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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/November 1906/The Jews: A Study of Race and Environment II



II. Marriages.

ONE of the most important causes of the low birth rate of the Jews is their low marriage rate. Only about fifty years ago an unmarried Jew was very rare in Europe, while an old maid was hardly to be met with in the Ghetto. They then followed closely the rabbinical ordinances: "It is the duty of every Israelite to marry as early in life as possible. Eighteen years is the age set by the rabbis; any one remaining unmarried after his twentieth year is said to be cursed by God Himself. Some rabbis urge that children should marry as soon as they reach the age of puberty, i. e., the fourteenth year. A man, who, without any reason, refuses to marry after he has passed his twentieth year is frequently compelled to do so by court."[1] These Talmudical ordinances are not observed to-day by the bulk of European and American Jews, and their marriage rates are much below those of the christian populations among which they live.

Taking first statistics of the crude marriage rate, i. e., the annual number of marriages per 1,000 population, we find in every country in Europe, where data are available, that the rates for the Jews are lower, as can be seen from the following table:

Country. Period No. of Marriages per 1,000 Population.
Jews. Christians.
Algeria 1903 9.12 8.17
Germany 1903 7.10 8.27
Prussia 1904 7.37 8.56
Bavaria 1903 7.8 7.70
European Russia 1897 7.37 9.48
Warsaw, Poland 1901 6.71 8.72
Roumania 1902 10.30 18.70
Hungary 1900 8.04 8.84
Bohemia 1900 7.24 8.26
United States 1886-90 7.40 ——

It must be emphasized that even these figures do not give an adequate idea of the low marriage rates of the Jews, because the Jewish population contains a smaller number of children and larger proportion of adults of marriageable ages. If statistics of the number of marriages per 1,000 Jews over fifteen years of age, and especially of unmarried adults, were obtainable, the rates for the Jews as compared with the christians in Europe would show that they are yet less apt to marry than the figures in the above table indicate. Thus it was found in Berlin during the census of 1900 that of all persons over twenty years of age the following percentage were married:

Men. Women.
Jewish 51.62 per cent. 52.51 per cent.
Christian 60.38 per cent. 53.83 per cent.

These low marriage rates, which are only a recent social phenomenon among the Jews, are not confined to western Europe. Even in Russia, where the bulk of the 5,000,000 Jews live to-day under strict adherence to their faith and traditions, early marriages are less frequent than among the christians. The poor muscular development of the eastern European Jews, which has in part been attributed to early marriages, will have to be explained by some other causes. The following figures, from the census of Russia of 1897, give the percentage of persons who married at certain ages, both among the Jews and among the general population of the so-called 'Pale of Settlement.'

Age. Men. Women.
Jews. General
Jews. General
20 and less 5.95 31.22 27.76 55.01
21 to 25 43.73 35.64 51.23 31.57
26 to 30 34.05 18.94 12.68 6.96
31 to 35 6.52 5.61 6.69 2.80
36 to 40 3.39 3.30 1.86 1.65
41 to 45 1.75 2.13 0.90 0.97
46 to 50 0.54 1.41 0.81 0.61
51 and over 3.07 1.65 1.07 0.42

It appears from this table that the Jews in Russia marry later in life than the christians in that country. Only 5.95 per cent, of all the Jews who married in 1897 were less than twenty years of age, while about five times as many christians married at this youthful age. Even among the Jewesses only 27.76 per cent, married before reaching twenty, as against double that number, 55.01 per cent., among christian women. Marriages between twenty and thirty, on the other hand, are more frequent among the Jews—77.78 per cent, as against only 54.58 per cent, among christians, and 63.91 per cent, among the Jewesses, and 38.53 per cent, among the christian women. Finally, marriages among persons at advanced ages, over thirty, are contracted in about the same proportions in both groups. In general, Russia has an extraordinarily large number of youthful marriages. Nowhere in western Europe is there to be found more than four per cent, of bridegrooms under twenty years of age. This is of course due to the numerical predominance of agricultural workers with a communistic arrangement of the village community. The Jews in that country live mostly in cities, are either manufacturers, merchants, etc., or skilled mechanics. Marriage among such people must be postponed till business assures a secure income, or till the individual has attained skill in his trade or profession. The low birth rates of the Jews in Russia (compared with the non-Jewish population of that country) is here partly explained. The later an individual marries, the shorter is the period of the married state, and the number of children to be expected is smaller. In fact the census of 1897 showed that there were five per cent, more unmarried Jews than unmarried christians, as can be seen from the following figures:

