Young American Jews Opt Out
The historic bargain linking American Jewry and Israel since the founding of the State is coming to an end. The terms of the deal were unspoken, but clear: Israel would provide American Jews with a sense of pride and identity as Jews, and they, in turn, would shower upon Israel their financial and political support. But Israel is no longer a source of pride for non-Orthodox Jews, and the identity it provides is not one which they wish to share.
That conclusion emerges from a recent study published by sociologists Stephen Cohen and Ari Kelman. They found that American Jews under 35 do not care very much about Israel. They are not just apathetic about Israel, that indifference is “giving way to downright alienation,” write Cohen and Kelman.
More than half of Jews under 35 said that they would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy. The death and expulsion of millions is something they could live with. By those standards, they probably would not see the Holocaust as a “personal” tragedy either.
What young Jews under 35 feel towards Israel goes beyond apathy to outright resentment. Israel complicates their social lives and muddies their political identity. Only 54% profess to be comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state at all. In Europe and on elite American campuses, internationalism and a world-without-borders are the rage. The Jews of Israel, with their stubborn insistence on protecting their nation-state, are, as always, out-of-sync.
Young American Jews do not wish to be tarred with their atavisms. On campus and where enlightened folk meet, Israel is scorned as a colonial oppressor. Who wants to be identified as a sympathizer with apartheid? Once Reform Judaism disavowed Zionism for fear of being thought disloyal to their host countries, and young American Jews today share similar fears of being out of step with their enlightened peers.
Molly Umberger, whose mother is program director of the leftist New Israel Fund (NIF), told the Jerusalem Post that she views both Israel and Palestinians as having made lots of mistakes and the situation as complicated, but generally “tries not to think about [Israel].” (No wonder when Bruce Temkin, the director of the NIF, describes Israel as a “turn-off.”) Daniel Alperin, 33, describes his interest in Israel as waning when he began to hear “the bad stuff” – probably about the time he entered college.
Already the trends lines were pointing in this direction forty years ago. In a 1965 Commentary symposium of younger Jewish intellectuals – the least religiously identified segment of American Jewry – only one Eliahu expressed complete comfort with Israel’s creation and pride in its accomplishments, and he eventually made aliyah. The rest expressed various degrees of discomfort with Israel’s militarism (and this was before 1967 and the “occupation”). The only Jewish identity they acknowledged at all was that of the “Jew” as the perpetually alienated critic of those in power – not exactly one upon which to base a connection to other Jews. Now the rest of American Jewry is catching up to those once young intellectuals.
JEWISH AGENCY chairman Zev Bielski labeled the results “very distressing,” and then proceeded to give a ridiculous explanation for those numbers: the comfortable life of most American Jews.
Cohen and Kelman know better. And their answer is summed up in the demographic they did not interview for their study: Orthodox Jews. For a survey of young Orthodox Jews would have yielded a diametrically opposite result.
Among younger Jews, those for whom their Judaism is important – primarily the Orthodox — will remain connected to the fate of their fellow Jews in Israel. Most Orthodox American youth will study in Israel after high school, some for many years. And almost all will visit Israel many times. Eretz Yisrael is not a mere abstraction for them, but the center of the spiritual life of the Jewish people.
Even an anti-Zionist Satmar chassid living in the secluded village of Monroe will intensify his prayers when Israel is at war and follow the action closely. Why? Because for him the name Jew means something.
The majority of young American Jews and the majority of young Israelis share in common a lack of interest in their Judaism. But that shared negativity provides little basis for a relationship. Shared gene pools won’t do it either – that smacks of racism. And ethnic identity, it turns out, cannot be passed down, or survive the breakup of ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods.
But the survey signals something else as well: a declining understanding on the part of American Jews of Judaism in terms of a national identity that imposes obligations to one’s co-nationals. That is being replaced by a return to the self-definition of classic German Reform: German (or in this case American) nationals of the Mosaic persuasion.
