Judaism without Jews?

An interesting article in the Jerusalem Post, from the director of an outreach center in Rana’ana, Israel, discusses the rebuilding of Jewish institutions in European communities whose Jewish populace was essentially wiped out.

He makes a good point: “when the motivation is to reestablish a Jewish presence in places where Jews were brutally evicted and murdered, the effort is misguided and misplaced.” There’s no need to reestablish a Jewish presence in a place where there are no Jews. But he says that the “prime movers” in this drive come from Chabad, and he himself says that the Chabad emissaries’ motivation is “the late Rebbe’s conviction that no Jew ought ever to be abandoned.” He also writes that “when this effort services native or visiting Jews… it is surely a noble cause.”

If Chabad is at the center of this drive, and Chabad’s motivation is to reach Jews, then on what ground does his criticism rest? He agrees that when the aim is to serve Jews it is “surely a noble cause,” and says that to Chabad, the effort is always about reaching “native or visiting Jews.” So his argument collapses under its own logic.

An outreach effort in Denver, Colorado is probably going to be more cost-effective than one in Boise, Idaho. But if the intent is to reach Jews with a Torah outreach program, well, the Jewish world has done worse. Torah for one Jew is going to be more effective, in the long run, than bongo drums for 50. The phenomenon of Jews without Judaism is much more alarming than that of Judaism without Jews.

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3 Responses

  1. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    I don’t understand your critique. I thought the author’s point was that while seeking out and rehabilitating lost Jews is a noble cause, and while providing a warm and welcoming refuge for traveling Jews does strengthen their identity and encourage them to incorporate Judaism into their lives at home, building expensive edifices simply because they existed there before the local population was exterminated is wasteful and even abhorrent. It is wasteful because there is no hope of rehabilitating the one or two Jews that might remain there, and abhorrent because it expresses a desire to rebuild Golus life when the option of living in Israel is available.

    I should add that I feel the need to defend the writer’s position because I have always felt like I was visiting an abattoir, still stinking of blood and terror, when I visit those Judenrein countries. I cannot comprehend how Jews can rub shoulders with and contribute to the economy of murderers who killed every Jew they could find. Many of them wish they could do it again. We were chased from Spain and we never turned back, and Spain was a lark compared to the Holocaust– at least we were given the choice of leaving.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    The author is right that it makes no sense for Jews spend time and money for rebuilding Jewish institutes where there are few or no Jews. However, is that really the case?

    Even the popular Jewish Festival organized each year in Krakow, bringing Jewish speakers and singers to town with great fanfare, is organized and funded by a Gentile Pole, who longs for the Jewish flavor of yesteryear, whether or not real Jews are actually part of the package.

    Are the Poles who celebrate Jewish culture doing anything wrong? Is there any harm in that? Seems to me it will make them less likely to be anti-Semitic in the future, should they chance to meet a Jew.

    Eliezer, I can understand how you feel you were visiting an abattoir, but the Jews who go there are not contributing to the economy of murderers. The holocaust was over sixty years ago. Almost anybody below the age of seventy is innocent.

  3. Sholom Simon says:

    Eliezer, you assert a view that is not held by all, and therein lies the difference. You write: ” It is wasteful because there is no hope of rehabilitating the one or two Jews that might remain there…”

    Chabad believe that just like a single missing letter from a sefer Torah renders it pasul, so too we are all damaged if a single Jew is missing. One should never think (imho) that “There is no hope” vis-a-vis _any_ Jew.

    Furthermore, what I don’t get in the article, is that all of these places _do_ have Jews. So what if a shul can only attract 7 men on a Monday morning? That means there are at least seven Jews who need reaching out to, and probably a good number more (those who so not show up).

    As for Poland, Warsaw has a nice O shul, and a vibrant Jewish community of (according to the article) 5,000. A friend of mine who is here on a visa from Warsaw tells me that Poland is a much more pleasant place for a Jew than, say, France.

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