A REPORT published by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) on Tuesday of last week has shown that approximately one in four Jews in the UK are married to, or cohabiting with, non-Jews.
The report, Jews in Couples: Marriage, intermarriage, cohabitation and divorce in Britain, focuses on intermarriage and exogamy (the custom of marrying outside a community). The author, Dr David Graham, of JPR, describes these issues as “for many . . . the single most important issue of modern Jewish life”.
Drawing on both the 2011 Census, and JPR’s work with British Jews in 2013, it shows that 22 per cent of married Jews are intermarried, and 68 per cent of cohabiting Jews have non-Jewish partners. Although the overall figure of 28 per cent is only two percentage points higher than 1990s figures, and remains lower than the United States equivalent of 58 per cent, it represents the highest UK level to date.
Responding to the report, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said: “It is pleasing that the increase in intermarriage has been extremely slight over recent decades, particularly in comparison with the United States. But we must never be complacent. On the contrary, we must redouble our efforts to cultivate the Jewish pride and identity of our children so that they appreciate the eternal value of our heritage.”
Dr Graham voices similar concerns about Jewish identity, focusing particularly on the positive correlation between exogamy and low levels of Jewish observance and socialising of children. “On every variable measured, married exogamous Jews have a weaker sense of Jewishness than married endogamous Jews.”
For example, while 69 per cent of Jews in Jewish marriages observe kosher, only 11 per cent of Jews with non-Jewish spouses do so. Seventy-six per cent of endogamous couples observe the sabbath, compared with 29 per cent of mixed couples. Children of two Jewish parents are 96 per cent likely to be raised as Jews; this level falls to 31 per cent where one of the parents is non-Jewish.
Dr Graham also discusses the potential problems that surround falling fertility rates among British Jews, as average marriage ages, and cohabitation levels, both showed an increase. He concludes that, while the fears raised in the 1990s that intermarriage might eradicate distinctive British Jewry have not — and are unlikely to — come about, there are nevertheless “well-grounded concerns” about the report’s implications, and the “inevitable consequence of Jewish ethnic erosion”.
But, as the report suggests, not all British Jews share such opinions. Some take the high levels of intermarriage as a sign of effective social integration and cohesion, despite Judaism’s minority status in Britain (0.46 per cent of the population in 2011), and Europe’s historic attitudes. Jews could once only have “dreamt of” such inclusion, Dr Graham says. The senior rabbi to the Reform movement, Laura Janner-Klausner, called for a “celebration” of the inclusive attitudes revealed by the report.