Social State. Jews. Greek Orthodox.
Men. Women. Men. Women.
Single 61.20 57.35 55.95 52.09
Married 36.76 36.07 40.28 39.42
Widowed 1.82 6.01 3.68 8.36
Divorced 0.16 0.49 0.03 0.04

In this connection it is interesting to note that the percentage of protogamous marriages is smaller among the Jews in Russia than among the general population. The marriages between bachelors and maids constituted 83.73 per cent, among the general population and only 80.72 per cent, among the Jews. Second marriages are more frequent among the Jews; and contrary to the almost general experience that widowers are more likely to marry maids than widows, the Jewish widowers in Russia more often marry widows. These peculiarities are explained by social customs.

We can find nothing in the above figures which would indicate any racial influence on the marriage rates of the Jews. In fact the evidence indicates that it is purely a social phenomenon. The Jews in eastern Europe marry earlier and have a smaller proportion of celibates than their coreligionists in western Europe, because the latter enjoy on the average a better social and economic prosperity. When compared with their non-Jewish neighbors in eastern Europe, the Jews have a lower marriage rate, because they have very few agricultural laborers, and have, on the other hand, a larger number of merchants, skilled workmen, etc., whose birth rate is lower among all peoples in Europe. In oriental countries, like Palestine, Turkey, Persia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, etc., where the Jews live under a primitive culture, and are entirely unaffected by any occidential influences, the Jews to-day marry very early. Husbands at fourteen and wives at the same age are not uncommon. Their birth rate is also above that of the non-Jewish population in those countries, as was shown to be the case in Algeria.

In western Europe and America, where the Jews have been intensely influenced by the occidental social environment, their marriage rates are low. But even here conditions have not always been the same as we find them to-day. Statistics of marriage rates in the beginning of the nineteenth century show conclusively that then the Jews married earlier and had comparatively fewer celibates than the christian population of Germany. Their economic, social and cultural condition at that time was about the same as that of the Jews in eastern Europe to-day. Even as late as 1861 to 1870 Austrian statistics show that 34.3 per cent, of all the Jews who married were less than twenty-four years of age, as against only 17.6 per cent, of christians who married thus early; 23.5 per cent, of the Jewesses were married at this early age, and only 15.1 of christian women. Conditions have changed recently, as was shown above, going hand-in-hand with the change in the sum total of the social, economic and intellectual conditions in which the Jews find themselves at the beginning of the twentieth century.


Consanguineous Marriages

The extraordinarily large number of physical and mental defectives met with among the Jews in Europe has been in part attributed to the frequency of marriage of near kin among them. All available statistical evidence shows that consanguineous marriages are much more often contracted among Jews than among others. Jacobs, adopting Sir George H. Darwin's method, shows that in England 7.5 per cent, of all Jewish marriages are between cousins, while among Englishmen only two per cent, are of this class. Stieda found that in Lorraine the proportion of consanguineous marriages is 1.86 per thousand ordinary marriages among the protestants, 9.97 among catholics, and 23.02 among Jews. In Hungary marriage of near kin can only be contracted after a special permission has been obtained from the civil authorities. The data on the subject in that country are therefore reliable. During 1901 such permission was granted 270 times to Jews and 1,217 times to others. On a basis of the population, it thus appears that the Jews obtained proportionately about five and one half times as many permits as the christians. Among a thousand christian marriages 5.8 were between cousins, while among a thousand Jewish marriages there were 39.3. In Prussia the rates were in 1872-5, among the Jews 23.08 per thousand ordinary marriages; protestants, 14.68, and catholics, 9.98. From figures collected by Treitel in Berlin it appears that during 1900 the proportion of consanguineous marriages was among the Jews 23.3, and among protestants only 6.1, per 1,000 marriages.

