Edgar Bronfman… and I totally agree, sort of.

Edgar Bronfman made the following incendiary statement:

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, to be published in London on Friday, he said he believed “the whole concept of Jewish peoplehood, and the lines being pure, begins to sound a bit like Nazism, meaning racism.”

Bronfman then suggests that we ought to combat assimilation by allowing individuals who are according to halachah (Jewish law) not Jewish, to be considered Jewish as long as they raise their kids as Jews and participate in Jewish life – even secular Jewish life. Now, I certainly have issues with his analysis and conclusion, but I am intrigued by, and totally agree with his initial statement.

Let’s ignore the gratuitous and inappropriate Nazi reference for a moment. That doesn’t merit a response. Let’s instead consider the substance of Bronfman’s premise.

Say you’re a secular Jew with adult children. You do not practice your religion at all in the majority of your daily undertakings, your actions are no different than those of any other secular non-Jewish person. And now let’s say that you insist that your children marry only other Jews. My question is, why? You sent your kids to non-Jewish day schools, and their Jewish education was limited to a few after-school classes for their bar or bat mitzvah, if they had one at all. You may have a personal, nostalgic interest in Jewish stuff, but certainly nothing that manifested itself in daily activity and not anything that really involved your kids much. Maybe a little, but not much.

So what is your insistence on Jewish spouses for your kids based upon? Your desire to make sure that your little Jewish hobby is perpetuated? Is it similarly important that your kids also share your passion for golf? Your love of model train sets? Your interest in vintage French wines? Hell no, that would be retarded, or at least unrealistic.

The only justification one could have for insisting that your children marry other Jews ought to be based on the fact that Jewish identity has always historically been best passed on within the context of religious Judaism. If you truly want to pass on your Jewish identity, the most effective way to do that is to live a Jewish life and raise your kids within a religious context. If you don’t you are simply declaring that the transmission of Jewish identity to your future generations is not that important to you. And if despite being a secular Jew, you still insist that your kids marry other Jews then you are manifesting an attitude that is indeed irrational and tribal. I mean what are you looking to perpetuate? Jewish genes? Jewish blood? There’s no such thing. Judaism is a religion, not a race. Only nazis, anti-semites and racists consider Judaism a race. On that level, Bronfman got it right.

I can’t fault him for trying though. Secular Judaism, as it were, is not without its charms. Most Jewish scientific and cultural contributions to the world have come from the ranks of predominantly secular Jews. Bronfman himself is a fine man who has done much for the Jewish people – his accomplishments in that respect are enormous: heading the World Jewish Congress, assuming the Chairmanship of Hillel, forcing Swiss bankers disgorge the profits they made from Nazi persecution of Jewish bank account holders, pressuring Soviet leaders to release Soviet dissidents, and generously endowing any number of other Jewish and Israeli causes. I admire him for that.

But, Edgar’s been married 5 times, and three of those times it’s been to non-Jews. He doesn’t practice religious Judaism and while “All seven of his children from five marriages were brought up as [presumably secular] Jews … only one, Matthew, is an observant Jew.” It’s clear that despite the valiant and well meaning efforts of secular Jews like Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, secular Judaism is dead. It has no legs, no staying power. It depends on lapsed religious Jews to replenish it. Trying to turn things around by seeking growth from those clearly not committed to a long term association with Judaism and its traditional institutions is an exercise in futility.

Sadly, despite all his admirable work on behalf of Judaism, Edgar Bronfman himself is proof incarnate of my thesis. In that respect, he totally got it wrong.

Tip of the hat to Jewschool for the heads up.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • I agree with most of what you’re saying here, and I like the sentiments you’re expressing. Forgive me for focusing on semantics, but one phrase did concern me. You wrote that Mr. Bronfman “doesn’t practice Judaism.” I know from the context that you’re referring to Mitzvah and Halacha observance, but – isn’t it possible that there are some other parts of Judaism that can be practiced? Is it accurate to say that someone that doesn’t keep Shabbat or Kashrut doesn’t practice Judaism? What if the person does practice, for instance, Kivud Av v’Am / Honor thy Father and Mother? or some of the negative commandments? Couldn’t you consider some of his activist efforts to be related to some of the other 613 Mitzvot?

    I don’t mean to harp, really, just got me thinking. Keep up the good work!

  • You are of course correct. I edited the text accordingly. Edgar’s father, was of course Sam Bronfman, rum runner and founder of Seagram’s. Seagram’s former head office in Montreal was a Scottish castle (that I often pass) that Sam worked out of. Decades after Sam’s death, his office remained exactly as it had been, untouched, in hommage obviously. That’s pretty respectful! Of course, Seagrams has since been sold as part of the Bronfman’s ill fated adventure with French company Vivendi and the head office is now the McGill University Alumni office. But I believe that part of the deal was that Sam’s office remain intact. Whacky huh?

  • Wow, what a can of worms…I don’t know where to begin.

    The key problem in thinking that observant Judaism is the only relevant form of Judaism in the long run comes up in your post. You took a man who has spent his life in the service of the Jewish community, has taught his children to do likewise, has shown a deep love and commitment to the history and culture of the Jews and has sought to transmit that to tens of thousands of younger Jews, and you have essentially said that his Judaism is empty and devoid of long term meaning.

    In fact, if I extrapolate from the logic of your post, I would say that according to you, the spitting yeshiva bochers who like to draw stars of David on churches are “better” and more desirable Jews than Bronfman. Or a rabbi like Rabbi Dayan with his overt and covert threats upon the lives of Prime Ministers, is a superior Jew to, say, a secular one such as myself because he is observant and I am not.

    Now, before you say, “But I didn’t mean savages with murderous impulses like that rabbi,” consider that it is his observance that caused him to say what he did. Consider that numerous rabbis are now calling for Jews in the IDF to disobey commands from their officers. Consider that other rabbis are usurping the authority of the PM and the Israeli Government on issues such as conversion. Consider that other observant Jews such as members of Shas, have no compunction about using state funds – disproportionally skewed for their children while diminishing funds available to all other Israeli children – to support schools that teach lower class and lower middle class children very little science and lots of torah, thereby virtually assuring them a life of poverty in a fast-paced modern world. Surely all these people are convinced they are doing the right thing in god’s eyes because of their level and TYPE of observance. They think this is what they should be doing if they are good, observant Jews.

    Needless to say, the point is that there are different levels of observance, and different ideologies in pursuit of observance. How do you determine which is correct or which is superior?

    Here’s a question for you: is some Ultra-Orthodox Jew living a life where he studies torah all day but does no work otherwise, has 12 kids with his wife, uses state funds and other donations to support this lifestyle, has not served in the army and will fight bitterly to ensure his children also won’t, a better Jew because he strictly observes the Sabbath and has observant children, than a secular Israeli who is familiar with the holidays, possesses, and lives according to, Jewish values, works hard to feed his family of 3 and to pay taxes that support this Ultra-Orthodox Jew’s family and lifestyle, serves in the army, and instills a love for Israel in his children that will ensure they volunteer for elite combat units?

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.

    And do I want a world populated by the children of this Ultra-Orthodox Jew but not the children of the secular Israeli because of their observance levels? Absolutely not. Heck, I even prefer Bronfman’s kids, even if they are squandering his fortune with ridiculous business moves.

    I do agree that there is a significant problem with secular Judaism because it espouses the view that history and culture of the Jewish people constitute our “otherness” and specialness. It eliminates faith as a DRIVING FORCE in life.

    Secular Judaism poses a problem because unless faith is guiding you, it is difficult to reconcile some Jewish practices and beliefs with a modern, science-based society and culture. In addition, assimiliation becomes easier when society is willing to accept your practices as those among many that all deserve equal recognition and respect.

    Suddenly, your identity does not revolve around faith, but around your sense of association with a culture, a history and a people. It is much easier to break that association and, say, start a new one, when faith isn’t standing in your way. I will admit that this is a problem facing Reconstructionist, Reform, and even Conservative Jews.

    Is the solution to demand observance that doesn’t comport with their faith? I don’t think so, because faith is something you have or don’t have – it cannot be forced upon anybody. And if you don’t have the faith that, say, the Torah is the word of god and represents all the truth of the universe, then why would you be driven to obey its laws? Furthermore, when you consider that rabbinical Judaism is a man-made religion that has always revolved around significant differences of opinion among its practitioners and leaders, how do you know which level or style of observance is the right one? Is Rabbi Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Center, right or wrong? He’s an observant Jew.

    Perhaps the weaknesses of secular Judaism might kill Judaism, but I think that if we respect our history, our culture, our traditions, and especially other Jews, then we might revive it.

