Two takes on the Pew Poll and a Cartoon

Abyss

Articles about the Pew Poll on American Jewry have been proliferating this week,  in stark contrast to American Jewry which has not (been proliferating that is).  I nearly got whiplash today after reading back to back Pew poll analyses by Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Hartman Institute followed by that of Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post.

The Pew Poll results do not paint a pretty picture for the future of American Jewry in general.  Glick summarizes the results as follows.  “More and more American Jews have reached the conclusion that there is no reason to be Jewish. Outside of the Orthodox Jewish community, intermarriage rates have reached 71 percent. Thirty-two percent of Jews born since 1980 and 22% of Jews overall do not describe themselves as Jews by religion. They base their Jewish identity on ancestry, ethnicity or culture. Whereas 73% of Jews say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish, only 19% said that observing Jewish law is a vital aspect of Jewish identity. Fourteen percent say eating Jewish foods is indispensable for their Jewish identity. Forty-two percent say that having a sense of humor is a critical part of being a Jew.”

DonnielHartmanRabbi Donniel Hartmann  analyzes the Pew statistics and in a stupefying  conclusion writes  “Even if living in Israel, being Orthodox, or not intermarrying increases the chances of one’s children being Jewish, this is merely a statistical fact as to the new reality of contemporary Jewish life and not one with educational or programmatic significance.” In other words, although it is  true that living in a Jewish state and being Torah observant will very likely keep our kids Jewish, there is nothing to be learned from or to be done with that knowledge.

Even if living in Israel, being Orthodox, or not intermarrying increases the chances of one’s children being Jewish, this is merely a statistical fact and not one with educational or programmatic significance. -Rabbi Donniel Hartman

The central point of Rabbi Hartman’s thesis is that we must accept the reality that American Jews are not going to change their behavior, they are not going to make mass Aliyah nor will they become Halachicly observant. While what he says may well be true, he goes on to  propose  a fantastical remedy,  positing that we need to create new and better outcomes from the same behaviors.

Rabbi Hartman explains “North American Jews on the whole are not going to move to Israel, abandon their liberal sensibilities, nor stop marrying fellow Americans (gentiles) who embrace them and want to marry them.  The key question for the future of Jewish life is not whether one can change this reality, but what one must do to change the seemingly detrimental consequences of this reality.”

Rabbi Hartmann seems to be saying that the best, most realistic way to keep people from falling  off of a cliff is to change the laws of gravity.

Like Rabbi Hartman, ‘Caroline Glick acknowledges that the challenges to American Jewish continuity are great.  In her article she draws extensively from the ideas of Political theorist Yoram Hazony.CarolineGlick

Glick writes, “We have tried a lot of different things and created a lot of wonderful programs,” explains  Yoram Hazony, the founder of the Shalem Center.  “We’ve tried everything other than the central thing.  Jews need to understand that there is an attractive and compelling idea that makes it valuable to be Jews.” That idea, as Hazony explained is found first and foremost in the Bible.  Roth wrote, “If you believe that Jewish traditions are part of a covenant with God, of course you want your children to continue them.”

If you believe that Jewish traditions are part of a covenant with God, of course you want your children to continue them.

Glick posits that the greatness of Jewish heritage has been denied to successive generations. Again quoting Hazony “the wisdom and philosophy imparted by the Hebrew Bible was purposely denied by the anti-Semitic philosophers of the Enlightenment. Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel and other leading philosophers of the Enlightenment were vicious Jew haters. They sought to cleanse modern philosophy of all references to the Bible in a bid to write Jews and Judaism out of the history of ideas and the contemporary intellectual world.”

Ms. Glick explains the source of our people hood lives in the holy texts,  a text in which the vast majority of American Jews are illiterate. “The Jewish drama, as set out in the Bible, is the story of a nation that from the outset and until the present day chooses freedom over submission, while maintaining allegiance to a sacred trust, and an ancient people and a promised land. When you understand this, remaining Jewish is a privilege, not a sacrifice.”  And, she concludes “when you fail to understand this, leaving Judaism not a tragedy but simply a natural progression.”

The Jewish drama, as set out in the Bible, is the story of a nation that from the outset and until the present day chooses freedom over submission, while maintaining allegiance to a sacred trust, and an ancient people and a promised land. When you understand this, remaining Jewish is a privilege, not a sacrifice.

Glick’s prescription may seem insurmountable, but for a community that made real the notion that every single young Jew who wishes to go to Israel will have the opportunity to do so, perhaps a similar Jewish Birthright plan for biblical literacy isn’t so far-fetched. It is certainly a more realistic goal than changing the laws of  gravity.

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