Interfaith marriage in Judaism (also called mixed marriage or intermarriage) was historically looked upon with very strong disfavour by Jewish leaders, and it remains an enormously controversial issue amongst Jewish leaders and Jewish women. In the Talmud, interfaith marriage is completely prohibited, although the definition of interfaith is not so simply expressed[1]. In modern times, many Jews reject intermarriage out of fear of Jewish assimilation.

Marriages between Jews and non-Jews were extremely rare until the Jewish Enlightenment, and emancipation, which swept through communities in the Jewish diaspora during the 19th and 20th centuries. As Jews began to assimilate into the broader societies in which they lived, intermarriages became more common. The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey reported an intermarriage rate of 52 percent among American Jews.[2]

Some interfaith couples conduct interfaith marriages as a civil arrangement, to avoid the problems that might arise if they attempted to have a religious marriage together. A number[specify] of rabbis refuse to officiate at any interfaith marriage involving a Jew, even if it is merely a civil marriage ceremony. Thus in modern times, interfaith marriages are often performed by independent interfaith officiants, or by civil officials.

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].

However, if the principle applied to intermarriage to other nationalities, it is clearly violated on several occasions in the Torah, and early parts of the Deuteronomic history, without direct criticism; for example, King David is described as marrying the daughter of the king of Geshur[8], and Bathsheba as having married Uriah the Hittite[9]. Deuteronomy itself implies that intermarriage to Edomites or Egyptians was acceptable, by permitting the grandchildren of such people to be treated as Israelites[10]

Nevertheless, after the Babylonian Captivity, disquiet seems to have arisen about such exogamy; the Book of Malachi declares that the intermarriages which had occurred were a profanity[11], and several Jewish leaders eventually made a formal complaint to Ezra about these marriages[12]. Ezra definitively extended the law against intermarriage to forbid marriage between a Jew and any non-Jew[13][14]; he also excommunicated those people who refused to divorce their foreign spouses[14].

Later laws and rulings

Although most of the Talmudic writers concede that the Deuteronomic law referred only to marriage to Canaanites, they themselves still forbade marriage with the other nationalities[1]. Two special classes of people in Israelite society - Nethinim and Gibeonites - were regarded as foreigners in relation to this rule, and hence the Talmud forbids marriage to them[15][16][17]. However, the situation is slightly complicated by the fact that the Talmudic writers viewed Christianity as being at the gate of Judaism[18], and hence marriages between Christians and Jews were not seen by them as prohibited[19]; on the other hand, Christian rulers regarded such unions unfavourably, and repeatedly prohibited them under penalty of death[20][21][22].

Gradually, however, many countries removed these restrictions, and marriage between Jews and Christians (and Muslims) began to occur. In 1236 Moses of Coucy tried to pursuade the Jews bespoused by such marriages to dissolve them[23], but in 1807, the Grand Sanhedrin declared that such marriages were valid and should not be treated as anathema[19]. In 1844, the 1807 ruling was extended by the Rabbinical Conference of Brunswick to include any adherent of a monotheistic religion[19]; but they also altered it to forbid marriages involving those who lived in states which would prevent any children of the marriage from being brought up as Jewish[19]. One member of the Brunswick Conference later changed his opinion, becoming an opponent of intermarriage[24]

Classical Jewish writers, and those of the middle ages, regarded converts as Jews, in relation to these rules; marriage between a Jew and a convert to Judaism was not regarded as intermarriage[16][25][26]. Hence, all the Biblical passages which appear to support intermarriages, such as that of Joseph to Asenath, and that of Ruth, were regarded by the classical rabbis as having occurred only after the foreign spouse had converted to Judaism[27]. The Talmudic writers, however, still forbade intermarriage with Canaạnites even if they had converted to Judaism[28][29].

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)[30]; 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[30]. 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)[31][32][33].