    The problem isn’t with levels of observance, it’s with a lack of education. Most Jews cannot express what Jewish values are and why those values are part of our culture. Most Jews consider themselves Jewish because they were born Jewish or grew up in Jewish households. They would feel much more strongly about themselves as Jews if they understood those values with a broader sense of our history and traditions. They would be more inclined to marry Jews because those Jews would understand and appreciate those values. If they did fall in love with non-Jews, they would be better able to show those non-Jews why they might want to become part of our people and nation.

    And speaking of those non-Jews, since that is what brought Bronfman to talk about this issue in the first place, it would not hurt the survival of the Jewish people at all if we knew enough about ourselves that we could bring others into our fold. In my experience, those who come over tend to be very engaged and supportive of our religion. Many I know become observant.

  • Ya allah TM – Attah magzim lef’amim!
    So you bring up individual cases which even you must admit are exceptional to cast aspersions on what I was saying? Dude – not every secular Jew is a Bronfman or a Steinhardt. Similarly, not every observant Jew spits at clerics and girlfriends or calls on their followers to commit treason against the State of Israel.

    Your individual examples aside, I thought It was obvious but let me be clear – when I talk about continuity, I am talking about a broad multi-generational process. Given that, from a purely statistical perspective, if you want to assure the greatest, odds-on-favorite, long term continuity for your future generations, if you want to make sure that as many of your spawn remain Jewish for as long as possible well into the future, the best way to go is the religious route. That’s a fact, borne out by statistics.

    When this whole birthright israel, continuity thing became an issue, Jews were already intermarrying at a prodigious pace. I was at a GA where they cited the following statistic: 87% of the grandchildren of mixed marriages did not even identify themselves as Jews. Hmmmm.

    So if long term continuity is your number one priority, if you truly view your Jewish identity as a precious legacy, worthy of preservation, then what you need to do is lead a life where your Judaism tangibly manifests itself every day, and where you do your best to teach your children to live the same way. If you don’t, well that’s cool. I’m not judging you. You’ve simply decided that continuity is in fact not THAT important to you and that’s a decision that you alone can make. But geez, don’t try to have it both ways! You can’t have both secular Judaism-Lite AND continuity…

  • 1. Ani lo magzim, pashut medaber harbeh. 😀

    2. I wasn’t talking about Bronfman only. I was talking about my parents, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, and secular Israelis in Israel. Call them the Israeli and Haredi everyman if you like, but I was trying to generalize.

    3. Statistically, the greatest likelihood for survival of the Jewish people is bringing more Jews into the fold ALONG with more non-Jews. We don’t proselytize, but perhaps we should. Perhaps one of the points Bronfman is making is that if Jews aren’t just offspring of other Jews, but people who live and participate Jewishly, then our religion would be more open to enticing others to join us.

    I don’t see how you can statistically stem the tide of a declining Jewish population when the vast majority of Jews do not identify themselves as belonging to the ranks of the observant. Heck, most Jews do not even belong to synagogues or participate in organized Jewish life. Are you going to rely on Orthodox families having lots of children?

    I think you’d be hard pressed to make the case that numerically we can become anything but a very insignificant minority if the only Jews who remain in the fold are the observant.

    4. The issue of intermarriage is challenging and the stats you provide are probably correct. I have seen this in a number of families where the kids of intermarried couples may know that a grandparent was Jewish but otherwise are practicing Christians for all intents and purposes.

    What I’m proposing is that if we educate our Jewish population, most of which is secular anyway, to understand the depth and beauty of their culture, they will be more inclined to participate and to share with their non-Jewish spouses and their kids. If we as a community learn to welcome these families, we will be far more successful in maintaining a vibrant, large and active Jewish community. Will they be as “observant” as some of the Lubavitchers? Probably not. But they will participate in Jewish life and raise their children as Jews.

    5. I’m not an observant Jew for many reasons. However, I’m no less of a Jew than the most observant Jew you can find. Period.

    I have a strong upbringing with respect to Judaism and Israel and live my life accordingly. Why this when I can be observant? Because you cannot be observant when your faith isn’t that of the faithful. You can’t invent faith – you either have it or not. I don’t want to be a liar about my faith, and act observant (assuming I can figure out what that means) when I’m not.

    One more very important point: we live in societies where 99% and 98%, respectively, of the general population is non-Jewish. We send our kids to universities where they are also a significant minority. People are people and fall in love. Sometimes people will not fall in love or refuse to marry because of their faith and end up remaining alone. If you want to increase the odds of marrying Jewish, move to Israel (or New York, I guess). As long as one lives in the diaspora, one can expect to see intermarriage stats continue to rise or at least remain at similar levels. This is why the natural response is to bring those intermarried couples into the fold, not rely on Orthodox mothers producing gaggles of 10 kids.

  • TM wrote:

    What I’m proposing is that if we educate our Jewish population, most of which is secular anyway, to understand the depth and beauty of their culture, they will be more inclined to participate and to share with their non-Jewish spouses and their kids. If we as a community learn to welcome these families, we will be far more successful in maintaining a vibrant, large and active Jewish community. Will they be as “observant” as some of the Lubavitchers? Probably not. But they will participate in Jewish life and raise their children as Jews.

    emphasis added

    Uh… what sort of namby pamby pie in the sky assertion is that to make? No offense or anything, and I am not judging your beliefs or decisions or anything, but seriously – can you really be that naive? What you’re saying is:

    “Hello mixed couple! One of you has already decided that your personal happiness takes priority over this hazy, quaint, arcane notion called Jewish continuity. However, we are willing to be nice to you. Can you now miraculously develop a strong commitment to Judaism and Jewish education… if not for you than at least for the children? What? You will?? AWESOME! We’re saved!”

    As a blueprint for the plan to stem the tide of intermarriage, this secular plan leaves a lot to be desired and inspires like… no confidence.

    I really value my Jewish identity. I feel privileged to be the recipient of it and cognisant that it came at the cost of much hardship and difficulty, am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that I too can pass it on to my future generations. Consequently, I choose the most effective way of doing that – religious practice. I will even sacrifice personal happiness in order to do this.

    Is this a hard thing to do? Well compared to maintaining one’s Jewish identity during the Spanish Inquisition, it’s not so hard. But it still requires a little sacrifice (ie – I will never marry Pam Anderson…). Sure the feel good, all inclusive secular Judaism-Lite approach is more inclusive and easy, but you know what? Having a BIG Jewish community is not as important to me as having a JEWISH Jewish community. To that effect, I am not willing to water down Judaism just so that we can have bigger numbers.

  • In sympathy to TM’s issues on the subject of faith, I’d like to offer some words of one of my rebbe’s – A.J.. Heschel

    Faith comes out of awe, out of an awareness that we are exposed to His presence, out of anxiety to answer the challenge of God, out of an awareness of our being called upon. Religion consists of God’s question and Man’s answer. The way to faith is the way of faith. The way to God is the way of God.

    Here’s another—

    Piety and faith are not necessarily concurrent. There can be acts of piety without faith. Faith is a vision, sensitivity and attachment. The gates of faith are not ajar but the mitzvah is the key. By living as Jews we may attain our faith as Jews. We do not have faith because of deeds; we may attain faith though sacred deeds.

    And one more, I can’t help it.

    Faith is not a state of passivity, of quiet acceptance; to join others in assenting to certain principals will not suffice. Faith requires action, a leap. It is an enterprise, not inertia. It requires bold initiative rather than continuity. Faith is forever contingent on the courage of the believer.

    Dude, I love Heschel. In flipping through these books for those quote ( A Passion for Truth and God in Search of Man) I think I just convinced myself to re-read them.

  • Laya! You ARE the creamy choclatey goodness in the chocolate bar!

    I’m going to have to read Heschel now. It’s been many years.

  • I think we should all move to Israel where Jewish school is free, and your kids are virtually guaranteed to marry Jewish, EVEN if they are secular.

  • Thanks TM!

    Heschel is, hands down, my favorite Jewish author/philosopher. Ever. I generally have this compulsion to underline the outstanding sentences in any given book i read…in those two, practically the whole book is underlined. Watch out with A Passion for Truth though, i know several people (myself included) who’s spiritual lives it turned upside down.

  • all I can tell you is that in your universe it’s only going to become more and more challenging to even find that Jewish spouse that you would like to find. Our numbers are dwindling and the community is aging. If you plan on Jewish continuity, you might want to consider that simple, basic and dangerous fact.

