Boundaries Blur Between Jews and Christians in Shocking Ways

Christmas Trees Common — Even Belief in Jesus as 'Messiah'

All I Want for Christmas: Forward editor Abigail Jones grew up celebrating Christmas. The Pew survey says she’s part of an ever-growing segment of Jewish America.
courtesy of abigail jones
All I Want for Christmas: Forward editor Abigail Jones grew up celebrating Christmas. The Pew survey says she’s part of an ever-growing segment of Jewish America.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 07, 2013, issue of October 11, 2013.

Are you Jewish or Christian? Increasingly, Americans seem to be checking both boxes, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews.

It’s not just that a lot of Jews have Christmas trees, though 32% say they do; it’s that 34% of Jews said that they think being Jewish is compatible with believing that Jesus is the Messiah, a belief that’s theologically anathema to traditional Judaism.

Meanwhile, Pew estimates that there are 1.2 million non-Jewish Americans who identify as sort-of-Jewish, even though they are not Jewish by religion and have no Jewish family background.

Findings like these in the new Pew survey point to the emergence of a hazy category between Judaism and Christianity that’s something between a new syncretic religion and a theological muddle.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

“It points to the blurring boundaries between Jews and non-Jews,” said Sara Bunin Benor, a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who acted as an adviser to the Pew study. “More people than in the past believe that you can be both Jewish and Christian.”

Much of that blurring, according to Benor, is due to intermarriage. The Pew survey found that rates of intermarriage have risen steadily since the 1970s, with 58% of Jews who married between 2005 and 2013 marrying a non-Jew.

Kimberly Smith and Adam Weinstein joke that they are “cashews” — Catholic Jews. Smith grew up Catholic in New York, while Weinstein grew up a Reform Jew in Philadelphia and now belongs to IKAR, a nondenominational congregation in Los Angeles. When the L.A. couple got married in Mexico in May, they wanted both Jewish and Catholic traditions reflected at their wedding.

Officiating duties at the wedding were split between a Christian minister and a rabbi. The rabbi read the sheva brachot under a chuppah, and Weinstein stomped on a glass. The minister read a verse from First Corinthians. There was no ketubah, or marriage contract, and Weinstein forgot the yarmulkes at the last minute.

There was, however, a hora. “That was very important,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein and Smith’s a la carte Jewish/Christian wedding was far from unusual. The wedding section of The New York Times, an important barometer of upper middle-class wedding practice, regularly describes nuptials as having “incorporated Jewish and Christian traditions.”

“People are drawing upon their Jewish and Christian and nonreligious identities simultaneously,” said Steven M. Cohen, a leading sociologist of American Jewry and an adviser to the Pew study, speaking about its findings. “They see no contradiction between being Jewish and accepting some pieces of Christianity.”



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