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The Decline of Western Jewry

Judaism has remained largely unchanged for the past 2,000 years. This has been because Jews have spent most of this time in a Diaspora, where they were generally under attack and on the defensive. It is hard to grow when the environment around you is hostile and often murderous. Jews were blamed for everything from killing God, to poisoning wells, to using the blood of babies to make matzohs. Some Jewish sects have become more stagnant or set in their ways than others. Thus, there are Jewish sects that proudly wear the clothing and retain the lifestyle of periods several hundred years old.

In the Western world, Jews largely are no longer under attack. Yes, there is still anti-Semitism alive and well in every corner of the world, but it is not the threat it once was. Jews in America recognize how things have opened up for us, and we have enthusiastically embraced the opportunities available in a free and open society. Jews are not sticking together like we once did. As a community, we have experienced huge percentages of intermarriage, nonaffiliation with Jewish institutions, and total abandonment to secularism or other religions. In a few more generations, some experts predict that the American Jewish community will consist of the Orthodox movement, and a few smatterings of other Jews primarily gathered in large cities.

Our percentage of the populations has declined from 4% to 2%. As we decline in pure numbers as well as percentages, our influence in American politics will also decline, and one can imagine a day when our ability to garner American political support for Israel will be insufficient. How long could Israel last without American support? Not long at all! So the Jewish decline in America threatens the survival of the American Jewish community and the continued existence of Israel. If we do not do something to reverse current trends, Judaism is in danger of dying out, with the exception of some Orthodox groups that will become as quaint and politically unimportant as, for example, the Amish are.

The Problem With Past Solutions

The Jewish community is not unaware of this problem. But, I contend, it doesn’t know how to solve the problem. Most solutions I’ve heard about focus on improving Jewish education and trying to make Jewish prayer services a little more fun and interesting.

Those are laudable efforts that I agree with, so far as they go. But, unfortunately, they don’t go very far at all. Those efforts only reach Jews who are actively in the Jewish community at the present time. Only a handful of Jews, relatively speaking, ever go to prayer services or attend Jewish educational classes. In other words, those current efforts are like preaching to the choir, and basically do not affect or solve the problem at all.

I believe the problem is with Judaism itself, not with the Jews we are losing. Our leaders tend to extol the virtues of Judaism and think that those who are leaving us in droves are just uninformed. I start from one basic assumption: If you have a product and it is not selling, you either have to change the buyers or you have to change the product. Obviously, it is easier and more effective to change the product than to change the buyers. I believe Judaism needs to change or we will continue to lose huge segments of our Jewish family for as far as the eye can see.

We cannot expect a Judaism that has essentially been frozen in time for over 2,000 years to appeal to vast numbers of Jews in 21st Century America without making some significant changes. America will never be like Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, or even like the ancient world that spawned the Torah and the Talmud. We have a great message, but like everything else in this world, we have to change or die.

So ask yourselves, are you so committed to keeping Judaism exactly the same that you are willing to let it die? Do you think God will save it? Do you think the American Orthodox community is enough to save it? What good does it do to be fruitful and multiply if our children do not know or care about Judaism, or they are raised in a different religion? What will be the future of Judaism if Israel is wiped out and there is a substantially decimated American Jewish community? I think you can see that these problems are very serious and we have to be serious about finding solutions that really work!

My Solutions

I believe that Judaism needs to become more complete and more whole to thrive in a world with social media and instant communication. I believe that every religion has a piece of the truth and no religion has the whole truth. Therefore, there is much that Judaism can learn from other religions without losing it’s core, and there is no reason it cannot integrate some of their “true” doctrines into Jewish theology. One of the purposes of this website is to help make Judaism more complete and whole.

I propose the following changes to Judaism:

  • Judaism needs a satisfying after-life theology
  • Religious services need to change to speak to the lives and concerns of contemporary Jewry.
  • Judaism needs to be more spiritual and less legalistic in its observances.
  • Barriers to entry for meaningful converts need to be removed.
  • The definition of who is a Jew needs to be broadened.
  • Judaism needs a better explanation of why there is evil in the world.
  • Judaism needs a more meaningful mission in the world

In the following paragraphs, I will discuss what I propose should be the updated Jewish philosophy. I believe that adoption of the  will slow, and eventually stop the attrition of Jews from our community. Also, it will eventually bring back many of those who have left us, and I believe it will attract non-Jewish seekers who will find personal fulfillment in the Shalomist n philosophy. These ideas are also discussed in my novel Sleeping Truth and my soon to be released Rethinking Judaism: What Is Needed in the 21st Century.

