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How Do You Get More Jews To Marry Jewish? (More in %) – A Shockingly Simple Truth

Anyone who pays attention to the issue of Jewish assimilation and intermarriage in North America, and in the West generally, has probably heard the lament that not enough Jews are marrying Jewish. How do you get a greater percentage of single Jews to marry other single Jews?

Get them to date Jews. It sounds like I’m being a smart-aleck, but I mean this in all sincerity because it’s a shockingly simple truth that has great import for how to solve the problem of intermarriage.

How do you get Jews to date Jews? Work backwards one more step: how do people meet?

Singles meet other singles

  1. In grade school and high school
  2. In college/university
  3. At work
  4. Through friends – exposure to friends’ friends either casually or via an introduction
  5. At social activities: parties, sports, volunteering, etc
  6. Through religious activities
  7. Facebook and social media
  8. Dating services online and offline (as opposed to social media sites not intended for dating)
  9. Travelling
  10. Day to day life – on the bus, at the medical clinic, supermarket etc

This is also true of Jewish singles, who can add certain activities exclusive to us such as Israel trips, the March of the Living and our general tendency as Jews to seek out other Jews. (See Jewish geography, “is Celeb X Jewish?” queries on Google etc for proof.)

Now, go through that list and ask yourself what opportunities to meet will introduce Jewish singles to other Jewish singles exclusively or majoritarily?

1. Grade school and high school – exclusively Jewish singles for those who attend Jewish day schools. Even this is sadly changing with the idiotic decision of Britain’s courts to force Jewish day schools to accept non-Jewish students in (because the courts considered themselves capable of defining who’s a Jew, as opposed to leaving such a question to proper halachic authorities). Of course every child/teen going to non-Jewish schools is meeting a majority of non-Jews or exclusively non-Jews.

2. In college/university – definitely not exclusive, and realistically single Jews will be surrounded by an overwhelming majority of non-Jews. You can make exceptions for Jewish institutions like Yeshiva University, Touro College and perhaps – maybe – Jewish studies programs at universities. That’s still a drop in the ocean.

3. Work – majority/near exclusivity of non-Jews, excepting workplaces focused on the Jewish community like Federations, Jewish restaurants (maybe), etc. Typically there’s a “Jew in the office” … alone, with no one to meet and date but non-Jews. Maybe there’s one other Jew… 10 years older and of the same gender.

4. Friends – What happens when someone has grown up going to non-Jewish schools, went to any non-Jewish-focused uni and works outside the Jewish community’s institutions? They make non-Jewish friends. Those friends introduce them to non-Jewish friends.

That’s the point – single Jews mostly make non-Jewish friends and acquaintances. These are the people they date and through whom they are introduced to other [non-Jewish] singles.

I’d like to illustrate with a story about a friend. We grew up going to the same Jewish grade school, and stayed close in high school, when we went to different Jewish day schools – so I know him well. He has a strong Jewish identity, and certainly knows that intermarriage is a negative thing. When he went to university, he was surrounded by Arab Christians and Muslims and interacted with them in the course of ordinary educational activity, and in social contexts. Is it any surprise that he felt himself attracted at least physically, and perhaps sometimes emotionally too, to some of these girls?

The takeaway from this is that teaching people about the problems and dangers of intermarriage isn’t enough. In the words of the excellent book Switch: Making Change When Change Is Difficult, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe three aspects necessary for a successful change to be made when the change sought is hard. The first is rational appeal/motivation (Rider), the second is emotional appeal/motivation (Elephant) and the third is an environment conducive to making the change (Path).

Teaching kids not to assimilate and not to intermarry is good – this motivates the Rider (i.e. rational brain). The problem is that in many cases the Elephant (emotional brain) is walking down a Path (i.e. educational, commercial, social environment) that conflicts sharply with that message. While the Rider can force the Elephant to do as the Rider wants for a time – like someone relying exclusively on willpower to diet – eventually that effort gets tiring and the Elephant does what it wants. The chocolate cake tempts the dieter “to just snack this one time,” and we all know how that ends.

In other words, what’s necessary is to motivate Jews to marry Jews emotionally AND to shape the path to facilitate this. That’s what my point was about regarding the places where singles meet. 98% of the environment is conducive to intermarriage, not to marrying other Jews. Rider and Elephant motivation explain why intermarriage isn’t at 98%, thank G’.

The “victory” at getting non-Jewish society to accept and welcome Jews amongst it has proven to be a Pyrrhic victory – the battle is won and the war is lost. Yay, we can work in any hospital and join any golf club… and now Jewish singles meet non-Jewish singles. If Jewish society wants to make a difference, what we need are:

  • Emotional appeals
  • Conducive environments

In particular, one of the most devastating path problems is that of Jews living outside of large communities.

What’s a large community? Coming from Montreal, Canada, where there are an estimated 80,000 or 90,000 Jews, I can tell you that this is still small-medium. There were only a handful of singles I was attracted to there and on approximately the same religious level when I sat down one time and sorted through my list of 800-900 friends on Facebook. Granted I didn’t know many people from the Chassidic/Charedi community, but the reverse is also true, and in any case the difference in religious observance made things difficult with those singles I did meet from that community.

In other words, anyone living in a community smaller than Montreal is facing an uphill battle to find a Jewish spouse.

Sure, some will find their spouse in spite of this, and perhaps even have an easy time of it. G’ makes it an easier process for some, harder for others – nothing new there. But we’re obligated to make an effort ourselves. We see that in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach. Yaakov, though a righteous person who had every reason to expect he could count on G’s protection from his brother Esau, nevertheless did three things to prepare for his meeting with his hostile brother. He sent him magnificent gifts to appease him and had his messengers refer to Esau as ‘his master’ (i.e. showing Esau respect); he split his camp into two groups so that if one were attacked the other might escape in the meantime; and he prayed to G’. (Incidentally, the commentary of the Ramban on this parasha is fascinating for anyone interested in Jewish life in the Roman exile.)

What effort(s) should be made?

For a start, every single Jewish child must be sent to Jewish day school. Singles overwhelmingly prefer to meet via their friends, and friends – especially the close ones likely to set each other up – typically come from school.

Yeshiva University and Touro College could open up campuses in the 5 largest Jewish communities in the US, as well as in Toronto and Montreal. This would be a huge boon.

In as much as there are candidates who are qualified, Jewish employers should strive to employ Jews.

Social pressure, education and incentives should be used to concentrate Jews – both single and married… married Jews have children who will grow up, after all – in cities with large communities. There’s an interesting though not perfectly related precedent to this in Morocco of the 50s and 60s. As related in the book “Le Mossad et les secrets du reseau juif au Maroc” by Michel Knafo, due to fear of pogroms against Jews in isolated towns and villages, the Mossad and Misgueret (local Jewish underground) hurriedly concentrated the Jews from around the country to Casablanca (this also served as a prelude to helping them make aliyah or flee to Canada/France).

Birthright and other trips to Israel build an emotional connection, and therefore should grow and expand.

Similarly, connecting to young Jews emotionally should be a priority. Considering all the advertising pros in the Jewish community, this should be a solvable issue.

Love to hear any feedback on this.

Posted in Business, Judaism.


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