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October 20, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Chayei Sarah

In this coming week’s portion, Abraham wants his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives, instead of looking amongst the nearby Canaanites. Why? What’s wrong with the Canaanites?

One common answer is that the Canaanites were immoral- but since Abraham’s relative Laban (brother of Rebecca) has his own ethical challenges (See e.g. Gen. 29) this argument seems a bit wobbly to me.

Scharfstein has a more interesting speculation.  He writes that “if Isaac married a Canaanite, he would be surrounded by her family … and they would soon assimilate into the majority of the population.  However, if he married a distant Babylonian girl, she would come alone and assimilate into Abraham’s family of morality and religious beliefs.”

This argument seems to parallel modern experience: minorities tend to assimilate.  In particular, where Jews are a tiny minority, they tend to assimilate into the local population and in particular to marry non-Jews.  By contrast, where Jews are more numerous (as in New York City) they are at least somewhat more religious (though by no means as consistently so as their rabbis would like).

For example, only 12 percent of married New York Jews are married to non-Jews, and the intermarriage rate for Los Angeles is almost as low.  (The only places with lower intermarriage rates are retiree-heavy South Florida and Palm Springs, a few communities in the NYC orbit, and Baltimore and Detroit, which I can’t explain).  By contrast the most intermarriage-prone major Jewish community is in tiny Portland, Maine.  (Data here).

In sum, if you want Jewish grandchildren send your children to New York.  You are not guaranteed success- but at least you have a fighting chance (which, by the way, is one major reason why I moved to New York!)

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