Modern Attitudes

The more popular forms of modern Judaism - Reform, Progressive (known in the USA as Reconstructionist), and Liberal - do not generally regard the opinions of the classical rabbis as having any force, and so do not have any firm rules against intermarriage; according to a survey of rabbis, conducted in 1985, more than 87% of Reconstructionist rabbis were willing to officiate at interfaith marriages[34], and in 2003 at least 50% of Reform rabbis were willing to perform interfaith marriages[35]. However, as with many religious denominations, there are a few dissenting voices; in 1870 some Reform Jews published the opinion that intermarriage is prohibited[36]. 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. In Orthodox Judaism, marriage is regarded as the sanctification (Hebrew:kiddushin) of the bride exclusively to the husband, and Orthodox Jews believe that sanctification cannot possibly involve non-Jews. 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.

Similar to the attitude of historic Jewish writers to marriage between a lifelong Jew and a convert to Judaism, is that of modern Conservative Judaism, which does not sanction 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. Conservative rabbis believe they are not allowed to perform intermarriages, although the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism takes a more nuanced view:

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....[37].

A number of interfaith marriage couples and families who wish to maintain their separate faith affiliations and identities have found a tolerant home within Unitarian Universalism, which claims a relatively high number of Jewish interfaith families as members. Although the UU faith was rooted in liberal Christianity, it evolved to become an inter-spiritual, interfaith denomination. Several Jewish organizations exist within the UUA community, such as Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness and Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism, which seek to maintain and nurture a strong Jewish presence within the Association. Despite the existence of these organizations and sub-groups, the normative[weasel words] Jewish outlook on this phenomenon would be that the formerly Jewish individuals who affiliate with Unitarian Universalism are apostates to another faith[dubious ].

The exact definition of 'interfaith' marriage

Each stream of Judaism takes a different view 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 conducted under the authority of a more liberal stream; in 2009 there was a prominent and controversial court case, in the United Kingdom, in which the court ruled that this long-standing, millennia old Halakhic definition constituted racism [38][39][40][41][42].

Of particular concern to Hareidi Jews is the risk of a son marrying a woman who will not properly follow the laws of modesty, contact with the opposite sex, and family purity, or a daughter marrying a man who is not sufficiently learned in Jewish religious law. Hareidi Jews argue that Modern Orthodox Jews do not follow these laws to their standards, and express doubt about whether the conversions of female ancestors of the Modern Orthodox community were valid. They also cast doubt on whether many non-Orthodox Jews are really Jewish, given the high rate of intermarriage outside the Orthodox community.

Thus Hareidi Jews absolutely forbid marriage to non-Orthodox Jews, even frowning upon some marriages to Modern Orthodox Jews, and some even discourage their children from marrying outside their tight-knit Hareidi communities. In the event that one of their children enters such a marriage, they occasionally respond by refusing to attend the wedding and in some cases carry out a week of mourning.

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[43]. But in the early 20th century, even in most Germanic regions of central Europe[44] there were still only a mere 5% of Jews marrying non-Jews[45][46][47]. However, the picture was quite different in other locations; the figure was 18% for Berlin[48], and during the same period, nearly half of all Jews in Australia intermarried[49].

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 marriages involving Jews were intermarriages with non-Jewish partners. 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[50].

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 silent holocaust. On the other hand, more tolerant and liberal Jews embrace interfaith marriage as an enriching contribution, to a multicultural society. Regardless of attitudes to intermarriage, there now an increasing effort to reach out to descendants of intermarried parents, each Jewish denomination focusing on those which it defines as Jewish[51]; secular and non-denominational Jewish organisations have sprung up to bring the descendants of intermarried parents back into the Jewish fold[52][53][54][55]

Christian-Jewish relations

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.[56][57][58]

The Roman Catholic Church has historically attracted some Jews, such as Gustav Mahler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Marcel Proust, Edith Stein, Israel Zolli, Erich von Stroheim, and Jean-Marie Lustiger. In Spain, after the 15th century, there was controversy over the sincerity of Spanish Judeo-Catholics who converted under pain of being expelled from Spain.[59]

