Q. Is Judaism so loath to accept even individual or preferential differences that any path other than yours is to be considered false or lacking?
Answer: Judaism does indeed accept individual and preferential differences. Judaism does not quail before them. Judaism embraces them. Or at the very least, addresses them.
Judaism is quite expansive. The breadth of Judaism is such that there is a great deal of
leeway within the boundaries of Jewish Law for the expression of personal tendencies and preferences. Look at the many branches of Orthodox Judaism: Hassidim, Misnagdim, etc., each of which appeals to another type of Orthodox Jew.
True, many personal preferences are outside of permissible bounds, giving us such
movements as the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative. But the bounds of proper Jewish Law are not limiting, because they encompass quite a vast area.
The Torah is an unparalleled opportunity for expression. Think of it is a sonnet. There are specific laws of meter and rhyme, but the content within those bounds is still the choice of the poet.
The Torah itself gives us voice for self-expression, as any truly spiritual Orthodox Jew can tell you.
The Torah commands us to keep within the parameters of Halachah, for our own benefit. By doing so, we become even more holy. By stepping off that path we harm ourselves.
Q. In a time of declining Jewish numbers, such as we have now, isn’t it practical to accept people as Jewish, even if they are not Jews according to Halachah or if their conversions are not Orthodox?
A. Is there a decline in Jewish numbers? Why is this occurring only among the
non-Orthodox, and not among the Orthodox? Your question highlights that very point.
The Lincoln Square Synagogue has a poster hanging in their window, on which the following statistics are displayed:
|Sample Population Count|
According to these statistics,(1) the Orthodox population is increasing by something like 300 percent, and the Reform and Conservative communities have a negative population growth. Unaffiliated have an even worse record.
When we examine the simple reason for this, the solution will also become apparent. First let us take a closer look at the disparity in the assimilation rates.
If a Reform or Conservative couple have two children, and one of them leaves the
community, the next generation is automatically halved. Most are not having two children; most are having only one, or none at all. They are breeding themselves out of existence.
Orthodox families, however, are considered small if they have only three or four children, and Charedi-Orthodox families often have upwards of ten children. And almost none are intermarrying. Though the Lincoln Square Synagogue poster lists the combined intermarriage rate from the various Orthodox groups as 3%, they admit that they are a bit fuzzy about the actual amount. I doubt that it is as high as 3%, but I could be wrong.
It is not necessary for you to believe the chart. You can verify these figures yourself. Just
take a look around. Among the non-Orthodox Jews you know, take a count of how many are intermarried or living with non-Jews. The vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews in my acquaintance do not care in the slightest whether or not their mates are Jewish. It is just not a criterion to them.
How many non-Orthodox Jews do you know who used to be Orthodox? I have met three, I think, and I have read of others. It does happen. How many of them have married non-Jews? I know of none offhand, but they probably exist. Still, the rate is infinitesimally small. The fact is that a very small percentage of people are leaving Orthodoxy these days, and a very small percentage of those marry Gentiles.
History has shown that whenever the Jews come into contact with a revolutionary Gentile movement, large numbers of Jews leave Orthodoxy and create deviant movements that bring them closer to the Gentiles. Hellenism brought into being the Sadducees, and eventually Christianity; and so on through the ages, until the Reformation brought the Haskalah Movement of Moses Mendelssohn, which eventually devolved into today’s Reform Movement.
Then one of two things happens: The movement either merges with a Gentile religion, or becomes one itself, as happened with the Christians and the Samaritans (though they did not actually come from Judaism, but rather from Gentiles who adopted some of Judaism); or the movement dies out completely, as happened with the Sadducees, Essenes, and most of the others. This is the way of all movements that deviate from Judaism. They either become Gentile, or they dissipate and eventually disappear. When the latter, some of the members of that movement, or their children, begin to trickle back to Orthodoxy, but most assimilate entirely.
Reform and Conservative are today at that stage. Even now, they find themselves facing
Hobson’s Choice: Return to Judaism, or disappear. There is no endurance to any Jewish
movement outside of Torah Judaism.
Thus we find that among Jews, the movement today is generally towards the right. There are far more Jews becoming Orthodox than leaving Orthodoxy. I have met, in the course of my life thus far, hundreds of Jews who have become Orthodox. I am friends with scores of such people. I am willing to bet that you, dear Reader, especially if you live in New York, know more Jews who have joined Orthodoxy than who have left Orthodoxy.
