How to Stop an Intermarriage

Link Updated.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s “How to Stop an Intermarriage” is perhaps the best known of all writings on this tricky subject. It contains excellent advice for anyone trying to convince a child, relative or friend to break off a proposed intermarriage. The complete text is now available for free online here.

Does anyone have any additional advice, successes or thoughts on the topic?

50 comments on “How to Stop an Intermarriage

  1. I had to experience real Judaism for a while before I came to the correct conclusions. I had to see that there was really a difference between Jews and nonJews, and finally integrate the awfully unpolitically-correct “Chosen people” concept. It used to be that all humans were created equal…but once I saw the light, I began to understand why great grandpa tore kriah over one of his son’s choices. The nonJewish grandchild told me he thinks his grandpa is the most bigoted intolerant person in the world. It could’ve been that I would’ve thought that, too. Now I cry for him.

  2. To Scott #48: Intermarriage is a very emotional issue for Jewish women, because unfortunately Jewish men used to justify “marrying out” by saying that Jewish women were spoiled princesses and neurotic shrews. The novels of Philip Roth and the films of Woody Allen helped to further these negative stereotypes of Jewish women.

    If you understand the concept of a wife and mother building a Jewish home, then a man who marries a non-Jewish woman is saying that he does not want his wife to build a Jewish home: he doesn’t want Judaism in his kitchen or in his bedroom. He doesn’t want his children to be recognized as Jews (matrilineal descent).

    When Abie marries Bridget, it’s not only because he loves Bridget, it’s also because he hates Sadie.

  3. This was, by far, the most difficult issue I had to deal with when I became frum. No one, and I mean, no one could satisfactorily explain to me what the problem is with intermarriage. It took me many years, and many, many people whom I asked in order to really understand. Emotional topics can be so elusive.

  4. I have never heard any evidence that they are unhealthy, but you know what PT Barnum said… On the other hand, why would you want to convince them of this?

  5. To Shoshana #45: Even with the solid peer-reviewed scientific evidence that male circumcision lessens the risk of contracting heterosexual AIDS, to the extent that grown men in Swaziland are going to local clinics begging to be circumcised (a matter literally of life and death, as the rate of new cases of AIDS soars in that country), there are opponents of male circumcision trying to ban the practice worldwide. So no, you won’t be able to convince people by pointing to scientific evidence. Those who are looking for health and well-being usually adopt practices like vegan diets which confer some of the health benefits of kashrut, but have no resemblance to the halachic or hashkafic structure of Orthodox Judaism.

  6. Can a couple ( a Jew who is non-observant and a shiksa who knows nothing)be convinced that living without the laws of niddah and kashrut are scientifically unhealthy and harmful?

  7. This is just sickening. God is the lone adjudicator in these matters and sees into everyone’s heart directly. The statistics cited are faulty. Of course people of the same faith are more likely to stay together. So what? That’s only because of adherence to traditional values not the quality of the marriage! The people of shared faith are far more likely to suffer in an unhappy marriage.

  8. To Charlie Hall: I’m sure that the vast majority of young Orthodox Jews who attend out of town colleges and universities do not go off the derech. Even that extremely controversial study claimed a 25% figure, which would mean 75% are not affected in their frumkeit. In many ways, these young Orthodox Jewish college students make a Kiddush Hashem, because they show that young Jews are proud of their religion and proud of being Jewish.

    I was thinking very specifically of Professor XYZ (I am afraid to use his real name because I don’t want him to sue me). Ironically I once spent a Shabbos at his parents’ house (I might have met him, I don’t remember) back in the fall of 1988 or 1989 when XYZ was only an undergrad. At that time he was still fully observant. The worst part of what Professor XYZ did goes beyond his intermarriage to his advocacy against Orthodox Jews, against his own people, in matters like tefillin and eruvin.

  9. Judy,

    I missed your comment on January 7. The first shomer Shabat Jews I ever met lived with me in the dorms at Harvard. I was amazed by their light timers in their dorm rooms. And one kashered his dorm kitchen and didn’t eat in the dining hall; I envied him for eating better than the rest of us.

  10. Have every Bar Mitzvah boy sign a paper saying he will marry only a Jewish woman. Then tell him that the signed paper will be kept “forever” by the synagogue where he was Bar Mitzvahed. If he ever marries a non-Jewish woman, or never marries at all, or marries any man, his Bar Mitzvah will be officially revoked.

