April 2010

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                      JUDAISM IN DECLINE

                                                            Sy Schechtman subtlesy@comcast.net          

        The Jewish  entity or nation or mystique  has been around  for well over 2500 years in various forms.   It  has flowered, withered, reappeared,  and reformed in various guises, to the despair or delight  of its supporters or detractors.  One of its apparent detractors is Arnold Toynbee,  and eminent British historian   of the first part of  the last century,  whose twelve volume Study of History created much excitement and conjecture.   One of its rather minimum  assertions was that Judaism was a fossil religion.  By which he apparently meant  that it had been superceded morally,  as well as in physical size by the other modern religions now literally flourishing round about----Christianity,  Islam,  Buddhism and  Hinduism, to mention the most prominent.    And this assertion,   in the early l960’s  when Judaism  was enjoying  a dramatic resurgence after the holocaust in Europe and the thwarted Arab attacks in Palestine,  seemed an almost laughable misjudgement.   Little Israel,  postage size David against the enormous Goliath of hundreds of millions of hostile Moslems,   seemed far from inert, inept or impotent.   Not a fossil but template for powerful action.   And the world admired and extolled this renaissance.

        But that was only  fifty short years ago!  Now world sympathy has shifted mightily from poor, weak underdog Israel to oppressed Palestinian Arab  fleeing helplessly from their homes before  mighty Jewish forces.   Both images, of course, are quite out of focus with the reality of actual history,  but they helped nurture the unfortunate return of the deadly virus of anti Semitism,  of the  evil Jew, plotting and subverting the innocent rightful denizen  of  the place.   Now, however, especially in America,   the Jew has taken on more than a semblance of the inert, indifferent or impotent aspects  of what  Toynbee rather contemptibly dismissed as a fossil civilization.   And paradoxically,  it is not anti-Semitism that has any part of this toxic influence,  but the overwhelming success and acceptance of the Jew in this country  that is probably the  lethal threat to Jewish existence.   Assimilation  and acculturation   are  doing what Hitler and the Nazi extermination camps could not accomplish.   This country  is slowly becoming  --Judenrein! (free of Jews)-the exultant Nazi endeavor—through the secular sacrament  of intermarriage and general acceptance or indifference to the Jewish presence.   And indeed a little anti Semitism  might not be unwelcome  to stir some latent ethnic anger amongst the languid in  the Jewish American body politic.  Not like the rabid anti Semitism before of the signs in many southern hotels saying “No Jews, dogs, or niggers allowed”,  but just enough to confront and confound  those blissfully ignorant of the dangers inherent  in too much acceptance.

        Indeed,  at no time in the twenty five  hundred year disapora  period  of Jewish existence has Jewish  life been so successful and fruitful  as in this period.    And so positive for general Amercan life.   However, blending the essentials of both Jewish religious life and devoted citizenship to the secular demands of our great country have evidently forced many down the path of too much secularism.  And away from the Jewishness they inherited.  The National Jewish Population  Study, the most comprehensive survey  of Jewish presence  in the United States is a decennial (ten year) survey, the latest of which now being undertaken.   Ten years ago the study revealed the rather distressing facts that about 50 percent  of Jews were marrying non Jewish partners,  and only about 25 to 30 percent  of the intermarried couples were raising their children in the Jewish faith.   While it is also true that the last decade  did not see spectacular growth in several other small scale religious entities,   the fact that Judaism remained  only “stable and static” as one cheerfully optimistic euphemism would have it,   the dreary  reality was that the Jews in this country now represent less than 2% of  US population,  which has grown to over three hundred million in the last then last ten years.  If this is a Judaeo-Christian country  then only a very small part of a friendly wagging tail can be still considered be the total  Jewish mass,  but certainly not near the  butt end, where the tail is!    Every one certainly recognizes and respects  the Yiddisher Kopf,(Head), the superior intellect of the Jews,  as opposed to the Goyisher Kopf, the Gentile who only buys retail! 