It is doubtful whether this inbreeding is the cause of most of the diabetes, insanity, idiocy, deaf-mutism, etc., encountered among the Jews. It is at present the consensus of opinion that consanguineous marriages contracted by healthy individuals are not at all detrimental to the offspring. But when contracted by defectives, the physical or mental defect is likely to appear in a more accentuated form in the progeny. It must in this connection be mentioned that consanguineous marriage among the European population rarely exceeds one per cent, of all marriages and is more frequent, as a rule, in the country than in the city. The Jews, as city dwellers, ought to have a still smaller proportion of marriages of near kin.


Mixed Marriages.

The prevailing opinion that Jews have always refrained from intermarriage with non-Jews is erroneous. Biblical tradition shows clearly that the ancient Hebrews intermarried freely with their Gentile neighbors. Some of the most important patriarchs (Abraham, Joseph, Moses) and kings (Solomon) had gentile wives. The prophets, Ezra and Nehemia, both arraigned the Hebrews for their carelessness in this respect and appealed to them to maintain the purity of the race of Israel. A study of their history shows that the Jews have always more or less intermarried with the races and peoples among whom they lived. This was particularly the case during the Hellenic period, and in Spain for some time before their expulsion. Only during medieval oppression and persecution, rigid confinement in the Ghettos and strict isolation have the Jews married exclusively among themselves.

In recent times the Jews again began to marry with christians in Europe and in America. In some countries this intermarriage has assumed such proportions as to threaten the integrity of Judaism. A survey of the census statistics published in various European countries reveals that wherever the Jews are subject to special adverse legislation, segregated in Ghettos and deprived of friendly social intercourse with their non-Jewish neighbors, very little or no intermarriage occurs. This is particularly the case in oriental countries, like Turkey, Persia, Morocco, etc., and also in semi-oriental countries, like Russia. There intermarriage is prohibited by law; unless the Jew first accepts Christianity or mohammedanism, he may not marry a gentile. On the other hand, in western Europe, where he enjoys all the privileges of a free citizen, mixed marriages are of frequent occurrence. In fact, in some countries even more frequent than intermarriage between catholics and protestants.

PSM V69 D450 Jewish christian intermarriages in europe from 1880 to 1904.png

The German censuses are particularly reliable because they have been collected for many years with great care, with a view to eliciting the degree of assimilation of the Jewish population. During the four years 1901 to 1904 there were contracted in Germany 15,635 marriages between Jews and Jewesses, and 2,700 between Jews and christians. The mixed marriages constituted consequently 17.27 per cent, of the pure Jewish marriages, or one sixth of all the Jews who married christians. It was also found that 8.01 per cent, of all the Jewesses and 9.26 per cent, of all Jews in that country married christians. In other words, every twelfth Jewish bride and every eleventh Jewish bridegroom married a christian.

The largest number of mixed marriages in Germany are contracted in the province of Prussia. There statistics for twenty-eight consecutive years are available (1876-1904), during which 71,160 pure Jewish marriages were contracted; 4,740 between christians and Jewesses and 5,062 between Jews and christian women. It was also established that the number of mixed marriages is constantly on the increase, as can be seen from the following figures:

Average Annual
1875-1879 239
1895-1899 433
1900-1904 495

In Berlin the proportion of mixed marriages is about twice as large as in Prussia generally. During 1875-9 the average annual number was 101; during 1895-9 it was double, 201; during 18981902, 212, and in 1901 it rose to 246. During the last mentioned year 24 per cent, of all the Jews who married married christian women, and 15.1 of the Jewesses married christians. In other words, every fourth Jew and every seventh Jewess in Berlin who married during 1904 married a christian.

In the other provinces of Germany mixed marriages are also more or less frequent. The record for Hamburg is, during 1896 to 1900, that 5 per cent, of Jewesses and 8.3 per cent, of Jews marry outside of their faith. In Bavaria during the twenty-five years, 1876-1900, it was found that to every 100 pure Jewish marriages contracted, 5.35 were contracted between Jews and christians. That these marriages are on the increase is shown in the table on page 446. The percentage was 3.87 in 1876-80 and 9.0 in 1904. Similarly in Hesse, where in 1866-70 only one in 200 Jews who married, married a christian, mixed marriages have since been on the increase, so that during 1901-4 the mixed marriages amounted to 7.33 per cent, of the pure Jewish marriages. Even in Amsterdam, where the most orthodox Jews are living, and up to about fifty years ago, hardly any Jew married out of his faith, there are to-day a very large number of such unions. During 1899-1901 the mixed marriages constituted 9.45 per cent, and during 1902-3 the proportion increased to 15.08 per cent.