Cohen and Kelman are wrong to argue that ethnic identity is being replaced by religious identity. For when young American Jews say that they view their Judaism as a religious not national identity, the religion they refer to is a pretty tepid affair. Precisely because it is so tepid does it fail to provide them a sense of connection to their fellow Jews, whether in America or abroad. It is a religion largely lacking connection to the Land of Israel, and even more importantly to the defining event in Jewish history the giving of Torah at Sinai. Absent the latter, there is no common mission to link the descendants of those who stood at Sinai.
Lawrence Hoffman, a professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College (Reform), described the new Reform prayer book as emphasizing Reform Jews’ increased interest in spirituality over national identity. Unfortunately, however, the Torah defines us as a nation, not just a faith community. Any religion that downplays the common national identity of Jews is not Torah Judaism, but some new creation.
The impact of the declining sense of responsibility to one’s fellow Jews is being felt within American Jewry itself, not just in attitudes towards Israel. Already only 6% of giving by mega-Jewish foundations goes to remotely Jewish causes. It is hardly surprising, for instance, that non-Jewish spouses are not eager to contribute to Jewish causes. In time, funding the institutions of American Jewry will become ever more difficult. And the Orthodox will be left to donate to Israel.
The political implications for Israel are large as well. Fortunately, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer are wrong about an Israel Lobby comprised mostly of those with Jewish-sounding names. It is devout Christians, and not some nefarious Israel Lobby, which is the primary bulwark of American support for Israel today. That we have to rely on Christian support, rather than our fellow Jews, however, is a very mixed blessing indeed.
This article appeared in the Mishpacha on September 24, 2007.
Israel is a hot potato, passed from hand to hand. When the secular Zionists wanted a state, the religious were apathetic, or worse, towards it. Americans though, and even the American Agudah, were supportive. After ’67, American support began to wane, at least partially because Israel was no longer perceived as a weakling, but the double blow of the Lebanese War of ’82 sapped support for the state by secular Israelis as well as Americans. Today, there is relatively narrow support for Israel – Orthodox-but-not-too-Orthodox American Jews, Australian and South African Jews, and religious Jews (excluding certain sects) in Israel are on Israel’s side, while secular Jews in both Israel and America continue to have very serious doubts about the enterprise.
One can only draw one of two conclusions. Either the 40-year occupation is, in fact, an anti-Jewish idea whose practice has succeed in alienating most Jews; alternatively, it is the right thing to do, and may even be insufficient, but we Jews simply don’t have the stomach for it.
Oops, grammar error. Please use this post instead:
Israel is one of the biggest centers of Torah study, which makes it very relevant to Orthodox Jews who study Torah, or who have studied Torah, or whose children study Torah. Heterodox Jews do not have this connection.
In theory Israel gives American Jews a place to run away to. As memories of the Shoah fade, so does the perceived need for such a place. Given Israel’s dependence on the US, this value might be illusory anyway – if the US got so bad we’d have to flee, would an Israel without US aid even be viable?
Another problem is that Israel often acts as the poor relative that everybody has to support. I think that over half the times I see or hear about Israel in my (Conservative) synagogue, it’s an appeal for money or a low interest loan. Asking for Tzdakka is hardly a way to build respect, especially when it competes with needs closer to home.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to ignore the constant brainwashing of the liberal media. Repeat the lies often enough, mixed with no desire to actually look up sources and hisorical facts, and people will believe anything, as we see.
Is there a place online that we can read the study? Because those findings are grossly out of proportion to my own experience with unaffiliated and/or liberal Jews. Obviously personal anecdotes are not scientific proof, but when a study is grossly out of line with my own personal experience I am skeptical about the veracity of its findings.
Also, another thought…The term “personal tragedy” may have been confusing to the Jews who responded to the study. They may have thought to themselves, “It would be a great tragedy, but I don’t see how that is my own personal failure.” While this response in and of itself is not great (it would be nice if every Jew felt it was his personal obligation to see to the safety and well-being of the Jewish state) it certainly is not apathetic.
WADR, Israelis (Charedi, RZ and secular) have been bemoaning the state of American Jewry for decades. RYBS felt that doubting that Klal Yisrael would survive was doubting the continued existence of Kneeses Yisrael and denying Bias HaMoshiach ( Al HaTeshuvah, Pages 93-98).
Jews in the USA live in a very tolerant society and thus are fully invested in this country. We aren’t in pre-war Poland where it was hard to forget you were a Jew. I don’t know the long term solution for any of American Jewry’s problems. Most will not be orthodox. I think Birthright,Masa, etc. are on the right track. Beloning to a group is not where young people are, automonomy is the watchword, do what you personally want.” ethnic identity, it turns out, cannot be passed down, or survive the breakup of ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods”, this hits the nail on its head.
Israeliness is not equal to Jewishness either.Why do so many Israelis run to Tailand for Rosh hashana or search for chomitzdike vacation sites for Pesach?
My guess is that we will have a new Jewish nation formed by the descendants of those whose committment is strong enough to be passed on. If this is synonimous with believing orthodox Jews, I am not yet so sure. I hope more Jews than that will make it .
Chamushim alu miMitzrayim. “One fifth went out of Egypt.”
Today we see what happens when you substitute the Democratic Party Platform for the Torah as the Founding Document of your religion. The Reform and Conservative movements have a lot to answer for, for the destruction they have wreaked and for the four-fifths of American Jewry they have caused to be lost among the nations. When Moshiach comes the Jewish People will still be here — as the Eternal has promised — but four fifths of our brothers and sisters will be gone,lost. Heartbreaking.
Loberstein: Jews in the USA live in a very tolerant society and thus are fully invested in this country. We aren’t in pre-war Poland where it was hard to forget you were a Jew. I don’t know the long term solution for any of American Jewry’s problems. Most will not be orthodox.
Ori: For somebody raised outside of Orthodoxy, Judaism as a set of rules to follow (= Halacha) isn’t attractive. Judaism as membership in a community isn’t needed, since we live in a society that accepts us.
I think Judaism can be attractive as an intellectual field of knowledge, the way http://www.torah.org does it. I think that’s the best bet for kiruv.
“One fifth went out of Egypt.”
” The Reform and Conservative movements have a lot to answer for, for the destruction they have wreaked and for the four-fifths of American Jewry they have caused to be lost among the nations”.
Perhaps, but alternatively-ala chicken or the egg- maybe the people that are now reform/conservative were the 4/5 of Eastern Europe. the Jews that came in the early 1900’s were not nearly as religiuous as the religious refugees of Hitler and Stalin. Go to any very observant community and you’ll see that they are descendants(largely) of refugees of the 30’s and 40’s. And goto any reform/conservative and you’ll see that they largly came with the “fiddler” wave.
Today we see what happens when you substitute the Democratic Party Platform for the Torah as the Founding Document of your religion.
Anytine one substitutes anything for Torah that is illegitimate-it could be the Republican Party Platform, the Democrtaic party platform, Zionism, the Mizrachi, The Agudah-anything. It is Torarah that guides us. Some of the above have more in common with Torah than others-but niether the Republican nor Democratic prty represents Torah
The Reform and Conservative movements have a lot to answer for, for the destruction they have wreaked and for the four-fifths of American Jewry they have caused to be lost among the nations.
We were losing them before Reform and Conservative movements were invented. Roughly 2/3 of Spanish Jewry left Judaism inthe period 1391-1492. European Jewry ldft Yahadus en masse one the enlightenment happened-it did not take the Reform or Conservative movement to do that.
“The Reform and Conservative movements have a lot to answer for, for the destruction they have wreaked and for the four-fifths of American Jewry they have caused to be lost among the nations”
– there is no evidence of them performing “richuk” activities on those who would have otherwise been frum. rather than being the cause of the destruction, they picked up these Jews who already decided to fall off the wagon.
It is all too easy to point fingers and identify all sorts of deviationist movements and even supplements to Torah that supplanted Torah in some ways that led to our current morasse. However, we should also be aware that each Navi had a different way and message that drew some of Klal Yisrael back to observance. We also have various approaches to kiruv and chizuk that draw some, if not many Jewish youth, teens and adults to Torah or to reexperience what they never experienced previously. Not one approach fits all and we should be thankful that we have a multiplicity of approaches for different people and their orientations.
Bucking the trend has always taken a lot of determination and commitment. The young tend to get pulled along with their peer group. For most young Jews today whose commitment to Israel is flagging or never existed, the relevant peer group consists largely of irreligious non-Jews.
