New Report: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage

brandeis-marriage[The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (Brandeis U.) has released “Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage.” This study, part of a program of research designed to understand the trajectory of engagement with Jewish identities of the millennial generation, evolved from the Center’s long-standing collaboration with Birthright Israel.]

High rates of intermarriage have prompted intense public debates regarding officiation by Jewish clergy at weddings of Jews to non-Jews. Although for some the debate over rabbinic officiation at intermarriage hinges on theological questions, for others the discussion centers on the impact that rabbinic officiation might have on the Jewish character of the homes and families that these couples create. The present report explores several essential questions about the relationship between Jewish clergy officiation and intermarried couples’ trajectories of Jewish engagement.

As part of a long-term follow-up study of 2001-2009 applicants to Birthright Israel, the Cohen Center surveyed 1,200 married young adults. The analyses explore differences between three groups of couples: inmarried couples, intermarried couples who had a sole Jewish officiant (i.e., no non-Jewish co-officiant), and intermarried couples who married under other auspices.

Among the key findings:

  • Intermarried couples married by a Jewish clergy officiant are more highly engaged in Jewish life than intermarried couples who had other forms of officiation.
  • Intermarried couples married by a Jewish clergy officiant are three times more likely to raise children Jewish compared with intermarried couples who married under other auspices (85% v. 23%).
  • The key differences between intermarried couples who did and did not have a Jewish clergy officiant persist even when the gender, Jewish backgrounds, and college Jewish experiences of the Jewish spouses are taken into account.
  • On multiple measures of Jewish engagement, including synagogue involvement, intermarried couples whose weddings were presided over by a Jewish clergy officiant look very similar to the inmarried.
  • On other measures however, sole Jewish officiation does not fully level the playing field between intermarried and inmarried couples.

The complete report is available for download here.