    AWESOME! So, using Bronfman’s criteria, anyone that wants to be Jewish, ought to be considered Jewish. So that must mean I can marry Madonna! Yay! My ancestors will be so proud knowing that all their sacrifices were not in vain. My great grandchildren will surely be great Rabbis!

    Listen DO NOT GET ME WRONG. I am not passing judgement on anyone’s level of Judaism. I am merely stating facts with respect to sustainable continuity. The religious have a tried and true solution that has always worked. Those outside orthodoxy have yet to find an effective solution. Those are facts, that’s the foundation of all my comments – this has yet to be addressed.

  • If I may add to my above comment (no. 10)
    Also, Jews in Israel tend to be ridiculously hotter. And with less mother issues and allergies. So you may end up with a better chance of finding someone you’re into enough to marry in the first place. And then you’ll have better looking, healthier children. Which will create a better looking and healthier Jewish people. WITH continuity, AND Jewish values, simply because they are here.

    Maybe living in Israel is the answer to continuity within secular Jewry. Be as secular as you want here. Your kids will still know who Rambam is.

  • Okay. let’s address your specific point. Ever hear of Shabtai Tzvi?

    Are you aware that as we speak there are those who are claiming a certain recently dead prominent rabbi was the messiah?

    Are you aware that the Orthodox population around the world is quite small?

    Are you aware that you don’t qualify as a potential husband for many of the women in that Orthodox population?

    Now, what’s wrong with Madonna if she converts? That’s a serious question. Ruth was a convert and our messiah, should s/he ever arrive, is supposed to be her descendant. Is Madonna unable to become part of the Jewish people? Well, then you’re back to talking about blood lines and we agree that blood is not what makes one a Jew. It is the commonality of the religion and the culture. It is also the perception of being part of a larger nation and that is the commonality of history and experience, in our case, within the context of a common religion.

    That means that anybody can join. We are not an exclusive club. Madonna would make a fine wife. She has tznius up the wazoo, can bear children, can put you up in a mansion or three, and she really seems to have faith. Has she gone far enough to convert? I dunno, but maybe if she met you…

  • Yes I know who Shabtai Zvi is. Yes I know who Lubavitch is. Yes I know that the Orthodox population, in all its variants, is kinda small.

    Are you aware that the Orthodox population is the only one that is actually growing? All you secular Jews are not getting it on enough. You’ve got below zero population growth. That in tandem with wholesale assimilation and it’s no wonder Edgar and Michael are all nervous.

    And as to whether I qualify as a potential husband for a haredi wife, it’s true, I don’t. But who cares? I’m not a haredi! You don’t have to be a haredi to be Traditional or Orthodox. Us Sephardic Jews, having been spared the dual edged sword of Jewish emancipation never had to make such distinctions. But regardless of that, things are not as black and white as you make them. Do I have to be mongo Orthodox to put on tefilim every day? To be shomer shabbat? To keep kosher? To say brachot? To give tzedakah? To bench after meals? To study Torah? To only marry a Jew? To manifest my Jewish identity in a tangible manner on a daily basis so that there is a significant daily difference between my life and that of some non-Jewish guy? To lead a life infused with Jewish meaning? Uh… no.

    I respect the haredim, but they are not me. I respect the Modern Orthodox Upper West siders, but they are not me. I respect the Missnagdim, but they are not me. Luckily Judaism is not a monolith and I can be a practicing Jew in a way that is true to my roots, and relevant to me and still ensure continuity. Of course, despite all my choices, I chose to be who I am, a funky-ass sephardic Jew.

    Now, if Madonna converts, there’s nothing wrong with that. I could theoretically marry her. No problem. Except Bronfman says she doesn’t have to convert and we’ll still accept ck ciccone jr. as a Jew as long as he goes to uh… maybe kabbalah school or something. However, that’s not cool. ck ciccone jr. would not be Jewish. Hence I would never marry Madonna without a sincere conversion on her part. Oh, and she’d have to learn to make Daffina.

    Dude. I never said we were an exclusive club. And you continue to completely fail to address the point. Let me again remind you of my point:

    I am merely stating facts with respect to sustainable continuity. The religious have a tried and true solution that has always worked. Those outside orthodoxy have yet to find an effective solution. Those are facts, that’s the foundation of all my comments – this has yet to be addressed.

    Ani mechakeh…

  • I think, that unfortunately we have forgotten that Judaism is a religion, and not a nation. Cultures change over centuries but human behaviour does not. Much of Judaism is a response to human behaviour, to create a better life for all.

    If we do not have faith in the Eternal Ruler of the universe, then we can do all kinds of Jewish cultural things, we can even be observant religiously and in the end it will all disappear, because its based on fear and “a circle the wagons approach”‘.

    The solution is to stop arguing among ourselves and join together and realize that we have a lot in common. Most of us believe in the Eternal Ruler of the universe and we believe that serving Hashem is done through prayer and good deeds towards our fellow human beings (all human beings I might add, not just Jews)- both actions are essential.

    By being a decent human being and doing good to others, even an atheist is worshipping Hashem, and is blessed by Hashem. The only sad thing is by not acknowledging Hashem that person is missing great joy and happiness and confidence in their life.

    As long as we pray to the Eternal and do good to all human beings, we shall never lose Judaism. If we lose our faith, then all the Jewish cultural activities and all the mitzvot won’t help us retain our religion. On the other hand if we have just have faith, and absolutely no structure, then we’ll also lose our religion. I personally would give priority to prayer and good deeds, and other observances should take less precedence. I think the Reform/ Conservative/ Reconstructionist movements should talk more about faith and prayer, and I think the Orthodox should stop making other Jews feel bad just because the other Jews don’t believe in Torah Mi Sinai. The core of Judaism is belief in One Indivisible Unknowable Being, Ruler of the Universe who is All-Knowing All-Merciful and bestows upon all of us a love beyond human understanding. As far as I am personally concerned, everything follows from this belief. Just one man’s opinion.

  • Laya: your posts #10 and #13 are absolutely correct.

    However, despite Zionism’s best intentions, there is no way to fit all the secular Jews there because the country is too small. You also have to assume that if you emptied North America from Jews who leave for Israel, Israel will be a much weaker place as a result.

  • I’ve already answered but I’ll be happy to expand on my responses.

    I am merely stating facts with respect to sustainable opportunity. The religious have a tried and true method that has always worked.

    Sustainable is when you can grow by bringing in new blood. That has been addressed.

    How is it sustainable when you number a million people around the world, at best? What happens to the Orthodox Jews, the ones who dress specifically to look like “others,” when all those secular Jews who have been able to enter and live in mainstream society assimilate because you turned them off or away? What happens when their fervor causes them to believe a man is the messiah and they become some footnote in Jewish history, having left it?

    Numerous religious Jews leave the fold of religious Judaism. Religious Judaism continues to subdivide into more and more mini-groups, some of which can be classified as cults.

    Besides, Religious Judaism in Israel is completely dependent upon the largesse of secular Israelis and their tax system. The only reason Orthodox families can afford to have 7-14 kids are subsidies from the Government and from benefactors. The only reason they can avoid serving in a military to defend themselves from attacks that would surely come otherwise, is that secular Israelis are willing to risk their and their sons’ lives in the IDF on behalf of the country. the only reason they can study instead of work, and do this for practically their entire lifetime, is their absurd dependence on secular Israelis and the taxes they pay.

    So if secular Israelis weren’t being treated like cannon fodder and grunts by some of the Orthodox, they’d have far fewer babies, would have to work like regular people and thereby become exposed to the world at large with all the accompanying ramifications. Modern Orthodox families have similar numbers of kids to secular Israelis. Why? Because they have to live in the real world. Of course, those in the Territories have to rely on the same largesse of the secular Israeli as their Orthodox brethern, so that lifestyle isn’t sustainable either, but at least they share the burden.

    In other words, there is nothing sustainable here.

    Those outside Orthodoxy have yet to find an effective solution.

    On the other hand, bringing in new people and accepting them creates sustainability. This would be even more true if we would provide easy, accessible education about Jewish faith, values, history and culture to as many Jews and non-Jews as possible.

    If we warmly embrace non-Jews who choose to be among us, many will choose to become Jews and many will choose to raise their children as Jews. That creates sustainability. I don’t need to tell you that Birthright is based on that premise after a good deal of research went into determining elements in Jewish life that could be enticing for younger Jews.

    As an example of a missed opportunity, let me mention that private Jewish schools are expensive and many fine Jews who could raise their children in an environment that has the greatest potential for turning them into proud Jews who are affiliated for life, simply don’t do so because of the cost. You want to see sustainability among those who we might lose? Start funding Jewish day schools in a much more aggressive manner.