The line between bigotry and sinas chinam is not too long. It is too easy to blame the “librals”, the conservative movement, etc. for things we don’t approve of. Politics has deteriorated in this country, the Republicans increased the deficit under Bush while the Democrats produced a budget surplus under Clinton. The Conservative Movement tried to stem the tide by meeting people half way. It didn’t work 100% but it id provide a way for Jews to remain Jewish without being too strick. Would you prefer Israeli secularism where they are inculcated with hatred of religion and don’t set foot into a shul. My point is, don’t blame everything in America you don’t like on “liberals” that is just stupid , ignorant and beneath intelligent conversation. Name calling is a substitute for ideas. Ortodoxy is winning today, but very few forsaw that it had a chance in America, including rabbis who took non orthodox pulpits. So, mistakes were made, but they were made in a sincere desire to save the Jewish religion to the extent it could be saved. The reason almost all Jews except a small orthodox fringe are liberals is because the values of our religion, compassion, tzedek, concern for humanity have long been part of the democratic platform. The republicans are no longer just “robber barons’ but they believe that poor people are poor because they are lazy and stupid. Our shared values are with the masses and not with the very wealthy elites.
Upon reading this article during Yom Tov from the Mishpacha magazine, several thoughts went through my mind. Without a doubt, American Jewry has lost interest, affilation, and empathy with the state of Israel together with their complete lose of interest in Judaism. It predictibly goes hand in hand. As a Torah Educator for the last 30 years I’ve found that several of JR statements pertain even more so to the Yeshiva youth.
Examples: 1) “Only 54% profess to be comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state at all”.- Our yeshiva graduates are quite ignorant about the Jewish State, due to the outright neglect of serious discussion in a Jewish History or Hashkafah curriculum.
2) “a declining understanding on the part of American Jews of Judaism in terms of a national identity that imposes obligations to one’s co-nationals” – Once again there is minimual education about Judaism of a national identity except during the times of the 1st & 2nd temples. The focus on Yiddishkeit in a national arena is given very little value in the yeshiva systems.
3)”For when young American Jews say that they view their Judaism as a religious not national identity” – Judaism is ONLY taught as a rigorous religious obligation without touching on the importance of klal (national) identity to our Torah youth, thereby severing the “noshei b’oll chevericha” life line.
4)”It is a religion largely lacking connection to the Land of Israel” – a young adult could attend tefilos beginning on Rosh Hashanah through Succos and never once hear the Morah D’Asra speak about Eretz Yisroel as a goal, aspiration or conduit of spirituality. An entire year of chinuch can pass without connecting the Land of Israel to the role of a aved hashem.
This to me is an equal tragedy, as the loss of connection of American Jews to the land of Israel.
It didn’t work 100% but it id provide a way for Jews to remain Jewish without being too strick.
One must be very careful when raising the bar. An example-it is certainly desireable to have a quiet schul-but if the quiet requirement becomes so strick that our teenagers won’t show up on Shabbos to schul but then find their social outlet in the street-is it worth it?
“The reason almost all Jews except a small orthodox fringe are liberals is because the values of our religion, compassion, tzedek, concern for humanity have long been part of the democratic platform.”
And they correspond to the 80% that didn’t leave Egypt.
Its also a pity that their compassion, tzedek, concern for humanity didn’t exist for their brethren in Europe during the Holocaust. I mean couldn’t they have had just one rally?
Many Jewish girls would like to meet a Jewish husband. The culture mitigates against committment. They meet in bars and “tzniyus” is not even a value they have ever been taught. There is no longer a need to commit. Often the marry out of the faith out of desperation. Family pressure is gone, parents accept intermarriage the same way they accept their daughters living with a boyfriend. It is not a matter of shame any longer. I have met some of these young women and they would just as easily be observant if they could find a guy who cared. Until we find a way to get Jewish men to marry Jewish women, we will continue to go down in numbers and lose many of our youth. No one really knows what to do about it because we are victims of the society that has accepted us with open arms. Belonging is not a modern American value. Nothing is a shanda any longer.
