Intermountain Jewish News

Apr 16th
Home Leisure Arts, Culture & More A Zionist’s polemic: a dismal prognosis comes true

A Zionist’s polemic: a dismal prognosis comes true

E-mail Print PDF

I REMEMBER reading the first edition of this book when it came out in 1977 and how depressed it made me feel. Now I have reread it in its new edition some 36 years later (published by Gefen), and it makes me even more depressed, for some of the things that he complained about then are even more true today.

Halkin’s arguments, very simply, are that Jewish life outside of Israel has no future, and that Israel urgently needs American Jews, and that, for these two reasons, serious American Jews need to move to Israel.

It is hard to deny that Jewish life outside of Israel has deteriorated even more in the generation since this book first came out.

The birthrate in the American Jewish community is below the 2.2 that it needs to be if we are to sustain ourselves, and the intermarriage rate, and the disaffiliation rate in the non-Orthodox community are even higher than they were when he first wrote this book.

And there are even more cultural and social problems in Israel that need an influx of educated Jews from the West today than they were a generation ago, so on all counts this is a grim book.

THERE are a few things that Halkin missed when he wrote this book in the mid-1970s. He saw the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union, but he did not foresee how the immigration of a million Soviet Jews would change the character of Israel.

He did not foresee the rise of Orthodox Jewry in this generation, and how it would affect Jewish life in America. But he was on target in his belief that Reform and Conservative Judaism might not have the staying power or the ability to hold on to their youth that they seemed to have at the time he wrote his book, and he was right that New Age Judaism was, at least in some places, a hodgepodge of Judaism and romanticism that was ersatz, at least in part.

He was right that the new agers were more concerned with enjoying themselves and with celebrating aesthetic experiences than with serving something beyond themselves, which is what religion is all about.

He was unnecessarily cruel in his treatment of this movement, but it is hard to deny that much of what he said about it is true, although it is a little bit unbecoming for someone who proudly declares himself a secularist on one page to rant against these groups on another page, as if he were a fervent Orthodox Jew.

But I guess that was his right.

IN the end, whether American Jewry will survive or not does not come down to debating the accuracy of birthrates or population statistics.

It comes down to whether Jews will have a sense of ultimate purpose in being Jewish, to whether they will find it something worth committing one’s life to, to whether they will find passion and a sense of obligation in their Jewish practices.

If they do, they will survive. If they don’t, if being Jewish means being anti-anti-Semitism, or belonging to a club called a synagogue that one drops into only a couple of times a year, then Halkin’s dire warnings will come true.

Israel will be the poorer for it too, for if we do not live purposeful Jewish lives here, Israel will have little meaning to us, and there will be little reason for us to identify with it.

So it comes down to this: will we live purposeful Jewish lives here or not? That is why, when I reread his book in this generation, it summons me to work and to teach and not to despair.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 December 2013 12:48 )  

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Cast Your Vote

Should recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a deal breaker?

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Paris court dismisses racial hatred charge against Bob Dylan

Marcy Oster A civil court in Paris dismissed a case of incitement to hatred against American singer Bob Dylan for remarks he made in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. ... [Link]

Passover supplies arrive in Nepal in time for massive seder

Marcy Oster A large shipment of Passover supplies arrived in Kathmandu just in time for seder. ... [Link]

Hebron shooting victim laid to rest amid condemnations

Marcy Oster Hundreds attended the funeral for Israel Police Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrahi, who was killed near Hebron while on his way to a Passover seder with his family. ... [Link]

Suspected Kansas City JCC shooter charged with murder in state court

Marcy Oster The suspect in the shootings of three people at two Jewish institutions in suburban Kansas City was charged in state court. ... [Link]

State Dept. voices support for peace talks as negotiators postpone meeting

Marcy Oster Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators postponed a scheduled meeting, as the U.S. State Department reiterated its support for the talks. ... [Link]

Temple Mount closed to Jewish visitors following Arab rioting

Marcy Oster The Temple Mount was closed to Jewish visitors on the second day of Passover following rioting at the site by dozens of Arab youth. ... [Link]

Court allows Lev Tahor children to remain near sect in Ontario

Marcy Oster The haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor has successfully appealed a ruling to place 14 children in foster care in Quebec. ... [Link]

Study: Amsterdam unjustly taxed Holocaust survivors

Cnaan Liphshiz The City of Amsterdam collected more than $10 million from Holocaust survivors who were charged ground lease fees for periods they spent in hiding or in concentration camps, researchers said. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942 • •