Assimilation, intermarriage, alienation and indifference to Jewishness. A drastic drop in Aliyah. A dramatic rise in Yerida – emigration from Israel. There is a common denominator to all of these critical problems facing the Jewish people today. Each ahs the same root cause, all are tragedies that are born form the same seed – the failure of secular and non-traditional theories of Jewishness to persuade the vast majority of Jews that being Jewish is important enough to make meaningful sacrifices on its behalf. Unless the bankruptcy is understood by those who posture as the leaders of the Jews, the assimilation cancer will continue to rage; Aliyah will remain a pallid and sickly thing despite the ridiculous conferences, conclaves, councils and conventions that are called by hapless leaders; Yerida will continue its staggering climb in spite of public relations efforts to downgrade the statistics or to simply falsify them.
Once upon a time, nearly every Jew in the world knew what being Jewish was and why being Jewish was important. That was the time before the era of emancipation came, bringing with it its twin sister enlightenment. Ever since, that which was once so obvious is no longer, and that which was so easily understood needs tortured rationalizations. Once upon a time, the Jew was one because of Torah and the Divine Election of the Jew as a chosen people coupled with a Torah that was Revealed by the All mighty to the Jew, made being Jewish an elementary thing. The Jew was a special people, a different people a separate people because he had the Torah and it was his life and the length of his days. Life for the Jew was the Torah. But then things changed and suddenly Jews were told that Election and Revelation were things that were to be consigned to the bins of the obscurantists and medieval antiquities. Now Judaism and Jewishness had to find another kind of philosophical basis and raison d’etre. The new Judaism was defended and defined by one camp in terms of a religion that that was man-made, a mixture of humanism, ethics and selective ritual. It was a Reform that allowed the Jew to be all things to him and assimilate at his own pace.
Yet another camp defined the New Judaism in terms of nationalism. To be a Jew was no less than an Italian or Bulgarian or (though the secular Zionists did not realize it then) a “Palestinian.” To be a Jew was to be like unto the nations, no less. Alas, what they did not understand was that their definition condemned him to be no better, either.
Little wonder, then, that both of the philosophies proved to be resounding failures, rejected by the next generation that was rid of the complexes and rationalizations and frauds of that which invented the New
Judaism. The secular nationalist theory of Jewishness fell before the obvious question posed by a new generation of Jews influenced by socialism, universalism, and a technologically shrunken world that knocked
down distances and barriers between nations and lands: Why have separate nations? And if for some reason, they must exist, why make a fuss over them? Why cannot French-men marry Swedes, and if they can-and-do-without fuss, why cannot a Jewish national marry a non-Jewish one? Secular nationalism, Zionism, the New Judaism of nationalism had reason for being but one limited to that of all the other national groups and that reason was being questioned by all young people-with not a good answer in sight.
The New Judaism of religion (Reform, Conservatism, Reconstructionism and all the rest) proved to be a tiger of paper no more durable than its secular counterpart. What hold did a “religion” which was conceived by men, albeit scholarly ones have upon young, thinking people? If the laws were not Divine, why observe them? If they were the product of clever people, why surely clever people abounded in modern times, too! How does
one choose ritual and reject that? Why not choose that and reject this? Why have any formal religion that divided people and set up barriers between them, especially when that “religion” was man-made? These were the objections and demands presented by Young Jews and the pitiful parents. And leaders who had rejected Judaism of Election and Revelation had no answers. Certainly, there were large numbers of Jews who
“lingered” on as active Jews essentially for only two reasons and sometimes for only one of those, and were I a Tannaic sage of yesteryear I might phrase it: “On two legs does the modern Jew stand, on goyim and
For indeed, the Jewishness of millions of Jews of a prior generation and of today exists because of goyim and/or chulent.
Goyim. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing and conversely, anti-Semitism has been the means of saving millions of Jews from assimilation. For if not for the rejection by the gentile of the Jew, how many others would have
long disappeared form our midst? Was the Jew of Poland or Lithuania a better Jew than the assimilated and intermarried Jew of Germany and France? Or was he simply not “blessed” with the opportunity to behave
similarly? What happened to cause so many Jews of Eastern Europe to drop a tradition of centuries and seize upon Bundism, and secular Zionism and communism when the opportunity presented itself? When the gentile behaved with any semblance of acceptance, the Jew leaped for joy, his religion falling off in midair. When faced with the implacable, hating, unaccepting goy, the Jew remained a Jew. Because he had no choice.
This is why millions of Jews, one generation form the Czar and pogroms, still retained a measure of the New Judaism. Because they also retained a measure of memory of the goy and because they still recalled the
difference between them that the goy had insisted upon. But what happens when a child is born, free and unencumbered with memories? What happens when a young Jew is raised in an environment where, for the time being, history has allowed him never to know any meaningful anti-Semitism? What happens when he roams campuses filled with gentiles (pretty and handsome); freedom filled neighborhoods and employment, a world of his own that’s uninhabited by hatred of the Jew? What happens when a whole generation grows up that does not know the goy? What happens? Why, the obvious. Not being forced to be a Jew, he does not remain one; not consciously, not actively, not caringly.
There is one other hope. Chulent. For millions of Jews who had left the Judaism of tradition and Torah, becoming members of the New Judaism, the intellectual contradictions and objections were muted by chulent. I speak of chulent in the generic sense, in the broad term. Not merely the chulent that cooked away all Friday night in the oven and that emerged with its potatoes and beans, hot and more-than-filling. I speak of all the chulent that remained as warm, nostalgic memories in the minds of countless Jews. I speak of the nostalgia that passed for Judaism and that kept their dreamers form breaking with their people.
Millions of Jews remained Jews because they were raised in truly Jewish homes. Imbedded in their memories were their own experience and early lives. They had seen and lived a real Sabbath in their parents’ or grandparents’ homes; they remembered the kiddush wine cup and the two challas; they remembered the real Passover seder; they remembered the packed Orthodox shul where people went to daven, not to “pray”; they
remembered the Jewishness of the Old Judaism and so they moved on to New Judaism but could never bring themselves to face the contradictions and absurdities that would force them to drop it entirely. They had to remain Jews because of the grip that nostalgia had upon them. Because of chulent
But what happens when a young Jew arises who does not know chulent? Who comes from a home where Judaism lives only in the nostalgic mind of the parents but which is never practiced? Who never saw the shul but only knows the mausoleum that passes for the temple? Who never tasted the kiddush wine or searched for chametz on Passover eve? Who never saw theSukkah and never danced on Simchas Torah? Who never smelled the chulent: He has no nostalgia; he remembers nothing warm and tender that pricks his conscience and makes him ashamed of letting go. He has no chulent to make him forego the shiksa. And when he has neither goyim to beat him and force him to be Jewish not chulent to prod him into nostalgic reminiscences, he has no reason to be Jewish and so he leaves.
This is the root of assimilation and intermarriage and alienation in the United States. A New Judaism that has no Divine Election and Revelation, that has no Torah, existed for a while on the memories of the goyim and
chulent. It cannot continue, for the young know of neither.
And this why there is no Aliyah and will not be. Not only because there are so many American Jews whose lack of interest in Jewishness never led them to remotely consider Aliyah, but because the same lack of Jewishness exists in Israel which has become thereby not a Jewish state but a mere state of Jews. The secular Zionism of the New Judaism thought that it could create a healthy Jewish people and state without Torah and it created instead a nightmare, a Hebrew speaking Portugal; a generation of Sabras which says: We are Israelis, not Jews; a host of Israelis who desperately ape the manners and customs and madness and abomination of the gentiles; a mass of people that sees no reason to be Jewish and which has built a state that is in their image.
And if Israel is not a Jewish state and if the spirit of Jewishness is missing and if it is no different than others and if it tries to be another America and becomes a pale carbon copy of it- why should even the relatively small number of American Jews who seek something different, give up their comforts and go there? What will they find there that they have lost in America? There is neither goyim nor chulent in Israel, either, and the roots to no-Aliyah may be laid to that too.
And Yerida. Where there is no Torah and no chulent and the Sabra thinks that Arabs are only against Israel but other goyim do not hate Jews; where there is no Torah and no chulent and the Sabra does not really know the
goyim – why should he remain in a state that is constantly threatened by war, which is poor and beset by inflation and unemployment and poverty, which does not have the thrills and pleasures of Times Square and
Amsterdam and Hamburg? When the Sabra sees nothing special in being Jewish why should he be different than the Sicilian or the Irishman or the Pole or all the rest who loved the lands of their birth but who did not
hesitate to leave them, for new worlds of opportunity?
Assimilation, intermarriage, alienation and indifference to Judaism. A drastic drop in Aliyah. A dramatic rise in Yerida-emigration from Israel. There is a common denominator to each of these problems. It lies in a people that threw away Torah and then lost the goyim and the chulent, the only things that gave any real reason to be Jewish.
When one thinks of it rationally the thought of being Jewish because the goyim insisted you could not be anything else, is rather ludicrous. And when one considers being Jewish because of the sweet smell of chulent that is even more absurd. One is thus left with one other reason to be a Jew. Torah. That makes a great deal of sense.