Eretz Yisrael Time

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006
If you hadn't noticed, a major theme in the Jerusalem Post over the past year or so when it comes to Judaism is how Judaism need more converts and we need to make it easier to convert, and less requirement intensive, and so on. They go on and on about it.

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote a wonderful response, and here it is:

MY SECOND entry in the non-sequitur sweepstakes can be found in a recent Jerusalem Post opinion piece ("Thus Spake Zarathustra," September 15) by the paper's former managing editor, Calev Ben David: "Any religion in the modern world that does not make an effort to welcome, or seek out, new converts, is fated to diminish."

As a matter of elementary logic, that statement is false, unless one is discussing the Shakers and other celibate religious communities.

Religions whose members marry and reproduce at a rate in excess of 2.1 children per family will grow. The rapid growth of Muslim populations all over the globe owes little to conversion, and a great deal to high birthrates.

Or let us take a happier example: Orthodox Jews. A close friend of mine in his early '70s already has a 100 grandchildren plus or minus. With a little more such fecundity, all the hair-pulling about the disappearance of the Jewish people would cease, even if not one more convert entered our ranks.

Indeed demographers predict that by the middle of the century the decline of the Jewish population will bottom out and reverse due to Orthodox growth.

As Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary, never tires of pointing out, American Jewry is disappearing because Jewish women tend to marry, if at all, at a later age and have fewer children than any other religious or ethnic group.

In place of the sentence quoted above, I would offer a far more defensible rule: A religion whose foundational texts and basic tenets are unknown to most of its members, whose rites and practices are observed by few, and which is of so little significance in its members' lives that well over 50% marry members of other faiths is fated to diminish.

Such a religion, by the way, will exercise little appeal for converts. The heterodox branches of Judaism could hardly be more welcoming to converts, and yet the rate of conversion among gentile spouses of Jews continues to drop.

Now how about a moratorium on silly statements about religion?

I couldn't have said it better myself.


Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

You couldn't be more right. My family is largely Reform..Although I've started taking my youngest brother to my Orthodox shul, you can imagine the sorts of arguments that has caused. My grandfather also recently donated a large amount of money to an Orthodox high school and that also caused arguments...what a horrible thing for him to do! Support the Jewish education of young Jewish women, what a shame!

Anyway, 75% of my maternal grandparent's children married non-Jews with all of my cousins, my brothers and me raised as Reform Jews. However, it isn't surprising that, out of 10 cousins, only three of us are active in some sort of Jewish community with another three marginally connected (essentially they go to shul for the High Holidays and they show up at my grandmother's house on the first night of Passover, Rosh Hashana and Chanukah).

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is a correlation between intermarriage, liberal Judaism and the decline of active adherents of Judaism.

Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

I forgot to add this to my last paragraph: I can't believe someone is actually advocating the opposite. If people want to convert to Judaism, hurrah for them. But they should be converting because they feel it in their heart, not because they're marrying someone Jewish. Otherwise the result is almost always what has happened in my family, where my cousins are as likely to go to my grandparents house for Chanukah as they are to celebrate Christmas with their other grandparents.

Cosmic X said...

"As Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary..."

Rav Kahane used to call it the Jewish Theological Cemetary

Michael said...

I agree that, in general, the Orthodox strains of Judaism tend to be demographically stronger. However, I don't think that Conservative and Reform Judaism are so void of content as the Orthodox sometimes portray.

I grew up in a Conservative family; my parents, and granparents, were always active in Jewish causes, and religiously observant.

My brother and I both married Jewish women, and are raising children in Jewish households. My wife came from a less religious Conservative household, but she identifies herself as modern Orthodox. For both of us, the strong pull of Judaism was part of our decision to make Aliyah.

My sister married out, but keeps a Jewish home. She is active in a Reform synagogue, and sends her older child to a Jewish preschool (her younger is an infant).

I have an uncle who married out; his wife had a Conservative conversion, and now, after their divorce, she is the one bringing their kids up in Jewish home.

The Jewish content is there. I think that many of the problems with Conservative/Reform Judaism owe something to Jews being a tiny minority in a very loud, 'pushy,' American secular Christian society.

It is hard to maintain something 'different.' in the States. The one sure way is to use the isolationist techniques of the ultra-Orthodox, or even the muslims.

It's a difficult dilemma. I agree that Conservative and Reform Judaism need to move back to a stricter observance, but that is not the only solution, nor a symptom of the only problem.

Shmilda said...

I actually see myself agreeing with most of a Jonathan Rosenblum essay. Scary.

I think there is a point to the conversion theory though - in the modern world where little is forcing one to maintain a religion, a religion has to be appealling on some level to keep/draw in even those who grew up with it. That the level of appeal will attract converts as well is an added bonus we should not be wary of.

Critically Observant Jew said...

While I agree with Jonathan Rosenblum about the status quo of the US Jewry (or world Jewry) regarding Reform/Conservative/Orthodox; however, I find it hard to believe that the Orthodox community will grow in the same proportions as it is doing now. As Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb of Ohr Somayach told me in a personal conversation 4 years ago, a society can live in poverty for no more than 2 generations. Meaning: no matter how meaningful Orthodox Judaism is - it would still take only a certain amount of time for it to last in an unfavorable material setting (i.e. level of poverty in Israel or unfavorable situation with tuition/Jewish living in Chu"L). Thus, even though I am an advocate for living an observant lifestyle, I still think that people shouldn't take the trends we're experiencing now as constant.

bar_kochba132 said...

GregoryT-thanks for the comment by Rav Gottlieb (I have heard him speak before). That is a remarkably honest observation for someone in the Haredi camp, and I agree with it 100%. However, it should be pointed out that not all the "Orthodox" community lives like this...what he is referring to is the "Kollel-community" lifestyle where every man is expected to primarily devote himself to Torah study, and somehow "get by", either by putting all the burden of making a living on the wife/mother (on top of all her other duties with the children), or by living in abject poverty. Either way is basically abnormal. I heard that Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (one of the American gedolim of the post-war generation who passed away some 20 years ago) opposed this Kollel lifestyle and said most men should work and those who excel in Torah studies (a minority) should be given a living wage so they can concentrate on their studies.
The dati-leumi camp (National Relgious or "knitted kippa") camp has already adopted this system (although there is need to re-emphasize Torah studies in at least part of their educational network) and young men in this camp are given far more options for secular education and careers,
and so there will less motive to "rebel" as Rav Gottlieb indicates.

Critically Observant Jew said...

I agree with bar_kochba132, but we know that the Dati Leumi camp (as well as the Centrist and Modern Orthodox in the States) has less kids (I've heard averages of 5 in Dati Leumi family) than the Hareidi family (over 10 on average). Thus, I'm not denying the trend is that the number of Jews increasing - I'm just saying that this growth won't be as fast as it is today.

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