Read the First 2 Chapters of Sleeping Truth
We Need You Now!

Replacing the Six Million

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, tragedy to befall the Jewish people in a long history of terrible tragedies, was the holocaust during World War II. According to historians, we lost six million of our number, somewhere near half of the entire Jewish population.

This loss has not been replaced, not that you could ever replace the flower of European Jewry who were lost to us, along with their culture, learning, and spirituality. Instead, the number of Jews worldwide has continued to decline. It’s true the number of Orthodox, who comprise maybe 10 to 15% of worldwide Jewry has increased, but only because of their high birth rate. Surveys tell us that there are more people exiting the Orthodox life than entering into it. For the rest of us, between the high rate of intermarriage – almost 80% in the U.S. according to the recent Pew survey – and the low birthrate – about 1.7% worldwide – we are rapidly shrinking in size.

What is the significance of this? In Israel, it means the Arab population is growing much faster than the Jewish one, and if something is not done with the Palestinian territories (otherwise known as Judea and Samaria), there will be more Arabs within the current Israeli borders than Jews.

In the United States, it means fewer Jews to vote and donate to politicians to garner their support for Israel. The U.S. Congress is about as pro-Israel an institution as can be found on the face of the earth, and significantly more pro-Israel than this or any other White House has been. It’s not because everyone in Congress loves the Jews or Israel. It is because Jewish people help them get reelected by voting and donating to their campaigns. The problem is that not only is the Jewish population declining, surveys indicate that the younger generation of Jews is less pro-Israel than their parents and they are also less inclined to donate to Jewish causes than their parents.

It is, or should be clear, to anyone aware of Jewish demographics, that something has to be done to retain the Jews we have and to replace some of the six million who were lost in the holocaust, or we may be facing another holocaust in the Middle East that will be even more disheartening than the one in Europe.

Part of the solution is really quite simple: Just doing three things will double the number of Jews in the United States over the next few decades. They are:

  • Recognize the children of Jewish men as Jewish
  • Recognize conversions performed by all rabbis
  • Permit (or even require) rabbis to perform weddings for intermarrieds

Patrilineal Descent

The issue of “Who Is A Jew” is often framed as an issue between matrilineal descent or patrilineal descent.

Matrilineal descent, having a Jewish mother, is the requirement under current Jewish law. If you do not have a Jewish mother, you are not considered Jewish, period! Why is that? No one seems to know. It came from a ruling in the Talmud in about 300 CE. No one knows if it was different before then. It certainly did not come from the Torah or the Bible.

Thus, it was a man-made law for unknown reasons. Those who try to defend it say you know who the mother is for sure, but you don’t know who the father is for sure. So if the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish. If the father is Jewish, but the mother is not Jewish, who knows who the child’s “real” father is. This way, we avoid the “horror” of little babies running around who are said to be Jewish, but might not really be Jewish genetically.

Patrilineal descent, having a Jewish father, is considered insufficient under current Jewish law, to confer Jewishness, even if you can prove who the father is (i.e., by genetic testing). So today you can prove who the father is but in ancient times they did not have genetic testing. I would argue it didn’t matter, even in ancient times, because if a mistake was made, you had another Jewish child who might not really have been Jewish. How terrible! I ask you, where is the harm?

In today’s world, we do have genetic testing, so we can prove if the child has a Jewish father, but the powers that be that make Jewish law don’t care, because they don’t want to go against the Tradition. Like retaining a stupid tradition (and this tradition is stupid now and was stupid then) is of more importance than continually throwing away tens of thousands of legitimate Jewish children.

Pan-lineal descent, having Jewish descent from anyone, should arguably be the norm. Hitler said anyone having even one Jewish grandparent was Jewish, even if they didn’t know they had a Jewish grandparent and even if they were raised Christian. Well, I hate to agree with Hitler about anything, but I say if someone was Jewish enough for Hitler, he or she is Jewish enough for me. Assuming of course that the individual wants to be Jewish. What is the point of making genetic Jews go through the conversion process. It is just a turn-off and all it does is drive them forever away from the Jewish people.

Rabbinic Conversions

The Orthodox community does not consider conversions to Judaism as conferring Judaism unless it is an Orthodox rabbi who does the conversion, and the conversion has to be done according to strict Jewish law. That is very convenient for them, because they are the ones who made up Jewish law. So they confer on themselves a monopoly who can convert someone to Judaism.

Undeterred, the other movements of Judaism, most prominently the Reform and Conservative Movements, do their own conversions, not according to strict Jewish law, and they recognize those converted individuals as full Jews. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, the State of Israel currently recognizes conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis outside of Israel’s boundaries, although this can change at any time.

The Jewish community is not in a position to throw away people who want to be Jews and who have gone through the conversion process with a rabbi. The conversion process is set by each individual rabbi and I don’t believe other Jews should be second-guessing or examining what an individual rabbi decides is sufficient for a conversion. Of course, knowing more about Judaism is preferable to knowing less, but the key here for me is whether conversions should be hard or not.

According to Jewish law, a potential convert should be turned away three times before even accepting that person for conversion. Why is that, you might ask? Again, who knows. Probably to discourage conversions so the majority Christian populations in the Middle Ages would have one less thing to hate the Jews for. Prior to that, conversions were not so hard and were not discouraged.

I can’t think of a single reason why we should discourage conversions now, especially considering that 80% of our people are married to non-Jews. Wouldn’t it be better to have a two-parent Jewish household, especially if the non-Jewish spouse wants to convert? Why make it hard and thereby discourage that from happening?

Weddings

One of the biggest turn-offs to Judaism, for both the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse, is when the Jewish spouse’s rabbi refuses to marry them. Reform and Conservative rabbis are both forbidden to perform interfaith marriages by their respective Movements. So, unless the happy couple can find a rogue rabbi to perform their wedding, they must go to a non-rabbinic source for the nuptials.

This rabbinic behavior alienates the Jewish parents and both the bride and the groom, and also sends a non-welcoming message to the parents of the non-Jewish spouse. What do you think happens in such cases when children arrive? How likely is it that the Jewish spouse will be able to prevail (assuming he or she even wants to) over how that child will be raised religiously?

By not marrying an interfaith couple, the rabbi accomplishes throwing away the parents of the Jewish spouse, both the bride and the groom, and their children as well. And for what? Because they don’t want to encourage intermarriages. Well, as a prominent Reform rabbi once said, that horse is out of the barn and long gone. You cannot, in most cases, tell someone who to marry, and especially at the stage of their life where they are already engaged. Yes, that can add some pressure on the non-Jewish spouse to convert, but considering how hard that often is (see the discussion above), it is not happening often enough to merit the retention of current rabbinic policy.

Better for the rabbi to perform the ceremony, or even share it with clergy from the other faith, than to be totally absent and throw the Jewish partner away. The Jewish partner will more than likely feel abandoned and ostracized and will probably never come back. I can’t see how that is a desirable result.

The three policies I’ve criticized above result in tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Jews being thrown away for no good reason, or for an insufficiently good reason. Over time, it is likely we will throw enough Jews away to match the six million we lost in the holocaust. Not as spectacular, but the effect is the same. We should change these rules and practices now! Not a moment to spare. There is still time to recapture many of the Jews thrown away up until now.

Leave a Reply