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DALLAS (Reuters) - U.S. rabbis are turning to an on-line dating service in a bid to help Jews marry Jews.
Marrying outside the faith is an issue for many in the U.S. Jewish community who are concerned about dwindling demographic numbers, family tensions and the pressures on children pulled in different religious directions.
As a result a few rabbis have started offering subscriptions to their congregants on JDate (www.jdate.com), an online network dedicated to hooking up Jewish singles.
Much of the concern in some circles stems from U.S. Jews marrying people of other faiths. By some estimates about half of the Jews who marry in America fall into this category.
"Judaism has been wrestling for a long time with the question of intermarriage," said Rabbi Donald Weber of Marlboro, New Jersey.
He said he and his wife -- who is also a rabbi in the liberal Reform Movement -- realized that many of the weddings they were officiating involved couples who had met via JDate.
"So I set up a fund at the temple and offered JDate subscriptions to anyone who is 18 and over and single in the congregation. I've had 14 people take up the offer since October," he told Reuters in an interview.
He said he felt it was important to deal with the issue as some parents "disowned" their children if they married outside the faith -- "acting literally as if they had died" -- while other people simply ignored it.
Rabbi Ken Emert of Wyckoff, New Jersey, said he felt JDate was useful for young Jewish professionals who had little time for a social life.
"People are working very long hours ... It is very difficult with the hours they are putting in for single Jewish people to meet," he said.
He also saw JDate as a way to curb intermarriage. "Intermarriage is a reality it's not something that is going away and it is a concern to the Jewish leadership," he said.
Others in the community advocate different approaches.
"Our answer is outreach to the already intermarried -- to encourage them to raise Jewish children," said Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute.
"The assumption is that the children won't be Jewish. And we know that many intermarried families do raise their children Jewish and we are trying to encourage more to do so," he said.
The National Jewish Population Survey for 2000/01 estimated an "intermarriage rate" of 47 percent. It also reported that the U.S. Jewish population had fallen for the first time in American history over the previous decade from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.2 million in 2000/01.
But other recent estimates have put the U.S. Jewish population at closer to six million.