So this is what we find: The non-Orthodox movements are dissipating through intermarriage and assimilation. The Orthodox do not have those problems, and in fact are repairing such breeches elsewhere, where they can. We are reaching out to prevent the non-Orthodox from intermarrying. There is an outreach organization called Aish HaTorah that focuses on preventing intermarriage. Of polls taken among non-Orthodox Jews who have experienced their wonderful seminar, perhaps 6% became Orthodox. But over 90% said they would no longer date non-Jews.
Orthodox Judaism has many such organizations; there is no Reform organization
accomplishing anything like that. Quite the contrary, they are declaring Gentiles to be Jews, just so they can marry Jews.
Why is it that so many non-Orthodox Jews intermarry and assimilate? The answer is simple: Why not? What is it that could possibly convince a Reform Jew not to intermarry?
A friend of mine from a Reform family was interested in a non-Jewish girl. He was
concerned about this, because his parents had always told him that Jews may not marry
non-Jews. Yet they had taught him nothing else, and he did not know any logical reason to refrain from marrying a non-Jew.
He had no context in which to place such a directive. An Orthodox Jew might be content to simply say, «The Torah forbids it,» even if s/he does not know the reason — which the Torah explicitly explains. A simple «the Torah says so,» would suffice for many Orthodox Jews.
But even knowing the Torah’s reason could not suffice for a Reform Jew, whose parents
taught him that he need not keep the Torah, who indeed themselves do not keep the Torah, and who never taught him to respect the words of the Torah.
There really is not much of a structure to the «religion» of Reform Jews. They have little
more than community to keep them together, and that community is not necessarily the Jewish community.
There is little to keep a Reform Jew from assimilating, since there is little to keep a Reform Jew interested in Judaism. There are very few people of the Thirty-Something generation who have remained in the Reform communities by following in their parents’ footsteps, and the numbers are steadily decreasing, as we see by the chart. This is because Reform has nothing of spiritual value to offer anyone.
If a Reform Jew wants religious inspiration, he must look outside of the Reform community. And many of them become convinced that Judaism has nothing to offer them, based solely on their Reform upbringing, and minimal exposure to out-of-context Orthodox teachings that they did not understand. This is why most of their children leave, and why so many of them intermarry.
And this is why the Reform Jew has trouble understanding why Orthodox Jews refuse to
accept Reform converts. If the Reform Jew can be a Jew (which we all say they are) without fulfilling the Commandments, why shouldn’t a Gentile be allowed the same privilege? And if neither need to observe the Torah, what could be wrong with them intermarrying?
The Orthodox Jew knows that being a Jew is not merely a «privilege.» Being a Jew is a
responsibility. Some are born to it, yet it is one that may be assumed by anyone — but only in its entirety.
In the context of that responsibility, the Torah commands us not to marry someone who has failed to honestly and completely assume the responsibility of the Commandments, because s/he will lead you away from the Commandments, and thus away from Hashem. (Deut. 7:4)
But the Reform leaders teach that a Jew — or a convert — has no responsibility to fulfill the Commandments. Reform Jews teach no spirituality, nor even any responsibility towards G-d or one’s own soul. There is only community and family.
Without the context of Judaism, they have no reason to do Jewish things. They have no
reason to refrain from marrying Gentiles.
And this explains why intermarriage and assimilation barely exist among the Orthodox. It is because we have the context, which can be found only in Halachic life, and that is, fulfilling the Commandments of the Torah.
In other words, it is the Reform that are causing the problem in the first place. They have caused this problem by chipping away at Jewish life until their lives no longer simply resemble Gentile lives, they have become Jews living Gentile lives.
And now they propose to do away with one of the few precepts they have until now not
Reform Judaism came to this pass by abrogating Halachah, Jewish Law. They caused the
problem of «dwindling Jewish numbers» by eliminating Judaism from their lives. By further eroding Jewish Law, they will not solve the problem, they will only make it worse.
Furthermore, the suggestion is a futile one. Jewish children are leaving the Reform
communities in droves. Most have little interest in staying there. What will happen to the children of these intermarried couples? Even if they consider themselves Jewish, what will compel them to remain in the Reform-Jewish community? They are no more likely to stay than any other Reform Jew. And likewise for the Conservative.
