Sunday, February 12, 2006

My Crib, My Cars, My Pools, My Jews

I read that article on Jewish conversions (see: below) with a very similar eye as my colleague from New York City. It seems logical and handled appropriately -- but the faintest hint of proselytizing really does rub me wrong.

And yet...and yet... Upon a second read, I think I might be OK with this trend. The article states these rabbis are "considering steps like elevating the prominence of recent converts in their congregations and making conversions more visible as an option for non-Jewish spouses." Neither of those elements disturbs my sensibilities, really. It's a bit odd that Jews would read about this relatively minor belief alteration and immediately recoil (as I did) at the very notion of prodding along conversions. But I increasingly think modern Jewry is so (understandably) terrified by its people's history with forced conversions, that the very notion of trying to "sell" our friends, neighbors and loved ones on the faith causes us to run away from anything resembling it. Jews have been absurdly punished by other beliefs' desire to convert them to such an extent that even appropriate levels of maintaining the faith may get shunned.

The article notes that about half of the Jewish population marry out of the religion and out of that group, two-thirds do not raise Jewish children. I tried to do the math and figure out what that means and, not surprisingly, quickly gave up. Luckily this article from today's Ha'aretz clearly states that "U.S. Jewry is dwindling rapidly at the rate of about half a million per decade." So let's say that Jews in America continue to live and react to the religion with no major societal changes. Allowing for the estimation that there is about 5.9 million U.S. Jews, when our grandchildren are aging, American Jewry will be little but a dying ember (surrounded by evangelical Christians, if their numbers continue). Frankly, that oft-stated realization has me wonder a bit if Jews are "meant" to continue. I mean, various peoples have died out for all sorts of reasons -- maybe fighting against Judaism's death is fighting unfortunate logic. But on a far less macabre note, I'm willing to allow shuls to do the smallest of changes to their in-house culture if it means the religion continues .... at least for a few more centuries.

P.S. I wasn't going to post this, as I wasn't sure it fit with our general premise here, but now that religion and culture have been brought into the foray, I'd like to convince all to read this excellent, excellent piece from the L.A. Times. Quite honestly, I think it reads like a Stephen King short story, a little bit. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a true-blood cultural Civil War in America. And if so, don't you think this guy might be leading an army?


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