Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Inconvenient Truth

Orthodox students - the future of American Jewry (Associated Talmud Torahs)
I cry for our people. Never in my lifetime would I have ever believed that the Jewish people would be undergoing another Holocaust. Not a physical one. Physically, we have never had is better. We live at a time and in a place that has given us unprecedented acceptance and freedom. Never in our history as a Jewish people have we been allowed to do whatever we want and be whoever we want to be.

We can be a Satmar Chasid in Williamsburg or an assimilated Jew that has intermarried. In our world today, it simply doesn’t matter to anyone what our religion is or what our religious practices are. With so many Jews in an unpopular Trump administration – many of whom are suffering the brunt of so much media criticism, I have never heard the word Jew or Jewish mentioned once. Never! Only the Jewish media makes any mention of it.

This obvious blessing for which I am very grateful is also a curse. Because it has enabled (one might even say encouraged) so many of us to assimilate to the point of intermarriage! To the great approval of our fellow non Jewish citizens. Which studies have shown admire the Jewish people more than any other demographic.  

According to respected studies, this has resulted in the distinct possibility that unless one remains observant (whose practitioners are found mostly within Orthodoxy) the concept of an American Jewry as it exists today will one day be a distant memory. If that is not a spiritual Holocaust, I don’t know what is.

(I have never used the term Holocaust before in any other context other than the obvious one. That’s because I resented when it was used by others for their own agenda. That tended to make comparisons to the Holocaust which were clearly not of the same magnitude. Thus doing a grave injustice to actual Holocaust survivors and their families.  But I am making an exception because of how serious this matter is. And it is not going away.)

Although the statistics found by the Pew research study have been disputed by some people, I don’t think it is arguable anymore.  Here is yet another nail in that coffin from JTA
According to a new analysis by the Jewish People Policy Institute, or JPPI, analyzing stats on “non-haredi” American Jews aged 25 to 54, “just 21 percent are married to Jews, while well over twice as many [50 percent] are non-married and 29 percent are intermarried.” Only 15 percent of this cohort are in Jewish-Jewish marriages with Jewish children at home.
The implication, once you exclude the haredi Orthodox — as well as the modern Orthodox, who often marry before age 25 — is that the non-Orthodox Jewish population is in a steep demographic decline, perhaps perilously so. 
The handwriting is on the wall. And rabbis of all denominations are reacting to it… trying to find solutions. The most common reaction to it by heterodox rabbis is to ‘go with the flow’. They are suggesting that since intermarriage is already happening it does not do us any good to apply our old paradigm of rejecting intermarried couples. In the not so distant past, if a child married out, parents would sit Shiva on them – as though they had died. 

Even non observant parents were anguished – even horrified - if their son or daughter brought home a non Jewish fiancé for them to meet. That’s why there were so many sham conversions. Even though those parents were mostly non observant themselves and did not raise their children that way, they still wanted their children to marry ‘in’ and to have Jewish children. Today that is hardly the case anymore, it seems. Parents are more likely to be accepting of circumstances. Even in those rare instances where it happens in an Orthodox family. I am not judging anyone. Just stating a fact. That surely contributes to the accelerated pace of extinction.

As noted - the  talk by rabbis from a variety of denominations seems to be pointing in the direction of welcoming intermarried couples into our midst. Turning centuries of tradition on its head. The argument is that  if we don’t – we will lose them forever. Welcoming them in will ensure a connection that will keep that family Jewish at some level.  Reform Judaism has already permitted their rabbis to perform intermarriages. Conservative Judaism is on the precipice of doing so. And even graduates of the Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) have expressed a view that we ought to change course.

That argument was made by YCT alumnus Rabbi Avrom Mlotek. To which YCT felt it needed to reiterate in a public statement that they forbid their rabbis to perform intermarriages. In another article yet another alumnus of YCT, Rabbi Aaron Potek, had a similar approach: 
I’ve become much less interested in the question of whether one should date or marry Jewish. By focusing on the act of intermarriage, we ignore the far more significant questions: what role does Judaism play in your life, and what do you want your Judaism to look like in a romantic relationship?  
While well intended all of these responses overlook the obvious. We are not going to change the steep demographic decline by welcoming intermarried couples into our midst. That will only accelerate the process. The more we allow that, the more the Jewish community will have non Jews pretending to be Jews by performing a ritual or two.

It is highly unlikely that a goal of Teshuva (with the non Jewish spouse undergoing a sincere conversion and both of the becoming observant Jews) will take place. What is far more likely is that there will be no sincere conversion and that they will remain mostly non observant and at best become cultural Jews. And one of them will not even be Jewish. This is not a happy outcome.

I wish it were not so. The extinction of American Jewry is a tragedy of unprecedented proportion. As I indicated, I cry for our people!  But if this trend continues (and there is every expectation that it will despite all of the hand-wringing) there is precious little we can to do about it at this point.

That doesn’t mean we don’t try. That is what outreach is all about. Chabad, NCSY, Aish HaTorah, JEP, Chicago Torah Network… and many other such organizations have been doing it successfully for many years. But their successes are a drop in the bucket compared to the steep demographic decline attributable to assimilation and intermarriage that seems to be steamrolling most of our people out of Judaism.

We must face that unpleasant fact. It’s happening. To borrow a phrase used by former Vice President Al Gore about climate change, it is an inconvenient truth. And diluting our community by welcoming non Jews as a part of it is not an answer.

I know it’s difficult to just say ‘No’. But saying ‘No’ to intermarriage is the only real option.  The loss will be humongous! Unprecedented.  And very sad. But  Judaism will survive. It will consist of the kind of observant Jews that are found mostly within Orthodoxy. (I suspect that those that are observant and not part of Orthodoxy, will someday become part of it because they will have no other place to go. But then again. we will no longer carry that label. We will just all be Jews!)

Am I being triumphalist? Not a chance. I cry for what we have already lost and what we are about to lose.