(First appeared as an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2021)
A few years ago when new Israeli president Yitzchak Herzog first assumed the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, he commented off-handedly that intermarriage among American Jews is “mamash mageifah,” a veritable plague. Chastised by the leadership of American Jewry, he quickly apologized and explained that he didn’t mean “plague” as a pejorative but rather as an expression of prevalence.
He need not have apologized. It is a plague, a plague that is destroying American Jewry.
Shortly thereafter, newly minted Minister Rav Rafi Peretz said with great sadness that intermarriage in America is producing a “second Holocaust.” He too was forced to apologize for that accurate sentiment, forced primarily by secular Jewish apologists for intermarriage who predominate in the organizational leadership of American Jewry. He too need not have apologized. It is a second Holocaust, Jews willfully destroying their own lives and posterity rather than having Nazis do it. The soldier who rips off his uniform and flees the battlefield is as lost to his side as the soldier who dies in battle.
American Jewish leadership doth protest too much.
Certainly, we all believe in romance, love, free choice and human rights, which is not to say that some expressions of love and other poor choices have catastrophic consequences. But we should not be oblivious to the political ramifications of the choice of intermarriage in American Jewish life, where most Jews who marry these days happen to marry a non-Jew.
Pew recently reported, to the great horror of many people, that one-quarter of American Jews deem Israel an “apartheid state,” with the percentage of young Jews holding that false and repugnant opinion even greater. A fifth of Jews under the age of forty, according to this survey, declared that “Israel does not have the right to exist.” A whopping 38% of American Jews felt no “emotional attachment” to Israel.
Perhaps more pointedly, the Jerusalem Post (July 9) published a segment of that poll that indicated that Jews between the ages of 18-29 professed themselves to be “Jews of no religion,” with 33% of Jews aged 30-49 defining themselves similarly – as opposed to Jews 50-64 (19%) and Jews over 65 (16%).
These polls have engendered much finger-pointing, depending on the pundit’s political perspectives. Some blame Israel’s policies for the severed connection between American Jews and Israel – on the peace process, settlements, or defense against terrorism and so advocate for more concessions. Others blame the Orthodox establishment and the lack of pluralism in marriage, divorce and definition of Judaism, and so advocate for liberalization and the separation of Torah and state.
What these jeremiads miss is the answer that is staring us in the face and over which we have no control or solution. The loss of identification with Israel among the young Jews in the United States is a direct result of the spiraling intermarriage rates in the last half-century. It has nothing to do with politics, Netanyahu, negotiations, Gaza, the Chief Rabbinate or the like. There is no Israeli policy or change of policy that is going to matter.
Simply put, polls that purport to measure American Jewish public opinion on any issue invariably count people who identify themselves as “Jews” to the pollsters, whether or not they are in fact Jews according to halacha. They are the products of intermarriage and they may consider themselves on some level “ethnic” Jews. They may have a Jewish father or grandfather. They may even have a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father and still be considered Jews according to halacha, but their Jewish identity is tenuous and clearly not based on the features of Jewish life that bind all Jews – Torah, Mitzvot, love of Israel and the people of Israel, etc.
Indeed, the generational increase of Jews who self-identify as “Jews of no religion” as indicated above tracks neatly with the rate of intermarriage in American Jewish life over the past six decades. As the rate of intermarriage has exploded, the percentage of “Jews” who feel no Jewish identity, no bond with Israel or the Jewish people, and whose real religion today is woke progressivism has increased proportionately.
It should be no surprise that American Jews’ support for Israel is declining but it has much to do with the decay of American Jewry and little or nothing to do with what happens in Israel. Rick Jacobs, the Reform rabbi who leads the American movement, conceded that most Reform Jews today are probably not Jews according to Jewish law. It is invariably true that the loudest Jewish but anti-Israel voices in America today – on campuses, in the media and elsewhere – are usually the children and grandchildren of intermarriage.
There are three prescriptions for Israelis that may be useful in countering the effects of intermarriage and even arresting it. The first is to stop taking seriously polls of “American Jewry” which disproportionately include people who are not Jews and have no share in Jewish destiny and exclude Orthodox Jews who are the most committed to Judaism’s present and Israel’s future. Second, take seriously (without distorting his words) Ambassador Ron Dermer’s recent comment that the basis of political support for Israel in America is not the Jewish community but the evangelical Christian community. That is true, even if people do not want to hear it.
Third, another truism that people do not want to hear, is that intermarriage is a “plague” and a “second Holocaust.” We need to say it. And we need to reckon with the consequences for they are now upon us. Facts may be stubborn and even unpleasant, but they remain facts.