    Now go back to your post #15 and take a look at how you differentiated yourself from a number of Jewish groups. You essentially excluded yourself and they will exclude you. That isn’t a model for sustainability. That is a model for balkanization where you end up with mini tribes within a tribe. Dude, in that case your odds of finding the appropriate spouse diminish even more.

  • TM – you know I have the greatest respect for you. But when did this become about a tiny subsection of religious Judaism? You’re all going off about certain Haredi sects in Israel and they are simply a minority and not really germane to this discussion. You might also want to note that I am not haredi, or Lubavitcher and am fully involved in the secular world around me. I just also happen to observe a whole mess of religious observances.

    And yes, I am different from loads of religious Jews – but I’ve dated women across the spectrum (except for the haredim) so I don’t feel limited in any way. I can tell you this too – I’ve never dated a Bronfman. Secular Jews are similarly subject to divisions, except in that case, these divisions run along class and economic lines, believe me. So your arguments about “divisions” adding difficulty in finding a suitable mate are simply irrelevant. I’ll take my chances with people who think like me and are willing to learn to make daffina.

    Bringing in new blood – ie people who are not Jewish – is not going to create sustainable continuity. Where is the precedent for such a notion? In every case where Jews were tolerated or accepted, those who were not religious essentially disappeared. That’s what’s happenning in the US and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I continue to assert that neither you nor Bronfman has presented a realistic plan to develop and foster Jewish continuity within a secular context. You have totally failed to address my valid concerns in that respect.

    Bronfman and Steinhardt’s dream of a secular Jewish renaissance are delusions. Trust me, I know – I see it all the time and it saddens me. I work with birthright kids. I talk to them every day. The ones that are unaffiliated and uninterested usually remain that way unless we do a good job and get them to return to Israel or develop an interest in their religion.

    To Steinhardt’s credit – he did propose the endowment of a $100 million fund for Jewish education and despite the fact that this is meant to be used for decidedly secular schools, I figure even secular Jewish education is better than NO Jewish education. Such is the sorry state of modern secular Jews, that I am even willing, nay eager, to make such a concession. I even fully support birthright!! The hope is that of the tens of thousands of kids that have benefited from the program, hopefully we’ll be able to save a few…

    And for what its worth, despite the fact that I totally have nothing to do with the black hatters in Meah Shearim that lived on the borders of French Hill – on behalf of ALL practicing Jews, please accept my apology for the spitting incident with your wife. I assure you that such behavior is not one we usually engage in nor is it one that we condone.

  • Thanks, TM, for boiling this down to one point: Faith. ck’s pretension of adhering to “facts” to veil his superiority issues are pretty distasteful to this Jew (whom he would label as “secular,” but my Jewish practice, though not traditional and not even daily, is as unique and joyful as God deserves.) I drive two hours a day shlepping my son back and forth from his Jewish preschool so that he will have more Jewish learning than I did and even though I’m hard pressed to ever get them lit on time, Shabbat candles burn in our home every Friday night. I don’t really care whether ck considers me, my equally-ignorant Jewish husband and my gorgeous children with hippie-biblical names “watered-down” Jews; in our small town, they represent the only kind of Jews.
    We live amongst Christians, Muslims, New Agers, Buddhists and all combinations thereof, and the best of them agree that none of us are better than the other. Those with faith find our way to God in spite of not keeping specific rules but in the way we treat each other and and the world around us. I have less in common with ck and his Mobius-brand of bullshit (it seems that newsfeed sharing thing has gone to your head, dude) than with my born-again neighbor who brought soup to my son’s bris.

  • Jessica, I value your comments and understand exactly where you are coming from.

    I do ask for one thing, however, and that is that we refrain from attacking each other. This is a serious problem for the Jewish community and CK is a good guy who has fought hard on behalf of the organized Jewish community in many different ways. He and I differ on this issue, but we are still brothers in the sense that we share many of the same concerns and are trying to find the best solution possible.

    Besides, so what if he’s a snot-face? What’s he gonna do, admit I’m right? Again? 😀

  • Geez Louise Jessica! I would not ever judge you or anybody. I would never say that I am a better Jew than you are. Where did I ever say that I was better than anyone?? Anyone at all, Jewish, non-Jewish, religious, secular or otherwise?

    This whole thing has gotten a wee bit out of hand. But what it all boils down to is a very simple proposition. And Jessica, please chill and listen to what I have to say, ok?

    Jewish leaders across America have recognized the fact that the Jewish population is in decline. Amongst other things, this threatens the continued viability of various Jewish organizations and communal institutions, and they wish to stem this decline so as to maintain said viability.

    I am not even going to touch the thorny discussion of “who is a Jew.” I will concede that at the bare minimum, a Jew is anyone who identifies him or herself as a Jew.

    Amongst the causes identified by our leaders for this continued population decline are: below zero population growth birth rates, and intermarriage rates above 50% – this means that today in America, when a Jew marries another Jew, they are in the minority.

    At GAs that I have attended, and in other forums, our tireless leaders have conceded that the aforementioned problems do not apply to traditional religious Jews. Religious Jews have a built in, systematic approach for addressing continuity – it’s called the Jewish religion.

    Hence in order to stem the decline in the Jewish population, efforts needed to be made to assure continuity amongst secular Jews. Thus were born efforts like birthright – based on the fact that Jews who had visited Israel were less likely to intermarry, regardless of their level of religious observance. Other efforts include things like the aforementioned $100 million fund to subsidize primarily secular Jewish education as secular Jews are unlikely to want to send their kids to very religious schools, even if tuition is very inexpensive.

    As I’ve said before, I applaud these efforts. However the data does not exist that conclusively determines that such efforts actually accomplish their stated aims.

    Thus I have asked, and I continue to ask, how can secular Jews assure sustained, systematic, long term, broadly based continuity similar to that accomplished by religious Jews?

    This does not mean that individuals such as yourself or TM, by sole dint of your secular perspective have not found a solution within the confines of your own family unit. What we are looking for is a broad based solution that can be implemented by the community as a whole.

    G*d forbid that I should ever assert that I am a better Jew than you are!! In fact, I humbly submit that the contrary, by my own standards is true. Both TM and yourself are in fact better Jews than I am because you have Jewish children, and I do not. I have a couple of nephews, but I don’t think that counts.

    Having said all that, my daily efforts are aimed at being a good person and treating all of G*d’s children with the same kindness and consideration that I would like to have shown to me. In that respect my Judaism acts as a guide and I can only hope to accomplish a tiny iota of the standards that it demands of me.

    So, I’d gladly bring some soup to your son’s bris, or some hummus to my atheist friend’s potluck wedding dinner, or smoke the shisha with my Egyptian neighbour Mansour while we drank tea to break his Ramadan fast. Similarly, I’d gladly exchange feeds with JMerica, but sadly, y’all haven’t set up feeds yet. Jessica – it’s all about Ahavat Chinam. We all deserve it. Just think about that.

  • CK:

    Jessica touched on a fine issue there in that she is a practicing Jew. She doesn’t practice as you do, but she is observant in her way. So are we, by the way. My kids expect Jewish life to surround them because that’s the world they’ve known all their life. Doesn’t change the fact that we’re secular.

    You also keep evading the point that the whole notion of observance is subjective. Rabbinical Judaism itself has a good amount of subjectivity and interpretation so that the whole issue of observance is something that cannot be locked down. I’m not talking about some subsection of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, I’m talking about entire movements. The Modern Orthodox movement is not a small one.

    My point about the small subsections addressed your point about continuity in the Orthodox world. And although I’m speaking to you, I’m not speaking about you but the generic Jewish person you represent.

    If you think I’m talking about you specifically, when I mention finding a spouse, I apologize for using you as an example because that isn’t my intent. You could be any Jewish person who takes the position you did about seeking an observant Jewish partner or, I suppose, non-Jewish partner who converts into an observant Jew.

    You claim that I haven’t presented a “realistic” plan to stem the decline of the Jewish population. That is only correct in the sense that I haven’t tried. We could do that another day.

    I did, however, lay out a vague plan that relates to addressing the spiritual starvation of most Jews who seek to truly understand Judaism and its meaning.

    I say this with absolute certainty. If I could have a meeting with Bronfman tomorrow where he would write a big check if I could tell him the one thing to do to help reassert growth and affiliation in the Jewish community, it would be to develop an ongoing, extensive, educational program on the local level that provides a look into the essence of Judaism and its MEANING. Ironically, some of the people who know that answer best are those who converted and weren’t born into it. They often have to understand what they are taking on in their lives when they convert.

