THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT AND BEYOND
By Sy Schechtman
About fifty years ago Emil Fackenheim, a well known Jewish theologian, in summing up the few imperatives the genocide that was the Holocaust demanded of the Jew, was the Eleventh Commandment ----- to remain in place and be resolute; not to give Hitler the posthumous victory of leaving one’s Jewish heritage. That theologic "commandment" by Fackenheim in about l965 seemed almost too simplistic and painfully obvious. But a mere half a century later we are beginning to see the world on the verge of becoming more "Judenrein"—free of Jews-- due to assimilation and low fertility replacement rates. According to the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000, a definitive, and extensive survey taken every ten years, in the prior decade—l990 to 2000-- the Jewish population declined about 300,000, slightly less than 10%. This caused the optimists, with their super rose tinted spectacles in place, to proclaim proudly that the Jewish demographics were still "stable", completely oblivious to the dire fact that the total population in the country had increased about 33 million in the decade, thus shrinking the Jewish population from 3.5% to a mere 2 %----about 5 million people. Alongside this really somber statistic, is the fact that the American Muslim population has increased dramatically and is now at the same level of the shrinking Jewish American population.
One of the main reasons why dear old Adolph may be glowing happily in his grave— or in Hell I hope--- is the increasing acceptance of Jews and the easy path to assimilation. Even if not complete assimilation then the compromise of intermarriage, which the NJPS survey of l990 claimed had reached over 50%. This hotly debated and doubted statistic was only accepted with the grudging rationalization that this might mean an increase in the number of Jewish households. But then there was another almost paralyzing figure appended. Only 28% of these intermarried families were raising their children Jewishly. This was the shock that sent tremors through the entire Jewish world. Great efforts were put in place by all major centrist to liberal segments of the Jewish establishment to to redirect the thrust of Jewish upbringing.
No longer was it sufficient for the Jewish child to have his minimal Bar Mitzvah rite of passage and limited Hebrew school exposure to accomplish that goal and for the family to have the three calendar "festival" events of Passover and the Jewish New Year and following solemn fast day of Yom Kippur intrude on the other totally secular orientation of the rest of the year. Religious training, even in the after public school religious classes that was the lot of most adolescent Jews, was deepened and extended and Confirmation----at 16 years, three beyond Bar Mitzvah age---became the desired goal, and adult education for the parents became very fashionable. Thus would the roots of the ancient tradition be properly understood, respected, and transmitted to the children in the context of modern situations. Thus "inoculated" with the religious truth of the Jewish heritage and somewhat more of its almost five thousand year record of transcendent myth and astonishing and at times miraculous history, both parent and child could go forth in the mainstream currents of modern American society and partake of its blessings and not be swept away in the swirling confusions of assimilation and total secularization.
And to vitiate what was becoming a macabre joke in the Jewish community. "What will your grandchildren be down the road---say, when they become adults?" "Christians"
So we waited anxiously for the aforementioned NJPS 2000 survey, which cost six million dollars and interviewed in depth over nine thousand people. And so far we have been left dubiously dangling, three years past the date of a complete accounting of the results. Partial findings we have, as the above total of Jews in this country. But we were told that since some of the questions, and there sequence in individual interviews, were changed (after much opposition by some groups) more time would have to be allowed for proper evaluation. The final results would be announced in November of 2003, a date which also long since expired; this time with the excuse that some technologic data---of not too significant importance-- had been misplaced and had to be found and reinterpreted!!
So, is the intermarrying trend stemmed or abating and is the Jewish education of the young children more than the relatively thin veneer of the past in moderate to liberal Jewish circles? We do have some smaller surveys only that may give us likely hints. These few are modeled after the 1990 survey and do suggest that the intermarrying has gone down a bit--- to about 48%. But the crucial factor of the extent of Jewish education, especially in the families of the intermarried, does not seem be in the mix in these surveys. If it has not risen substantially above the 28% level the Jewish future in this country is dim indeed. And was it asked in the long delayed NJPS survey? We do know that there was much negotiating for having the "right" questions asked, perhaps to condition the answers properly. (There are many contending Jewish factions seeking the truth but perhaps validated only as they see it! ) We may now be afraid to ask such a depressing and embarrassing question!
