturbed when they learnthat a marriage or family counselor is di-vorced, or getting divorced. We would hopethat people whose profession it is to help oth-

    ers improve their marital and family relation-ships would also be able to manage their ownmarriages successfully. Alas, this often turnsout to be false. A recent survey of the mem-bership of the National Council on Family Re-lations found that the divorce rate was 13.8percent. This is only 1 percent lower than thatof other Americans of similar education andage. All the training in psychology and humanrelation skills does not seem to prepare themfor marriage any better than anyone else. Thesame survey did turn up a very interesting fac-tor that does affect the rate of divorce: reli-gion. Fourteen percent of the marriage coun-selors have no religious identity. Their divorcerate was three times higher than those whoidentified as Protestants, four times higherthan the Jews, and five times higher than theCatholics.

    CatholicJewishProtestantNone

    Broken Marriage6%8%

    10%30%

    It would seem that the secular humanistic phi-losophy which underlies most academic psy-chology is not of much help in binding mar-riages together. The teachings and practicesof the Judeo-Christian tradition are muchmore effective. However, combined in amixed religious marriage the Judeo-Christiantradition is counterproductive. I analyzed a1986 survey of college freshmen (over290,000) and found the parental divorce ratefor Jewish couples was 17.6 percent, for Cath-olic couples it was 11.2 percent; but for mixedcouples it was Jewish non-Jewish 41 percent,Catholic-non Catholic 28.9 percent. Thus therisk of divorce in a mixed marriage increasesby 2'/3 times for Jews, and by 22/3 times forCatholics.

    Divorce Rates

    Both JewishJewish/Non Jewish

    Both CatholicCatholic/Non-Catholic

    17.6%41.0%

    11.2%28.9%

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  • EDUCATORS VS. MIXED MARRIAGES 79

    These hard facts of life are especially im-portant for Jews and Catholics because theyare the least likely to unify their out-marriages by conversion the the religion oftheir spouse. Conversion reduces theProtestant-Catholic mixed marriage divorcerate by 25 percent. I would estimate that con-version reduces the Christian Jewish mixedmarriage rate by almost 50 percent. Yet astudy of 3,189 students at 18 colleges and uni-versities by Judson T. Landis found that bothCatholics and Jews are less willing to changeto the faith of their spouses than Protestantsare. Of the Catholics, 82 percent said theywould mar outside the faith; but only 15 per-cent said they would change to the faith of thespouse. The corresponding percentages forJews were 59 percent and 14 percent. TheProtestant students were in between 65 per-cent saying they would marry outside thefaith, and 35 percent of those saying theywould change to the faith of the spouse. Wom-en, more than men, of all three faiths ex-pressed greater willingness to change to thefaith of the spouse. The difference betweenthe high number of those willing to marry out,and the low numbers of those willing to acceptthe religious identity of the person they wishto marry, is particularly striking for bothCatholics and Jews.

    Catholics and Jews in love face an extra etof problems. Catholics are more Christianthan most Protestants. Catholics have oftenseen successful Protestant-Catholic mar-riages, and think that marriage to a Jew is not

    that different from marriage to a Protestant.Like most Christians, Catholics think of Juda-ism as a religion, which it is. However, it ismuch more than simply a religion. Jews arealso part of a historic people, and their loyaltyto this chosen people is an ethnic dimensionof religion foreign to most Christians. This as-pect of Jewishness is why most Jews who arenot personally pious, still strongly desire thattheir children be raised as Jews. Jews whoonly attend services on the High Holidays (ifthat) and even may be semiagnostics, stillhave strong feelings of Jewishness, and pow-erful ties to Jewish culture, tradition and her-itage. They react very negatively to the pros-pect of their children going to church, or pray-ing to Jesus. I estimate that about 40 percentof all the non-Jews who marry Jews are Ro-man Catholic (since there are 10 times asmany Catholics as Jews, only 4-5 percent ofCatholics who marry out marry Jews).

    As the facts stated above indicate, a mixedmarriage is a risky affair. Chances for successare not made better by ignoring or avoidingthe difficult decisions that must be reached.Of all the factors which are associated with ahigher-than-average divorce rate (teenagemarriage, premarriage pregnancy, previousdivorce, elopement) for Jews and Catholics aninterfaith marriage increases the divorce ratemore than any other single factor. Marriage istoo important, and divorce too frequent, forpeople to pretend that by being liberal, help-ful, accommodating, or what have you, onecan ease the path to marital bliss.

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