thumbnail of WGBH Roundtable; Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
We're here to discuss a book on Intermarriage by Rabbi Albert Gordon of Temple Emanuel in Newton. This book was recently published by the Beacon Press and has stimulated a great deal of interest. We're here to discuss it today are Dr. Gordon, the author, Dr. Martin Kielsen, Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, and Dr. Jack Mendelsson, Minister of the Arlington Street Church, Unitarian Universalist of Boston. There's so much to discuss about this book, it's hard to know where to begin. Dr. Gordon has taken an extremely broad point of view toward the problem of intermarriage. He deals with interfaith, interracial, and interethnic marriage, and summarizes a great deal of the research evidence that we have regarding the nature of intermarriage community attitudes
toward it, the changing rate of intermarriage, and so on. He also takes his own value position with regard to it, and this is one of the issues we'll be discussing. Perhaps we might begin by trying to clarify just a little what we mean by intermarriage. In a general sense, we mean the crossing of group boundaries. How broadly would you like us to use the term in Dr. Gordon? Well, Dr. Levinson, I would say that one can of course carry the subject of intermarriage to the point where the whole idea of inter-something will, they become rather absurd. That's why I limited it only to these particular aspects of intermarriage between persons who are of different ethnic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, and different religious backgrounds.
I have not paid too much attention to the question of economic or class background because I felt that we could logically carry this thing to such an extreme that we just would never be able to finish or conclude on any particular, or gain any particular knowledge with respect to the subject at all. How do the others feel? Would you like to take some of these other factors into account? Well, I think one interesting thing about Dr. Gordon's approach to the term in this usage intermarriage is that it tends, and perhaps correctly, to assume that irrespective of how much a society moves from what we call a traditional, close society to a class society, which means a relatively open society, a society in which one standing vis-à-vis someone else becomes a basis of achieved things rather than things which you carry over through
a description. It assumes that despite how much his approach, I think, assumes that despite how much society does become a class in its characteristics, factors of subgroup factors, of religion, of ethnic, of cultural, and of racial varieties still hold as a kind of basic determining forces in such behavior as the choice of one's marital spouse. And this is probably a valid assumption, I suspect, that we are still far from the point where a modern economic, industrial society, based upon a class, has been able to overcome this way, the continued influence of factors of faith, facts of religion, factors of culture, factors of ethnic and racial kind. I think there is an objective truth, therefore, in the approach. I think the approach does make some sense in terms of what we know about the general characteristics
of a modern class society. But you seem to be suggesting that our society continues to change that some of the group differences will tend to break down or to dissolve so that the meaning of intermarriage may be quite different in 20 years than it is now, or maybe quite different now from what it was 20 years ago. Yes, I would assume that. I mean, I think most people assume that as most elements in a society become an integral part of the processes of a modern social system, they slowly but surely leave the influence of these subgroup forces upon their behavior. This we, I think, all assume as to how a class society, as against a traditional close or a feudal society, or a explicitly caste society, tends to operate, this, I think, is a normal assumption about the nature of a modern industrial class society, as against any
other kind of a human social, economic organization. Dr. Mendelssohn, would you like to come in on that? Well, go back to the original question of yours, Dr. Levinson, about scope of the thing. I guess I assume we aren't going to talk about the question of whether blue-eyed people should marry brown-eyed people or not, or whether people with unusually large feet should marry people with unusually small feet and so forth. We're really talking about some practical situations that exist in our society that are generally accepted. That have to do with some established patterns of group identification, and sorry, this is all right with me. I think it includes class structure in America without any question. In fact, I think some of the worst strains that are put on families these days, in terms of intermarriage, are perhaps not so much in the interreligious field or the interracial field, as in the interclass field, there's still an awful lot of feeling involved about
a level of elevating it economically and culturally. Like for one factor, Dr. Levinson, it seems to me has to do with the fact that we theoretically at least accept the idea that there is a kind of transition from one class into the other, economically, so on. We assume that this is the norm for America that people can travel in that direction much more easily, and even though it may disturb us, as it disturbed some of my sample, the idea of they're being married, of they're marrying someone in a different economic groups, into sort of floor them. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the whole idea of economic differences is really not as great as are some other differences, which might have to do with educational background, for example.
They don't stand in the way in the same degree as does educational difference between the parties concerned, and certainly insofar as the religious and the racial, by all means the racial, the difference, which I think is the most pronounced. Of course, there's another factor involved there, and that is if a college graduate wants to marry someone who had six years of school, and the two of them can work it out, it's largely up to the two of them. They won't meet much community opposition, or what they meet will be within the family. But in the case of certain kinds of religious and racial intermarriage, the couple have to deal not only with whatever feelings there are in themselves about it, and their family, but also the wider community.