Jewish opposition to mixed marriages between Jewish women and Arab men

Many Israeli Jews oppose mixed relationships, particularly relationships between Jewish women and 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 Pisgat Zeev have started patrolling the town in an effort to stop Jewish women from dating Arab men. The municipality of Petah Tikva has also announced an initiative to prevent interracial 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 town of Kiryat Gat launched a school programme in schools to warn Jewish girls against dating local Bedouin men.[60][61]

In February 2010 Maariv has reported that the Tel Aviv municipality has instituted an official, government-sponsored "counselling program" to discourage Jewish girls from dating and marrying Arab boys. The London Times has also reported on a vigilante parents’ group policing the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev to intimidate and discourage local Arab-Jewish couples. The Jewish anti-missionary group Yad L'Achim has also performed paramilitary ”rescue operations” of Jewish women from non-Jewish husbands and celebrates the "rescued women" on their website. [62]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kiddushin 68b
  3. Genesis 24:2-4
  4. Genesis
  5. Deuteronomy 7:3
  6. Deuteronomy 7:4
  7. Simeon, in 'Abodah Zarah 36b
  8. 2 Samuel 3:3
  9. 2 Samuel 11:3
  10. Deuteronomy 23:4-9
  11. Malachi 2:11
  12. Ezra 9:1-2
  13. Ezra 10:10-11
  14. 14.0 14.1 Nehemiah 10:31
  15. Yadayim 4:4
  16. 16.0 16.1 Berakhot 28a
  17. Kiddushin (Tosefta) 6:6
  18. Isaac ben Sheshet, Responsa, No. 119
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Intermarriage", a publication now in the public domain.
  20. Codex Theodosianus, 16:8, 6
  21. Heinrich Grätz, Geschichte der Juden (=History of the Jews) 4:363; 5:359; 7;27
  22. Leopold Löw, Gesammelte Werke, 2:176
  23. Moses of Coucy, Sefer Mitzvot ha-Gadol, 112
  24. Ludwig Philippson, Israelitische Religionslehre (1865), 3:350
  25. Kiddushin 5:4 (Tosefta)
  26. Shulchan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer 4:10
  27. Genesis Rabbah, 65
  28. 'Abodah Zarah 34b
  29. Yebamot 76a
  30. 30.0 30.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Foundling", a publication now in the public domain.
  31. Ketubot 13a
  32. Kiddushin 74a
  33. Ketubot (Palestinian Talmud only) 1:9
  34. Survey of the American Rabbinate, The Jewish Outreach Institute, [1] (retrieved 6th May 2009)
  35. 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)
  36. D.Einhorn, in The Jewish Times, (1870), No. 45, p. 11
  37. Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, Statement on Intermarriage, Adopted on 7th March, 1995
  38. [3]
  39. [4]
  40. "Jewish school admissions unlawful", BBC, 25 June 2009
  41. [5]
  42. Template:Cite BAILII
  43. Ricoux, Demography of Algeria, Paris, 1860, p. 71
  44. Prussia, Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia, etc.
  45. Census for Prussian Statistics, 1902, p. 216
  46. Census of the Baverian Kingdom, Statistics Bureaux, 1900, p. 259
  47. Statebook of Austria" 8:283, Vienna, 1900
  48. Statistics Yearbook, 1902, p. 61
  49. specifically, 44% in New South Wales; Census of New South Wales, 1901, Bulletin No. 14
  50. Geiger and Aub,Leipsic Synod 1869; Referate über die der Ersten Synode Gestellten Anträge p. 193
  51. Chabad
  53. Jewish Gate
  54. Faith of our fathers
  55. Jewish Outreach Institute
  56. Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue (World Council of Churches)
  57. Allan R. Brockway, "Should Christians Attempt to Evangelize Jews? Israel's Covenant with God Remains Valid"
  58. Policies of mainline and liberal Christians towards proselytizing Jews (
  60. "'Protecting' Jewish girls from Arabs". 2009-09-18. 
  61. Cook, Jonathan. "Israeli drive to prevent Jewish girls dating Arabs". The National. 
  62. Reider, Dimi (2010-02-04). "Tel Aviv presents: Municipal program to prevent Arab boys from dating Jewish girls". Coteret. 

External links

Interfaith Groups

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