An interesting paper from the Jewish People Policy Institute about Jewish Demographic Policies by Prof. Sergio DellaPergola:
DellaPergola is the world most renown specialist of Jewish demographics. Nevertheless, I have some issues with some of his statements, like his refusal to acknowledge that the figures from the Palestinian Statistical Bureau are evidently false as proved by numerous studies, like this one. The number of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is in fact around 2.6 millions and not close to 4 millions as claimed, for political reasons, by the Palestinians and the Israeli left. And, more important, their fertility rate is dropping fast (inside Israel as well) toward the level of the Jewish population. But more on this subject another time.
Another problem with this paper, that this times it acknowledges, is the issue of Who is a Jew in the diaspora. When DellaPergola speaks about 13.4 millions Jews in the world in 2010, he just adds up 5.7 millions Jews in Israel and 7.7 millions in the rest of the world. But these are not the same Jews.
In Israel, a Jew is, according to the law, someone whose mother is Jewish, or converted (another issue but of almost no consequences here), and who is not professing another religion (an addition of the Israeli Supreme Court).
In the Diaspora, the definition is very wide, and less clear, because of the number of intermarriage and the consequences of theses unions. This is mainly an American problem as most Jews in the diaspora live in the USA, and also a consequence of the Jewish American views about Jewish identity – views that are almost alien to us in Israel. In France, I remember that we had more or less the same definition than the Israeli one. Intermarriage and their offsprings are of course also a big deal but there is a bigger consensus around the traditional definition of who is a Jew among the French Jewish community.
I understand the need to enlarge the definition of Jewishness to encompass new situations and try to convince more people to be part of the Jewish community. I think this is a mistake on many levels. A wider Jewish identity means a looser Jewish identity and in fact even more assimilation. On the contrary, I think people look for answers, authenticity and hard truths and have no respect for faiths that try to accommodate themselves to political correctness and don’t stand for something.
The best proof is what is really going on in the Jewish people: Reform and other liberal demoninations are shrinking and will hardly exist in a few decades. Apparently the number of Reform Jews in the US has fallen by maybe a third in just 10 years. The « Orthodox », traditional Judaism is thriving and growing fast, whether you like it or not (and I really don’t like Ashkenazi Haredim in general, really not) – in Israel and the Diaspora.
Look what happened to the Catholics in Europe. I remember growing up in France that the Church was always trying to be nice, always trying to say the things that the media will like, to be politically correct – the only time when the Church did not bow to the media was the silly condom issue. So basically, all I heard from the Church was its opposition to sex – let’s say that this is not the most popular opinion in France, especially among young people. The result is that the Church comprises almost only old people today in France. On the same time, rabbis had a totally different approach: they were speaking of Torah, mitzvoth, morality, identity, absolute truths. And the young flocked to them and thousands « made tshuva ». Same thing happened with Muslims.
On the long run, I do not fear, as some people, the creation of « two Jewish people » – one of Halakhic and mostly Israeli Jews and one of non-Halakhic Jews. As we know, sadly, only a small minority of children of intermarriage are raised as Jews. Maybe even less do identify as such when adults. Most of them will just vanish on the long run, and the minority committed to Judaism will join the regular Jewish communities or Israel.
Anyway, the DellaPergola paper, that proposes some solutions to the declining number of Jews in the Diaspora that I don’t believe will work for the reasons explained here, is worth-reading.
Addendum: The illustrating picture is from the movie « The Hebrew Hammer« , a movie that expresses better than anything else the gap between US Jewry and the rest of the world. Watching this movie with Israelis, we did not understand anything of its humor, of the jokes or many of the references – the point of the movie being that it was supposed to be a very Jewish private joke movie. Maybe American Jews really are another Jewish people.