But looming beyond American assimilation—the Eleventh Commandment of Fackenheim--- is the black cloud of anti Semitism, an almost world wide phenomenon that so far has not beclouded the American religious and social horizon. In that respect the sun is still shining brightly on America the beautiful, still the best Diaspora experience in all of Judaism’s long history. A blessed land of freedom and democracy that has allowed the Jew to not only exist but flourish. Here we have contributed and been rewarded far beyond our paltry physical presence. So much so that any uninvolved but still informed citizen would be shocked to learn that Jews are only 2% of the population. But this penultimate threat goes far beyond the proscription of our Eleventh Commandment not to assimilate. It concerns the psychic virus of Anti Semitism, which condemns Jew as the Christ killer to susceptible Christian listeners, or as the evil personification of the scheming capitalist western imperialist to devout Muslim ears, or as the inferior racial type with degraded blood lines. Hitler’s favorite stereotype was the Jew capitalist, communist degenerate secretly scheming to control the world and degrade the pure racial blood lines of the superior Nordic, Aryan people!
Grimly sardonic now is the final realization of the Jewish State, after almost two thousand years of desert wandering and homeless Diaspora, stateless existence, and fruitless vows of Next Year in Jerusalem! Now a postage stamp size country of 6 million ( including about one million Arab citizens) surrounded by well over one BILLION Muslims in the Near East and contiguous parts of Africa who have never recognized the United Nations granted sovereignty of Israel, and have started three wars to destroy the Jewish state. And have never removed from their fundamental charter the vow to drive the Israelis into the sea. The grim truth of the wisdom that one should be careful of what one wishes for because there may be an ultimate harvest of grim fruits, seems to apply. Not only is there deadly war now between Arab and Jew, there is the world wide perception, in a startling inversion of the facts, that the erstwhile aggressor Arab has been oppressed by the initially attacked Jew, who had overcome the surprise Arab attacks. The world could not continue their post Holocaust pro Jewish sympathy once the Jew was no longer supine and helpless. Even though defending the land from naked aggression was always considered one’s basic survival right----especially after the murder of 6 million in the Nazi murder camps. And the Jewish survival cry of Never Again!!
Indeed, there were homeless Palestinians after the first war, and conflicting stories about the Jews urging them not to flee their homes and Arab stories of being forced out of their homes in what was to become the new Jewish state. The number of displaced Palestinian Arabs amounted to several hundred thousand, and no attempt to relocate them was made among the vast numbers of their compatriots--- many of them oil rich-- in the abundant adjacent Muslim territories. They were to be kept festering and impoverished by their Moslem brothers so as be a chronic irritant to the Jewish state. Meanwhile, the Jews, far from affluent, in a few years repatriated from around the world about one million oppressed and needy Jews who wanted to return to the haven of a Jewish homeland. But the Arab strategy long term worked, cruel and heartless to their fellow Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank as it was. They won the propaganda war with the poor plight of the Palestinian people, who over the ensuing fifty years were very fruitfully multiplying, mostly in helpful modern Israeli hospitals, and grew to several million "oppressed", with the Jew now having Nazi like racist like qualities( Zionism is racism----United Nations edict for over 25 Years). Even though trying to defend their rightful, tiny place in the world. Thus was added the ultimate contemporary anti Semitic canard to the honor roll of Hate the Jew mythology------that of Nazi Storm Trooper! Which, alas, seems to be the image a good part of the world agrees with. At least outside the United States. Which forces one to propose an equally absurd unhappy postulate. That many,---but not all---- people are borne with an anti Semitic gene. That they have an inherent scapegoat mechanism that supercedes their otherwise innate sense of compassion and justice; and the word Jew triggers this gene and starts what has ended up over the centuries in more pogroms and Jewish deaths than of any other ethnic group by far. There is indeed in Japan today anti Semitism, although Jews are very rare, and for long periods of time in Europe in the middle ages the blood libel was popular, that the Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in baking matzo for Passover, that they were responsible for the Bubonic Plague of that time, and they had horns on their heads. As witness the otherwise great Michalangelo statue of Moses in Florence Italy with two small discrete horns in the hair at the back of his head.
So we Jews have the twin Jewish demons to confront ----- assimilation and anti Semitism. Events not completely unknown in our long history. But except for short periods in the long expanse of Jewish history, as in the American Diaspora----Jews have endured and overcome and flourished when circumstances permitted. That is when freedom was a fact of life. As witness the relatively brief period since the Enlightenment started in 1815 in Europe and the United States became a nation in 1791. One prominent example of this are the Nobel Prizes, begun in 1901, for outstanding achievements in the arts and sciences, and advancing peace in the world. The Jews have won 125 prizes---10 in literature, 22 in chemistry, 13 in economics,, 41 in medicine and 31 in physics, and 8 Nobel Peace prizes. And the Jews are 14 million people, about two tenths of one percent of world population! Meanwhile our Moslem "brothers", about one billion two hundred million strong----20 per cent of world population, have won a grand total of 8 prizes.
So, we are still in Jerusalem, and hopefully will remain. But I must add the necessary still devout wish said down through the ages May this be God’s will. And I really don’t mean wish. Fervent prayer is now the right word!