The Future of Judaism
by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun, January 25, 2005
Until the 18th century, there was
basically only one kind of Judaism, that which is now called Orthodox. It
meant living by the religion's 613 laws, and doing so suffused Jews' lives
with their faith. Then, starting with the thinker Baruch Spinoza (1632-77)
and moving briskly during the Haskala, or "enlightenment," from the late 18th
century, Jews developed a wide variety of alternate interpretations of their
religion, most of which diminished the role of faith in their lives and led
to a concomitant reduction in Jewish affiliation.
These alternatives and other developments, in
particular the Holocaust, caused the ranks of the Orthodox to be reduced to
a small minority. Their percentage of the total world Jewish population
reached a nadir in the post-World War II era, when it declined to about 5%.
The subsequent 60 years, however, witnessed a
resurgence of the Orthodox element. This was, again, due to many factors,
especially a tendency among the non-Orthodox to marry non-Jews and have
fewer children. Recent figures on America published by the
Jewish Population Survey also point in this direction. The Orthodox
proportion of American synagogue members, for example, went from 11% in 1971
to 16% in 1990 to 21% in 2000-01. (In absolute numbers, it bears noting, the
American Jewish population went steadily down during these decades.)
Should this trend continue, it is conceivable
that the ratio will return to roughly where it was two centuries ago, with
the Orthodox again constituting the great majority of Jews. Were that to
happen, the non-Orthodox phenomenon could seem in retrospect merely an
episode, an interesting, eventful, consequential, and yet doomed search for
alternatives, suggesting that living by the law may be essential for
maintaining a Jewish identity over the long term.
These demographic thoughts come to mind upon
recent article in the Jerusalem Post, "U.S. Haredi Leader Urges
Activism," by Uriel Heilman, in which he reports on a "landmark address" in
late November 2004 by the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of
America, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom. Aguda, an Orthodox organization with a stated
"mobilize Torah-loyal Jews for the perpetuation of authentic Judaism," has a
membership ranging from clean-shaven men to black-hatted ones (the haredi),
from Jews educated in secular universities to full-time, Yiddish speaking
students of the Talmud.
Rabbi Bloom told an Aguda audience that
Jewish demographic trends imply that American Orthodox Jews can no longer,
as in the past, bury themselves in their parochial interests and expect
non-Orthodox Jewish institutions to shoulder the major burden of communal
responsibilities. Rather, the Orthodox must now join in, or even take over
from their non-Orthodox coreligionists such tasks as fighting anti-Semitism,
sending funds to Israel, and lobbying the American government. "The things
we rely on secular Jews for," he asked, "who's going to do that if the
secular community whittles down? We have to broaden our agenda to include
things that up until now we've relied upon secular Jews to do."
He exaggerates, in that some Orthodox Jews in
America have been prominently involved in both national (think of Senator
Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut) and communal affairs (Morton
Klein of the Zionist Organization of America comes to mind). But he is
accurate insofar as Orthodox institutions have generally stayed out of the
American fray except to pursue their narrow agenda.
Others in Aguda agree with the need for the
Orthodox to broaden their ambitions. The organization's executive vice
president for government and public affairs, David Zwiebel, notes that,
"With our growing numbers and the maturing of the community and the greater
self-confidence that comes with that maturity and those numbers, there's no
question that we need to at least recognize that there may be certain
responsibilities that now have to shift to our shoulders."
Mr. Heilman understands this intent to assume
a greater role in national and Jewish life as "a sign both of the success of
the American haredi community in sustaining its numbers and its failure to
translate that success into greater influence in the community at large."
It also could portend a much deeper shift in
Jewish life in America and beyond, being a leading indicator of Orthodoxy's
political coming of age and perhaps even its eventual replacement of
Intermarriage... Why Not?
Grandchildren Be Jews?
population drops by 300,000 to 12.9 million
52 percent of Jews do NOT believe
The Future of Judaism
The Dead End of Jewish Culture
SimpleToRemember.com - Judaism Online