    By the way, the success of the Kabbalah Center is clear evidence that I’m right about this. I have watched secular Jews go into those centers and come out with a much deeper spiritual relationship to their Judaism. Now don’t get me wrong, I abhor that organization and its snakeoil salesman veneer, but people suck up that stuff like they’re at the final waterhole in the Sahara. If you think about what the Center offers, it is a relatively short program that answers the meaning of life and the cosmos within the context of Jewish practice.

    Now, if you look at what you wrote, you essentially agreed. You wrote that the Birthright kids whom you saved from their poor secular lot in life are those who developed an interest in their religion. Well, of course they are, you are providing them with valuable spiritual insights into what makes their religion special. They probably have nobody else who can provide that. Do they need to be observant to become active and useful members of the Jewish community? Of course not. My wife and I are very useful members and we’re secular. But we’re also knowledgeable and our secularism comes by choice not ignorance.

    Now the part that pisses me off about your post is your apology for the black hatter from Meah Shearim. If you haven’t figured it out yet, dude, you are much closer to me than to him. If you don’t believe me, ask him

    You call it Dafina and I call it Chamin.

  • I think I understand better where you’re coming from, ck, and I’m sorry for being bitchy (too many children, not enough sleep) but when you talk about a “broad based solution that can be implemented by the community as a whole” I don’t think there is one. As Jews who lives for the most part outside the Jewish community (for instance, what is a GA?), my family proves that being Jewish isn’t solely about religion; for us it’s a combination of that, and politics, culture, humor, food, remembering the same stupid camp songs…in order to stifle the flow of assimilation, the Jewish leaders must widen the circle to include all Jewish experience and recognize that Judaism is something that comes from within. As TM (apologies to you, too, didn’t mean to interrupt y’all) said, either you’re faithful or you’re not. And even though I’m married to a Jewish man, I don’t necessarily see intermarriage as the “problem”; but perhaps the rigidity of traditional Judaism and its inflexible definitions of “who is a Jew” is.
    By the way, I posted as a Jewlicious reader, not as a Jmerica editor, but I don’t think I’ll post at all if you’re only going to be mean. Jmerica may not be up to your technical standards yet, but a few people scattered across the country are busting hard ass to make it work.

  • Hey,what is Jmerica?

    And Jessica, please post a lot!

    Especially if you’re going to be critical of CK. 😉

  • Uh… I wasn’t trying to be mean Jessica. And I have no problem with you promoting your site here, especially since y’all link to Jewlicious all the time – which we appreciate immensely. I know there’s bad blood between y’all and Mobius (speaking of comment spam) but that has nada to do with us. My comment about feeds was not meant to be mean – your site states “RSS Newsfeeds (real close, geeks)” – so when you have ’em, we may post em if u like – that’s all. No rush – get to it when you can… it’s all good. Please do not interpret anything I say as an attack. I didn’t use any mean language with you at all, despite being provoked. I am sympathetic to the whole children/no sleep thing, so I would never hold a “bichy” moment against you. I think I went out of my way to be understanding and sincerely solicitous. So lets all just chill, ok?

    And TM? That goes for you too. My apology on behalf of all “religious” Jews (as it were) was a sort of tongue in cheek attempt to give you closure. As far as who and what I share common traits with, I’d rather focus on similarities than on differences amongst Jews. Ahavat Chinam dude, its all about Ahavat Chinam!

    Dafina, Chamin, Cholent – it’s all the same drekk…

    OK. Maybe not the Cholent.


  • CK – your eloquence is evident, you are 100 percent correct. If you want there to be more Jews – be Jewish. All our attempts to get Jews invovled in communal activities, like a JCC or a Hillel, must not end there. We must help Jews connect to the soul of being Jewish.

  • On a (hopefully) final note, not that I need to justify myself at all, but for the record, I dated and was engaged to a convert. We didn’t end up getting married due to tragic circumstances beyond anyone’s control. She was definitely one of the most Jewishly engaged women I had ever dated and neither I nor my traditional family had any problem accepting her into the fold. If one can point to the existence of a Jewish soul, this corn fed all American, Catholic born woman from Missouri had it. She also sought and received a conversion from hard core Orthodox rabbis from the upper West side – the whole process taking her a mere 5 months to accomplish due to her prior study, hard work and demonstrated commitment to Judaism. So I know all about not being judgemental and accepting of others.

  • Vichy?? What are you talking about? Are we about to start a 800+ post thread on how and why France sucks or something?

  • Uh … can I say HOLY CRAP?
    Jessica – I know this thread is VERY long, and that your free time is VERY limited, but please, please re-read what I have written here, and reconsider the content of your post on JMerica, to wit:

    Speaking of Jewlicious, there’s been quite a heated discussion about some comments made by World Jewish Congress leader Edgar Bronfman, who says that the children of intermarried couples should be considered Jewish: “My answer to ‘who is a Jew’ is ‘anybody who wants to be.’ Naturally, we agree since that’s one of the founding concepts of Jmerica.

    And that’s your prerogative. But even Conservative and Reform Judaism require some kind of conversion process before one is considered Jewish. Are you suggesting that merely declaring yourself to be Jewish is enough for you to actually BE Jewish? I mean I’m considered pretty liberal, but even that is pretty darn liberal.

    But apparently, Jewlicious does not. Some very interesting points made on both sides- check it out.

    As for the children of intermarried couples, we ALL agree that if the mother is Jewish, so are the children, regardless of who the father is. Some of us feel that if just the father is Jewish, the children ought to be included within the Jewish fold if the parents make an effort to raise them as such. Like Judaism, Jewlicious is not a monolith… and about the discussion being heated, that’s been all one sided. The Middle, a Jewlicious poster by the way, and I have known each other for a long time and are always civil with each other even when we disagree. On the other hand, someone had a hard day today and apologized for using agressive language. That person wasn’t me.

    I also do not want to get into a whole slug fest here as I respect your right to hold an opinion that differs from mine. I just ask that you try not to distort my opinion. I’d very much like to remain friends.

  • TM- I’ve heard that line of reasoning, Israel being too small— have you been here? Take a drive anywhere. There is SO much more land than people realize. Its one of the things that struck me when I got here, the news makes it out to be that Jews and Arabs are stepping on each others toes, but just drive through the Galil, the Golan, miles upon miles of empty land. In the Golan they are LITERALLY giving it away. And then there’s the Negev is you share Ben Gurion’s love of the desert. I don’t buy the ‘too small’ argument for a minute.

    Jewish influence on American politics is another story.

    On the conversion issue; bringing in new people is great, and Judaism loves it, but they have to be sincere and committed, that’s what a lot of the conversion process is designed to weed out.

    Sustainability is not in enticing others to join the fold, that is only a small part of it. Sustainability has to come first and foremost from keeping the ones we have, and showing them that their Judaism goes for deeper than woody Allen, matzo ball soup and the holocaust.

    TM, please, quit using Heredim as your main point of reference for “religious” as you do in no.17. Using extremes will always make you point sound more justified, but does not always represent reality. I am an Orthodox Jew, and I pay my tax dollars (when I have sustainable work) and my kids will serve in the army.

    You need not be Heredi to live the lifestyle ck is calling religious. Shabbat, Kashrut, Prayer, Tzedaka, etc. Do it with your own unique flavor, but make it an important part of your life.

    Like it or not, ck’s stats are correct, and orthodox (incl. but not limited to heredim) are the fastest and ONLY growing sector of Judaism, so if you don’t want your Judaism commandeered by these, you (the general you, I’m not singling out you specifically) better figure out a way to pass it on to your kids in a much more compelling manner.

    Jessica—I want to commend you for what you do for your kids (and I love the idea of hippy-biblical names). Nonetheless, I think you may be more the exception than the rule of secular Judaism. I sincerely hope that your efforts will pay off and you kids will live Jewish lifestyles with Jewish values, however that may manifest itself. I also have worked with Birthright kids, and generally ‘secular’ to them means nothing more than a Passover seder and a hopeful ‘in’ into Hollywood. One on my last trip had literally never even heard the concept of Shabbat before.

    TM, as far as your idea of Jewish education, SOMETHING needs to be done. I do not have one friend who has found their 2-3 times-a-week-until-13 secular Jewish education a meaningful or positive experience. Generally, it was little more than a joke. But maybe that’s to be expected when a friend of mine with no teaching qualifications other than being observant herself is teaching at a conservative Hebrew school for $40/hr.

