Rabbi Bernard Fox

Northwest Yeshiva High School


In the Orthodox community and beyond, a substantial effort is made to reach-out to unaffiliated Jews.  I have observed that many of the families that are the target of this attention are headed by intermarried couples.  I believe that these efforts have some merit.  But they tax the limited resources of the community.  So, we need to ask whether our investment in outreach programs is the most efficient manner in which we can use our limited resources. 

Outreach efforts are challenging.  Multiple obstacles must be overcome in order to bring a Jew back into the community.  Reaching a Jew that has intermarried can be remarkably difficult.  Should we not consider whether it would be wiser and more efficient to address the root causes of alienation, rather than attempting to combat the results? 

What are these root causes?  Why do Jews intermarry or abandon their Jewish identity?  In many cases, these Jews have received little or no meaningful Jewish education.  Frankly, we should be asking why a Jew who knows little or nothing about the Torah should remain affiliated. 

We live in an open society.  Any Jew who wishes to intermarry or assimilate can easily succeed.  The barriers that once prevented Jews from entry into the non-Jewish world have largely been torn down.  So, in order for our children to remain faithful to the Torah, we must provide them with a reason to do so. 

Let me illustrate this point.  On more than one occasion I have heard parents bemoan the engagement or marriage of their child to a non-Jew.  In some cases, the parents really did try to provide their child with the resources that should have prevented this marriage.  But in many cases, the parents feel that they raised their child with “Jewish values.”  They maintained synagogue or temple affiliation and attended on occasion.  Their child went to Sunday school, they were members of the synagogue youth group, and even went to the Jewish camp.  How did this privileged child intermarry? 

I believe that this is a naive perspective.  The measures identified by these parents are totally inadequate to prevent intermarriage.  Why should their child not intermarry?  Do they expect their child to reject a beautiful, warm-hearted, educated non-Jew as a mate out of loyalty to the friends he played baseball with at summer camp?  Do they expect their child to say, “Boy, if I intermarry, I sure will miss those Saturday services at temple!”?  In other words, if the child has no real reason to reject this marriage other than the religious affiliation, then such a rejection is nothing more than an expression of prejudice and xenophobia.  There are many wonderful non-Jews.  Some are even nicer, more refined people than many Jews.  If our children do not have Torah values, why should they reject intermarriage? 

I believe that our resources would be better utilized by providing more intensive Jewish education to our children.  It is far easier to prevent assimilation or intermarriage through educating our children, than to try to reach them once they have assimilated. 

Although this seems to be self-evident, Jewish education is under-funded.  Most people and communities believe that it is the parents’ responsibility to pay for the education of their children.  This is absolutely true.  It is the parent’s responsibility.  But what if the parent won’t pay $15,000 a year for 13 years in order to provide their child with a day school education?  Do we say, “Too bad, let the kid assimilate...he is not our problem.  Maybe after he intermarries we’ll try some outreach”?  This may sound like a bizarre response.  But this is the overwhelming attitude in most of our communities. 

We need to rethink our priorities.  Every day, I receive a plethora of solicitations for all sorts of Jewish causes.  They are all important.  But we need to prioritize.  Hachnasas kallah, kollelim, magnificent synagogues, Jewish community centers, Jewish camping programs are all important.  But maybe we can get by with less elaborate chasunas, smaller kollelim, more modest shuls, smaller community centers, and a few less camping programs. Might we not use our resources more effectively, by attempting to enroll more children in our schools?  Just a thought.