Marrying Out (A Story Goes With It)

July 29, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Brad Wright posts this chart from a Pew report on marrying outside the faith.

(Click on the chart for a larger, more legible view.)

There’s much to be said, but one thing struck me: for people who marry outside the faith, the most popular other faith is
  • either the religion that’s similar (e.g., Orthodox and Catholic, Buddhist and unaffiliated) or
  • the religion that has the most people – i.e., Protestant.
With one exception: Jews. Jews who marry outside the faith are much more likely to marry a Catholic.

I chalk this up to opportunity and proximity. Jews tend to live in places where there are also a high proportion of Catholics. In New York City, for example, where Jews are about 18% of the population, they are far more likely to meet a Catholic (50%) than a Protestant (10%).

That’s my explanation. Here’s the story.

My friend Robert, who takes his Judaism fairly seriously, sent his son Peter to Trinity, one of the top private schools in the city. (Despite its name, it’s nondenominational, with a strong ethical, though not religious, orientation. It also had the advantage of being only a few blocks from his house.)

One Saturday morning, Robert took Peter, then about seven, to shul. After the service, one of the older men from the congregation was talking with them, pinching the kid’s cheek, saying what a cute boy he was, asking what grade he was in. “First.” And where did he go to school. “Trinity,” said Peter.

“Oy gevalt.”

For the next couple of weeks, little Peter walked around saying, “Oy gevalt, oy gevalt” in a pretty fair imitation of the alte kocker.

I knew that Peter wasn’t the only Jewish kid at Trinity. And when Robert told me this story, I asked him what the Jewish proportion at Trinity was.

“Fifty percent,” he said. “Every kid has one Jewish parent.”

And most likely, the other parent was Catholic.

Fast forward twenty years or so. At the end of next month, Peter is getting married. To a nice Jewish girl.

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