Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Taking a Jewish Page from The Book of Mormon



by Bradly Baird (bio)


I am an avid reader of two publications that cover Jewish life in America, Tablet Magazine and The Jewish Daily Forward. Both cover a broad range of topics, including politics, arts, and religious life and offer a terrific variety of opinions. Not surprisingly, these publications almost never mention anything to do with the LDS Church; but, imagine my surprise when I came across an article from April 14, 2013 entitled: Taking a Jewish Page From the Book of Mormon on Interfaith Marriage. 

The piece was written by Naomi Schaefer Riley and discusses faith, marriage, and interfaith marriage amongst members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of the Jewish community in the United States. I wanted to share the entire article on this blog, but it is quite long and so I have presented the most important points for your reading pleasure. Click here to read the entire article.

"Jews are America's most intermarrying people and Mormons its least. According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, 27% of Jews were married to someone of a different faith, compared with 12% of Mormons."

"When it comes to marriage, the most striking demographic difference between Jews and Mormons is the age at which they get married. The average age of a first marriage for Mormons is, according to my study, 23, and for Jews it's 27. If we look at data taken from the 2006 General Social Survey (the last time researchers asked the question about age at first marriage), Jews married at 25.8 and Mormons at 22.6."

"The [Mormon] church elders realize that marriage and family are crucial to involvement in the faith, and so they try as soon as possible to get their members married and settled into a particular community. The church does not want members to experience those "odyssey years" when "emerging adults" tend to drift in and out of relationships and in and out of religious institutions. That is when you start to lose them."

"As Allison Pond wrote in The Wall Street Journal at the end of 2011: "The most important converts to Mormonism might be the [returned] missionaries themselves. Studies indicate that returned missionaries maintain strong levels of religious activity, with more than 80% attending services each week and paying tithes to the church. Returned missionaries also tend to have high educational levels and marriage rates.”

"After the bar or bat mitzvah, most Jewish institutions do not have any kind of formal schooling or other particular religious requirements. Aside from teen youth groups and college Hillels, Jewish leaders mostly seem to be waiting for young Jews simply to return to their doors when they get married sometime in their late 20s. Emerging adulthood, though they may not call it that, is embraced by most Conservative and Reform families, who want their children to have a variety of educational, professional and geographical opportunities, unencumbered by the needs of a mate."

"If there is something to be learned from the way the Mormon Church has approached interfaith marriage, it is not just that certain policies, structures and teachings of the church work to encourage endogamy. Interfaith marriage is not unheard of among Mormons. In fact, there are people at the highest levels of church leadership who come from interfaith homes or whose own children are in interfaith marriages."

"Over time, though, a significant portion of these marriages becomes same-faith. And it is because of
the church's attitudes toward interfaith couples and nonmembers in general that this is the case. I would describe it as a calm and quiet confidence that there are important truths to be found in the LDS faith, that their community is one that people should want to join. There is a sense that religious views do not necessarily change overnight, but sometimes only after years of marriage or a decade or more of involvement with a community."

"Mormons understand that conversion is not something you ask about once and then drop. People change, and they become more receptive to religious messages at different points in their lives. It is not devious or threatening to try to engage nonmembers in such discussions regularly as long as you are not mean-spirited or hectoring."

"Jewish leaders have focused so far mostly on the problems they have had convincing young Jews to marry inside the faith. But they have not paid as much attention to what happens after intermarriage. There is an acknowledgement that pushing more conversion would be a good idea. But Jews are so new to this idea that they are not quite sure how to go about it. When they do, they are often timid and deeply concerned about offending non-Jewish spouses."

"Or they simply want to make it seem like Judaism is something that is compatible with a spouse's agnosticism or secularism. This is understandable, but America is a thriving religious marketplace, and if Jews are going to compete, they will need to have more confidence in their message."

Naomi Schaefer Riley is the author of 'Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America (Oxford University Press).

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