Does the Diaspora have a future?

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Israelis who don’t share the concerns about the rupture between their government and United States Jewry, indeed the Diaspora in general – and, therefore, aren’t upset about Netanyahu’s ignoring the order of Israel’s Supreme Court to provide equal access to the Kotel for all streams of Judaism – may tell you that Diaspora Jewry is doomed, perhaps with the exception of its ultra-Orthodox minority.

The fact that more than half of Jews in the Diaspora marry out and that most of their children thus cease to be Jews, coupled with the growing anti-Semitism in Europe and even in America, suggests, according to many Israelis, that their government need not give too much attention to Jews abroad, especially now when their financial contributions are of little if any significance for the Israeli economy.

Yes, the Diaspora needs Israel at least to delay its demise, but Israel doesn’t need the Diaspora other than a source of Aliyah. Each manifestation of anti-Semitism may outrage many Israelis but they’re also aware of the silver lining: it brings more Jews to Israel. You only have to look at the number of new immigrants from France to see the “positive” effect of the new anti-Semitism.

Needless to say, that’s not how most Jewish leaders in the Diaspora in general and the liberal wings in particular view it. They point to their many congregations and the large number of Jews who are members. Others also stress the fact that most universities abroad have departments of Jewish studies and that communities engage in many Jewish educational and cultural activities. Even a country like Poland, where there’re very few Jews, has a week of Jewish culture in Cracow every year.

Some, among them Rabb Amichai Lau-Lavie (brother of celebrated Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Benny Lau and first cousin of the current Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau), believe that when rabbis officiate at mixed marriages, the couples are more likely to bring up their children as Jews. I know of an active member of a liberal congregation in Europe who, together with her three children is involved and deeply committed, even though her husband and father of her children is a Lutheran pastor. It seems that not everybody in the Diaspora is as alarmed about intermarriage as many Israelis say they are.

There’s even the suspicion that some of the alarmists are projecting their own religious and Zionist commitment and prejudice onto the facts.

And then there’re Jews in the Diaspora, like the celebrated literary critic and philosopher George Steiner, who believe that Jews becoming like all other nations in a Jewish state constitutes a much greater danger to the future of Judaism than assimilation and anti-Semitism. Steiner and others believe that authentic Jewish existence means living as guests among others and being the exponents of the other voice – the voice of Judaism – wherever they may live.

It may, therefore, be prudent to refrain from prophecies based on other people’s statistics or one’s own prejudices and bear in mind that Jews have been the “ever-dying people” for most, if not all, of their history. And yet we’re here and – yes – thriving as a people, only seven decades after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

All this moves me to reiterate my conviction that Israel is essential for the survival of the Jewish people and that this means also the survival of the Diaspora.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  Now residing in Israel, he may be contacted via [email protected]

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