This is really the big question, isn't it? When you come right down to it, this is what we're really talking about here, if we go at this from the standpoint of values, is whether the existence of these prejudices and barriers and traditions predispositions with respect to these things, whether these should be defended, whether they should be reinforced, or whether they should be resisted, and actively overcome. Well, perhaps this is really the value area that's involved here. Perhaps they ought to be understood. I mean, it isn't only a question of whether they be resisted or whether they be overcome, in any way, it seems to me that sometimes we don't understand the values by which these people live sufficiently well, and as a consequence, this very fact tends to create problems. For example, I have a feeling, personally, that the values that are represented by the Judaism which I profess, has some special significance for me.
And this, of course, as a rabbi, I seek to teach as well, and I would assume that other clergymen would be doing pretty much the same thing, attempting to teach their values. Now, I don't define religion in terms of right and ritual alone. I think it should be defined in much broader terms, and that if you think in terms of specific values, then you would, of course, want to preserve these values. And so it isn't always a question of trying to take a stand to defend something just because you've inherited it, or because it's come out of the past, because it has the sense of being old, which is important, but rather because you feel that there are still some values that have significance today within that tradition that deserve being perpetuated. But Dr. Gordon, that brings us right to your book, doesn't it?
Because in the book, you make very explicit your own value position with regard to inner marriage. Perhaps if you could summarize that briefly, and then we can see where we stand on it. Well, that's a large order. I took the number of pages in the book to do just that, Dr. Levinson. I do say, as I've said before, that the values are important, and for example, in Judaism, the emphasis upon the ideal of imitatio dee, the imitation of the qualities of God or the attributes of God seemed to me to have some significance. I would like, and I do, in fact, I've spent a good number of years trying to teach others what these values are, and hoping that they would, in some degree, at least live thereby by these principles. I think that the idea of Sadako, for example, the Hebrew word, which means charity, which actually means righteousness, is an idea worthy of being perpetuated.
In fact, by and so doing, I help people to realize that this is a quality that will help to make the world better, make people better, and I'm not even concerned now with a matter of perpetuating Judaism, or with perpetuating a particular segment, which is either a denomination or a particular faith, I'm concerned with perpetuating these particular values, or this type of value. Now, for example, Judaism does not speak of Jesus as a savior. It has a different emphasis, and as a consequence, in speaking of Jesus as a man, in speaking of him as having qualities which other human beings have as well, perhaps in greater degree than some, but nevertheless being a man and a human being, it seems to me, that this is a value in itself, which is worthy of being perpetuated, and that if I can
teach this to my people, this will help them to see that within themselves as well, there can be those qualities, they can develop within themselves those qualities that will help to make them, perhaps, able to serve the society of which they are a part in better fashion. And so on this basis, you believe that intermarriage should be discouraged. I think that if you believe in certain values, if you have a feeling that there are certain values that are worthy of perpetuation, that the idea of intermarriage becomes exceedingly difficult, and that two intermarried means that you must ultimately, well, let me say, either drop or you must discourage some of these values. But that's just the point. Does it necessarily mean that? I mean, I think Dr. Gordon's position is a curious one in a way, because there's a catch
to it. Ultimately, what he's saying is that the values which he finds significant in a Judaism, and which he thinks can have meaning for the total human situation, they can only be perpetuated if you remain a Jew. This would apply also, by the way, to most of the Protestant and Catholic… That's beside the point. I'm not sure that that's correct, and if it is correct, then I think the human situation is in for a bad lookout that somehow the kind of world in which people can interact effectively and meaningfully from whatever set of values they operate will never be attained if you assume that a Jew can only make his value contribution to the total human situation only and exclusively within the framework of Jewry.