Its also a pity that their compassion, tzedek, concern for humanity didn’t exist for their brethren in Europe during the Holocaust. I mean couldn’t they have had just one rally?
Comment by avi
Not saying that more couldn’t have been done-by all religious and non religious during the Holocaust-but there were rallies besides the Rabbis rally during asaeret yemei tshuva eg Madison Square Garden was filled for a rally.
There was fault all around but also attempts to rescue all around. One gains nothing by attacking religious or non religious groups-both did positive and both were also at times incompetent in other matters. It is easy to 2nd guess with 20/20 hindsight.
“Its also a pity that their compassion, tzedek, concern for humanity didn’t exist for their brethren in Europe during the Holocaust. I mean couldn’t they have had just one rally?” First of all there were rallies against Germany led by Reform rabbi Stephen Wise, mass rallies. The problem then was that Wise and other :leaders” were not secure enough to challenge Roosevelt. There were plenty of influential Jews who could have made a difference had they had more backbone.
That being said, this does not negate one word of what I wrote. It is a red herring.
Jews who posture as if they were really part of the American oligarchy, pretending that their interests are with the crooks who are robbing us blind in Iraq with their graft and corruption that is harming the war effort are living in a delusional state. The Bush Administration is the worst in modern times, it is an embarresment to have such incompetence and the billions in corruption that they are hiding is now starting to come out. Cheney and Rumsfeld and their ilk are not what we need.
Doson and Avirom also identified with the powerful and look where it got them. “Liberal” is not a curse word and it is not a disease. Tzedek,tzedek tirdof is a Jewish value .
“Not saying that more couldn’t have been done-by all religious and non religious during the Holocaust-but there were rallies besides the Rabbis rally during asaeret yemei tshuva eg Madison Square Garden was filled for a rally.”
The Bergson Group was led by a Palestinian Jew who was vilified by American Jewry.
The Rabbis who marched 3 days before Yom Kippor 1943-18 months before the wars end- were largely newly arrived European immigrants. People like that kapo Wise told FDR to get out of town-AND HE DID!
“The Bush Administration is the worst in modern times, it is an embarresment to have such incompetence and the billions in corruption that they are hiding is now starting to come out. Cheney and Rumsfeld and their ilk are not what we need”
In terms of corruption , nothing comes close to the democrats of Charli Kushners Sopranistan-NJ!
“There were plenty of influential Jews who could have made a difference had they had more backbone.”
No they were being good liberals and were too busy having gentilke grandchildren.
The new deal was more important than Eastern Europes Jews.
Today abortion is more important to jewish liberals than Israel.
If Carter were to run today , he would still get over 50% of the Jewish vote.
I thought about this article a lot during the Chag. First, Rabbi Rosenblum is technically correct, but misleading, when he says that we need to rely on Christian support. Technically correct because the United States is 70-80% Christian so most of Israel’s supporters here will naturally be Christian. Misleading because there is overwhelming popular support for Israel among practically every demographic group with the exception of Arab Americans (who are mostly Christian). Walt and Mearsheimer just can’t accept that they are on the losing side on this so they have to invent conspiracies about some powerful lobby that in fact would be powerless were it not for strong public support.
The other thing I thought of was that the lack of support for the Jewish Medinah is the natural consequence of the decline and fall of Zionism as n ideology in both its secular and religious forms, at least here in galut America. When I was young (I turn 50 next month), many young (non-Orthodox) Jews my age looked forward to working on a kibbutz in Israel after high school for at least a little while. No more. Secular Zionism has completely disappeared as a movement with the exception of my own neighborhood which somehow continues to support a secular Zionist Day School. (Is there any other school like it anywhere in the US?) This is a tremendous victory for the normative Orthodox position of over a hundred years that Secular Zionism is wrong — or worse. (Just look at the comments at http://www.yeshivaworld.com to see that we still have this attitude.) Should we now complain about our success?
And on the Orthodox side of things, 2/3 of the enrollment in Orthodox Day Schools are in Charedi institutions according to Dr. Marvin Schick’s statistics — and almost all of those are anti-Zionist, When we’ve indoctrinated Jewish youth into the idea that there ideally shouldn’t be a Jewish state today, will those youth really do better than 54% comfort with the idea of a Jewish state?
“Today abortion is more important to jewish liberals than Israel.”
Avi, you are correct. There are many Jews whose attachment to Israel is weak. About 25 years ago, I heard Nahum Goldman speak, he said that Israel used to be “little David” and now it is “Goliath” and the world likes to root for the underdog. American Jews really supported Israel when in 1967 they thought it was about to lose and then rejoiced in the unexpected victory,that was a long time ago.
In this country, there is a “big tent” in the Democratic Party, I am more of a Joe Lieberman Democrat ( to the extent he is a Democrat), not a ACLU Democrat. My point is that both parties are far from pristine, both have ganavim, hypocrites, and people whose principles are determined by the polls. The principles of Roosevelt saved America, but he was a flawed human being. His wise was one on the reighteous gentiles, but he wasn’t faithful to her physically or politically.
Comment by Loberstein — October 1, 2007 @ 7:59 pm indirectly illustrates a basic political problem Jews have in the US:
On the whole, we’re so thoroughly in the Democratic Party’s pocket that we’ve lost any leverage to influence Democratic policy positions regarding the Middle East. If you doubt this, watch what happens if Hillary Clinton wins next year.
Key constituencies and leaders in the Democratic Party now despise Israel, but Jewish Democrats are largely oblivious of the likely consequences.
This is not to excuse the Republicans in power who follow the Saudi line. That is a separate problem that explains many actions of Condi Rice working for President Bush.
Hey Avi – Hashem killed mostly frum Jews in the Holocaust, and saved two other groups, the Zionists and the ‘liberal’ Jews of America. It would be callous and cruel for someone to say that Hashem punished the frum because THEY were the ones who lost their way, but there is no hiding from the fact that Hashem poured out his wrath on the frum, not the frei. It is similarly cruel and callous for you to claim that the Jews of America felt no compassion or humanity for the victims of the Holocaust, and it is just plain vicious to compare Conservative and Reform Judaism to the Midrashic 80% of Jews who died in Egypt.
I don’t know what your purpose here is. To convince? Not like this. To vent your anger? Perhaps. To wound others, to cause them pain? That you may have achieved, but what could it have possibly bought you?
I am not naive about the faults of any political party, here or in Israel. The very nature of politics is corrosive, especially when Hillary and Obama can each raise 80 million dollars so far before the primaries, much less the election. Money has influence. Much of the money going to these 2 and to other candidates is from wealthy Jews, in Hollywood and Manhattan. I think that foreign policy is dictated by our national interest, not the “Jewish Lobby”. I know that Hillary kissed Suha a few years ago , but it seems that the Jews of New York voted for her twice. I am not saying she is gevaltik, but I don’t think she is any worse than the others. She is smart and very good at what she does. Bill is still beloved by most Democrats and will be a big asset in her election. Vote for whomever you want, but don’t think the sky will fall if the Democrats take over both houses and the white house in 2008. It won’t change too much about Israel in the long run.
Yet again, it seems I am motivated to offer support to Jonathan Rosenblum and Toby Katz. The survey is both accurate and disturbing.
Mrs. Katz is being fair in laying some of the blame on the heads of the Reform and Conservative movements for offering the kind of support for the “autonomous” perspective that needs to be derided with ferocity by our community. Judaism teaches that Torah informs all of our choices and all of our ethics while the liberals fervently believe that we are better to be free agents.
It is quite absurd to claim that at other times in our history, Jews have chosen not be to Jews–like the Spanish Inquisition. Huh? Indeed, at times in history Jews have abandoned Judaism in order to save their lives. It is also easy to point out that a significant percentage of Jews remained Jews even when it was very difficult.
This brings up the contrast to the present state of affairs when we face very little pressure to abandon our message. Without a large group of Jews saying very loudly that one can abandon Torah Judaism and embrace the religion of liberalism and still be “Jewish”–the decision to leave would be much more difficult. The re-definition of Judaism as liberal activism is an outrage and a menace. Concerning the complaint that “conservatism” and the Republican Party can be equally bad does not fit since the principles of conservatism are much more in line with Jewish beliefs.
There has been far too much political acrimony concerning politics on this thread already and I do not wish to add to it further. I merely want to thank Jonathan Rosenblum for his observations, decry the trends as dangerous and refuse to acknowledge that there are any good excuses to stop living a Jewish life.
The statistic raised by JR that sticks with me as very controversial is the fact that Jewish Foundations now give about only 6% to Jewish causes. This comes under the influence of the liberal denominations that abhor the particular and glorify the universal and the ideal of multiculturalism. Jewish support of Jewish causes is outrageously low. By contrast, a recent visit to my small hometown celebrated the opening of a new Chabad House. A heavy sponsor is a well known Christian and it is not hard to imagine that this fundamentalist is a sure bet to be a Republican.
It is not necessary to flash the scorecard and it is more of a priority to dwell on the problem of Jews accepting the basic beliefs of Judaism. It is grotesque irony that while my great grandparents wrestled with the choice of leaving the shtetl for material prosperity in America–our generation of fabulously prosperous American Jews quietly opt out while Christians easily see the beauty of Judaism and want to see the more observant Jews, and the Jewish state of Israel, prevail in far greater numbers than ourselves.
It might be that without the Heterodox Jewish options (Reform, Conservative, Secular Zionism, and Bund style Socialism) more Jews would have stayed Orthodox two and three generations ago. It is also possible that they would have rejected Judaism completely and their descendants would have been fully assimilated by now. Either way, that particular question is mostly academic. We are no longer dealing with former Shtetlers who grew up in a predominately Jewish environment. That particular battle has been fought generations ago.
The question that is in front of our generation is how to get to Jews who grow up in mixed neighborhoods and have gentile friends. You can bemoan their universalism, but that won’t make them any less universalists. You can say they need to be more committed to Judaism, but you won’t get one yud’s worth of commitment out of that (I assume you’d rather get a yud than an iota 😉 ).
If you want to reach them, you have to be where they are. If your target audience is universalist, talk to them about the seven Noahide laws, which are universal in application (I think Chabad is going in that direction). If they aren’t committed don’t tell them what to do – tell them what’s in it for them.
They read secular literature – publish secular literature that presents Judaism authentically and in a good light. If they read business advice books, write a book called: “Advertising from the Sages – Lessons of the Hannukia”.
It is quite absurd to claim that at other times in our history, Jews have chosen not be to Jews—like the Spanish Inquisition.
The Spanish Inquisition started not against Jews but against newly converted Catholics from Jewish backgrounds. For an interesting general backgroundto the period of 1391-1492 in Spain read Benzion Netanyahu-Benjamin’s father who wrote a circa 1000 page book about the time period. BTW he also wrote probbly the standard biography about the Abarbanel.
Huh? Indeed, at times in history Jews have abandoned Judaism in order to save their lives.
And some have abandoned Judaism with no threat to their lives see eg Netanyahu on Spain 1391-1492, clearly Europe of the Enlightenment and modern periods and certainly the world today for starters.
It is also easy to point out that a significant percentage of Jews remained Jews even when it was very difficult-
The re-definition of Judaism as liberal activism is an outrage and a menace. Concerning the complaint that “conservatism” and the Republican Party can be equally bad does not fit since the principles of conservatism are much more in line with Jewish beliefs
Yahadus does not equal liberal activism and certainly does not equal Republican “conservatism”. Raed the ahftarah for any fast day or that of YomKippur morning and tellm e with a straight factthat the Republican party is one that the neviim would follow-Yahadus is not equal to any political party be it Democratic, Republican, Mizrachi, Shas, Degel Hatorah or Agudah.
A good piece by JR. While I agree with the assertion that a large spectrum of Orthodox Jews support their brothers and sisters who live in Israel, let’s not forget that the Modern Orthodox — who were marginalized in a previous JR article — play a pivotal role in supporting Israel physically, spiritually and monetarily. I’m just saying.
Mycroft, I regret that it can no longer be said that both political parties are either equally motivated by religious fealty or are equally neutral towards Jewish values. It can only be a Democrat leader who can seek to remove “God” from Capitol Hill Flag certificates. Atheists invariably support Democrats, secular minded Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats and the way in which JR cites support for Israel as in clear conflict with their political interests–these interests are not consistent with the current day Republican party.
The Jews who were forced through threats to their lives to be secret Jews during the Spanish Inquisition are not at all comparable to Jews who willingly prefer liberal politics to observant Judaism when such a choice is so much easier to make. In one case, there is pressure to convert or die while on the other it is the mere simple-minded attraction to the fads of political correctness. Once, Jews held on strongly even under threat of death, today, we join cheerfully with the secularists in worship of their idols. This is a shameful record.
I think I owe everybody an explanation of my last comment. From the posts and comments here, it is obvious that a lot of people are passionate about getting us Heterodox Jews back into Orthodoxy.
Being passionate about a cause is good if it leads you to do something about it. It can be as simple as donating money to Torah.org, or as extensive as writing books that secular Jews will read and getting them published.
Being passionate about a cause that you can’t affect, either because you lack the ability or you prefer to focus on other things, is bad. To pick an example, worrying about Darfur when it leads you to donate money to an organization that will spend it educating others to worry about Darfur is meaningless – the Fur do not need PR, they need weapons and military training. We only have a limited amount of passion, and it’s better to spend it where it will do good.
“equally neutral towards Jewish values”
I wish domestic US politics were kept out of the discussion-there is plenty to discuss-what are Jewish values? Jewish values for Jews and non-Jews eg Noachide Laws.
Our Allies-I hate that rtem-al tivtechu bindivim… come from all pqrties, and all political beliefs.
“The Jews who were forced through threats to their lives to be secret Jews during the Spanish Inquisition are not at all comparable to Jews who willingly prefer liberal politics to observant Judaism ”
Jews were in general not forced to give up their lives between 1391-1492-they willingly went to the baptismal font for reasons of economics. What you are saying was true of the Jews of Germany and France duringthe Crusades.
No Jew should prefer liberal or conservative politics to observant Judaism.
Mycroft, I am trying to stick to the point. Indeed, Jews should value Judaism over any politics. The point made by JR and others is that liberal politics have become a poor substitute for Judaism. Most observant Jews live conservative lives and hence will vote for the conservative party. In those cases, the politics is a reflection of the relgious belief and not a substitute or a contradiction.
The Jews who threw away their religious lives to leave a ghetto or escape persecution should be seen in far different light than our current generation that in the course of human history has never had such an opportunity to live a full Jewish life and not suffer any negative consequences.
I cannot see how either of these basic points can bring argument. Today, secular humanistic ideals are a huge threat to Jewish traditions and the values of secularism are much more supported by the Democratic party than by the Republican. If observant or Orthodox Jews still support the Democratic party–1) they might wish to notice how things have changed recently 2) they do so with regard to one or some small matter and not because the Democratic Party supports our mitzvot.
A quick tour through the 10 commandments demonstrates that one political party more than the other seeks to deconstruct the 10 commandments.
“Most observant Jews live conservative lives and hence will vote for the conservative party. ”
I am not sure what you mean by conservative lives-I doubt the conservative lives as reflected by libertarian stream of conservativism-I doubt the beliefs of the evangelical kind of conservatism, I hope not the ideals of the purpose of America is business of the business wing of conservative politics.
I hope Jews as part of their avodas hashem are interested in Tikkin Olam.
It moght pay to read Tikkun Olam-Social Responsibility in Jewish thought andJewish Law edited by Shatz, Waxman and Diament before concluding that Jews should follow “conservative” politics.
“The Jews who threw away their religious lives to leave a ghetto or escape persecution should be seen in far different light than our current generation that in the course of human history has never had such an opportunity to live a full Jewish life and not suffer any negative consequences”
In general Jews have left Judaism far more often when they had the freedom to do so than as a result of persecutions
“A quick tour through the 10 commandments demonstrates that one political party more than the other seeks to deconstruct the 10 commandments”
We really don’t share the same commandments-see eg Keep the Sabbath-what % of the population accepts the issur of 39 malachot-not getting into different religions divison and texts and order of commandments. Our 1st and 2nd commandment is obviously not followed in our view by other religions.