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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

Numerous studies, including a recent qualitative study of Jewish fertility goals, show that most Jewish women continue to hope to have children “someday.” However, many do not assign childbearing chronological priority, and encounter unexpected infertility, often having no or fewer children than their expected family size.26

Moreover, beyond personal disappointments in not finding a suitable spouse or parenting children, the Jewish communal implications of the marriage and childrearing patterns reported above are rather grave, for four related reasons: (1) With so much non-marriage and late-marriage, a significant segment of adult Jews lacks the incentive that typically propels both Jews and non-Jews to engage in religious community life: a spouse. (2) Without marriage and parenthood, younger Jewish adults are measurably less involved in Jewish life and have fewer Jewish connections. (3) Fewer Jewish children are being raised as Jewish-by-religion, being provided with Jewish education, and being prepared for creating their own Jewishly connected households in adulthood. (4) The disruptive effect of these marital patterns is not limited to non-marriage and very late marriage, but is exacerbated by intermarriage. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions, long heavily reliant upon inmarried Jews with children for members and participants, may be wondering: Where are the 20-somethings, let alone the 30-somethings? These results provide part of the answer to their questioning: only a very small minority of 20-somethings are inmarried as is a minority of 30-somethings. Most of these young adults are “off-line” Jewishly in the sense that only a minority are both married and married to a Jewish spouse. But marriage provides only part of the answer to the mystery of the missing Jews.

The absence of children – particularly children being raised in the Jewish religion – represents yet one more missing incentive to Jewish communal engagement. Since religious childrearing has been a major stimulus for religious engagement in general and for Jewish engagement as well, major portions of the adult Jewish population not only postpone such experiences, but – not coincidentally – pass through their adult lives without experiencing a familial-based need to affiliate with synagogues or other Jewish institutions.  Clearly, it is critical to understand the factors making it more likely that younger American Jews will marry, create unambiguously Jewish homes, and raise Jewish children.

Our findings demonstrate that educational interventions in childhood can change outcomes in adulthood.  Jewish education that extends into the teen years not only makes adult Jews more likely to forge Jewish connections–it makes them more likely to marry another Jew, and to raise Jewish-by-religion children. Moreover, Jewish education is a strategic intervention that can be very much influenced by imaginative and energetic communal efforts.