    Much of the problem is that the religious community, by and large, has utterly failed to transmit the awe and magic of Torah in a receivable manner to the rest of Jewry, and Judaism has been left appearing dry, stagnant, wholly uninteresting and virtually incompatible with the modern world. The reform/conservative Judaism I grew up with is still one I wouldn’t feel compelled to incorporate into the rest of my life. Truly it was not till I came to Israel that I glimpsed a living, breathing Judaism I felt I wanted to fully be a part of.

    Even if you want to live your life on the secular to slightly traditional spectrum, you stand a much better chance of kids marrying Jewish and wanting to live out those values within a society that does the same.

  • Great post Laya, and a lot of stuff to discuss. I am busy today but promise to get around to your points.

  • quickie post before I’m off for the epic preschool commute…thanks, laya: “Even if you want to live your life on the secular to slightly traditional spectrum, you stand a much better chance of your kids marrying Jewish and wanting to live out those values within a society that does the same.” (how does one tag to make the quotes look all pretty?)
    As an American Jew in Northern California (where identifying with any religion at all makes one suspect) I’m awfully proud of my family and I agree with the need for a Jewish education that’s dynamic and meaningful. While that may be a failure of the religious community, I think it’s my responsibility as a parent to seek it out (btw, kids’ names are Abraham Lightning (4 1/2) and Liberty Ruth (10mos).
    And ck, I’m sorry if it took me while to grok what you’re saying; I’m honored to be a part of this conversation at all. What I meant by “heated” was that such a long thread was happening; it was a testament to the stuff you’re bringing to the table. Jewlicious is my favorite blog, ’cause I learn more about Judaism every day from it. The Jmerica blog reflects the fact that even though I don’t know a whole lot, but I’m still at the party, and I think that represents a good portion of the single American Jewish population.
    We still haven’t actually addressed the concept of faith as a “shortcut” to formal religious practice; I’m interested to hear what you, TM and laya have to say about it.
    In lieu of an appropriate Hebrew salutation, I can only offer “Have a nice day, y’all!”

  • OK, fair enough Jessica – but over at JMerica, the way you worded your post, it made it seem like I, or we here are opposed to conversion or something and that w are promoting a brand of Judaism that is ubber exclusive – which is clearly not the case ….

    how does one tag to make the quotes look all pretty?

    btw, one makes quotes look all pretty by preceding the quote with blockquote tag and ending it with a slash / blockquote tag. A tag is preceded by a “< " and ends with a ">” – its all HTML and above your comment box are a list of allowed HTML tags.

  • Laya:

    1. Israel is too small. It has limited resources, particularly water, and a fast-growing population. It’s already sitting at 6.5 million citizens and another 300k illegals. Depending on what eventually happens with the Territories, you have another 3 million Arabs who are reproducing at an accelarated rate. It’s not only Gaza that has a high population density, Tel Aviv and environs do as well. With respect to the Negev and Galil, don’t forget the IDF needs large areas to train, and the Negev for the most part is not habitable. The Galil is different and can still grow significantly, but natural growth will begin to change that over time.

    2. My point was not only about Jewish influence on American politics. While I perceive it to be important, I actually think it is far less influencial than people tend to suggest. There are at least two other very powerful lobbies that support Israel, active Christian groups and especially the Defense contractors. Those two groups wield considerable influence, and probably more than any Jewish groups. However, I was referring to the historic and ongoing financial support that comes to Israel from North America.

    3. Conversion: weeding out? They are making people lie and they are making people hate Orthodox Judaism. Why force a person to become ultra-observant when their spouse is secular? How can you dictate “your” brand of Judaism upon others? I brought up the Ethiopians and their conversions but I have another story of a friend who fell in love with a non-Jewish German woman. She was willing to convert and it took her 2 years of jumping through hoops and living a false life in order to be considered Jewish. When she was done, she still loved Judaism and her husband, but she despised the rabbis who forced her to do things that her husband never has done and has no intention of ever doing because of the miracle of being born to a Jewish mother.

    I find it appalling that Reform and ESPECIALLY Conservative conversions are rejected and disallowed in Israel. I know rabbis in NA who have converted people and I know people who have gone through the process. They are very fine OBSERVANT Jews but if they had gone through the same process in Israel, it would not have counted.

    4. I agree with you 100% that sustainability is first and foremost about keeping the ones we have. That argument only strengthens Bronfman’s point. As my solution to CK, I offered accessible education in order to keep and grow the affiliation of those we already have.

    By the way, we haven’t touched this topic but one factor in sustainability is that we are screwing ourselves by seeking high levels of education which means many women do not begin to have children until later in life. This affects the chances of success as well as the number of children one is likely to have. Also, by focusing only on potential Jewish spouses, we are decreasing the pool of potential marriage partners significantly. It would be easier to focus on accessible education and conversion programs so that we can bring people into the fold.

    5. I use the Haredim because CK is trying to make a point about sustainability. However, their sustainability is supported by secular Jewish culture.

    I pointed out that this is different for modern Orthodox Jews, but then you see a significant drop-off in “sustainability” because they end up having much smaller families, are more likely to slip into “secularism” and, once again, have to rely upon the state with its secular majority to support many of their projects including education and for those in the Territories, all that comes with supporting the infrastructure and security there.

    I actually admire the Modern Orthodox, used to belong to Bnei Akiva way back when, and if I had the faith required, would probably select that lifestyle as my Jewish lifestyle. I should point out, however, that in Israel, segment of Modern Orthodoxy have been hijacked by the Greater Israel politics to the point where the two are intertwined. I consider that to be a sad development that might have negative repercussions on the entire movement in the future – I think changes in the NRP in recent years reflect this.

    6. Of course CK’s stats are correct, and I have no reason to dislike it – I have Haredim in my family. The issue is whether they would be able to grow as they do without the existence of people like me and the answer is NO. Read my points above about their reliance in Israel (and in NA, too) upon the mainstream Jewish community or society. Do you really think that every single Ultra Orthodox family in Israel would be having so many kids while the father studies torah if it weren’t subsidized? Even smaller Modern Orthodox families enjoyed the government stipends for their families with 3 or more children until very recently.

    7. Thank you for commending me for the way I raise my children, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s a patronizing outlook that suggests that you believe your Orthodox observance is superior to my non-Orthodox observance.

    It isn’t.

    I happen to think that my practice of Jewish life is close to what I think is ideal. I think, for example, that worrying about turning a light on or off on Shabbat is ridiculous. Same with not driving on Shabbat. On the other hand, undogmatically, we make sure that our shabbats are for strengthening our family and for rest and for giving the kids a sense of “otherness” from the rest of the week.

    Obviously, these choices stem from our belief that the torah is a man-made document (Conservative Judaism will say that it is divinely inspired while Reform will say it’s man-inspired). However, our practice still hearkens back to our very ancient tradition in many ways, and my child understands the concept of Shabbat pretty well, although he would be surprised to learn how an Orthodox family practices it.

    By the way, as our kid gets older, we’ll be sure to expose him to Orthodox observance so that they’ll know how others practice.

    My point is that I don’t consider myself superior or inferior to a haredi because of my Jewish practice, and would ask that those who choose to observe their Judaism within the confines of Orthodox Judaism stop believing their choice of practice is superior to mine. It is merely a choice that you make and that you believe is better for you.

    8. Your final 3 paragraphs are right on, in my opinion.

  • First, Israel. Granted, I know it’s a tiny tiny country, but I’m certain a way would be found to accommodate however many Jews wanted to live here. To quote from the Big Lebowsky ? “if you will it, dude, it is no dream” The Galil and the Golan both are advertising land sales, and when we talk about the Negev, Its good to remember we ARE the people who make the desert bloom. Look at Kibbutz Lotan for instance. As far as water goes—always a concern, but Thank God, the Kinneret is full, we have a desalination plant and we are also buying water from Turkey (which, as it turns out, costs us more the desalination, but we want peace with our neighbors and are willing to pay for it)


    Conversion: weeding out? They are making people lie and they are making people hate Orthodox Judaism. Why force a person to become ultra-observant when their spouse is secular? How can you dictate “your” brand of Judaism upon others?

    Dude, I did even not say anything about it needing to be an orthodox conversion. But I DO think some kind of formal process is necessary to show that your sincerity, commitment and desire go deeper than a casual interest or passing fad in your life.

    But also I think the point of conversion is disavowing the religions or gods of your childhood. It’s saying the menorah will not be found just left of the Christmas tree.

    What are you saying? I don’t want to misunderstand you, but it kinda sounds like you are saying that Jewish women who care shouldn’t go to college.

