Magazine article Tikkun

If You're So Smart, How Come You're Intermarried?

Magazine article Tikkun

If You're So Smart, How Come You're Intermarried?

Article excerpt

If You're So Smart, How Come You're Intermarried?

Nancy Kalikow Maxwell is a reference librarian at Barry University, in Miami Shores, Florida, where she is also pursuing a second master's degree in theology. This article is drawn from a work in progress about her intermarriage.

There is a good chance that, like me, many of you reading this article were married to a Jew the first time, then divorced, and married a non-Jew in your second marriage. Recent studies have revealed that this marriage pattern of initial in-marrying, then divorcing and out-marrying is especially prevalent among highly educated Jews. Less-educated Jews who divorce are just as likely to re-marry a Jew as a non-Jew. This marriage pattern is so common that some intermarriage experts have wondered, only somewhat in jest, if divorce is not one of the leading causes of intermarriage today.

Previous generations used to fear that intermarriage would lead to divorce; now divorce leads to intermarriage. The exact cause of these trends has yet to be agreed upon, though a number of explanations have been proposed. Some demographers have hypothesized that highly educated Jews intermarry more than less-educated Jews because they come into contact with non-Jews more often and these interactions are on a more equal level. Psychotherapist Esther Perel, in an article in these pages ("A More Perfect Union: Intermarriage and the Jewish World," TIKKUN, May/June 1992) called intermarriage "a symptom of success and integration." As Jew meets non-Jew in the office or the graduate seminar, attractions are bound to follow, even among the most die-hard, I-will-only-marry-another-Jew type of Jews.

Paradoxically, sometimes these attractions are fostered by personality qualities deemed "typically Jewish" or "typically non-Jewish." Perel noted that some non-Jewish men find powerful Jewish women to be attractive. Likewise, traits frequently ascribed to Jewish men--"softness and sensitivity...not just strength and physical prowess"--have become attractive across ethnic, racial, and religious lines. One of the traits I originally found most attractive in my non-Jewish husband was what I dubbed his "goyishe manners." Though such attractions may be fueled by internalized anti-Semitism, they nonetheless can result in healthy, positive attractions to loving, caring individuals.

It has also been posited that intermarriage occurs among highly educated Jews because their long years of education have distanced them from the family influences that originally discouraged intermarriage. This explanation seems unlikely, however, given the fact that the intermarriage pattern has not been correlated with age. In addition, according to the 1990 Jewish population survey, only 22 percent of Jews said they would oppose their child marrying a non-Jew.

Another explanation for the intermarriage pattern speculates that the Jew may feel "excused" from marrying another Jew the second time because of the failed first Jewish marriage. I know this was true of me after my first--Jewish, but ultimately loveless--marriage. In my case, only when it was too late did I realize that I had placed too much emphasis on religion and cultural background and too little on that amorphous, but equally essential, quality called love. Perhaps other highly educated, cerebral types also valued cold, concrete factors such as similar religious backgrounds in selecting their first mate. …

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