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Do You Believe the Statistics?

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017 - 5:32 pm

Question of the Week:

I fear for the future of the Jewish people. When I look at my family and where they are headed it is not very promising. My grandfather was a rabbi, but I am not sure my grandchildren will even be Jewish. What is the secret to keeping Judaism alive?


I can't tell you how often I hear, "My grandfather was a rabbi." I once read that 87% of the Jewish population today have at least one rabbi in their family tree. I also read that 93% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

It's impossible that three generations ago everyone was a rabbi. What people probably mean is that their grandfather was an observant Jew. He may have had a beard, he prayed every day, and was knowledgeable in Torah. He could have been a cobbler or merchant or baker, not a rabbi. But he was a committed Jew.

Anyone who identifies as Jewish today only need go back three or four generations to find observant Jews in their family. And from there an unbroken chain of observance that goes back three thousand years.


Not that everyone has always been observant. There have always been unobservant Jews. But we don't know their grandchildren. They have been lost to the Jewish community.

Jewishness without Jewish observance cannot last more than a couple of generations. Unless they rebel and turn to Judaism, the children of unobservant Jews will stop being Jewish altogether and assimilate. A family of unobservant Jews will lose one or the other - either the Jewishness, or the unobservance. You can't have both.

This is not a new phenomenon. Throughout Jewish history there have been individuals and groups who tried to keep a Jewish identity without Jewish practice. It has never worked. A vague Jewish ethnic feeling, devoid of any spiritual purpose and with no compelling message that is relevant to life, cannot last long. Only proud and authentic Judaism, that offers relevance and meaning, direction and inspiration, will stand the test of time.

In the Chanukah story, a small band of faithful Jews stood up against the assimilationist forces of Hellenism. They were overwhelmingly outnumbered, not just by the enemy, but among their own people. The vast majority of Jews subscribed to Hellenism, and wanted to assimilate. We celebrate Chanukah today because we descend from the faithful few.

The solution to Jewish continuity is no secret, it's obvious. Living breathing Judaism produces living breathing Jews. Do for your grandchildren what your grandfather did for you - be a living example of what it means to live an actively Jewish life. They don't need their grandfather to be a rabbi, but they need him to be a proud and practicing Jew.

Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Moss

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