He can't do so if he lifts his life outside of a Jewry, say, by marrying a Catholic or by marrying a Negro, etc. Somehow I find this catch very difficult. That is what I'm saying. You haven't said it, but I think it's a fair deduction from the assumptions upon which you operate, but what you're saying in effect is that a Jew cannot make this contribution which you think Judaism has for the total situation if he leaves Jewry. He can only make it within the confines of a Jewry. Perhaps I can offer another suggestion with respect to statehood, for example. Some people who say you can't establish peace in the world unless you eliminate all nations. Now most of the institutions presently establish in the world assume that nations will continue to exist, but that nations will learn how to live in peace, that they must ultimately
learn to live in peace with other nations. This is what I'm saying. I'm saying that each nation has a unique personality, each religion has a unique personality. I'm not saying that it is the best. I'm saying that for itself it may be good, it may be right. It may seem to that group of individuals who are associated with it, who have lived with it, to have values worthy of perpetuation, just as nations feel this way. Are you identifying Jewry and Judaism that is in the Jewish religion that is, you say that the religion has its personality, is the non-religious Jew? Yes. The non-religious Jew has a sense of identification sometimes. He may not. He may have been born of Jewish parents, and this is as far as it goes. He is not necessarily identified exclusively with the Jewish people unless he chooses to be. And if he has a sense of identification, then I would say that what he wishes to identify
with may for him at least, or I'm inferring that for him, that there is some reason for his wanting to maintain that identification. And there's nothing which has come upon the scene which makes me believe that to lose that identification is to give something of any particular value to the world. Well, let me describe the value framework in which I work. This is Dr. Mendelssohn for the sake of the audience. Several times a month I talk with couples who are confronted with the dilemma we're discussing here today. And in a world which has grown small in many respects where people of different faith and race and social class meet easily. They study side by side, they work together, they participate in common group activities of various kinds. It is inevitable that they're going to be attracted to one another, that they're going to fall
in love, that they're going to want to marry. And then suddenly they discover that they're in a good deal of trouble. Very often though their heart and their mind has said yes to this marriage, the church, the synagogue or society or family, they say no. Now this disapproval of interfaith, interracial, interclass marriages has of course a very long history and it's rooted partly in common sense. Marriage is one of the most important decisions an individual makes to a great extent. It shapes the meaning and the future of his life. It can cause his life to open up and flower or it can cause his life to close in and corrode. And in the wisdom of human experience we know that the harmonious growing together of two persons is difficult enough in any case without adding further problems of different cultural, racial, religious backgrounds.
And so quite aside from any personal prejudices that they may have priests and rabbis and ministers know that a common faith in a family is a source of strength and stability. And that conversely differing or competing faiths may be a source of endless controversy. Interracial marriages often face additional problems of social ostracism. Interclass marriages provoke both internal conflicts and family alienation. Numerous studies, now most particularly Dr. Gordon's book on Indomarage, leave a little doubt that statistically such marriages are more fragile than those marriages between partners of the same faith or racial or class backgrounds. But people are people rather than statistics. And our society is now so organized that more and more young people are falling in love with each other without regard for these old barriers of race and creed and social status. They are deciding that they want to get married, whether their churches, synagogues or parents
approve or not. And for such young people, the church with which I'm associated, you enter in Universalist Church, can be of some real help. Being a religious community which is open to all and free from dogma and creed, free to seek truth wherever it may be found in whatever faith or cultural context, our church is also free to recognize and emphasize the possibilities as well as the difficulties of Indomarage. If it is true that adjustments are more complex, it is also true that when a full-hearted effort is made there can be warmer love and deeper understanding because the struggle was necessary, there can be a richer sharing, there can be a more exhilarating family fellowship because two traditions or cultures or sets of life experience have been blended together, each making its own unique contribution to the whole. Each member of such a family can become a person of larger rather than lesser loyalties and come to identify his fate and future more readily with the whole of mankind rather than
just with one particular segment of mankind. That's the value framework in which I approach this problem. Do I understand you correctly from those last remarks especially that you then see Intermarage as something to be positively valued, something that you would encourage except under special. What I said was that within Indomarage is the possibility of larger values rather than lesser values. In other words, you can't say with any degree of assurance, Dr. Mendelssohn, that in each and every case, in each and every instance, that such marriages are bound to be enriched or that they are. No, as a matter of fact, I don't say that at all. What I am saying, which is somewhat different from yours, from your approach, is that I feel that it's not up to me to approve or disapprove of Indomarage. It happens. It's a very important part of our culture today and it's happening with greater frequency.
