The easiest demographic problem we’ve ever had

by Maskil on April 4, 2008

This posting is in response to an Op-Ed on the JTA website, “Make it pay to study Judaism”. After several attempts resulting in “Post rejected” error messages (I still have no idea why), I finally managed to post my comments (below), but the paragraph breaks were stripped out.

I applaud this innovative effort to come up with solutions for integrating the immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU). I do also have a few comments and questions, however:

  • To simply dismiss 1/3 of these immigrants (and their offspring) as “not Jewish” seems a bit harsh. Many would consider them “non-Halachic Jews” or “Patrilineal Jews” rather than “non-Jews”.
  • I’m open to correction, but doesn’t the Law of Return concern one Jewish grandparent (any), rather than one Jewish grandfather?
  • I don’t see this as a demographic time bomb, but rather as a sociological time bomb. These immigrants are not a threat to the nature of Israel in the same way as perhaps the Arab/Muslim and Haredi minorities are; they are more committed to Israel than either of the other minorities mentioned.
  • My opinion is that, rather then get even further enmeshed in religious issues, the state needs to take a step back. Israel needs to walk the talk and really become the Jewish AND democratic state it claims to be. The way to do this is to stop backing the claim of Orthodoxy to be the only authentic Judaism. All the major Jewish denominations (including and especially Masorti/Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) should enjoy equal status, and all should be allowed to perform conversions recognized by the state.
  • This is the easiest demographic problem we have ever been faced with, and can be addressed in the space of one generation!
  • Regarding the “generous grants available to those who wish to learn in yeshivot”, this should come to an end. Perhaps one in a thousand should be studying Talmud full time, and they should be subsidized by their immediate communities, not society as a whole. The only exception should be those studying to become congregational rabbis in recognized institutions of higher learning.

While I’m in favour of these innovative efforts on behalf of the FSU immigrants, I don’t believe they will help to overcome the problem of the intractable Israeli rabbinate who still hold the keys. The only democratic, Jewish and just solution if for all the major streams of Judaism to be put on the same footing as Ashkenazi and Sephardi Orthodoxy.

See also my earlier piece regarding this issue, A bungled Aliyah.

Links/Reading/Resources:

Op-Ed: Make it pay to study Judaism – JTA, Jewish & Israel News

Altneuland: A bungled Aliyah

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