    Never mind that there’s absolutely no such thing as revoking a Bar Mitzvah. If this nonsense convinces even one thoughtful young man to decide against intermarriage, it’s worth it.

  11. How could there not be merit in acting more honorably?

    Surely a Jew who buys and eats a cheeseburger is preferable to a Jew who steals and eats a cheeseburger.

  12. I cannot conceive of any way to “prevent an intermarriage” in our day and age that does not amount to “mekareving” the Jewish partner. (Well, other than Nathan’s suggestion, which may indeed be a little outdated.)

    If you can’t convince a Jew that Torah and mitzvos will enhance his or her life, how can you urge him or her to jettison something–someone–who he or she sincerely believes at that moment will do so?

    What worked even 20 years ago doesn’t work now.

  13. Re: #35 and #36


    I think the merit that the person shows in this particular situation is an indication of other merits that the person may have, such as honesty in business, community involvement, etc. I think that those merits are the reasons that we should seek the return of actual or potential intermarrying Jews. If we try to draw back people whom we believe are only slightly better than common lowlives, our outreach becomes little more than a numbers game.

    Every decent interdating/intermarried person who reaffirms his or her membership in the Jewish people by changing that situation helps to offset the chillul Hashem caused by the “religious” adulterers, game-players and the like.

  14. Gary, is there real merit in acting more honorably than a common lowlife but still being in flagrant violation of Jewish law?

  15. I strongly support the concept of this posting, that we should fight intermarriage.

    However, the man or woman involved in an intermarriage situation is not using another human being of a different background solely for his or her physical gratification.

    In this regard, the person who is or will become intermarried is acting more honorably than the Jewish male, modern orthodox or otherwise, who seeks to “get something” sexual from a non-Jewish woman, without commitment or responsibility.

  16. Likewise for shaigetz.

    At least “shvartz” can conceivably be used as a simple descriptor, but in our practice it’s nearly always pejorative, too.

  17. The root of shiksa is sheketz.

    How do you get “loathsome” or “detestable” not to be pejorative?

  18. The word “shiksa” was originally not meant to be insulting, just as the word “shvartzer” simply means Black and was not meant to be insulting to Black people. “Goy” actually means “nation” in Hebrew and only later on took the colloquial meaning of “non-Jew.” The word “sheigetz” for non-Jew was also at first not meant to be an insult. However, the word “shkotz” for a non-Jewish man is meant to be derogatory.

    I have heard young men who are very Modern Orthodox say that they dated non-Jewish women in order to “get something,” working from some idea that non-Jewish women are “easy.” What’s interesting is that young men from strict Muslim and Hindu homes wind up with the same idea: that young women from the secular, Westernized culture are “easy”, therefore they date young women out of their culture solely for reasons of physical gratification. While there’s nothing we can do about raging hormones, perhaps we need to do some frank man-to-man talking to young Jewish men about dating and marriage while they are in their teen years, not too far past Bar Mitzvah age. Communication is very important.

  19. “Instead I talk to the shiksa girlfrienc and tell her that if she marries him, he will burn in Hell.

    The intermarrying Jewish does not believe in Hell, but his shiksa girlfriend does.”

    What makes you think that? Many intermarriages are secular Jews who are simply marrying secular Christians. The Christians don’t have “true Christian beliefs” – they celebrate Christmas as candy canes and Santa, and Easter as eggs and candy. I fear you may be out of touch if you think that the non-Jews in these marriages are “afraid to go to hell if they marry a Jew.”

  20. The word once had utility in making Jews not consider intermarriage. Now it really makes little difference to those apt to intermarry.

  21. I am all for Jews marrying Jews and am opposed to intermarriage. But the use of “shiksa”, particularly on a website devoted to BT’s is morally problematic. It degrades the non-Jew, a fellow human created in God’s image. Use of that term should cease.

  22. I have two Jewish cousins who received zero Jewish education. When they were seriously dating or engagaged to Gentile women, I spoke to my aunt, who was also their mother.

    I asked her about her only two children dating Gentile women with the intention of marriage. She told me that she was not happy about her sons marrying Gentile women (even though she was not religious), but she was afraid to say anything because she feared alienating her only two children.

