Commentary Magazine


More on Intermarriage

To the Editor:

I read Marshall Sklare’s article [“Intermarriage & the Jewish Future,” April] with special interest, for both my husband and I are third-generation Jews from Iowa, and Mr. Sklare makes use of the Rosenthal Study, which cites statistical data on the Jews of that state.

I would like to add some personal observations that differ a bit from the author’s conclusions. . . . At one point, he states that the traditional view that Jews may marry Gentiles to better themselves socially is no longer valid, based on Rosenthal’s findings that Jewish men from Iowa married predominantly Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians, and more frequently into the “plainspun society of the Baptist” than the “prestigious milieu of the Episcopalians.” In drawing this conclusion, Mr. Sklare asumes first of all that the Episcopalians were accepted as the socially prestigious class in Iowa at this time; and secondly that Jewish men had the opportunity and/or choice of marrying girls from Iowa’s socially elite class (whether or not it was Episcopalian) . I cannot quite go along with either assumption. In Des Moines, . . . at least during the late 1940′s and 1950′s, social status was not determined by affiliation with any particular Protestant sect. Here in the capital city of a conservative, Protestant, Bible-belt region . . . with strong rural roots, the Episcopalians were if anything a slightly alien, urban element. . . . (Most of the Episcopalian families of note were “newcomers” from Chicago or the East.) Social prominence had its roots rather, I think, in Iowa pioneer family ancestry or ties to Eastern pioneer families. Families also achieved social standing through professional or business success.

There was, of course, an elite social class, but whether or not a Jewish boy had the opportunity to marry into it is another question. Mr. Sklare optimistically assumes that he could. My husband and I, however, do not know of a single “mixed” marriage in Des Moines during these years in which a girl from the socially elite set did marry a Jew. . . . There was a certain amount of dating and even going “steady,” but that was all. Gentile parents from this class exerted tremendous pressures and succeeded in breaking off anything hinting at marriage. The Gentile girls who show up in Rosenthal’s statistics were rather from the lower social and economic classes in Des Moines—often from one of the “less elite” high schools in town, the daughters of non-white-collar workers. If it was an Iowa college romance, the girl often came from a farm or village or from another state. . . . Mr. Sklare states further that Jews no longer intermarry in order to escape anti-Semitism, as evidenced . . . by those Iowa Jews who lived in a state “remote from scenes and memories of Jewish persecution.” In this assumption, however, he shows a shocking ignorance about . . . what it means to be one of a handful of Jews in a Protestant community in the American midlands! Suffice it to say there is anti-Semitism everywhere, and very possibly more of it in conservative, provincial areas. The “scenes and memories of Jewish persecution” from World War II, at least, were all too close at hand—what Jewish family in Iowa did not have some relative trapped in Europe . . . or a refugee cousin or uncle living in the spare room in the middle of Iowa in the middle of the war?

. . . Unfortunately, Iowa is neither as remote, immune, nor uncontaminated as Mr. Sklare imagines!

Shirley Mezvinsky
Ann Arbor, Michigan

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To the Editor:

Marshall Sklare’s otherwise fine article . . . is marred by his assumption that if Jews marry outside the faith, they and their offspring are lost to Judaism. This is often the case, but it is not inconceivable that exogamy could enlarge the Jewish community, rather than decrease it. . . .

Marrying outside the faith does not necessarily mean a lack of Jewish identification. Many Zionists married non-Jews. The younger Jewish intellectuals who have married Gentiles may not be regular synagogue-goers or believers in Jewish cooking, . . . or great joiners of organizations, but they are likely to believe in the secular values of Judaism, its ethics, love of learning, and ideas. . . . Increasingly the non-Jewish marriage partner is converted, as it were, ethnically. . . .

The article makes me wonder whether synagogues and community centers could perhaps do more to give Jewish intellectuals a home, in the way in which the Hillel Foundation, for example, is serving college students. . . .

John Neufeld
East Lansing, Michigan

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To the Editor:

I have always considered COMMENTARY a scholarly, non-sentimental, “liberal” journal, but Marshall Sklare’s article made me wonder. Has any social scientist ever presented evidence that Jewish intermarriage is actually a problem? I have yet to see such evidence. . . .

I am tired of the chauvinistic, almost racist attitudes found among a few Jews [which] undermine the great strengths of the Jewish religion, and are certainly not “Jewish,” in the classical sense. . . .

In any given group there is a far greater range of differences among its members than there are differences between one group and another. So in a sense, every marriage is an “inter-marriage.” No two individuals within any given family have identical needs or motives. In many cases ethnic and religious differences serve to strengthen the bond between husband and wife.

(Mrs.) Jane Keller
San Antonio, Texas

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To the Editor:

As a partner in a Jewish-Gentile marriage, it is my opinion that since one member of the couple usually has little religious conviction, there is almost no such thing as an “interfaith” marriage. The marriage will be dominated . . . by the partner with the positive conviction because he, consciously or unconsciously, is the less capable of compromise.

As for the concern over the “survival” of Judaism, even if 90 per cent of Jews intermarry, Judaism will still be there, albeit in a transmuted form. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone should feel that a religion or culture will suffer if it changes. Religion and culture are ways of getting along in the world. As the world changes, so must our ways of adapting to it. Hence Judaism, like Christianity, must change. . . .

(Mrs.) Louise Gottlieb
Wilmette, Illinois

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To the Editor:

Mr. Sklare asks the wrong question in his article on intermarriage. . . . He should ask what is wrong with the Jewish girl. What Mr. Sklare ignores in his discussion of the high rate of intermarriage on the University of Illinois faculty is that no “properly” reared Jewish girl would consider a professor for a husband when she might have a lawyer or a doctor—or even a dentist! Where is that politically liberal, intellectual . . . avant-garde Jewish student to find his mate? Among the potential officers of suburban Hadassah?

Judith Guttman
Waltham, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

Marshall Sklare’s article . . . is, on the whole, lucid and convincing, but there are a few points I would question. Mr. Sklare implies that the children born of intermarriage are never raised as Jews; has he any evidence to support this? He suggests that Jews who intermarry . . . fall away from Judaism entirely. I would be interested in seeing statistics proving, for example, that substantially fewer intermarried Jews go to shul, and less often, than Jews who marry other Jews. No such figures appeared in the article. . .

Nicholas D. Humez
Lexington, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

. . . Mr. Sklare follows the trend of all too many sociologists who have forgotten that sociology can meaningfully investigate only that which is capable of rational demonstration. The “Jewish value” of an individual is not thus demonstrable. Its presence is not necessarily indicated by membership in a congregation, nor is its absence shown even by conversion, as witness Heine, Mendelssohn, Werfel, Bergson, Mahler. There may be strength in numbers elsewhere, but not in the realm of ideas. As an ideological force, Judaism would continue even if there were only a few Jews left. . . .

Edwin M. Sears
Denver, Colorado

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