How Christian-Jewish intermarriage became normal

Samira Mehta shows how some interfaith families mediate diverse traditions.

Despite the best efforts of religious leaders to discourage and prevent it, interfaith marriage has increased ex­ponentially since the 1970s. What does that mean for clergy and religious communities today and in the future? Is intermarriage creating a new American religion?

With an ethnographer’s tools, religious studies professor Samira K. Mehta examines the data, interviews those who are affected, and comes to the conclusion that the behavior of interfaith families is transforming America’s religious landscape in unexpected ways. Using for its title the portmanteau that joins Christ­mas and Hanukkah—a neologism which entered popular culture via television in 2003—the book dissects the role popular culture has played in mainstreaming what was, until the 1960s, a relatively rare occurrence. Recent surveys show that some 20 percent of American adults grew up in interfaith homes. “Interfaith family life . . . is a major and formative piece of the American religious landscape,” Mehta writes.

Mehta focuses on Jewish-Christian marriage because she believes it provides the archetype for interfaith marriage in the United States through representations in popular culture and the Ameri­can imagination. The rise of Jewish-Christian marriage coincides with a shift among adherents of Judaism from a racial and ethnic to a religious self-understanding. Jewish-Christian marriages “provide an important model for how Americans define the ever-shifting terms of ‘religion,’ ‘culture,’ and ‘ethnicity’ in families formed in our increasingly pluralistic society.”