    Less than a week after her 50th birthday, after both of her sons married outside the Jewish faith, she unexpectedly and suddenly died from a minor cold, despite being in good overall health and not having any known specific health problems.

    She was the first person in that generation of my family to die; around 15 years later, all other people in my family of her generation are still alive.

    I once heard that death at age 50 is called Mitah Min HaShamayim, death at the hands of Heaven. and death at age 60 is called caret, cutting off. if anyone has an exact written source for this, I would like to know it.

  23. There is a really fascinating book called “Double or Nothing” which is a sociological study of intermarriage by Sylvia Barack Fishman. I don’t have the book here, having long ago been lent out. But if I recall her findings correctly, one of them was that in a majority of cases, the Jewish parents DIDN’T PROTEST. That is, most cases of intermarriage that occur today occur, if not with explicit approval, then with at least with no censure from the Jewish parents.

    I would hypothesize that the actual cases where the parents are upset and desire to stop an intermarriage are in fact diminishing over time. More likely is a more observant sibling that wishes to thwart the marriage than the parents themselves.

  24. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis of the Hineni organization has stopped some intermarriages. Her books don’t refer to numbers and statistics, and Reb. Jungreis herself is the first one to admit that sometimes she is successful and sometimes not. One of her books has a very funny story about how her father, Rabbi Avraham Jungreis ob”m, helped to stop an intermarriage. A boy who had decided to break it off with his non-Jewish girlfriend said he had to go back to her just once in order to say goodbye in person. Suddenly there was the booming voice of Rabbi Jungreis, saying in his broken English: “Son-nee, kom here!” Puzzled, the young man went over to hear what the rabbi had to say. Rabbi Jungreis told him: “You go back – girl give you kiss – you finished man! Better you go first to Israel with the Rebbetzin, learn Torah, then send girl goodbye letter.”

    There’s an interesting piece of modern folklore about a young apathetic Jewish man who wanted to get as far away from religion as possible, so he got engaged to a sincere young non-Jewish woman. The non-Jewish woman took classes in Judaism to prepare for her conversion and became interested in genuine observance. To her chiloni husband’s horror, she wanted to become chareidi. The shiksa eventually divorced him for not being frum enough and married an Orthodox Jewish man.

    One study purportedly shows that 25% of all Orthodox Jewish young adults who attend college or university away from their homes, forcing them to either dorm or live off-campus with roommates, succumb to societal pressures and leave the derech. I don’t know anything about their methodology or how the conductors of this study arrived at this percentage. Certainly Orthodox Jewish young adults who have attended yeshivos up through high school probably get their first meaningful interactions with non-Jews while in the working world and attending university.

    A few years ago, there was an article about a frum Jewish boy in Riverdale who chose to attend Bronx High School of Science rather than go to a Yeshiva high school. People razzed the family about what would happen when the boy had to share a microscope with a Chinese girl in his lab class. The father defended his son’s choice, pointing to the boy’s own imbued maturity and good values.

    Then we have the negative example of Professor XYZ, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and went to a well-known Orthodox Jewish high school. His parents, who resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts, actually preferred to have him dorm at Harvard University rather than live at home, so that he could integrate more fully in the whole college experience. (Harvard U has a system of “houses” which students belong to throughout their undergraduate years). Sadly enough, XYZ later left the derech and married a non-Jewish woman. He now writes articles that attack Jewish observances such as tefillin and eruvin.

    To summarize, probably the best way to stop intermarriages is to create kosher ways for single Jewish men and women to meet each other: Hillel House events on campus; Hineni young professionals seminars; music nights at the local YM-YWHA. Otherwise, young Jewish adults will wind up meeting with, socializing with, and possibly marrying, young non-Jewish adults.

  25. Good point Dave. I think some of the approaches in the book could be helpful but need to be tailored perhaps and/or toned down and updated. Different approaches may work for different situations.

  26. I wouldn’t expect them to sway anyone.

    For that matter, the clasifications are too crude to be of help on an individual basis.

    For example, consider two couples. One couple is made up of an agnostic Secular Jew, and an agnostic lapsed Catholic, both of whom grew up in normative American secular culture.

    The other couple is made up of a Reform Jew who grew up in normative American culture, and an Orthodox Jew who grew up in a Chareidi environment.

