Photo Credit: Facebook
Intermarried couple: Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky

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.


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Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at


  1. Your photo of Chelsea Clinton and her husband make a strong argument in favor of intermarriage, or better yet, marrying someone you'd be in love with forever. I can make the same argument about myself and my Christian wife.

    Substitute "Aryan" for "Jewish" and similar arguments were made 78 years ago in the Third Reich, and were just as specious as the ones you're making in your article.

  2. So Steve, what's your point? That "liberalism" leads to intermarriage, and in order to be truly Jewish, one must join the Tea Party, and kiss the dorsal orifice of Michele Bachman's alimentary canal?

    If jerks like you had their way, the U.S. government would default on its obligations and we'd be a larger version of Greece, but with about 6,800,000 more Jews, assimilated and otherwise.

  3. Of 10 1st cousins only three of us have Jewish spouces. Seven of the 12 children of these relatives of mine have children that are considered Jews although the actual number of the children only four are practicing Jews seeking or are maddied to Jews.
    I have two marriage age daughters that are having a very difficult time finding a practicing Jewish husband. There are plenty Liberal males that have no problem with a pork chop dinner Friday evening instead of Chicken soup, knaidelah and challah.

  4. Among the several definitions of Liberalismit it is in part defined by Webster as the freedom from the yoke of religious practice and ritual. The entire world that we Jews live in is populated with vicious antisemites and murderous Islamist Jihadiis. Those folks have a very liberal for the definition of a Jew.

    If you are an American Jew you are in severe jeopardy. I am reminded of Ms. Daisy remarking when the Temple in Atlanta was bomed that, "We are Reformed Jews."

  5. When one visits the Jewish Museum in Berlin, an on going exhibit on the Jews in German shows the Mendelssohn Family. Moses Mendelssohn was the foremost Rabbi in Germany(Prussia) of his time. Perhaps in all of Europe, yet 10 of his 12 children all converted to Christianity, including the father of Felix Mendelssohn. In fact, Felix's father even added the name Bartholdy to further Christianize the family. Now the question remains as to why they did this? I think that the level of hidden and overt anti-semitism was so great, that anyone who was anyone converted. Much the way it is today in the USA. Who wants to be shackled to "that old time religion" when you can chuck all of that and be as modern as possible. Go to Berlin and see this exhibit for yourself.

  6. The reason people assimilate in the US and elsewhere in the West is that Jews are now fully accepted in Western society, and it's about time. There no longer is the need to circle the wagons. The main purpose of orthodox Judaism, Halacha, and the 613 so-called "Mitzvot" was to keep Jews apart from everyone else, and thus preserve the tribe. In early 20th-Century Poland that was probably a good idea; Jews WERE surrounded by enemies. Ditto for ancient Israel.

    The "price" of full integration into modern Western society is intermarriage. To those who are railing against this, I ask: Would you rather be regarded by the rest of your countrymen as "auslanders"? Would you rather live in Poland, circa 1915? Remember, one can always make aliyah. Prior to 1948, that wasn't really an option.

  7. I don't see how that can be the "essence" of Judaism when the religion, like other religions, has the tradition of "hokh" – doctrine that may not be questioned at all. This is why the orthodox don't consider observers of conservative or reform Judaism (one of which I presume you and I count ourselves as) as Jews. On the other hand, if we are thoroughly secular and non-practicing this is precisely the group Steve Plaut is talking about. It seems to me he has a major, even horrifying point.

  8. Great comment. Unfortunately, there is a growing amount of Orthodox Jews adopting the customs of Radical Islam and Christianity. They have to be "more religious" every year, and ignore the traditions of even their parents.

  9. Also Dan, the only way we become Greece is if we continue to rack up our debt to such a height that it becomes impossible to repay it. The only solution is to rein in our profligate ways, something Obama and the Democrats are unwilling to do.

  10. My question here may be simplistic, but does the high intermarriage rate in the Pew Study only include those who are married, or does it include common law as well? Depending on the source of data, the US cohabitation rate is at an all time high, so I wonder how it reflects on the intermarriage numbers.

  11. The U.S. is a melting pot. What happens to ALL ethnicities and nationalities that immigrate here? For better or worse, we all become Americanized. Each generation gets watered down more. So yes, this is a problem in the Jewish community, (but not the orthodox) But it is also a problem in all communities.
    This is not necessarily a "liberal" problem.