       But of course there are many others of different lineage and religion not too dissimilar,  but still  not crucially Jewish,  who may not have the same fervor  to preserve  what is still innately the  Mosaic and prophetic creed that is still   the unique and perpetual   Jewish call. People who easily intermarry with Jews but are not necessarily role models in this pivotal struggle for religious or ethnic survival.   Indeed,  there was a “New York City” of the ancient world , then called Alexandria, in Egypt.   It was very large and sophisticated  and the the largest city inhabited by Jews in the diaspora of ancient Jewry,  which started for the Jews in about 587 BCE,  about the beginning of the Babylonian dispersion of the remnant  small Jewish kingdom of Judah,  which still contained the holy temple built by Solomon centuries before.   Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE  by Alexander the Great  and soon became one of the most important places in the ancient world for culture and pleasure. It had a world renowned library and a large Jewish diaspora  population estimated at a quarter of a million  people.   Indeed, the first  translation of the Hebrew Torah,  The Septuagint, was into  a Greek dialect called the  Koine, was most probably made primarily for these Alexandrian Jews,  not the original Hebrew or Aramaic.  And there was, too, very energetic Jewish philosopher, Philo, in the  first century BCE,  who tried to make the Jewish Torah teachings consonant, allegorically,  with Plato and Aristotle.   A little over a thousand years later the great Jewish teacher, philosopher, and physician, Maimonides,  in his Guide to the Perplexed,  attempted  the same route intellectually.   But in neither age, ancient or medieval, did the synthesis succeed.  The Jewish  path skirted round Hellenistic culture, adopting some minimal aspects but still remained “Torah True”—one living God with heavenly ordained negative and positive commandments—613!—for the prescribed holy life.  However, no matter how the crosscurrent of events is interpreted,  flourishing Alexandrian Jewry of the first century before Christ disappeared a few centuries later.   Was it intermarriage and indifference to ritual and tradition and too much “modernism”, and/or religious persecution by Christian rulers?  Despite its intellectual vitality, its cosmopolitan  breadth, and its cultural tolerance, Hellenistic Judaism is but a bypath in this history.   The main road of Judaism took  very different direction”.

        The different path referred to into modernity however,  was still reminiscent   of  the struggles of the past--- between tradition and the instability that present challenges threaten.   But, of course,  that does not have  to be the  indifference   of a fossilized people,  of a Toynbee type  impotence.   Certainly the great struggles of the Jewish people in this last century to establish the state of Israel prove this.   Even though their future now seems threatened again by Arab and much other worldly antipathy  it is still a manageable ordeal,  far less than the almost utter destruction of the Roman rout  over two thousand years ago.    Then the Romans  destroyed the the legendary central Jerusalem temple and dispersed  the people worldwide, but still leaving “saving remnants”  in the land to carry on.   Now, of course,  we have a  viable state once again in Israel and a relatively    thriving economy.   Tiny Israel and its 7 million (including about a million Israeli Arabs) has the 42nd largest Growth Domestic product  in the world,  a functioning democratic free society, both in Israel and the United States,  which is still,---- malaise or what at the moment!---  the most powerful  nation in  the history of the world.   No doubt we are just in the “pause that refreshes” vacuum.   The very faithful—and I have quite a few in my family!---well aware of the modern dilemma  of surrounding  hostile nations, echo the classic biblical psalm “thou I walk through the shadow of death ….Thy rod and staff shall comfort me!”,  still lean on a providential possibility.   I personally would be more urbanely sophisticated. History is much more convoluted and complex and only well  after the dust settles  years later can we discern and dissemble  ultimate cause and effect---and/or the true destiny that a providential Deity had effected.   

        Hopefully this retrospection will not have to contend much with the facts that the Jews were instrumental in the development  of the atom bomb---Einstein, Teller, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Bohr, Szilard,    and on the Nazi side, Werner Heisinger!  And today that  the Israelis are the sole possessors of the atom bomb in the middle east at this moment.  And the Iranians will be accommodated  somehow not in MAD—mutually armed destruction---but in MaT—mutally armed trust,  with much less emphasis on the armed.