The largest percentage of mixed marriages are contracted in Copenhagen, Denmark, where statistics, recently compiled by Julius Salomon, show that during the twenty-four years, 1880 to 1903, there were contracted 358 pure Jewish marriages and 234 mixed marriages, or 65.36 per cent, of the pure Jewish marriages. How far these marriages are^ in that city, in vogue among the Jews is seen by the fact that from 1880 to 1890 the percentage was only 55.17; it rose to 71.03 per cent, during 1891 to 1900, and from 1901 to 1903 it was already 89.74 per cent. In former years we are told that the Jewish rabbis refused to admit children born from mixed marriages to Judaism, but of late years the Jewish community in that city authorized several Jewish physicians to circumcize such new-born boys. This is not confined to Copenhagen alone, but is characteristic of Scandinavia in general. In Denmark there were contracted, during 1873-91, 308 Jewish marriages, of which 187 were pure and 121 mixed, i. e., 64.71 per cent. Since then the increase has been enormous. In the neighboring country, Sweden, it is stated that the number of mixed marriages is much in excess of the number of pure Jewish marriages.

In France and Italy also Jews frequently marry christians. This is particularly the case with the French aristocracy, who often marry Jewish heiresses.[2] In Italy the Jews to-day are thoroughly assimilated, and many observers state that mixed marriages are almost as frequent as pure marriages.

In eastern Europe they are less frequent. In Austria, during 1901, there were contracted 7,576 pure Jewish marriages and 147 mixed marriages. But here we can see how far isolation acts as a preventive of intermarriage. Of the 147 mixed marriages contracted during 1901, 98 were in the city of Vienna and 25 in Bohemia. Although three quarters of all the Austrian Jews live in Galicia, still not a single case of intermarriage was recorded there during that year. It must also be mentioned that in Austria intermarriage between Jews and christians is not permitted by the law, and in many cases of mixed marriages, one of the parties adopts the religion of his or her partner, and the marriage is thus recorded as pure christian or pure Jewish; or one or both declare themselves as dissenters (Konfessionslos) and appear on the registration lists as the marriage of a Jew with a dissenter, or of dissenters. As a result of this condition the available figures do not by any means represent the true condition of affairs.

Up to 1895 intermarriage was entirely prohibited by law in Hungary, unless one of the parties was converted to the religion of his or her partner. Since this law was abolished in 1895, mixed marriages are taking place in large numbers. During the nine years, 1895 to 1903, 3,590 Jews married with christians, and 60,275 with Jews, i. e., 5.95 per cent, of all pure Jewish marriages were mixed. Most of these marriages are contracted in the city of Budapest, where the proportion reached 17.06 per cent, during 1903 and 1904. The steady increase of mixed marriages in that city is well seen from the following figures:

1896-1900 1901-1902 1903 1904
Jews to christian women 6.71 6.98 8.41 7.86
Christians to Jewesses 7.22 7.86 7.85 7.36

It thus appears that every thirteenth Jew who married in Budapest, during 1904, married a christian.

For English-speaking countries there are no available statistics on the subject of intermarriage, because no religious censuses are taken. In England they occur often among the native Jews, and although among the immigrant Jewish population in London they are less frequent, still they are not as rare as is generally believed. In New South Wales it was found, while taking the census of 1901, that of all married Jews, 781 were married to Jewesses and 686, i. e., 87 per cent., were married to christians.[3]