I have one of the givens. I have one of the givens. It's going to increase. So the question is, how do you deal with it? What you deal with in a pluralistic society is a situation where people make up their own minds about who they're going to marry, you see. That's what happens in our kind of society. It's not a rabbi or a priest or a minister who determines who you're going to marry. You determine this yourself. It's not your family that determines who you're going to marry. Increasingly in our society, the individual decides who he's going to marry or who she's going to marry. Perhaps the difference in the value position could be put in this way. In his book, Dr. Gordon makes a statement roughly to the effect that Indomarage is the price we will have to pay for the fact that we live in a pluralistic society and a society where groups are thrown increasingly into closer contact. So he also regards it as a historical trend, but he regards it as a price for which there
is a great cost. Exactly. And Dr. Mendelssohn would see, again, as well as a price in it or would emphasize the ... I would see it as a given, which has both dangers and great potentialities. Yes. And I, of course, and my view, speak of the dangers not only to the individuals involved in terms of the statistical evidence, which I present, but in terms of the dangers to the society. I think that there is some good has come out of the particular respective religions concerning which we speak. Not everything is good about any one of them. But the fact is that there is so much that is good, that is worthy of being perpetuated, and it seems to me that part of the job depends upon the attitude that members of the clergy and the parents, as well, take toward their respective religions. I think that in large measure, they have, most people have been quite indifferent to their
religions, and that as a consequence, they have not really really taught anything positive so that young people or others as well say, well, what I do is quite all right. This depends only on me and has no relationship to the society of which I am a part. And frankly, I think that this is an unfortunate attitude. Dr. Gordon, would you like to comment on how your position would apply in the case of racial intermarriage? Well, let me first say that insofar as Judaism is concerned, Judaism is colorblind with respect to other religion, other colors. It has no feeling at all with respect to the marriage of persons with respect to marriage, two persons of another color. It has a feeling with respect to the perpetuation of the values that are associated with the religion. And so it assumes that persons who are Jews, whatever the color, can or should be married
and may be married, let me put it that way. And does not discuss the question of, I mean, has no fears of phobias on the other question. And you can see this, certainly, in the state of Israel as well, because there you're getting people of a variety of different colors, persons who are Jews, who call themselves Jews, who are living together, and who are intermarrying. Now, it's true that the Western world hasn't readily accepted this idea, but it is also true that they are, I think, bound in time, certainly in increasing degree to accept this idea of interracial marriage, with the emphasis being upon religion as the uniting fact, rather than upon color. But I was thinking of your position, say, with regard to a white Protestant marrying an egress Protestant, so there would not be a religious crossing, but only a racial one. What would be your position on that?
Well, the problem there, it seems to me, Dr. Levinson, is one that has to do with the attitude of society, more than with the attitude of the individuals themselves. I was talking one of my interviews as a matter of fact, a white man married to an egress girl, or they veered a very lovely family, and they said to me, the question with us is not a question of color. We know what we are, and our children know what they are. They know that they are colored. There's no question about that. But they come to us and ask us what is our religion, and because both of them apparently have left their respective churches, and they say that the children are a representative problem in terms of what religious upbringing shall we provide for them, shall we help them to acquire? And so I think that the problem is more frequently questioned, insofar as the couple itself is concerned, a question of religion, what values to provide from an organized or through an
organized religion, and how to deal with the problems presented by society as a whole. These same people and a variety of others, with whom I have spoken, indicate to me that the problem very frequently is one of having a certain amount of antipathy, and the part of the society at large, and the part of landlords, and the part of the neighborhood, and these present special problems for these people. But I don't think in that, in the case to which you refer, that would be a special problem, the religious problem would be one that would concerns the children more than the parents. If I can interrupt just for a moment, for those of you who have tuned in late, this is a panel discussion of a book entitled Intermarriage, Interfaith, Interracial, Interethnic, by Dr. Albert I. Gordon, and we're discussing it today. The discussions are Dr. Gordon, the author, Dr. Martin Kielsen of Harvard University,
and Dr. Jack Mendelsson of the Arlington Street Church, Universalist, Unitarian, in the other order. Could I put a query to Dr. Gordon, which I think is an interesting one, which to some extent comes out of the data in his book, and that is how would you explain the fact that at the level of middle class and upper middle class interracial marriages in this country, a high proportion of the whites involved are of Jewish background. Would that come from something in the values of the Jewish religion, something which has been cultivated in the family and the religious upbringing of a Jew, or just what would you put your hand on? Well, this is rather large order. I can't cover the universe, but I imagine that this question should be directed to Dr.
Levinson, who's written specifically on this theme, it seems to me. It seems, I would say, that it is in part, it may in part be a matter of religious upbringing, but I think in large measure two, it may be a matter of rebellion, and it may be a matter that has to do with escapism or rebellion or some other factor of this kind, which people trying to get away from their family, the family background, and maybe one or both of these bad visitors at one of the same time. Would you have an idea about why there should be more common among Jews than other groups? Well, this too, I would say, what perhaps come out of the Jewish tradition itself. First of all, you remember the statement I made before about Judaism in the color blind? This would be the first thing. The second place is that we keep on mentioning the fact in just about every phase of Jewish life, remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt, and this somehow, even though
it doesn't penetrate the minds of all people, as you may readily expect, it nevertheless does have its effect, and people do associate in psychologically at least with persons who are perhaps the victims of being a minority in this land of ours. I wonder whether Dr. Kielsen would like to express an opinion on the general issue of the value question. Are you for your marriage or against it or what? I have a value position on it, and it would run something like this. I would say that basically whatever the group point from which one enters the question of marriage is essentially a personal question. And I think that this is the only way anyone who identifies himself as an open-minded liberal or a progressive person can honestly come to this issue.
