by Dr. Bruce A. Phillips
Professor of Jewish Communal Service
In 1993 I re-interviewed about half of the respondents in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey to learn more about the 52% rate of intermarriage. The idea for this research came to me in 1986 while participating in the CCAR-UAHC-HUC Research Task Force on Intermarriage. I later brought the idea to Dr. David Gordis when he launched the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies in Los Angeles, and David secured funding for it.
When my Wilstein study, entitled "Re-Examining Intermarriage: Trends, Textures, and Strategies," appeared in July of 1997, the Jewish press pounced on a single finding: day school attendance did not prevent intermarriage. It was the Jewish version of "man bites dog." The Forward printed three front-page articles centered on this one finding alone, making the most of the controversy. As time has gone by, however, other Jewish newspapers (including The Forward) have picked up on the more important finding: formal Jewish education had less impact on intermarriage than did informal experiences such as Jewish camp, trips to Israel, youth group participation, and Jewish dating in high school. As a result, many Federations (including Los Angeles) are taking a new look at programs that have been largely ignored over the past 20 years.
There have been more subtle contributions of this research of which I am equally proud. My research showed that adult children of intermarried parents have an important impact on the current rate of intermarriage. Because more than two out of three adult children of intermarried parents married non-Jews in the period 1985-90, they raised the current rate of mixed marriage from 45% to 52%. On the other hand, if they had all married non-Jews, then the current rate of intermarriage would be 67%. I also found that the adult children of intermarriage (a population which had been missed in previous research) will become an ever larger shadow Jewish population with weak ties to the Jewish community but with some potential for Jewish involvement. My research established the importance of differentiating among various kinds of mixed marriages, especially for the purpose of outreach. It also illustrated the value of interviewing non-Jewish spouses by showing that they shape the intermarried family as much as the Jew does. Finally, my intermarriage research is having an influence on both the structure and content of the Year 2000 National Jewish Population Survey. This recognition from esteemed colleagues is particularly gratifying.
Copies of Dr. Phillip's Wilstein Study are available from The Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies in Brookline, MA, (617) 232-8710.
Dr. Phillips is Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Los Angeles Learning Center where he has taught since 1980. He specializes in the sociology and demography of American Jewry. Dr. Phillips helped design the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, and is now working on the questionnaire and methodology for the Year 2000 study. Recent publications include papers on Israelis in the U.S., the Iranian Jewish family, and denominational change among American Jews.
Copyright © 1998 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Most recent update 13 Oct 1998