Why Is There Evil in the World?

Many of us wonder how there can be so much evil in the world if God is all-good and all-merciful and all-powerful. It is an impossible cosmological question, and can’t be answered to the satisfaction of most free-thinking people.

My answer will be surprising to some – God is not all-powerful! And we have to ask, where did this notion that God is all-powerful come from anyway? Probably because Jews believe in monotheism. If there is only one God, therefore He must be all-powerful.

I agree that, yes there is only one God, and that He is all-good and all-merciful, but there is a power more or less equal to His that is the cause of the evil in the world. We could call this other power Chaos, or Satan, or the Black Hole, or any number of other names. I choose to call it the Dark Side. I do not believe it is a personalized evil power – so I reject calling it Satan – because it doesn’t answer prayers or make deals for your souls. It is just a force that existed when the universe was created, like gravity, and it partakes of every iota of the Creation. God battles the Dark Side, but the Dark Side does not battle God. It has no consciousness. It just is. God and the Dark Side are yin and yang, except God has consciousness and purpose.

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Bad things happen because the Dark Side is more or less as powerful as God and God does not have the power to affect everything the Dark Side does. So, sometimes God can change things and sometimes He can’t. We pray to Him to help us, and He wants to, He always wants to, but much of the time He can’t help us, or at least He can’t help us as much as we want Him to.

It is a myth that God punishes us for our sins or that He punishes the Jewish people for going astray. I believe God is NOT a punishing God. The God we want to love and respect is ever merciful, and it is the repentance of sinners He seeks, not their destruction. However, God has more power vis-à-vis the Dark Side to help good people rather than not-so-good ones. Still, not everything is under God’s control. Sometimes He is forced to sit and watch. And cry! And suffer right along with us (as the Psalmist says).

God wanted to save us from the Holocaust, but he lacked the power to pull it off.  Instead he cried with us, and suffered with us, and did what he could to help.  He didn’t help us very much before and during the Holocaust, but He did some good for us afterwards.

The After-Life

Mainstream Jewish philosophy about the after-life is unclear. Mainstream Judaism says that there is a heaven that we all go to somewhere along the line but it’s not clear who goes or when. It says that when the Messiah comes, all the Jewish people and the righteous of the world will rise up and live again. In a more immediate sense, it says when our parents and other loved ones die, they will be kept alive in our memories of them. I think Jewish theology is very inadequate on after-life questions and I think that is one reason so many American Jews leave us and look elsewhere for answers.

I believe there is some kind of reincarnation, and interestingly, the Kabbalah says that too. So even though reincarnation philosophy is primarily associated with Buddhism (so many JewBu’s), there is a rich Jewish source for a Jewish reincarnation philosophy.

The Kabbalah says Jews are reincarnated until they perform all of God’s commandments, as specified in the Torah. But I think the truth is closer to a cross between Kabbalah and Buddhism. Like Buddhism says, we are reincarnated until we get perfected, and then we go to a Jewish heaven, which is an equivalent of nirvana. Like the Kabbalah, perfecting ourselves is done in the service of God. Because as we perfect ourselves, we also have a perfecting effect on the world.  This is not only tikkun olam (repairing the world) ­— it also helps God become stronger against the Dark Side.

The Meaning of Life

I believe one of the reasons God created man was to help Him overcome the Dark Side and make the universe a better place. As an individual becomes better and wiser over the course of his or her lifetime, some of this improvement is carried over into reincarnated next lives. When individuals improve throughout their successive lifetimes, all of mankind improves.

Also I believe each individual has his or her own destiny, or job to fulfill. When the work is done (or partially done) in this lifetime, and they are called into the next lifetime, they are fulfilling their assigned destiny. When loved ones die, rather than mourn their passing for the things they didn’t get to do in this lifetime, we should be aware they are on to their next phase. We can celebrate their lives for what the were, and then be happy for them for what they are going to be doing next.

So, the meaning of life, or at least one of the meanings of life, is to fulfill your purpose or destiny, whatever that is, and improve yourself as much as you can over your lifetime, and to help God however you can to make the world a better place, and help God to overcome the Dark Side. I like to say: God needs us as much as we need God.

We Need to Change Jewish Prayer Services

The Standard Prayer Book Does Not Speak to People

Most Jews would say the current universal Jewish prayer service does not speak to them. It doesn’t speak to their lives or their concerns or hopes or dreams. Most of the prayers praise God. The Shalomist says God has a healthy enough ego and doesn’t need so much praise. High Holiday prayer services, on the other hand, come much closer to expressing the needs and concerns of Jewish lives in America and other secular societies. At that time, we are invited to reflect on our lives, past and future, to pray for a better year, for ourselves and our loved ones. This is the kind of spiritual nourishment we need constantly, not just at the time of the High Holidays. I believe we need to break the shackles of the traditional prayer service and look at prayers we need that will connect to people today. Some aspects of New Age thinking should be included.

The Torah is Overemphasized

The Torah is a central part of every prayer service. It is repeated over and over again, week after week, year after year. Meanwhile, other pieces of Jewish literature and wisdom are left out, including the other books of the Bible, not to mention the Talmud and other important Jewish works that have come since.

This is a mistake. People are bored and tune out that part of the service, and eventually tune out the service altogether. They, and all Jews, are the losers because they are not made aware of the vast depth and sophistication of Jewish culture and learning and thought. Especially during the “dog days” of Leviticus and Numbers, something other than the Torah could be substituted without losing much, if anything. Do you really need annual reminders of how the vestments of priests need to be constructed?

Sermons Need to Be Changed

For many people, the rabbinic sermon is often the low point of the service experience. Very few rabbis give sermons that connect with people. They need to talk about what is really going on, teach Jewish wisdom and ethics, and discuss current events. Sometimes, they should have a discussion instead of a sermon and involve the congregation in various discussion topics. Let’s make services more inspiring and educational and sometimes interactive. Find out what people want in that time slot and do it.

We Need to Recruit More People to Judaism

The time “honored” definition of Who Is A Jew needs to be changed. What makes having a Jewish mother more important than having a Jewish father in defining a Jew? Oh, you say we always know who the mother is, but not who the father is.

Granted, but today, we have DNA testing so that is not a factor anymore. But I believe proof should never have been a factor. If a man says he is the father, and therefore claims that a child should be Jewish, what is the problem if the man lied or is mistaken? So we have a Jew we shouldn’t have had? How awful! What is so important about keeping people out? Are we so pure? No! Are we so elite? Maybe we think we are, but the rest of world has usually treated us as just the opposite. It has not been so wonderful throughout history to be a Jew, unless you think scapegoating, pogroms, expulsions, and holocausts are a good thing. If someone says they are Jewish, God bless them for joining us.

Similarly, we should be delighted to have people who want to convert to Judaism. Why do we want to make it hard for them? Let’s drop barriers to conversion and let anyone in who wants to be in. Our numbers have been declining for years. We could use some fresh blood! Thank God some people want to join us! And if we really believe we have such a great religion and culture, we should be glad some non-Jews agree with us and want to be part of us.

What Do You Think?

Register for this website and join the discussion. If you agree with this philosophy, let’s join together and try to make things happen. If you disagree, tell us why and let’s discuss it.

Together, let’s arrive at a philosophy that works! That is the main thing from my point of view. Let’s figure out how to save Judaism in America. We don’t have much time. We are losing people every day. This is a serious crisis!

6 thoughts on “Philosophy

  1. Jordain on May 23, 2012 at 4:24 am

    It’s always a pleasure to hear from someone with expertise.

  2. 3questions on August 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    An interesting approach to an age old problem. However, there are many reasons why religion as a whole is flawed and basially failing, not only in America but other countries as well. The Catholic churches are losing members due to their reluctance to change birth control beliefs. People can no longer afford to have child after child. The Baptist churches are losing members because they refuse to address the current problems affecting many of their members. They continue to push Jesus as Saviour of the world every other sentence. Even if he was, that has nothing to do with current problems almost every Christian in America has at the present time. Jesus was a great prophet, as was Moses. If modern religion wishes to survive, whether it be Catholic, Judaism, Baptist or Buddism the clergy must accept responsibility to bring those religious beliefs into the 21st century and work to address the problems of modern society. Man is basically responsible for himself. And man is also capable of great evil whether it be Satan, the Dark Side or his own inherent nature. I truly believe some humans are born without souls. They are evil their entire lives nothing ever changes them.

  3. Devash on January 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    From its inception, Judaism has been concerned more with quality than with quantity. The writings of the Ramchal can answer all questions.

    Answer me this. Why did Yishmael, the son of Hagar, become the father of the Arabs and Yitzchak, the son of Sarah, become the father of Yisrael, when Avraham Avinu was the father of them both?

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