    As to the kids. I did not mean to imply that my orthodox lifestyle is better than your non-orthodox one. But from a purely statistical perspective, chances of continuity are significantly greater when children are raised in a fully observant home. Zehu. No disrespect intended.

    There’s so much more to say on all these topics, but in the interest of brevity, i’m gonna stop here.

  • he American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

    SYLLABICATION: brev·i·ty

    NOUN: 1. The quality or state of being brief in duration. 2. Concise expression; terseness.

    ETYMOLOGY: Latin brevits, from brevis, short. See brief.

    “Brevity is the soul of wit”

    “Intelligent speech and writing should aim at using few words”. This proverb comes from the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

  • Oh, I should address the women and college part. Of course women should go to college and do go to college. If they want careers, they should have careers. My point is that because the Jewish community tends to stress acquiring an education, and because many Jewish women pursue education and careers that prevent them from being in a position to marry or to have children until they are older, their fertility is affected and the number of children they will ultimately bear is diminished because they window of time to have those kids is smaller.

    I don’t have a solution, since every person has to choose their own priorities, but I did want to point out these issues.

  • I totally agree. Any notion of Jewish continuity not tied to a religious experience is akin to racism. You go Edgar!

  • I always felt that Judaism is more of a tribal identity – that means it contains elements of familial identity, nationalistic connection to land and ritualistic elements all wrapped up in one.

    The concept of a “religion” comes from Christian society – the idea being that one practices a certain set of rituals or believes in a particular dogma, but this does not define who one is. Jewish identity does define (I’m guess some will argue) who one is. The idea of mitzvot is that everything one encounters occurs within a uniquely Jewish framework. Census definitions aside, Judaism isn’t per se a “religion”. “Way of life” maybe.

    A tribe gets to say who is on the inside and who is on the outside.
    People on the inside don’t need to do anything to remain a member of the tribe, but people who want to be adopted in must go through some process or ritual experience.

    If somebody who is a member of a tribe wants their decendants to also be part of the tribe – even if they themselves do not practice the ritual part of that tribal identity – I don’t see how that could be defined as racist.

  • i’ve learnt an incredible amount through this blog and just wanted to type in a short post on all this talk about reform and converts.
    i’m a convert and go to a reform synagogue. i’m learning to read hebrew and can follow services (which are partly in hebrew). i read the torah and during torah readings i follow the reading. i check out chabad.org’s parsha and daily studies (admittedly not on a daily basis). i have every intention of raising my kids jewish should i have kids. i keep kosher. i try to learn a bit more about judaism and israel each day. i didn’t convert because i am in a relationship with a jew. i believe in god, i am in shul every shabbat and i plan to go to israel and am considering volunteering with the idf.

    and i know other reform jews, whether born or convert, who are observant jews and fine people. so it is quite saddening to be generally dismissed as flooseballs.

  • Fuzz, I feel your pain and agree that CK deserves a swift kick in the groin. He’s just going through a phase, but we’ll get him to adjust his unfortunate ways soon enough…

  • Hey fuzz,
    Seriously dude – I think what you’re doing is admirable. You are far from a flooseball (not that I know what that is). I totally respect your intentions and you sound like an awesome person.

    However, the Reform Rabbi that converted you ought to have told you that there will undoubtedly be issues with your conversion. Reform Judaism has taken certain liberties with Judaism that traditional Jews simply cannot abide by. Consequently their conversions are suspect.

    Having said that though, Traditional Judaism is not retarded. Should you continue along the path you seem to be going in, an Orthodox conversion will be an easy thing for you to accomplish, if you’re willing to make the effort. It won’t take years I’ve seen people do it in a day. Literally. Once you have the knowledge and the will, its an easy thing.

    As it stands, you seem swell, but you’re setting yourself up for a mess of heartache. You know what? Just because I do NOT want you to think I’m flipping you off, I invite you to send me an email – I’m ck [at] jewlicious dot com or use the contact us form. I will gladly call you or send you whatever info you’d like on cool rabbis you can talk to in or near your neck of the woods or in Israel even. I don’t make this offer lightly – I promise to hook you up with interesting folks. Take advantage fuzz.

    And TM? You can try to give me a swift kick in the groin. But I wouldn’t suggest it.


  • CK, I would never even consider it. I’m not a violent person. Where did you get such a ridiculous idea?

  • Maybe when you said: I feel your pain and agree that CK deserves a swift kick in the groin?

    and why does everyone always insist on capitalizing ck? I’m all into the lower case thing … it’s ck. Not CK.

  • actually, i’m a chick. 😀

    yes, my rabbis told me that reform judaism is often regarded with suspect by other jews. but i didn’t choose to be jewish to get married or to become an israeli. i chose to be a jew out of a set of beliefs and i never expected to be accepted by all jews (i’m yellow, so let’s be realistic). the reform congregation has been very friendly and encouraging towards me. and in the midst of all these posts i just hope that we can try to remember that there are observant reform jews.

    i don’t think traditional judaism is retarded and i have alot of respect for the orthodox and would definitely like to learn more about traditional judaism. but there are parts of reform, such as women’s role in judaism, that appeal to me more. i agree that reform has taken some liberties but they have also been honest enough to admit errors and restore certain practices. ok, so there are jews in my congregation who aren’t very traditional and can’t read hebrew, but there are also numerous reform jews who are observant, interested in torah study, in israel and even some who come from conservadox and orthodox backgrounds.

    i will definitely take up your offer though probably not right now. i’d like to prep myself before going into some serious talmudic study. 🙂

  • Fuzz, don’t give up on the Conservative movement where women are treated, well, like men.


  • Uhm… Fuzz? Your IP address suggests that we’re in fact quite close. I’m going to Israel on Thursday, but I am going to email you my phone number and I insist you call. Nobody is talking about putting you in a seminary for serious talmudic study or anything. But I have some cool suggestions for you.

    I have a friend, let’s call him… uh, T_M, has a very unidimensional view of traditional Judaism. Look, I’m not exactly the poster boy for Orthodoxy (not by any measure) but I know some amazing folks who I am sure you’ll find can help broaden your horizons. And please, neither I nor anyone I know, cares about the color of your skin 🙂

  • But wherever your Jewish journey takes you, Fuzz, please don’t become too Orthodox, because then you’ll wind up spitting on TM’s wife.


    I keeeed! I keeeed!

  • Fuzz, don’t let them fool you with these gentle attacks on me – they like me.

    I would listen carefully to ck, he of the small letters, because he is a true believer and wants you to be one before you are lost…

    On the other hand, I would encourage you also to explore Conservative Judaism along with Orthodox Judaism. Ultimately, you may feel that you’re most comfortable with Reform, but you do sound as if you’re seeking more than Reform while rejecting elements of Orthodox Judaism. That is precisely why although I’m not directly affiliated, I feel closest to Conservative Judaism.

    Either way, join us on other topics here as well. Trust me, we need the comments.

  • For the record, I do indeed like T_M. I think he’s a great guy and I know that even if I take the piss out of him, he knows he’s appreciated.

    Fuzz? I’m not trying to turn you into anything. You do whatever you’re comfortable with and do whatever makes you happy. By the way fuzz… you have mail. 🙂

  • you guys are great. don’t worry, i know there’s nothing malicious here, just some er… critical camaraderie? you’re also very well informed and it is an eye opener. i’ve also started visitng other synagogues in my area for another perspective on things so i shall take up ck’s offer, but from the time of these posts i suspect you’re not awake at 9am.

  • We just spoke. Gonna hook fuzz up with the good folks at the Ghetto Shul, an orthodox, Carlebach style synagogue in the McGill Ghetto. T_M, you might be interested to know that the shul, while firmly orthodox, is, oddly enough, run predominantly by women. Go figger huh? Maybe some things aren’t so black and white! Also, fuzz noted on our phone call, that the sniping between T_M and I is “cute.” I’ll assume that’s a good thing. 🙂

  • Dude, cute is what you want women to say about your butt as you walk away. Okay?

    And it’s not as if I ever claimed there aren’t Orthodox women out there. There surely are, and they’re usually having loooooots of babies. More important, some Orthodox women are advocates of the Orthodox way of life because it has many redeeming and worthwhile qualities. Nobody said otherwise.

    Fuzz, best of luck. If you plan to get married, use an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi but insist that he provide a prenuptial according to the RCA. There’s a lot of valuable information on the following pages.

