In response to Gary Rosenblatt’s column, “Not Too Late To Push In-Marriage?” (Sept. 13), [and Rabbi Jack Wertheimer’s call for aggressively advocating for in-marriage]: Does anyone seriously believe that a serious, committed Jew loses his or her commitment to Judaism because he or she intermarries?
What is happening is the opposite of what people like Wertheimer are saying: people don’t intermarry and then lose their commitment to Judaism. They lose their commitment and then have no reason not to intermarry.
The effort to prevent intermarriage has to be stood on its head: we need to find ways to convince our youngsters to be serious Jews. Intermarriage will then take care of itself.
Obviously we are failing at this. For one thing, we often continue to act as if we believe that “serious, committed” means Orthodox. It is clear from the data that such an argument doesn’t work. Yes, I know about Orthodox triumphalism. I also know the data from the 2000/2001 National Jewish Population Study shows that the Orthodox lost more members than they gained as ba’alei teshuva, or returnees to the faith.
So Orthodoxy is no solution to our problem. I think the solution lies in facing the reality of contemporary America: our young have the choice of being or not being Jews. That’s what freedom means. We need to compete for their loyalty, and it’s clear that their loyalty can only be won in the context of the rest of their lives, i.e. as Americans.
The article says that what Wertheimer says is hard to hear. Actually it is easy compared to the truth: Judaism as it is today can’t compete with being American. Solving this problem requires honesty and courage, not a self-righteous assumption of the “superiority” of Jewish life.