In the history of the Jews in the United States there are many instances of intermarriage between Jews and christians, even in Colonial times. According to Professor Hollander, the well-known 'Ye Jew doctor,' Jacob Lumbrozo in Maryland married a christian woman about 1660.[4] Dembitz shows that "there is no frequenter of the synagogue who either lived in Kentucky or whose ancestors lived there before 1836," and he gives as a cause that the early Jewish settlers disappeared through intermarriage with christians "and the descendants of the early Jewish settlers are known only by their Jewish family names and their oriental (?) features."[5] One has to read detailed accounts of several Jewish families in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc., to be convinced as to the extent of mixed marriages in pre-revolutionary times. The Franks family is particularly interesting: One daughter, Rebecca, married Sir Henry Johnson; another, Mary or Polly, married Andrew Hamilton.[6] About New York, M. J. Kohler says in his work 'Jewish Life in New York before 1800' that "several cases are at hand of intermarriage between Jews and Jewesses to christians and occasional conversions to the prevailing religion."[7] In the 'Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College' Vol. II., 1763, two Jews are mentioned, one 'of Jewish extraction' who became a prominent citizen and one of the founders of the episcopal church in Norwalk; the other married a woman of French Huguenot descent. In Ohio also all traces of the early Jewish settlers have been lost. One is mentioned who was married 'out of his faith' but when he died, in 1821, he asked to be buried with Jewish rites.[8] Speaking of Judah P. Benjamin, of New Orleans, whose wife was a devout catholic and whose daughter married Captain Henri de Bousignac, of the 117th regiment of the French line, Kohler says: "Such intermarriage was, in 1833, not uncommon." A Jewish traveler in New Orleans in 1842 speaks of the synagogue, which merely accommodated fifty persons, and a former "rabbi, a Dutchman, had married a catholic wife, who with difficulty was restrained from sending a crucifix to his grave at his burial."[9]

In more recent times intermarriage of Jews with christians in the United States has continued unabated. In fact, very few of the original Jewish settlers, who were of Spanish and Portuguese origin, have left descendants. Most have been absorbed by intermarriage. For lack of denominational statistics, it is impossible to state accurately the extent of intermarriage between Jews and christians in the United States at the present time. It is known to be very common in the western and southern states, and less so in the eastern states. In a recent paper by Professor M. Schlesinger, of the Hebrew Union College, he quotes Rabbi George Zepin, director of circuit preaching, to the effect that in the northern part of the United States five per cent, is the maximum proportion of mixed marriages, while in the south the proportion ranges from 20 to 50 per cent., 33 per cent, being most nearly correct.[10]

There are no available statistics as to the frequency of mixed marriages in New York City to-day. From the census of the Federation of Churches taken in 1902 of the Twenty-second Assembly District (37th to 55th streets, east side), there were found several cases, about one per cent., of intermarriage. But this does not by any means represent the real conditions. Among many of the older Jewish families in this city we find many cases of intermarriage, and even on the east side, among the immigrant Jews, they are no more rare. In the western states it is very common, and the rabbis have of late actually sounded an alarm as to the danger of mixed marriages.

We can conclude with the words of Arthur Ruppin, who thoroughly studied the problem in Europe: "The best preventive of intermarriage is the Ghetto. In Galicia, Russia, the east end of London and the east side of New York, they are rare. But in countries where the Jews participate in the social and economic life of the general population as equals mixed marriages do occur and are steadily increasing in frequency, as is the case in Prussia, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, the western states, etc." The largest proportion of mixed marriages in Europe is contracted in large cities, as we see from the figures given above is the case in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Copenhagen, etc. This is because in large cities the population (Jewish as well as christian) has a higher intellectual standard, and these are better opportunities for people of different faith to come into intimate contact with each other.

(To be continued.)

  1. 'Jewish Encyclopedia,' Vol. VIII., p. 347.
  2. It has been alleged that most of the mixed marriages are contracted between christian noblemen and rich Jewish heiresses. This is disproved by the figures in the table of mixed marriages. The proportion of Jews who marry christian women is larger than that of christians who marry Jewesses.
  3. Census of N. S. W., 1901, Bull. No. 14.
  4. Public. Jewish Histor. Soc, I., p. 29.
  5. Ibid., pp. 99-101.
  6. Westcott, 'Historic Mansions,' quoted from Publ. Jew. Histor. Soc, I., pp. 57-58.
  7. Ibid., II., p. 91.
  8. Ibid., VII., p. 43.
  9. Ibid., XII., pp. 68-69.
  10. See Public. Jewish Histor. Soc, Vol. VI., pp. 92-93.