A week ago, Annie wrote a post where she asked a question unbearably common in the Jewish world: Why is it that people who come from homes where two Jews inmarried don't feel that inmarrying is important? The post received a lot of coherent, thoughtful responses from across the board, but I did not respond, largely because Annie and I have had variations of this conversation and I didn't want to go over ground we had already tread (see: Respectful Disagreements). That said, I have spent the greater part of a week attempting to write a coherent, thoughtful responses and failing miserably. I will attempt, nonetheless, to address Annie's questions:
Why is it that people who come from homes where two Jews inmarried don't feel that inmarrying is important?
It's true that both of my parents are Jewish and that their marriage was not merely an act of endogamous fate, but in part because they both only dated Jews in college; therefore, I am a person who comes from a home where two Jews inmarried, yet I don't feel that inmarrying is important. I don't feign to speak for all people in this category, but I'll attempt to explain my reasoning, nonetheless. I don't think endogamy is an a priori good and I think the arguments on its behalf are marginally racist, at best. I understand the argument on behalf of marrying someone with similar values, etc, but I don't think that's what endogamy entails. In fact, I have repeatedly witnessed the end of relationships where the values and needs of both parties were met, neither were particularly religious or observant, but the Jewish party could not marry someone non-Jewish. In this instance, the focus on endogamy means artificially curtailing or constraining one's dating pool at the expense of someone who may suit one's values and needs, but happens not to be Jewish.
The next argument I encounter raises the question of Jewish babies. It is along the lines of, "God said we should have lots and lots of Jewish babies. You are far more likely to have Jewish babies, if you inmarry. Therefore, you should marry someone Jewish."
For a moment, if we put aside the "God said" aspect of the argument (a meaningless portion to the atheists and agnostics amongst us), what compels us to perpetuate Jewish peoplehood through procreation? There's no logic behind: have Jewish babies because you're supposed to. To what end? If you argue that Jews contribute something special to the world, an exceptionalist argument with which I am decidedly uncomfortable, then having Jewish babies (and to that end, marrying Jewish) can be rationalized; but just because the argument makes sense doesn't mean it's justified or right.
Beyond the question of whether we have a duty to procreate, does procreation offer a compelling argument for endogamy?
Endogamy may increase the likelihood of children with a strong Jewish identity, but it does not ensure it; nor does exogamy preclude it. If the issue is raising Jewish children, then the focus should be on raising Jewish children. And perhaps those Jewish children would benefit from content above and beyond: marry other Jews, especially since statistics tell us that the majority of Jewish children will come from interfaith households in the next generation. When we make the argument on behalf of endogamy, do we think of the many children in our midst who are the product of interfaith marriage and how destructive that narrative is to their sense of self and their attachment to this religion, this culture. Listening to the endless lectures on inmarrying, I always felt ambivalent at best and alienated at worst.
Let's reason, for a moment, that some people chose to marry for reasons other than procreation, that some people are not determined to choose their mates based on their ability to parent Jewish children. What argument, then, would compel them to marry Jewish? For that matter, if they are otherwise without Jewish content or Jewish connection, why would they marry Jewish? What's the purpose of endogamy without content? If you are a person who is intent to have a strictly observant Jewish home, based on certain rabbinic tenants, then it makes sense to marry Jewish. BUT it only makes sense, in that instance, to either marry someone with the same Jewish content (similar background, similar education, similar point of reference) OR someone willing to devote the time and energy to learning that Jewish content.
Ultimately, marrying Jewish for the sake of marrying Jewish and having babies that are labeled "Jewish" doesn't mean anything, unless there's positive Jewish content. To that end, it would make as much logical sense to marry a non-Jew willing to learn Jewish content than a Jew who's unwilling to engage. At which point, we return to the original argument, which is that you should marry someone with similar values to you, whose goals and needs meet your goals and needs.
So why don't I focus on endogamy? Why do I date non-Jews?
I don't see endogamy as a value that is in line with my values.