    Prenup commitment

    Rabbi Weiss on Prenup

    Orthodox Council page on marriage and prenuptials – includes sample agreement

  • T_M: Ya know, that whole Agunah issue is usually almost always the exclusive purview of Haredim. Not all Traditional Jews are Haredim. I think that’s what gets Laya and I all raggin on you. Traditional or Orthodox Judaism or whatever you want to call it, is not a monolith. For instance I know lots of people that are members of Orthodox shuls, would never identify with the Conservative or Reform movements, but are otherwise secular – and everything in between secular and Haredi. Just keep that in mind when you post. Much of your otherwise valid crticisms do not apply or are not relevant to mainstream traditional Jews.

  • Um, where did I say that this was the purview of the Haredim? In Israel, for example, the entire issue of the agunah is significant because marriage is controlled by the rabbinate.

    Anyway, Conservative rabbis also often respect the laws of agunah and the agunah issue affects most Jews who think a rabbi should marry them. Somebody secular might marry somebody who is Orthodox or somebody who is Conservative and may be affected by this law.

    The ongoing commentary about how I don’t differentiate between variants of Judaism is absurd – I grew up around it.

  • Wow! I just read this article, and have to say that I totally agree.

    Enough of this pressure to marry a Jewish girl! I’m sick of all the pressure. Let’s marry who we want. And let’s all commend Mr. Bronfman for saying what needed to be said.

  • I come form an orthodox sepharadic family but studied in an international school, surroundede by all kinds of people. My best friends are not Jewish and I have dated non-jewish men.
    Still, it is a priotity in my life to marry a Jew. Not because my parents want me to, but it´s because that is the only thing that makes sense.
    I love being jewish, i love the values and morals that are inherent in me because of my jewish education. I want my kids to have that.
    Let´s not marry anyone, especially if we want Judaism to survive.

  • I assume you meant “Let’s not marry anyone else, if we want Judaism to survive.”

  • Jonathan: Of course marry whoever you want, but know that should you decide to marry someone not Jewish, you are placing more importance on personal happiness than you are on Jewish continuity – which is fine. Far be it for me to tell you how to run your life. My choice is to promote and maintain Jewish continuity, but that’s me. My issue with Bronfman is that his solution to the Jewish continuity problem is to simply increase in one fell swoop the number of Jews in th world by simply allowing anyone who wants to, to be Jewish. I don’t think dramatic, simple solutions to the continuity issue exist. I wish they did, but they don’t. Oh well.

  • Wait, ck, do you really mean to say you can’t achieve personal happiness with a Jewish woman?

    Please tell me you don’t really believe that. Please.

    I sit in the pews of a reform shul with the shiksa trophy wives who make no secret of being bored, and then complain afterwards that the rabbi seems “too Jewish” and want to know why grace must be said in Hebrew.

    These are real conversations. I’m not making this up.

    If you think you can find “happiness” with one of these women, I wish you luck. You must have a different definition of happiness than me.

  • Where did he say that? I think he was talking about Jonathan Ross’ personal happiness in marrying a gentile, not the personal happiness of the Jewish people.

  • “My choice is to promote and maintain Jewish continuity …”

    Sounds to me like ck’s saying he can’t have both continuity and happiness. I don’t think he means it that way, but it did strike me as an odd way to put it. Of course, I could be misreading it — always possible. I don’t have my glasses on today.

    TM — Sigh. There isn’t one.

  • i’ve also heard othodox women bored and yakking away during services.

  • I think we’ve all been bored during services, no matter what denomination we are, at one time or another. Not every 7 AM minyan can be a uplifting powerfully spiritual experience. Even if it’s in Israel.

  • well, I guess if you’re going to have to listen to people who are bored and kvetchy during services, it’s probably best to listen to the shiks…er, the eye cand…er, the nice women who married Jewish men.

  • *sigh*

    Anne, you have an email from me.

    I don’t know how else to put this but you’re reacting angrily to a joke that reflects the opposite of what we think.

    Now come back! I promise we won’t make any more non-Jewish trophy wife jokes. Maybe.

  • Now, to be perfectly fair, if we were to marry our shiksas, our self-loathing children wouldn’t be Jews.

    And such contempt for goyim. I mean, hey, some of my best friends are shiksas. I swear, some of them have things on their mind other than getting in the pants of Jewish boys to wreak destruction upon the Jewish people. Some of them.

    Seriously, though, I have never heard T_M express anything but ahavat neshei Yisrael. And on another note, as long as we’re talking about the thinning out of the Jewish people, why place blame squarely on the men who marry out? I go to a university (with a roughly 30% Jewish population) where if I had a nickel for every Jewish girl in a sorority, on cocaine, with a rich daddy, tattoo above her ass and different boy in her bed every night, I could probably turn the Negev green with Tu B’Shevat tree-planting donations to the JNF. Sure, their children will technically be Jewish, but only by default.

    Obviously, there are gaping flaws in American Jewry, and there is no easy place to lay the blame or find an answer. Of course I want to marry a nice Jewish girl and have a million nice Jewish babies, none of whom will be self-loathing, inshaallah. And so do a lot of other nice Jewish boys I know. Don’t get mad at ck or T_M, who as far as I know are also firmly committed to the concept of Jewish girls and Jewish babies, and to being happy with said Jewish girls at the same time. Don’t fight the people who agree with you.

    And T_M, please don’t stop making fun of non-Jewish trophy wives. For all our sakes.

  • Michael, I promise.

    Um, unless I’m mistaken, you mentioned some Jewish girls who need to have some tattoos removed? Oh ck, we have a mission for Jewlicious. Finally!

  • Muffti would like to know where Michael goes to school and if he can introduce Muffti to the rich, coked up, tattooed sluts fine young ladies? ck keeps telling me to date jewish women…

  • Tulane. If you come for Mardi Gras, I guarantee you, there will be innumerable rich, coked up fine young ladies so drunk that you can convince them to sleep with you by having in your possession even a small number of Mardi Gras beads.

    I guess it’s not prostitution if Mardi Gras beads are not technically legal tender.

  • Good grief. I go catch a few Zzzs and this is what I wake up to?

    I love all of God’s creatures, the men and the women, the Jew and the gentile. There are no qualifiers here. That’s my policy and you can quote me on that.

    I have no idea what or who set Anne off but please people … show some love y’all!

  • This was a conspiracy intended to put a ck post at the top of the most commented list. Don’t think I didn’t notice.

  • This is a very fascinating discussion, and it’s wonderful to see it taking place on this public forum. I learned a lot just by going through the comments.

  • Safiyyah: I just went through your blog and I am heartened by the fact that you, a devout Muslim struggling to find her place in a secular society, can find edification in our discussion. I mean it makes sense of course, many of the issues you are dealing with now are issues that the older, more established Jewish community hasstruggled with for a long time. Hopefully, you can learn from both our successes and our failures.

  • Hey wait a minute. Isn’t Bronfman one of the guys funding birthright israel and hence your Jewlicious trip? How do you work that out? Being critical on one hand but accepting his largesse on the other? Who cares. Hanging out with ck is enough justification.

  • I have no problem benefiting from his largesse. After all I think we both have an interest in continuity and in that respect. Edgar Bronfman Sr., as well as other birthright donors, are decidedly secular in their approach, whereas I am less so. But birthright makes no preference either way. Who the heck are you by the way?

  • LB? I can live with that. I do not understand why my posts keep getting deleted. All I am promoting is the same thing that one of the big sponsors of birthright is promoting. You even have an article about it at https://jewlicious.com/index.php?p=218

    So why the deletions? Don’t you want to encourage jews to date and hook up with other jews. Feel the love! Now I am going to find a nice quiet, private spot and think about LB. Yessss. LB. Yum.

  • Once upon a time, there was a survey which had a chart showing various levels of observance, from nothing through lighting candles on Shabbos to belonging to a Conservative Shul to sending your kids to various levels of education all the way to observant Orthodoxy, with day schools, yeshiva education yada yada yada.

    Anyone know of anything like this? I think it would add a lot to the conversation here.

  • T M “Consider that other rabbis are ursurping the authority of the PM and israeli governt on issues such as conversion”

    hold on a second why should the israeli government have any authority over who is and who isn’t jewish. sorry T M but you’ve got it backwards Jewdaism has existed for centuries and the Authority of conversion has always been rabinical

    so who is the usurper here?

  • Because the government represents all the people and not only a sliver of the society. Besides, we’re not talking about “rabbis” but specifically about Orthodox rabbis who refuse to acknowledge conversions by any other rabbis. Isn’t it the function of the government to protect all members of its society and not become a vessel to promote preferential treatment on behalf of one group over another?