The recent study of U.S. Jews by the Pew Research Center reports that 58 percent of American Jews marry non-Jews. Since few of those who intermarry are Orthodox, the percentage rises to 71 percent when Orthodox Jews are taken out of the equation.
The fact is, American non-Orthodox Jews are intermarrying their way into post-Jewish oblivion, and they’re doing so as a direct result of having emptied their version of Judaism of all meaning.
Having jettisoned traditional Judaism, non-Orthodox Jews by and large adopted political liberalism as their alternative pseudo-religion. The replacement of Judaism with political liberalism explains the creeping disappearance of the non-Orthodox Jewish community through intermarriage.
Intermarriage among the non-Orthodox is rampant because it is not really intermarriage at all. Putting romantic fantasies aside, the simple truth is that people tend to marry those with whom they have things in common and with whom they can share the things they regard as critically important in their lives. For the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews, Judaism is simply not one of those things.
Since Judaism is not an important factor in the lives of assimilated Jews, there is nothing that stands in the way of their sharing with a non-Jewish spouse the things that are important to them. If one’s “religion” consists of nothing more than political liberalism, a non-Jewish liberal and a Jewish liberal already share the same faith. The Pew survey says large numbers of intermarried couples are raising their children “culturally” as Jews. All this means is they are raising them as liberals.
For two or three generations now, many American non-Orthodox Jews have insisted that the essence of Judaism is nothing more or less than the agenda of political liberalism. The mantra is familiar: All of Judaism boils down to “Jewish ethics,” which in turn can be reduced to tikkun olam, which in turn means nothing other than the pursuit of liberal political fads.
True Judaism, according to such reductionists, is the pursuit of environmentalist goals, Obamacare, affirmative action, and homosexual marriage. The “essence” of Judaism is not ritual or traditional texts, the reductionists argue, but being nice. And niceness, they insist, means being liberal.
On Internet search engines the combination of the terms “Judaism” and “social justice” yields a considerably greater number of web-page hits than a search for “Judaism” with “kosher” or “Judaism” with “Passover,” and nearly all of these are sites proclaiming the quest for “social justice” as the essence of Jewish ethics.
Many of the websites are, unsurprisingly, associated with Reform and Conservative synagogues or organizations. It would be an exaggeration, but only a small one, to say that nothing in real Judaism directs us to the pursuit of social (as opposed to judicial) justice. It is therefore an absurdity to claim that “social justice” is somehow synonymous with Judaism.
Countless “social action” committees operate in nearly every non-Orthodox synagogue in America, and invariably the agenda of such committees involves promoting political liberalism. The equation of tikkun olam with liberal political activism is so commonplace that it is recited as an ethical basis by many of the same liberal activists who cannot recite the Shema prayer correctly, who practice little or no Jewish ritual, and who have never been to Israel.
Even identification with Israel for many non-Orthodox American Jews is nothing more than an extension of their political liberalism. When Israel behaves in a manner that embarrasses liberals, like using armed force to defend its citizens, Jewish liberals flee in droves. When an anti-Israel liberal candidate runs in an election against a pro-Israel conservative candidate, we all know how assimilationist Jewish liberals vote.
The point here is not that political liberalism is simply wrong about a very large number of things, which it is, and that by and large it advocates what it does because liberals refuse to study economics or consider the matter of tradeoffs in policy and in life. The point here is that even if one agrees with the entire gamut of political liberalism at the ideological level, it has nothing at all to do with being Jewish.
Like those old advertisements for Levy’s rye bread, you don’t have to be Jewish to pursue social justice. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists are just as capable of caring about social justice and pursuing it as Jews. (Of course, pursuing social-action fads is hardly the same thing as pursuing justice.)
So what does all this have to do with intermarriage? Everything. Since a non-Jewish liberal shares a Jewish liberal’s pseudo-religion, and since liberalism is the defining element in how Jewish liberals see themselves, there is nothing of importance in life that a potential non-Jewish partner is incapable of sharing.
To the contrary, the real difficulty, the real barrier to sharing the important things in life, would arise if an assimilated Jewish liberal were to marry a Jew who voted Republican! They adhere to different theologies.
Once Judaism has been misunderstood as the pursuit of the agenda of political liberalism, it should come as no surprise when intermarriage rates zoom to the sky. American non-Orthodox Jews faced a choice between Jewishness and political liberalism. Most chose the latter and now must live with the consequences.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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