‘Marrying out’ rate for UK Jews among the lowest outside Israel

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‘Marrying out’ rate for UK Jews among the lowest outside Israel

Twenty-two percent of community members in the UK marry non-Jews – the third lowest intermarriage rate outside Israel, according to a report released this week.

Groom breaking a glass at Jewish wedding
Groom breaking a glass at Jewish wedding

British Jews are half as likely to marry outside their faith as American Jews, according to a report released this week that lifts the lid on Jewish relationships across the globe.

Twenty-two percent of community members in the UK marry non-Jews – the third lowest intermarriage rate outside Israel – while that figure soars to 45 percent across the Atlantic. The study on global trends was published by the London-based Institute of Jewish Policy Research (JPR) after research by the director of the body’s European Jewish demography unit, Dr Daniel Staetsky.

It shows a vastly different picture across the world, with almost no intermarriage among Israeli Jews (five percent), compared with almost 50 percent in Europe marrying non-Jews.

“There is a metaphorical abyss between Israel and the diaspora when it comes to intermarriage,” Staetsky says. While 40 percent of married Jews in the diaspora are married to non-Jews, only five percent of married Jews in Israel are intermarried. Likewise in Hungary, Russia, Poland, Sweden and Denmark, “most Jews today are married to non-Jews”, JPR says.

Elsewhere on the continent, Belgian Jews were found to be least likely to marry a non-Jew, with only 14 percent opting to do so, while in Poland, where the Jewish population numbers around 15,000, more than three quarters have married a non-Jew.

Levels are low in Israel in part due to a bigger Jewish population making it easier to find a Jewish partner, and although it is much higher elsewhere, intermarriage across the world is not the “existential threat” it is sometimes seen as, Staetsky writes.

These days, it would be “imprecise or incorrect to see intermarriage as the threat to Jewish demographic sustainability,” he says. “It may have been different in the past, but today the main threat is low fertility.”

JPR said the rising prevalence of intermarriage over time in the U.S. has been “offset somewhat by the growing Charedi and Orthodox populations”, but that this posed questions as to “who is a Jew?”.

Children of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers are considered Jewish by most, but this risks the idea of first and second-class Jews, Staetsky says, because of the idea that “transmission of Jewishness is partial in the case of intermarried mothers”.

He said this was “based on empirical reality” and, when viewed dispassionately, the data showed children of intermarried couples “are less likely to identify as Jews than the offspring of in-married couples”.

JPR director Dr Jonathan Boyd said intermarriage “has long been an issue for community leaders” but added that “fertility rates can both exacerbate or help to quell its impact”.

While the figures of intermarriage were higher for secular Jews, Staetsky said about 25 percent of Jewish partners of Reform Jews are “Jews by conversion”.

When analysis of intermarriage is limited to partners who are Jews by birth, secular and progressive/Reform Jews in Europe “have identical levels of intermarriage”.

This translates as around 45 percent being married to Jews by birth with 55 percent being married to non-Jews by birth.

The paper also revealed that Jewish fertility levels are of more concern to the future of Jewish demographics than marrying out.

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