Jewish survival

February 6, 2008 at 7:19 am Leave a comment

Is it possible without religion?

blogarama - the blog directory
By Ralph Dobrin


Despite all the hullabaloo in the world about Israel, only about six million Jews live there. About six million more live outside Israel – most of them assimilated. Throughout living memory a large part of the Pan-Arab nation, which today comes to about 300 million – some fifty times more than the Jews in Israel – has striven for Israel’s destruction. Hundreds of millions of non-Arab Moslems share this gruesome sentiment.

Add to this harrowing equation the fact that Israel has hardly any natural resources, while her adversaries hold most of the world’s oil reserves, one comes to a sobering conclusion: even without the Iranian nuclear threat, that Israel faces desperate existential challenges, as it always has. Also disquieting is the fact that the Jewish population outside Israel is decreasing in numbers and weakening in its commitment to the Jewish people at large and to Israel itself.

However, not in the last three thousand years has the Jewish people had such power in comparison with its adversaries, and yet seldom been such a dire need among the Jews of the world to probe their national identity and consider how to contend with the future! Failure to face these questions now could spell disaster for Israel and the Jewish people. What enabled the survival of Jewish nationhood for thousands of years was its religion. Dietary laws prevented Jews from fraternizing too closely with the gentiles – even in the absence of hostility, which was in itself generally engendered by religious differences.

Also for centuries in most countries, the Jews were not allowed regular social or mercantile contact with the rest of the population. To a large extent because of this, they maintained their communal integrity. Religion is what set them apart from the other citizens and simultaneously what held them together as a nation. But this state of affairs began to change a few generations ago – when Jews were admitted into the schools, universities, work places and gentile neighborhoods.

Soon Jews worked their way into the forefront of business, academia, the arts and the professions as well as socially. But this development led to a gradual weakening of their bond with tradition and with their communities. Two or three generations of growing assimilation has resulted in widespread intermarriage and a decrease in the Jewish population world-wide.

In Israel, however, most non-religious Jews, like their religiously-observant compatriots, still feel strongly about their Jewish identity. Even agnostics and many declared atheists regard themselves as part of the fold. Although many of these people find it easy to contemplate domicile elsewhere.

Clearly, promotion of religious observance is an effective way of combating the decrease of Jewish numbers in the Diaspora and to the strengthening the national identity among secular Israelis.

But it’s only a partial solution – because most people brought up in a religiously non-observant home, find little inspiration in the Bible. They balk at the violence and wholesale killing, often commanded by God himself.

The young, sophisticated college student or professional can’t see much to admire in the Patriarchs, especially Jacob, who is the one from whom the nation gets its name – “Israel.” Also the stern, often seemingly unfair trials and punishments meted out by the Almighty, tend to dismay rather than engender religious devotion, especially when rabbinic apologetics come in the form of folkloristic interpretations and parables, that to the twenty-first century inquirer usually seem lame and unconvincing.

And if, in spite of these reservations, the sincere secular-oriented Jew does try to get into a routine of religious practice, so much of the ritual seems arbitrary, incompatible with current thought (like thanking God for not making you a woman if you’re a man), and the prayers interminably long and repetitive.

Furthermore, for the young person from an assimilated home who is sincerely searching for spiritual direction there is too much emphasis on the separation of meat and milk, while lessons or role models in integrity and spirituality are less in evidence.

So a small percentage – 10 to 15 percent of assimilated college students might come regularly to prayer services and Judaic studies (often mainly to socialize). The rest are on their way out of the Jewish fold. Half will intermarry, and their children are unlikely to have any sense of Jewish identity. Those who don’t intermarry, are unlikely to impart much in the way of Jewish peoplehood to their offspring.


The secular Jews living in Israel have a much stronger sense of peoplehood. After all they speak Hebrew, learn about their past in school, and participate in the defense of the Jewish state. But the lure of a much easier life in another country is often too strong to keep them in Israel. They too represent yet another factor in the Jewish people’s dwindling numbers. 

Numbers are crucial for any small nation, especially when that small nation is constantly threatened with destruction by neighbors in a damnably hostile region. To ensure that Israel’s overall numbers do not continue to fall another source of inspiration is needed. Fortunately there is no need to invent anything new. The source is there – in the Jews’ unique past and in the momentous present.

What needs to be emphasized, unchauvinistically, is that being Jewish actually means being part of one of the oldest nations on earth. Unlike the vast majority of other ancient peoples, the Jews never lost their national identity. Hebrew remains more or less the same language – with a few changes and additions – as was spoken two or three thousand years ago. Many of the same customs are still followed.

Furthermore, Jews have always had a powerful emotional and physical bond with the Land of Israel, that goes back over 3,500 years. 

Another unique aspect about Jewish peoplehood is the fact that no other nation on earth has survived exile and dispersion – not to mention nineteen hundred years of it — and then become resurrected again in its ancient homeland as an independent state. The uniqueness of this is mind-boggling. Even the agnostic can feel that this might have a bearing on some cosmic plan.

Of overwhelming import is also the fact that at this point in history, Israel and the Jewish people are being thrust into the center of the nascent clash of civilizations. The clash is between two ways of life – between forces of profoundly self-righteous intolerance – squaring off against its antithesis — namely freedom of thought and universal human dignity. Religious worship in the form of enmity, violence and death is challenging the practice of tolerance, personal liberty and the appreciation of life. In a nutshell the conflict seems to be between the proverbial Powers of Darkness and Light!

Those who are determined to destroy Israel are the same forces of intolerance and hatred. They fully recognize that there is a conflict – after all, they instigated it. But among those on the side of freedom and dignity, many are not as clear-sighted about the fact that there is any conflict at all – neither with regard to the global conflict nor with Israel’s pivotal role, nor even with its right to defend itself. 

Israel must survive and flourish as a nation – there are a thousand reasons why! For this to be, all Jews must again take their connection with the Jewish people seriously. And clearly there is so much in Jewish peoplehood – apart from ritual – that can inspire involvement in Israel or in one’s Jewish communities – on an active or passive level.

Israel is also special because of the hope for a better world, implicit in its very existence.

Israel is more than just a country. Israel is really an ideal, that signifies a striving for all that is fine and noble in the human spirit. (To many the plight of the Arabs in the region might make this statement ring false. Clarification appears in Also the mundane reality within Israeli society at this time appears to contradict this notion.)

But it must be remembered that Israel is still in an early stage of consolidation as a society, contending with difficult internal problems and external threats.

Whether you put religion into the equation or not, there must be an ongoing emphasis in Israel and among Jews throughout the world, on the vital importance of personal integrity and consideration for others, modesty, kindness and a sense of communal responsibility. These are the ideals that have always been part of the Jewish ethos – beyond the plethora of laws and ritual. More attention to these simple ideals together with a deeper awareness of Israel’s unique renaissance and struggle, and its central role in the clash of civilizations, will excite the imagination of Jews everywhere and draw more and more absconding Israelis back to the country, and more indifferent Diaspora Jews back to the fold.

For more read:


Entry filed under: In order to survive, Jewish survival, Solutions for Palestine. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Humanity’s most vital need HOW CAN ISRAEL SURVIVE?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


%d bloggers like this: