Jewish battle of sexes rages over intermarriage rates

William Novak, a Newton-based author who in 1983 published a book titled "The Great American Man Shortage," said recently that intermarriage rates "are far higher among Jewish men than among Jewish women."

"What I noticed in the Jewish community is that there were a great many talented, attractive Jewish women having trouble meeting Jewish men," Novak said.

It appears that the Jewish community is not the only ethnic group experiencing this phenomenon. Novak said that in researching his book, he found that in every minority community more men intermarried than did women.

Sherry Israel, an associate professor in the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University and research director and principal author of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Community Report on the 1995 Demographic Study, has also been researching the issue. She has not found the numbers to be as dramatic as has Novak, at least not for Jews in greater Boston.

Israel cited as-yet-unpublished statistics showing that in the Boston area, 18 percent of Jewish men were married to non-Jewish women, and 17 percent of Jewish women were married to non-Jewish men. The spread used to be considerably wider, Israel said, "but the women have caught up."

For the subset of Jews under age 50, the gap widens. Twenty-seven percent of men under 50 marry non-Jews, according to Israel, and 22 percent of women do the same. In that age category, 61 percent of men marry born-Jews, compared to 72 percent of women.

"Proportionally," she said, "more men are outmarrying."

Linda Novak, who, with husband William, founded New Possibilities, a Boston Jewish dating service, about 10 years ago, said, "There were always more women [than men] at a dating service."

Novak, who is no longer associated with New Possibilities, added, "Jewish men and women had really surprising stereotype notions about each other. Jewish men complained that women were only interested in financial issues…in his being a generous provider.

The women felt that "the men were only interested in looks — that they wanted gorgeous girls," said Linda Novak.

The controversy boiled over into the Jewish press recently when the Advocate reprinted from Reform Judaism magazine a column written by an anonymous woman who placed the blame for the high intermarriage rate among American Jews squarely on the shoulders of Jewish men. She claimed that many Jewish men had told her that "they do not even like Jewish women."

The column sparked several letters to the Advocate and Reform Judaism, which published a counterpoint article by a single Jewish man from Atlanta. And last week, Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week of New York, focused on the issue in a column in his newspaper, concluding that the current debate is the Jewish community's equivalent of the "war of the sexes."