Short read

Between Tisha b'Av and Tu b’Av: thoughts about assimilation and Israel

Recent events and future demography mean we’re called on to choose between love and hate across our differences

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Israeli society appears to be in serious trouble. Regardless of the right or wrongs of judicial reform, what is happening here should not be lightly dismissed by anyone who cares about the future of this country. It’s not an innocent piece of legislation; it is the thin end of the wedge that threatens to undermine the democratic nature of the State of Israel itself.

The demonstrators’ fears are well-placed. Israel has been moving politically and religiously rightwards for decades – not a problem in and of itself, but a development that becomes problematic when secular and liberal Israelis start to feel marginalised, disenfranchised and even oppressed, as they so clearly do right now.

A measured Israeli government, seeing how deeply unpopular its plans are, would not have steam-rollered the legislation through but would have actively chosen compromise for the sake of holding Israeli society together. But it has failed miserably – the possibility of strike action and military service refusal, not to mention the disturbingly negative economic projections, threaten to damage, even destroy, Israeli society from within.

Demography clearly projects Israel continues to move rightwards

Demographic projections clearly demonstrate that Israel will continue moving rightwards politically and religiously. And if Israel’s democratic principles are further undermined, a growing number of secular liberal Israelis will leave, further exacerbating the change. According to a recent Israeli Channel 13 poll, 28% of Israelis are already considering getting out.

And on reflection, there is a link between this and our new report on intermarriage. Globally, one in four married Jews today is married to someone who is not Jewish. But that proportion varies dramatically by country. In Poland, it’s about three in four. In America, it’s close to two in four. Here in the UK, it is more or less in line with the global average. But where is it lowest? In Israel, of course. Just 5% of married Israeli Jews are married to non-Jews.

And here’s the thing. While the vast majority of in-married couples bring up their children as Jewish, fewer than a third of intermarried couples do so. And out-married Jews tend to have weaker Jewish identities than in-married ones on every variable tested. For example, they are far less likely to celebrate Jewish festivals with their family, support Israel, or go to shul on the high holidays. And this inevitably rubs off on the next generation – children of intermarried couples are at least twice as likely as children of in-married couples to intermarry as well. There are exceptions, of course – and we should never idly dismiss them – but the generic data are very clear.

Just 5% of married Israeli Jews are married to non-Jews... Israel is essentially the only place in the Jewish world unaffected by intermarriage

Yet Israel is essentially the only place in the Jewish world unaffected by all of this. Not only is the prevalence of intermarriage extremely low there, many of the children of intermarried couples will end up marrying Jews anyway, simply because Israeli society is, uniquely, majority Jewish. Israel is deeply precious for all sorts of reasons, but one of those is that its very social make-up acts as a counterweight to intermarriage to maintain and preserve the Jewish People.

We play with that at our own risk. Maybe that’s why Tu b’Av and its theme of love and Tisha b’Av, and its theme of senseless hatred, are just a week apart. We’re called on to choose between love and hate across our differences. Choose the former, and we may achieve something together. Choose the latter, and we know well where that leads.

Images of people

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Jonathan has been Executive Director of JPR since 2010, having previously held research and policy positions at the JDC International Centre for Community Development in...

Read more

You might also like: