Why be Jewish?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
November 1, 2002
Let’s call it Rosenblum’s Jewish Survival Self-Exam. It consists of only one question: Explain why it is important that the Jewish people continue to exist. The following answers receive no credit.
Because Jews are the source of such seminal ideas as monotheism, the dignity of the individual, and equality before the law. While awareness of Jewish contributions to civilization should be a source of pride, to the extent that those ideas are today generally shared they provide no reason for our continued existence.
Because Jews are disproportionately represented among Nobel Prize winners. Yes, there do seem to be a lot of smart Jews. Perhaps it’s genetic; perhaps attributable to our traditional reverence for learning. But either way, there are a lot more smart gentiles. If our goal is creating a gene pool of smart people, it makes no sense eugenically to exclude the latter.
Because Jews are so warm-hearted and generous. Again, Jews do give to charity at far higher rates than other ethnic groups. Our Sages say that anyone lacking the quality of mercifulness is of doubtful Jewish origin. But again, there are many fine, generous gentiles, who it makes no sense to exclude from the society of ethical humanism.
Because Jews support the Democratic party at higher levels than other ethnic groups, and are the most liberal voices in the party. If being Jewish is synonymous with being a liberal Democrat, let us devote our efforts directly to the Democratic party and forget Jewish institutional life.
Jews must continue to exist in order to provide continued financial and political support to Israel. This one begs the question. If there is no reason for the Jewish people to continue as a identifiable entity, then there is no particular reason why we should care about the continued existence of a ``Jewish state."
Because there is no right or wrong way to be a Jew. That is the conclusion of ``intermarriage expert" Kerry Olitzky, in his address to the 2001 General Assembly of Jewish Federations. But if being Jewish can mean anything or nothing at all, why be Jewish?
Any intelligent person, including those to whom these reasons are habitually offered as arguments against intermarriage, immediately recognizes them as empty. Yet I suspect that few of those taking the Jewish Survival Self-Exam came up with anything better.
Judaism, the religion of the Jews, plays too small a part in the lives of the vast majority of American Jews to itself provide a reason for continued Jewish existence. The traditional belief that the Jewish people have been chosen by G-d to reveal the potential for holiness in life is meaningless for them. They do not belief in G-d and/or reject the concept of chosenness as racist and/or know nothing of the laws of the Torah and/or see nothing particularly elevating about those laws.
More than a third of American Jews describe religion as of no importance. Of the 40% of American Jews who join synagogues at all, few ever attend: Among Conservative Jews only 8% of third generation Americans go to synagogue once a month, and among such Reform members only 2.5%. Only 7% of American Jews describe the study of Jewish texts as an important part of their Jewish identity, which leaves few outside the Orthodox.
That is why American Jewry is disappearing before our eyes through intermarriage and simple ennui. Despite the influx of more than 200,000 Jewish immigrants in the ‘90s, the most recent National Jewish Population study found 300,000 fewer American Jews in 2000 than in 1990 -- a loss of half a million Jews in only a decade. And the rate of loss will accelerate rapidly in coming decades due to the low fecundity and aging of the Jewish population.
Every intermarriage represents the decision by a born Jew to raise his or her children with a partner who has no reason to be concerned with the perpetuation of the Jewish people. The results are precisely what one would expect. Four-fifths of interfaith families incorporate Christian practices, and 90% of the children of intermarriage will themselves marry non-Jews.
Yet more than a few Jewish Dr. Strangeloves urge us to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Intermarriage. Taking a page from the Reform movement’s adoption of patrilineal descent, they would cure the disappearance of American Jewry through creative Jewish accounting.
Thus Gary Tobin celebrates the diffusion of drops of ``Jewish blood" and cheerfully proclaims that 13.3 million Americans have some Jewish ``connection" – either a Jewish ancestor or a Jewish partner. Tobin goes Enron and Worldcom one better in the creative accounting sweepstakes. The latter treated expenses as long-term investments; he would treat losses (i.e., intermarriage) as earnings. Yet even Tobin admits that widespread intermarriage will only result in a hodgepodge of religiously, racially, and behaviorally diverse individuals with no sense of connection to one another and disconnected from Jewish life.
Several years ago, the loathsome Bernard Wasserstein wrote a paean to intermarriage in the Jerusalem Post (``It’s a mitzva.") Sure Jews are rapidly disappearing in the Diaspora, Wasserstein admitted, but why keep whining about it. Other ethnic groups are gradually disappearing all the time, without any commensurate breastbeating. Why not Jews?
Until we can provide our children with an answer to Wasserstein’s challenge, we are doomed to the fate predicted by him.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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