I can hardly go along with the view that it is something which organized religion or any other organized group should impose on the person that it's something that should be left to freedom of choice. And that when one enters it, one should know what one is entering and be willing to accept the good and the bad. This is essentially my own value point on it. Well, Dr. Kielsen, do you think that let's talk for a moment about the matter of the problems that many children have intermarried face under these circumstances? You say it's a purely personal issue. I say that it isn't completely that at all, that it involves a generation of children, that involves their psychological attitudes, and perhaps their unhappiness, and their uncertainties and doubts and insecurities, and that it would seem to me that potential
parents have a responsibility in that degree to try to the greatest degree possible to safeguard their unborn children. But I don't think he when being solved problems by running away from them. I don't think we get on to something we consider a better world, whatever that is by running away from all the obvious obstacles which we know are involved in moving on to a better world. But you make an inference, Dr. Kielsen, and that is that the better world at the better world is bound to come if you eliminate this factor. I suspect that's correct, and I think that anyone who has an image of a better world also makes this assumption that basically the ethnic, religious, and racial barriers to the issue of marriage must be basically removed, fundamentally altered from something that we know which they are today, if we are going to move on to this thing we call a better
world. We have any blueprint as to precisely what all the components of this better world would look like. But in this fuzzy notion which I do have, I'm convinced that barriers to interracial marriage must be removed. You see, I am somehow thinking of the prophet Isaiah, who I think had a rather fair picture of at least part of a better world when he spoke of a world at peace. And he didn't speak about the elimination of nationhood. He rather spoke about the fact that nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war or no war anymore. Now the idea I gather from that is that he believed that it was the responsibility of nations to learn how to live in peace with each other. He didn't speak or he wasn't speaking in terms of his blueprint for the better world, of the elimination of nationhood.
And it seems to me that in the same category I would place religions, certain religions above others perhaps. But I would say that there are values that are unique, not everything about the fact that is unique in itself doesn't make it a perfect thing. But I would say that there are certain values that are worthy of perpetuation. And I would certainly like to see them perpetuated. But I also think that new human forms can be created to perpetuate values which are originally took place under different and older forms. I hold out, therefore, much more hope with respect to the ingenuity of the human being to come to grips with whatever is required to have this better world, a basically stable, peaceful, and predictable, and the happy place where people to live in. I'd like to, excuse me, I'd like to ask a couple of comments on this. I think the issue in world peace is not the abolition of nationhood. I think the issue in world peace and practical terms is the diminishing of certain aspects
of sovereignty, not the question of people identifying themselves with a land and with a tradition and with a history. So I don't think this is an overly apt analogy. The question of intermarriage is, as Dr. Kielsen suggests, always a personal question. It's a question of people, individual human beings. And it doesn't really have an awful lot to do with large sweeping matters of ideology or anything of the sort. Two people decide that they can make a life together. They do this because they've come in contact with one another, and they have had an opportunity to learn to know one another in a way that directs them toward marriage, the establishment of a family and a home. The facts that we face in our society is that, increasingly, this happens to human beings without regard to what used to be more formidable barriers, separating them one from another. There are barriers of race or religion or cultural background, but these barriers are progressively
diminished now because of the essential nature of the society in which we live. So more and more, young people fall in love and want to get married, what are you going to do about this? What's the sensible thing to do? You're going to sit down and discourage them from getting married because they happen to come from different religious backgrounds. What this will effectively do is to turn these people away from all religious, former religious associations. If it happens, I talked with a man just a couple of days ago. He called me up. He was terribly agitated. He and a young woman had decided to get married. She comes from an active Jewish religious association, so she wanted to be married in a temple or synagogue. He comes out of a Jewish background but is no longer actively identified with a Jewish religious institution, although he thinks of himself culturally in Jewish terms. He called a rabbi to see about arranging for this service.