  12. As a proud, Torah-observing Jew and an Iraq War veteran, I reject completely and totally the notion that being a Jew first is inconsistent with Americanism. We don't live in North Korea. The state is not and should not be put ahead of all else. The fact that almost no Christian would answer "Yes" if asked "Are you an American before you are a Christian?" proves the utter nonsense of the idea that being 100% Jewish and obeying the mitzvot makes you less American than everyone else.

  13. Ira Altman Japan's per capita debt is more than double that of the US and it is causing no problems at all. The Republican Austerity policies are damaging the economy and destroying much of the US's physical and intellectual infrastructure. We are indeed headed the way of Greece of Obama doesn't stand firm.

  14. Ira Altman , "This is why the orthodox don't consider observers of conservative or reform Judaism (one of which I presume you and I count ourselves as) as Jews" — that's not entirely correct. Observers of Reform and Conservative Judaism who are halachically Jewish are still considered Jews; what isn't recognized is Reform and Conservative Judaism.

  15. Dan Silagi It depends on whether or not you want Jewish grandchildren. If Judaism has no value to you, you probably don't care and assimilation is fine; if Judaism is something you value as a faith-based way of life, then being Jewish is more important than being accepted by the gentiles in your society.

  16. Additionally, this article explains why any criticism of the liberal ideology is so vehemently opposed–it is as if you are criticizing their religion. Wars have been fought over less.

  17. Additionally, this article explains why any criticism of the liberal ideology is so vehemently opposed–it is as if you are criticizing their religion. Wars have been fought over less.

  18. Kind of a shame that Rachel Flank-Lisbon never bothered to read Plaut’s article.  If assimilationist Jews misdefined Judaism as sugar and then promoted sports instead of Judaism as a pseudo-theology, then yes indeed sports would be behind the massive intermarriage plague.

  19. This is so true! I often joke that the real 'intermarriage' would be if my daughter brought home a Democrat!! don't know how we'd deal with that. Who would want a wimpy doormat for a son in law, someone whose reaction to every insult Obama and Company hurl at Jews would be to say 'thank you sir, may I have another'??

  20. Dear Steven,

    You article “Assimilationist Liberals Reap What They’ve Sown” is a gross oversimplification of the status of American Jews and Judaism. It is so rife with slights, insults, cavalier generalizations, and editorial negligence it is hard not to conclude it represents little more than a thinly masked public airing of the writer’s personal disappointments.

    Thank you for writing off, with the click of a few keys, the thousands of hours of food drives, tending to the sick, and raising money for the needy both locally and in Israel, all done through our reform temple here in eastern Pennsylvania. Thank you for negating with your all-knowing intellect the teaching we’ve done over many years of prayer, of Torah, of Talmud, and Jewish history in that same reform temple. Yes, some of us are married to people not born into the Jewish faith. And yes, more than half of us—I think—are registered Democrats. But we all have one thing in common—our tikkun olam is real. You are a sorry individual to dismiss it.

    I think you could learn a lot from being around us. I question whether your own practice of Judaism is satisfying when you feel compelled to turn around and scold millions of self-actualized people who may have let go of your narrow tribalism. If you were so content with your place in our tradition and your guaranteed loophole-free rendezvous with olam haba, what possible emotional need would you have to fire verbal buckshot into our extended minyans? The truth is, you are not content in who you are. You need to feel “better” than your fellow Jews, to the point where you are compelled to denigrate their very Jewishness in comparison to your own.

    Well, guess what kind of people have driven me, my wife, and hundreds of thousands of stellar, dedicated individuals out of orthodox and conservative temples?

    Yours truly,

    Rich Herschlag

  21. Suzanne, are you so obsessed with this antiquated, useless Democrat-Republican dichotomy that you missed what an arrogant prick the writer of that article is? I certainly hope that it the case. If not, then you agree with him, even though he has next to nothing positive to say about your choices either. If I ever run into him and discern that he is at least ten years my junior, I will smack him across his smug punim.

  22. Suzanne, your comment makes me very sad. I opened your FB page to post a birthday greeting and, curious about who was joining me in wishing you well, I scrolled down to find this posting. Leaving aside what I think of the article, I have always thought that, knowing that our political views were different, we respected each other as human beings and as friends … and then I found this. Our country was founded by people whose views were deeply different and who hammered out masterful compromises within those views. Our nation is, therefore, premised on its citizens understanding the value of a respectful dialogue that recognizes the value of give and take between citizens whose views differ. How can our form of government work when, instead of respecting that I see things differently than you do and engaging in a meaningful conversation in the hopes of hammering out something that neither of us like entirely but both of us can live with, you insult me?

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