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Failure to Develop Jewish Identity Blamed for Mixed Marriages

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The rising rate of intermarriage involving American Jews represents a failure of theology or ideology, not psychology. This was the predominant themes of an all-day conference today on “The Psychological Implications of Intermarriage” sponsored by the Commission on Synagogue Relations of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.

A select group of 50 leading rabbis, psychiatrists and social workers of this area participated in the discussions which focused on the causes and means of prevention of a rising rate of intermarriage which, when considered together with a declining rate of reproduction, portends the slow dissolution and eventual disappearance of Jews and Judaism from the American scene.

The concern which precipitated the conference, according to Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin, director of the Commission, is based on recent surveys which indicate that the number of intermarriages involving Jews is increasing as the Jewish community becomes more and more native born and a greater proportion become higher educated; that Judaism loses seven out of every 10 children born in mixed marriages; and that the Jewish birth rate is only 2.2 per family as compared with a Protestant rate of 2.8 and a Catholic rate of 3.0.

Should these trends continue unabated, Rabbi Trainin stated, the proportion of Jews in this country’s population will diminish from its present 2.9 percent to 1.6 percent by the end of the twentieth century. “This would be a tragic development, ” he declared.

Dr. Jacob Arlow, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, State University of New York, set the keynote in a major paper in which he asserted that “to oppose mixed marriage on the grounds that it constitutes poor mental hygiene is to obscure the serious issues at stake.” He saw the forces which culminate in an intermarriage as reaching far back into childhood and developing through adolescence when in “a definitive attempt to resolve their neurotic conflicts” certain individuals turn to intermarriage as “a first step toward eradicating their Jewish identity.” He stressed the importance of parental attitudes and behavior in the formation of a child’s sense of identity and feeling of belonging.

WARNS ON PESSIMISTIC PREDICTIONS BASED ON SURFACE SURVEYS

Dr. Arlow also warned against pessimistic predictions based upon surface surveys of the college experiences and attitudes toward dating and marriage with partners of other faiths because “this is a period of change and instability, of experimentation and transformation” and it is often impossible to tell just how a person feels about his Jewishness “until he becomes a parent and has to make decisions on behalf of his children.”

Dr. Fred Brown, head of the Psychology Division of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said that any predictions about the future trends of mixed marriages must be based on the prognosis for the future of the American Jewish community. He added that young people will consider their Jewishness in their personal plans “only when they have an emotional involvement in the Jewish future” and he said that this depends upon fewer studies and more plans put into action to strengthen and intensify their sense of identification and commitment.

Dr. Nathaniel S. Lehrman, Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, ascribed “the irresponsibility of the young” in regard to marriage to “the over permissiveness of the old” who, “under the impact of both misunderstood egalitarianism and modern psychology,” fear they may be traumatizing their children if they stress obedience to the commandments, as is “fundamental to Judaism.

Many parents, he said, renounce their “traditional guiding role” and give their children no religious training or identification so that they lack deep personal feelings and loyalty for Judaism. “Why should young people marry within their faith if that faith means little or nothing to them, aside perhaps for lox and bagels which are becoming part of the American culture anyway?,” he asked.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations reported on the case histories of the offspring of mixed marriages. While stressing the difficulty of isolating cause and effect in these situations, he said that one effect “seems to be the interjection by the children of a hidden unresolved parental problem that may in a crucial stage of development break out into an identity crisis and give rise to conversion phenomena.”

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