    Of those two couples, the former would fall into “intermarried”, but I would personally expect the latter couple to have a higher risk of divorce.

  27. I’ve never seen the 75% statistic sourced either. I have seen studies which show that, amongst Jews, the rate of divorce for intermarried couples is close to double of “in married” couples.

    I’m not sure, anyway, whether these statistics, will sway someone considering an intermarriage. No one believes they are a statistic and people tend to think they are more the exception than the rule.

  28. Nathan,

    Assuming you do succeed in this fashion, doesn’t this only motivate the Jew involved to seek out another non-Jew you’ll never get to meet?

  29. I wasn’t able to find any sourcing on the “75% of intermarriages end in Divorce” claim in the book.

    What I was able to find was a reference to a 1993 paper in Demography that has the divorce rate for Jews as a whole at 27%, and for intermarried Jews at 42%.

  30. My success rate in stopping intermarriages is 100%.

    My secret: I never waste my time talking to the Jewish partner, they are much too stubborn.

    Instead I talk to the shiksa girlfrienc and tell her that if she marries him, he will burn in Hell.

    The intermarrying Jewish does not believe in Hell, but his shiksa girlfriend does.

    It is also helpful to point out the fact that intermarriages have a much higher divorce rate, and the fact children of mixed marriages are confused.

  31. FWIT, Doron Kornbluth’s book documents studies done at BYU about Mormons and intermarriage. He also shows how marriages between relgiously intermarried non-Jews.

  32. I’m saying that at that point your ability to stop it is extremely limited. Moreover, you cannot control what other people do.

    I suppose, if you intend to permanently cut off all contact with them if they do intermarry, then you have less to lose with the full-court guilt press proposed in the book (I say less because you may find that other members of your family agree with them, and decided to shun you).

    But otherwise, I’d focus on figuring out what their marriage is going to mean for your relationship with them, and what you want to and can do about the relationship. NOT about the marriage.

  33. Even if we had good documentation of earlier successes and failures (and what author wants to talk about cases where his pet strategy failed?) each new case has unique characteristics.

  34. Bluntly, if you are concerned with preventing intermarriage, intervening when things are at Bob Miller’s Case 2 is likely to be at best ineffective.

  35. So, I skimmed through the first couple of chapters of the book.

    Aside from some outright issues (statistics are given which are either wrong, or at best unsourced), the biggest problem I can see with it is that I fail to see how it accomplishes its goal.

    In fact, the only “benefit” I can see to it is that it would encourage the person intermarrying to break off a relationship with the parent/family member, rather than making the person objecting to intermarriage be the one to cut the ties.

  36. Doron Kornbluth’s book WHY MARRY JEWISH? is also a good resource (R Packouz references it in the back of his book).

    If there was an easy answer to stop intermarriage, I wish I knew it.
    I can only suggest that even if family members intermarry, don’t turn your back on them. You might end up being their only connection to Torah Judaism.

  37. There seem to be two related issues:

    1. How to motivate Jews to not want to intermarry in general.

    2. How to prevent a specific intermarriage that is already in the planning stages, or is even scheduled.

    Is anyone offering practical (and nonviolent!) advice on the latter, or is that too late in the game?

  38. An organization named Oorah (well known for their “Fiveish” character in ads for their annual prize auction) runs BoyZone and GirlZone summer camps where they try to encourage Jewish public school kids to learn in a fun way about being Jewish.

    It’s also important to deal with the negative stereotypes about Jewish women. Too many Jewish men excuse “marrying out” by saying that Jewish women are neurotic or unattractive, or that non-Jewish women are “easy.” Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis of the Hineni outreach organization tries to make matches among the Jewish professionals who attend her seminars.

    I heard one female Jewish single sigh that for single Jewish males, it’s “Candyland,” because there are so many gorgeous women out there who want to get married to a decent man. For the guys, it must be just amazing that after years of being the biggest rejected nerds in the class, they’re now sought after by the most beautiful ladies. To impress on these guys that it’s important to date only Jewish women, especially when these guys stopped their Jewish learning at Bar-Mitzvah, is a very big problem.

  39. I suspect that parents who try the techniques suggested in this book will succeed in further alienating their child, perhaps permanently, particularly if their child has professed to be non-religious.

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