Family Values & the Jews
Ever since the release of the finding (from the 1990 Jewish Population Study) that rates of intermarriage have surged in recent decades, leaders of the major American Jewish organizations have agonized over a crisis of “Jewish continuity” in this country. Advertisements have appeared in major newspapers aimed at inspiring Jews to find meaning in their Jewishness; sessions devoted to “Jewish continuity” are regularly featured at conferences of Jewish communal workers; and educational programs, such as day schools and study in Israel, have won new respect—and even some additional funding.
Yet in all the talk about “Jewish continuity,” little attention has been paid to the Jewish family. This is, on the face of it, surprising: after all, when the euphemisms are stripped away, a community preoccupied with its prospects for long-term survival would seem to need to focus precisely on problems within the family that may prevent the transmission of a clear and strong identity. And in the case of the Jewish family, such problems exist aplenty. Quite apart from the high incidence of intermarriage, survey research provides ample evidence of rising rates of divorce and/or deferred marriage among Jews; of massive geographical dislocation which affects family cohesion; and of other symptoms, mainly stemming from the sexual revolution, that severely affect the Jewish family’s ability to nurture a strong Jewish identity in its youth.
About the Author
Jack Wertheimer is professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Among his contributions to COMMENTARY are “Judaism Without Limits” (July 1997), “The Orthodox Moment” (February 1999), and “The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism” (September 2007).