Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Vanishing American Jew

It should not shock anyone that reads this blog regularly that I believe that the vast majority of American Jews will not be able to perpetuate Judaism through their children. Parents that do not see the primacy of following Halacha will obviously not transmit that to their children. What often follows is that their children eventually abandon any semblance of their Judaism. If not their children, then surely their grandchildren. This has serious implications for Israel. More about that later.

The bigger problem is that what Hitler couldn’t do by force through physical annihilation, assimilation (without the benefit of a serious Torah based education) has done spiritually with hardly a grunt.

The tragedy of that is so immense, that it is hard to fathom. It isn’t only that their children will abandon their Judaism without a trace of guilt. The decline in Jews is also a factor a culture that does not place that much value on traditional families. Which often means not  having any children. From the WashingtonPost:
The United States is in the midst of what some worry is a baby crisis. The number of women giving birth has been declining for years and just hit a historic low... 
According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1 percent from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. 
By contrast , for Orthodox Jews the trend is quite the opposite.

I am reminded of a once very devoted Lubavitcher Chasid who had nine children. He was a Baal Teshuva who was raised in a secular Jewish household. He told me that none of his siblings – all of whom are not observant - are married.  The paths they took in life almost certainly assures that they will never will. He told me that his parents will likely only see grandchildren through him.

(Unfortunately he is no longer religious due to a personal issue that led to a divorce. But that is irrelevant to the point. I mention it in order to highlight another issue:  those who become observant and then leave. Perhaps another time…)

An article by Matthew M. Hausman  in Arutz  Sheva discusses the fallout for Israel:
The Jewish Agency recently warned that young Jews are becoming estranged from Israel because of perceived conflict with their liberal values.
But the phenomenon is not a consequence of misdirected youthful exuberance or Israeli policies and is not a problem among the observant or politically conservative. Rather, it affects the progressive and culturally assimilated segments of American Jewish society and echoes the social priorities of an institutional leadership that has traded spirituality for secular political values.  
It is hard to disagree with Hausman’s analysis. Jewish support for Israel directly correlates to the how observant a Jew is.  The Torah is filled with references to nationhood and the location of where that nation should be. Supporting Israel is a function of those values. The Torah places a high value on our peoplehood. To those of us that believe in the Torah,it naturally stirs the human emotion to support a Jewish State in the part of the world that God gave us.

One can quibble about whether or not the government of Israel functions properly. But no observant Jew would deny that God did gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. (Not even Neturei Karta. They only claim that we don’t deserve it yet and violate Halacha by taking control. And therefore we should abandon it to the indigenous people - the Palestinians.)

Contrast that with someone whose connection to Judaism is at best only nominal. Whose understanding of Judaism is based on the lack of any serious education about what Judaism is all about. Even if they had some sort of religious education in their heterodox schools, it was devoid of any substantive study of Halacha – the importance of which is for all practical purposes ignored. Reform Judaism disdained observance altogether (until relatively recent times). And Conservative Judaism while giving lip service to it, hardly did anything to encourage it. The focus was – and probably still is - on social activism – which they attribute to Mitzvah of Tikun Olam. That has been pretty much the extent of their Jewish education. Which really amounts to no real Jewish education at all.

Aside from the near  sole emphasis on social justice - is the fact that once a young Jew  is “Bar or  Bat Mitzvah’d” they have little interest in living their lives Jewishly  – even in a heterodox way. Having been raised in homes where in many cases social justice was practically deified, they gravitate easily into the world of Academia where social justice has become identified as being anti Israel – seeing it as an apartheid nation oppressing an indigenous people.  

Not to be ignored are influences of the entertainment industry that has long ago abandoned any pretense to valuing  biblical values. They openly declare those values to be not in consonance with the more ‘enlightened’ values of our time.  It is not too much of a leap to go from there to rejecting any value to the biblical claim that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Seeing instead one people (Jews) subjugating another (Palestinians). Ancient biblical claims are irrelevant in today’s world.

It is not long before that people so influenced end up abandoning their Judaism seeing it as an unnecessary component of the social justice they pursue. Perhaps even seeing the values of the Torah as an impediment to that. And therefore joining forces with the BDS movement is an easy choice for them to make in some cases!

The Jewish agency is right to be worried. But all is not lost. With the exception of some observant Jews on the fringe, Orthodox Jews are generally highly supportive of Israel, even those in the right wing of Orthodoxy. They may complain (legitimately or not) about how the government treats them. But they still support it. It is also true that  Israel is becoming stronger and less dependent on  support from Diaspora Jewry.

Orthodox Jewry is currently only approximately 10% of the Jewish population in America. But clearly, that percentage will increase with time as Orthodox Jews increase by maintaining fealty to observance while having exponentially more children who will do the same - while heterodox Jews less children that will in most cases leave the fold anyway.

It is only a matter of time. How soon is hard to tell. But it should be pretty clear that heterodoxy is spinning their wheels in desperation trying to reverse those trends. They have not succeeded thus far. And I see no reason that they will in the future no matter how the re-brand themselves. The only thing that has proven to work is commitment observance. If a secular Jew becomes Orthodox, chances are he or she will have a lot more children than if they hadn’t.

This is not to gloat or be triumphant - as I have said numerous times when issues like these are discussed. I am not happy at the failure of heterodoxy to keep Jews Jewish. I am quite saddened by it. But it is what it is. All I am doing is reporting the facts and analyzing them as honestly as I can.