Even if some small number remain in the Reform community, most will marry Gentiles,
which is to be expected among the non-Orthodox.
So what numbers will be added to the Jewish People?
There is an old story about the two people who got frostbitten ears. They tried the old folk remedy of rubbing ice on their ears. The friction warmed their ears. (Don’t try this at home, folks, I have heard that modern medicine says it’s dangerous.)
Said one to the other, «It’s a lucky thing we got frostbitten when it was cold enough for there to be ice with which to help us.»
Responded the other, «Are you nuts? If not for the cold we would never have gotten
frostbitten at all!»
If not for the Reform Jews, we would have very little intermarriage in the first place. It is
very unlikely that they, who caused the problem, are going to solve the problem — by
increasing the root cause!
How so like the parable is our situation. They confuse the cause with the cure, and the cure doesn’t work anyway!
All Jews should be concerned about the problem. Yes, the problems exists only among the non-Orthodox, but they are also Jews, and that makes it a Jewish problem. The Orthodox, however, already know how to solve the problem.
The problem is not with «Jewish numbers.» The Orthodox are not concerned with «numbers.» The Torah tells us «For you are the smallest of all nations» (Deut. 7:7). We are not concerned with relative population counts. We are concerned about Jewish people.
We are not interested in creating ersatz Jews. We are interested in keeping Jews in the Jewish community. We have never had a drive to raise our numbers. We don’t care about that. We care only that Jews observe the Torah. Part of that Torah, one of the many beautiful and inspiring Commandments, is not to marry a Gentile, as beautiful and noble as he or she may be.
The Torah assures us that the Jewish People will always exist. The Orthodox have no fear on that score. «Declining Jewish numbers» is not something we will ever fear. And as I showed above, we are doing our part to ensure the continuation of the Jewish People. We are fulfilling the Torah, and teaching our children to do the same.
Marrying Gentiles will not increase the «Jewish numbers.» For we must recognize it for what it is. Calling Gentiles «converts» is simply another way of allowing Jews to marry Gentiles. It will merely increase the number of Gentiles married to Jews (and the number of Jews married to Gentiles).
It will in fact further decrease the Jewish numbers.
And calling Gentile children of Jewish fathers Jewish will not increase the Jewish population. You do not in reality increase numbers by changing the definition of a member. Adding non-members to a group does not increase the number of members in the group.
Earlier, I quoted parts of a Torah passage about intermarriage and «Jewish numbers.» They are both part of the same passage. The Torah first tells us in Deuteronomy Chapter 7, Verse 3 not to intermarry, and then in verses 7-8 makes a point of mentioning, «Hashem your G-d chose you to be His special People . . . not because you had greater numbers than all the other nations, for you are the smallest of all the nations.»
These verses are written in one passage, because they are one theme.
It is clear that to Hashem, Who gave us the Commandments, intermarriage is not the solution to «declining Jewish numbers.»
The solution to the problem of «declining Jewish numbers» is obvious. We must return the context so that the specific matter itself can be resolved. Without Halachic life, there is
ultimately no adherence to Jewish life at all. Only when the Reform, Conservative, and
Reconstructionists return to true Judaism will they find their numbers rising again.
To summarize: the numbers of non-Orthodox Jews are decreasing because:
1. They are marrying Gentiles;
2. They have no Torah to guide them;
3. They have little or no spirituality to relate to;
4. They know of no logic to forbid intermarriage;
5. They have, and continue to erode Jewish Law, and therefore Jewish Life.
The only solution is to reverse those factors. If you want the advantages of the Orthodoxy, you must actually be Orthodox: live the life, and accept the responsibilities.
What happened to my friend? I explained all of this to him, and it had a positive effect on him. He became concerned with the future of Jewry and Judaism. But that very same day he met a Reform intermarried couple, and after they talked with him he decided to go ahead and marry his non-Jewish girlfriend.
1. The above statistics are taken from various studies, among them those done by Anthony Gordon & Richard Horowitz, and written about in such places as «Moment,» «The Jewish Spectator,» «The Jewish Observer,» and The Vanishing American Jew, by Alan Dershowitz.
Thanks to Jim Schmeidler for retrieving these figures for me from the sign displayed in the window of the Lincoln Square Synagogue.