And he was told by the rabbi, yes, I'll do this service. If you will join my temple, you are born a Jew, you are a Jew. You ought to be associated with a Jewish religious institution. If you are, I'll marry you. If not, I won't. But there's nothing in Judaism, by the way. So you did get the message? Well, I would say it's ridiculous, too. I've been a rabbi for 35 years and I've never once asked a person or made such a statement to anyone. I am concerned with the fact that they identify with the Jewish people because as a rabbi, I am authorized by my ordination to officiate at the marriage of Jewish persons, you see. And I take that responsibility seriously. But there's nothing within Judaism. This is a personal aberration on the part of some individual. Well, I encouraged him then to go on and seek out some other possibilities. He was turned down a half a dozen times on the same ground.
And so it's not just an individual. One of the things that really bothers me is the change that I see happening in many religious groups with respect to this question, a hardening of attitudes. Back in my early years in the ministry, when I was a young, wet behind-the-years minister of the Unitarian Church in Rockford, Illinois, the rabbi of the temple there and I often used to exchange marriages. That is, if there was an occasion when I couldn't be present to perform a wedding, he would do it. In my stead, this sort of thing is out the window completely now, this kind of cooperation, this kind of cross-fertilization of religious lines. I see it happening in Protestant groups, is hardening this business of instructing young people about the dangers of going over the line, over the religious line, to get married. I see it happening in the Roman Catholic Church. I don't think the position there has essentially changed, I think it remains the same. And of course, the justification always is, well, the dangers are just too great.
Before these marriages are going to fail in your book, Al, you, Rabbi Gordon, you say, for example, that 15% of these intermarriages end up in disaster and that this is something like three times the national average of divorces taking all marriages. Well, of course, this is something that's got to be taken into account, but at the same time, considering the attitudes that exist and the opposition that there is and the family problems, the fact that an intermarriage has a sixth to one chance of succeeding is to me pretty impressive. That's pretty good. Well, there's no question. Tell us more about human beings than I think people who approach the matter like, Rabbi Gordon, would really, really grant. No, I have respect for human beings, too. But you have a very cynical notion about human beings. I think it prevailed to the whole book. I had a strong feeling on the contrary.
I think I have, I don't think that this is the time for me to justify whether or not I have a cynical attitude towards human beings. I think that to be a member of the clergy for these many years and to still feel challenged by it means that I'm quite the opposite of being a Senate. But I feel that in addition, I have a responsibility and I want to live up to that responsibility. Not to be cynical about society, but to say that I must, to the very best of my ability, try to preserve those things which seem to me to have some significance. Now, wouldn't you do the same? Well, I'm not sure that I would do it precisely within the framework within which I think you operate. I have one area of great gratitude to Rabbi Gordon. That is by spending the years that he spent conducting the interviews and compiling the statistics from these interviews. He has put into my hands, for example, in this book some very useful material in connection
with the counseling that I do with couples who come to me to talk about getting married. It seems to me that in fairness to two persons who contemplate a marriage across some of these old traditional barriers, all of this should be talked well out in advance. It should be very well understood that this isn't just somebody's imagination, you know, that there's a greater risk in this kind of marriage. But here is some pretty hard factual material in relation to this. And so I find it in this sense, very useful material. I don't agree with your conclusions, but I am very grateful for the material that you've put together out of which you've drawn your own conclusions, that you have a perfect rate. And you will note that I separated my personal view from the rest of the material. And I deliberately cited it or used it for a concluding chapter so that I would as much as possible avoid having this view of mine permeate all the other parts of the material.
Now it's true that no one, I think, including political scientists, can write completely free from a personal view, a personal objective, have something personal of himself that gets into the material. And I recognize that, and I think we all must recognize that. But I have tried, as conscientiously as possible, to avoid the tendency to keep on expressing my own view all through this material. I'd like to direct a question to Dr. Kielsen, if I may, because at this problem in another direction actually, and it's an area in which I really like some reflection on your part. Is there any tendency now in the Negro community to harden its attitude against racial intermarriage? I shouldn't think so. At that point, at that segment of the Negro community where such intermarriages occur
that is among the middle classes, among the upper middle class professional groups, I think basically there's a very high degree of open-mindedness on the question. And I have seen no evidence of any change in this attitude. Surely you do have, and you have always had since the great movement from the south to the north, among urban Negroes, essentially black nationalists, racists, shushes, solvenist groups, who work on the assumption of all white folks as being devils. Those devils responsible for the oppressive experience, which Negroes have had in 300 years of a resident in North North America. And that Negroes should not sleep with them, or live with them, or have any meaningful integrated relationship to them.
But I don't think that this is essentially the attitude which could be found among the wider Negro population. I think generally there's open-mindedness to most of the question. All the Negroes aren't going to marry whites, that's for sure, but some will. And I think they approach the question with essentially an open-minded viewpoint. May I, with respect to this particular issue, call attention to an article I just noted in the New York Times, May 25th, headed, Negroes are cool to mixed marriage to sociologists fine. This is Donald Boge and Jan Dizard of the University of Chicago, both of whom said that in the study, which they did, interviewing some 721 Negro and 839 white families, and their study of prejudice, they found, then, quote, contrary to what may be the popular stereotype, almost no Negro respondents reported that they would encourage their child to
marry a white person. Now this, I think, in other words, there isn't any really strong feeling that if it happens, it happens. That's my point. Well, that's quite different. I don't think there is any active discouragement of against interracial marriage among the people of the Middle East. It's a different question, whether or not they would encourage. Well, that's because, for a long period of time, as you very well know, the attitude was, what's white is right with a great number of Negroes. Well, to some extent, that's quite, quite true, but that was really a function of the great social and economic gap between white and black, and really what you met when you said what's white is right is that to be white is to have all those things which make you powerful, influence, significant, and meaningful in a American society. This was not, this did not have any biological reflection, of course.
Oh, I understand that. It also was not quite that friendly, a comment either, it was in the eyes of white people, not necessarily in the eyes of the Negroes. I wonder if we could get to one of the specific issues that came up before and we got away from. And that is the question of how it is for the children of intermarriage. This certainly is a great concern of many people who consider it, and it's one of the major reasons given by those who oppose intermarriage. You were speaking of that before, Dr. Mendelsohn, I wonder if you could give either your general views or even a clinical example, it might be very useful in getting us more concrete here. Well, let's take the problem of children with respect to interracial marriage. It seems to me that an interracial family is not likely to live in a environmental setting, a social setting where there's going to be undue pressure brought up on the children
because they're products of an interracial marriage. It's one of the realistic factors and interracial marriages that probably interracial families will plan to live in those sections of urban communities where there was likely to be the greatest amount of acceptance of this. Well, as far as the children are concerned, in that setting, the children aren't going to have any more problems than any children have. All children have certain kinds of problems, they all have certain kinds of problems, but nothing extraordinary. Now in interreligious marriage, the alternatives are a little different. There, of course, you have the question that comes up, should the children be brought up in the religion of one partner, should they be brought up in the religion of the other partner, should they seek a common ground for the children, which is neither the religion of one parent or the other, or should they simply bring their children up in a secular setting with value education in the home and for the time being until the children are older, avoid an affiliation with a religious institution.
These are essentially the alternatives, which are available to parents with children of an interreligious marriage. And in every single case, there is no blueprint as to what they should do, because every single family will have a set of different circumstances surrounding it with their larger families, for example, and where they happen to live and how they feel about it inside themselves and what kind of pressure is there under. So I don't think there is any one solution to this. You deal with each one of these as an individual set of human beings. Well, on the basis of your experience in counseling, would you offer our audience some thoughts on the conditions under which things go better for the children or the conditions under which it's harder? For example, if the family finds a third neutral religion or a secular viewpoint is that likely to make it easier or harder than if they pick the religion of one parent or the
kind of community they live in or whatever? Well, unlike Dr. Gordon, I haven't done a statistical study on this, so I really can't back it up. My impression, however, is that there is less stress in those families which can satisfactorily find a religious education program for their children, which enriches the child without in any way denigrating either one of the heritages that are in the two backgrounds. And of course, there are possibilities of this kind available to them. If this is possible, then it seems to be a relatively peaceful solution to the thing. It isn't always possible, however. And in inter-religious marriages, oftentimes partners have to learn. One partner or the other has to learn to accept the fact that the children are perhaps going to be brought up in a religious setting different from his own. But this is one of the things that they should be prepared to work out in an inter-religious marriage.
Part of the difficulty, it seems to me, is the fact that couples, very frequently young, boy and girl, contemplating a mixed marriage, think that they have got a solution. They have worked out a solution prior to the marriage. Then along come a child, or several children, and then they begin to rethink their position. And this presents special problems, and I have, in my experience, discovered many such situations, where the matter of rethinking one's position and wishing that one had not made certain commitments at an earlier age, or wishing that one could change completely position taken, is in my mind, a very serious problem. And it presents special difficulties to children, because children sense very quickly the insecurities of the uncertainties of their own parents. Did you give an example of that, Dr. Gordon? Well, yes, I have had the experience of having, well, let me cite the case of an intermarriage involving a person of two different religions.
