Interfaith Marriages Rising … and Failing Fast

The debate still rages across the Jewish world, and especially within Messianic Jewish circles, over the issue of intermarriage. Recent studies have placed the intermarriage rate within the Jewish community well over the 50% mark. And the numbers are even higher within the Messianic Jewish movement.

Of course there is debate over whether or not this is a good thing – for kids of mixed marriages, for the future of the Jewish people, for Messianic Judaism, etc. But one thing seems to be clear … interfaith marriages have a higher tendency to fail.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, interfaith couples face “particular hardships and a poor track record of interfaith marriages: They fail at higher rates than same-faith marriages. But couples don’t want to hear that, and no one really wants to tell them.”

Here are some findings published in the article:

  • According to the General Social Survey, 15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988. That number rose to 25 percent by 2006, and the increase shows no signs of slowing.
  • According to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.
  • Less than a quarter of the 18- to 23-year-old respondents in the National Study of Youth and Religion think it’s important to marry someone of the same faith.

In 1993, Professor Evelyn Lehrer, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, reported findings showing that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years.

The odds are not too good …

However, many intermarried couples have found in Messianic Judaism answers to the intermarriage dilemma. In fact, Messianic Judaism can be uniquely situated to address the specific needs each partner brings into a marriage. I am one advocate who feels we need to do even more to reach out to intermarried couples and families, and empower those already in our midst.

At the same time we need to be advocating for fellow Jews to marry other Jews. Not only for the myriad of continuity reasons being discussed – but it also seems for the benefit of the couple and their marriage, as well.

What do you think?

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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5 Responses to Interfaith Marriages Rising … and Failing Fast

  1. James says:

    My wife is Jewish and I'm not. We've been married for 28 years and, as far as I know, a divorce isn't in our plans. There are factors in our marriage that probably don't exist in non-"mixed marriages", but we can give each other enough space to explore those differences while maintaining the ties that bind us together as a couple. I won't "reinvent the wheel" in this comment. I already wrote about it: http://shema-yisrael.org/blogspot/2010/05/mixed/

  2. Anonymous says:

    I'm a Messianic Gentile, and would never marry a Jewish person. I would not place my self in situtations, where I could risk falling in love with a Jewish person. Conversion to Judaism is not for me, and I would not be comfortable becoming Jewish. I know for a fact that many intermarried couples are very happy together, especially if they are both Messianic believers. BUT the unofficial ban on discussing intermarriage should be lifted: We should be able to discuss it, and warmly explain to our children and friends why it should be avoided. (But note: A marriage in-between a Messianic Jew and a Messianic Gentile is not "interfaith".)

  3. Anonymous says:

    I believe marriage between a Messianic Jew and a Gentile IS still very much an interfaith marriage. As a Gentile spouse married to a Jew, I am delighted at the prospect of conversion to Judaism. I would not want it any other way. It saddens me that conversion to Judaism has been so shunned in the Messianic world. We will raise our children as Jews and we pray (and openly encourage) our children to marry Jews.

  4. David says:

    As Jews I think we must remember we have obligations to God's word. He swore a covenant to the physical descendants of Jacob, and also swore we would not cease as a nation before him. There's a line from Exodus (the movie). It may be controversial, but in the end it's true. When everything hit's the fan in this world, we stand on our own. Nobody's going to help us. A Hebrew should always consider a Hebrew first as a spouse. That's my opinarooni . . .

  5. Gene Shlomovich says:

    "A marriage in-between a Messianic Jew and a Messianic Gentile is not "interfaith""Oh, yes it is. I think the word "interfaith" when it comes to a marriage between a Jew and Gentile (within Messianic and non-Messianic context) is quite unfortunate, as it implies that as long as one BELIEVES (has faith in) in pretty much the same things, it's not really intermarriage (sort of like a marriage between a Lutheran and Presbyterian, or a marriage between an agnostic Jew and agnostic Gentile). However, being a Jew is much more than simply believing or even doing certain things. It's about ethnicity, it's about historical continuity, it's identifying with one's own flesh and blood Jewish people, it's about relating to your extended Jewish family, it's about having similar life experiences growing up "Jewish", and many other tangible and intangible things.So, to second the opinions expressed by the commenters – yes, Jews should only marry Jews, but if you are a Jew who didn't, all is not lost – better hope that your spouse would strongly desire official conversion.

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