Monday, October 14, 2013

Caroline Glick: Pew Report Doesn't Show American Jews Abandoning Judaism--They Never Knew About It

The Jewish communal world is all atwitter regarding the results of the recent Pew Research Center report on the American Jewish community, which showed a 71% intermarriage rate and an increasing percentage of American Jews--32% of Jews born since 1980 and 19% overall--who do not describe themselves as Jewish by religion. They instead identity themselves as Jewish by ancestry, ethnicity or culture. Indeed, 42% of those surveyed said that having a good sense of humor is a critical part of being a Jew, as opposed to just 19% who cited observance of Jewish law as a critical factor. Truly, bearing out that last finding, the joke is on us. Caroline Glick makes sense out of all this. In a column published online at Jewish World News, she points out that in an American Jewish community most prominently characterized by Jewish illiteracy, this result is hardly shocking. By Jewish illiteracy, she cites the definition promoted by Yoram Harzony, author of The Philosophy of Jewish Scripture, namely, lack of familiarity with Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) and its rabbinic commentaries. This ignorance is tragic for humanity, not just Jews, because, as Harzony explains in his book:
The Jews were the people who brought the idea that an individual was responsible for discovering truth and right and for bringing it into the world. That is the idea that freed mankind. That is the biblical idea. The Bible is about the expectation that a human being is going to take responsibility for discovering the truth and what's right and devote his or her life to bringing what is right to the world.
Or, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote decades ago, modern Jews are a messenger who has forgotten the message. I would add that an essential aspect of the lost message is the sender. As we read in the current Torah portions, it was God who sent the message, choosing Abraham and his descendents to be the messenger. The command said by God to Abraham that set Jewish history in motion, the phrase, Lech l'cha m'artzecha, m'meladecha u'm'beit avicha," is often translated as "Go for yourself yourself from your land, your birthplace and your father's house," reflecting Rashi's comment that God was informing Abram (his name at the time) that his departure from Haran and travel to Canaan would be for his own benefit. However, one might also, still consistent with Rashi's explanation, translate "l'cha" as meaning "to yourself." In other words, Abram's journey was not merely travel to a new land that his descendents would someday possess, but also to his true identity. Forget the message, forget the messager, and one also has forgotten one's Jewish identity.

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