And the mother in this case is a Protestant, the father is a Catholic, and a very devout Catholic. The mother, I think, married this young man, who, in his own right, is certainly a fine gentleman in every way, but in reacting against your own parents. She was married and gave a promise that the children would be reared as Catholics. Now the children are being reared as Catholic, but she has somehow, since the time of the promise, and since the birth of the children, come to feel that this is not right. She wants to be closer now to her own family background. And she has developed such a difficult time, created such a difficult time of it, that she is under psychiatric treatment herself. This marriage has already involved one marriage counselor. And as a matter of fact, this is how I came into the picture.
And I discovered that this was truly a very serious situation, and both the psychiatrist and the marriage counselor indicated that it was. And now her children were, when I saw them, too young for me to discover what, if anything had happened to them, I hope that nothing untoward has happened to them. But it does seem to me, in this particular case, which is the first to come to mind, and there are a variety of other cases I could refer to. Where are such problems do present themselves? The thing that strikes me about this, Rabbi Gordon, is that you can't really pin this on the different religious backgrounds. My Lord, I see this all the time, too. It hasn't really nothing to do with the fact that they come out of different religious backgrounds. The one thing I tell to couples who come to me with this is, if your marriage is soundly based, that is, if you ought to get married, and you ought to get married in the sense that you're going to be able to cope with the problems of marriage, it doesn't make any difference
whether you come from different religious or racial or whatever backgrounds. But if you're going to get married on an essentially shaky basis anyway, in terms of emotional, psychological, spiritual, I'm talking spiritual and broader sense now, factors, then of course the difference in your backgrounds is sooner or later going to crop up and create a problem where it'll become a focus for your problems. But this isn't the cause of them. This is nothing but a symptom of deeper or more underlying causes of problems in marriage. Any really mature couple, it seems to me, can solve a problem of different religious backgrounds. Because if they can't solve that, then they can't solve a problem about budgets, or they can't solve a problem about different emotional levels with respect to sexual relations and so forth. If they can't solve these problems altogether, the marriage is going to be in trouble. The religious one has no special significance. It's only one of several possibilities in which weaknesses in marriage can crop out. Well I would say that it's my impression that you are perhaps defining religion too
narrowly, and I'm rather surprised you were for doing so. Well I define religion as the whole of life. You've been divided. Oh no. As affiliation. No, I don't define it. No, no, no. You see, now that we agreed on a definition, and yet I didn't think that in your- I should have said religious affiliation. Oh, all right. Oh, it's perhaps fitting that we closed this discussion on a note of disagreement. Had we ended on a note of agreement, our listeners would know that we were forcing ourselves, because there are important issues here to disagree about, and I'm sure that our listeners who have been interested to stay with us through this discussion and have their own ideas about this, and we'll find a great deal of value in reading the book on Intermarriage by Rabbi Gordon, whether they agree with his personal conclusions or not. Perhaps what comes out most clearly from our discussion is that a person's stand on
the particular issue of Intermarriage is part of a broader approach to life. Dr. Gordon is strongly identified with a particular pattern of Jewish religion, Jewish tradition. It's important to him to preserve that pattern, and he is concerned about any historical trend that threatens the continuity of this tradition, and he sees Intermarriage as a threat to it. And primarily, I believe on this ground, opposes it. Dr. Mendelssohn, on the other hand, offers a religion that is universalistic, that embraces all of the formerly disparate religious traditions, if the persons who come from those traditions are willing to look beyond them.
And so within the framework of his thought, it's quite meaningful to take in persons of different backgrounds and to be helpful to them in synthesizing their differences into some new unitarian, if I can use that word, pattern. Perhaps we, in the long run, will gain a deeper understanding of Intermarriage by looking at the deeper processes of social change, the new developments in personal identity that are a result of these changes, and as we clarify our stand toward history, toward where man has come from, and where hopefully he's going, we will perhaps all arrive at no ideas about Intermarriage, thank you all. Thank you.
WGBH Roundtable
Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/15-375tbd02).
Episode Description
A discussion of Rabbi Albert Gordon?s book, Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic. Moderated by Dr. Daniel Levinson, Director of Socio-Psychological Research at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.
Episode Description
Public Affairs
Series Description
WGBH Roundtable is a talk show featuring discussions with panels of experts on issues of public interest.
Created Date
Talk Show
Public Affairs
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Production Unit: Radio
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 64-0026-06-16-001 (WGBH Item ID)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:59:00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “WGBH Roundtable; Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic,” 1964-06-16, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “WGBH Roundtable; Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic.” 1964-06-16. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: WGBH Roundtable; Intermarriage: Inter-Racial; Inter-Faith; Inter-Ethnic. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from