November 20, 2002


JUDAISM BY THE NUMBERS: Excellent piece in the Times today by Douglas Rushkoff, who writes many of the same things about American Jewry that I've been saying for years. Namely, that it's ridiculous to continue harping on "the numbers" (mainly about intermarriage rates), and even more ridiculous for Jews to continue to define ourselves first and foremost as victims.
Is American Jewry better off now than it was 10 years ago? 25 years ago? 100 years ago? The unqualified answer to all of those questions should be "hell yes." Outside of Israel, at no point in human history have Jewish influence and Jewish power been more important to a society than they are to the United States right now- and overwhelmingly, we use that influence for good and not for evil. We're not an endangered species, and for anyone to suggest so is asinine.
Rushkoff rightly points out that "it is in the short-term financial interest of Jewish philanthropies to paint the darkest demographic picture possible. And they do." When the Chicken Littles amongst us attempt to raise funds by crying that the Jewish community is near death, they're really employing the same strategy Commissioner Bud Selig uses when discussing the economics of baseball: attempting short-term gain through constant proclamations that things are considerably worse than they actually are. And just as Selig's running down of the game has the unintended consequence of driving fans even further away from our national pastime, the strategy of scaring young Jews by speaking of Judaism's impending death has had no effect other than turning them off even more.
So what if intermarriage rates are at 50%? That's what happens in a pluralistic society. If the intermarriage rate were 0%, I would be much more concerned because that would indicate widespread isolation from mainstream society by Jews. Such a situation would be horrible, both for Judaism and for America, and should be no one's goal. Rushkoff writes that "it would be a terrible shame if the religion's biggest concern continued to be itself." Amen to that.

Posted by Stephen Silver at November 20, 2002 11:25 PM
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