Opinion: Behind the numbers of Tu b’Av, the Jewish festival of love

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Opinion: Behind the numbers of Tu b’Av, the Jewish festival of love

With 28% of Israelis considering leaving the country, Dr Jonathan Boyd shares his thoughts about assimilation and Israel


I’m in Israel this week – trying unsuccessfully to have a bit of a break – beaten not only by the deadline for this article but also by the social and political turmoil dominating the Israeli news cycle.

In honour of Tu b’Av – the Jewish festival of love – I’m meant to be writing about the new JPR report on intermarriage, but frankly, it’s Tisha b’Av, and the theme of senseless hatred that is foremost in my mind.

Israeli society appears to be in serious trouble. Regardless of the right or wrongs of judicial reform, what is happening here should not be lightly dismissed by anyone who cares about the future of this country. It’s not an innocent piece of legislation; it is the thin end of the wedge that threatens to undermine the democratic nature of the State of Israel itself.

Dr Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director, Institute for Jewish Policy Research

The demonstrators’ fears are well-placed. Israel has been moving politically and religiously rightwards for decades – not a problem in and of itself, but a development that becomes problematic when secular and liberal Israelis start to feel marginalised, disenfranchised and even oppressed, as they so clearly do right now.

A measured Israeli government, seeing how deeply unpopular its plans are, would not have steam-rolled the legislation through but would have actively chosen compromise for the sake of holding Israeli society together. But it has failed miserably – the possibility of strike action and military service refusal, not to mention the disturbingly negative economic projections, threaten to damage, even destroy, Israeli society from within.

Demographic projections clearly demonstrate that Israel will continue moving rightwards politically and religiously. And if Israel’s democratic principles are further undermined, a growing number of secular liberal Israelis will leave, further exacerbating the change. According to a recent Israeli Channel 13 poll, 28% of Israelis are already considering getting out.

And on reflection, there is a link between this and our new report on intermarriage. Globally, one in four married Jews today is married to someone who is not Jewish. But that proportion varies dramatically by country. In Poland, it’s about three in four. In America, it’s close to two in four. Here in the UK, it is more or less in line with the global average. But where is it lowest? In Israel, of course. Just 5% of married Israeli Jews are married to non-Jews.

And here’s the thing. While the vast majority of in-married couples bring up their children as Jewish, fewer than a third of intermarried couples do so. And out-married Jews tend to have weaker Jewish identities than in-married ones on every variable tested.

For example, they are far less likely to celebrate Jewish festivals with their family, support Israel, or go to shul on the high holidays. And this inevitably rubs off on the next generation – children of intermarried couples are at least twice as likely as children of in-married couples to intermarry as well. There are exceptions, of course – and we should never idly dismiss them – but the generic data are very clear.

Yet Israel is essentially the only place in the Jewish world unaffected by all of this. Not only is the prevalence of intermarriage extremely low there, many of the children of intermarried couples will end up marrying Jews anyway, simply because Israeli society is, uniquely, majority Jewish. Israel is deeply precious for all sorts of reasons, but one of those is that its very social make-up acts as a counterweight to intermarriage to maintain and preserve the Jewish People.

We play with that at our own risk. Maybe that’s why Tu b’Av and its theme of love and Tisha b’Av, and its theme of senseless hatred, are just a week apart. We’re called on to choose between love and hate across our differences. Choose the former, and we may achieve something together. Choose the latter, and we know well where that leads.

  • Dr Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director, Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: