Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


American Jews less Jewish? Does it matter?

posted by Rod Dreher

Lots of controversy afoot over Peter Beinart’s New York Review of Books essay in which he observes that younger American Jews don’t have as much connection to Israel and to Zionism as their forebears — a situation Beinart (who is himself Jewish) calls a “damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community.” Ross Douthat speculates that that has less to do with opposition to the current Israeli government, and more to do with Jewish assimilation, which is to say

…that liberal Jews are (very gradually) following the same trajectory as liberal Episcopalians before them, keeping their politics but surrendering their distinctive cultural and religious identity, and that the demise of liberal Zionism says something, not only about the fate of Israel, but about the fate of secular Judaism in the United States.

Indeed, Douthat cites David Goldman’s First Things reply to Beinart:

Beinart offers a condescending glance at the “warmth” and “learning” of Orthodox Jews, but neglects to mention the most startling factoid in Jewish demographics: a third of Jews aged 18 to 34 self-identify as Orthodox. “Secular Jew” is not quite an oxymoron-the Jews are a nation as well as a religion-but in the United States, at least, secular Jews have a fertility barely above 1 and an intermarriage rate of 50 percent, which means their numbers will decline by 75 percent per generation. It is tragic that the Jewish people stand to lose such a large proportion of their numbers, but they are lost to Judaism in general, not only to Zionism. That puts a different light on the matter.

It is terrifying to think that the disappearance of vast numbers of Jews as Jews stands to be accomplished not through genocide, but through cultural and religious suicide. Harsh words? Yes. But what else would you call it? A religious tradition, Jewish or otherwise, cannot live in books alone. It has to be kept alive from generation to generation. The modern liberal era, so beneficial to Jews in so many ways (it is a great thing that anti-Semitism has in most respects been defeated, at least in much of the West), is proving also to be deeply harmful to them. I watched over the weekend a good documentary called “Hiding and Seeking,” in which Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jewish father from New York (and descendant of Holocaust survivors) tried to teach his young adult sons, both ultra-Orthodox and living in Israel, that they ought not have such contempt for Gentiles. The elder Daum took them both to Poland, to meet and visit the Polish Catholic farm family that risked its life for two years to hide the boys’ grandfather and two uncles from the Nazis. It was a deeply moving film. Daum pere did not want to teach his sons that all people were good; plainly that’s untrue. What he wanted to do was to make them understand that every person has the capacity for righteousness; indeed, near the end of the film, their elderly grandfather, saved from death by the Mucha family, admits to his grandsons that if he had been in their position, he wouldn’t have had the courage to do what they did.
Menachem Daum was and is undoubtedly correct. He was trying to make his sons realize that by living behind the unbreachable cultural walls they’ve erected between themselves and non-Jews, they’re getting a distorted picture of what the world is really like, and what people are really like. I get that. I applaud Daum’s project. Please don’t misread me here; Daum is on the side of the angels.
On the other hand, I sympathize to a certain extent with Daum’s sons. If they don’t live so illiberally with regard to others, they risk losing the essence of their faith and culture, over time. This is not to say that you have to hate other people in order to hold on to what’s essential about yourself and your tradition. God forbid! It is, however, to recognize that the modern condition is a universal solvent of all tradition, and that if one is going to hold on to one’s tradition, and teach one’s children to keep it alive, at some point one is going to have to start making some illiberal distinctions among peoples, and choosing to live in a way that to modern cultural liberals [not necessarily the same thing as political liberals, please note] seems chauvinistic and oppressive.
Put another way, I’m sure I as a Gentile would get along far better with your average American Reform Jew than I would with either of the Daum sons and their friends. But a hundred years from now, the descendants of my Reform Jewish friend stand a far, far lesser chance of being meaningfully Jewish than the descendants of the Daum sons. It depends on what’s most important to one, I guess. I don’t believe that the choice is between being a nice assimilated American Jew or a bumptious and bigoted ultra-Orthodox Jew, cloistered inside one’s community. Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jew of the Carlebach community, shows that one can be a big-hearted and open Jew towards others while still holding on to one’s faith in a more-or-less traditional way. As Phillip Longman has pointed out, for reasons that have to do with evolutionary dynamics, the future belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:42 am


It is terrifying to think that the disappearance of vast numbers of Jews as Jews stands to be accomplished not through genocide, but through cultural and religious suicide. Harsh words? Yes. But what else would you call it?
It is entirely possible that I get way too hung up on the rhetoric people use, but I have to ask – what’s so terrifying about it?
Tragic, unfortunate, a darn shame, total bummer, a loss to our cultural diversity, something to be deeply regretted, something that I personally would not like to see happen – all of those I could get wholeheartedly behind and agree with.
But terrifying? Why terrifying?



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Jake

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:54 am


If Jewish people decide they want to marry non-Jews, or raise their kids without a Jewish religious education, why is that some kind of tragedy? It’s their choice. It seems like a lot of people (many of them non-Jews, like Rod) want to make that decision for them.



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Peter

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:58 am


As we get more generations away from the Holocaust and the appeasement of Israel becomes more complex, it’s not a surprise that Zionism and support for Israel is on the decline. But is Jewishness defined solely by Zionism and unwavering support for Israel, damn the consequences and reality?



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Rombald

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:01 am


I see no reason why one would self-identify as Jewish unless one believes Judaism to be factually true, which means being Orthodox or close to Orthodox. I never use the word “Jew” except in the sense of “Judaism-believing person”; “secular Jew” is an oxymoron.
Also, as Rod believes Judaism to be factually false, I see no reason why he sees it as tragic for the number of Judaism-believing people to be decreasing. Should he not regard it as positive when Judaism-believing people become Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, and as neutral when they become atheists, Buddhists, etc.?
Furthermore, from the point of view of world peace, I can think of hardly any process, other than a decrease in the number of Muslims, that is more positive than a decrease in the number of Judaism-believing persons.



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TTT

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:07 am


Beinart “neglected” no such thing: that precise statistic appeared in his article. That Goldman missed the point does not reflect well on his other assertions.
It is interesting that in response to warnings that Israel will cease to exist as a democracy or as a majority Jewish state and that the traditionally strong reservoir of support among American Jews is now shaken by the ugliness of an ultra-right-wing government that elevates such freakshows as Avigdor Lieberman, the best Goldman can do is say that liberal Jews will sooner cease to exist altogether and won’t be around to complain anymore. I’ve been hearing the “cultural suicide” talk for decades and don’t see it coming true. Yes, there is a lot of intermarriage in mainstream Judaism (you could also call it “liberal Judaism,” since they are one and the same), but many of those intermarried couples raise their children as Jewish. Rare is the synagogue that doesn’t have some non-Jewish spouses in the pews. In and of itself this is not a problem, and it is also a complete non-sequitur when dealing with Beinart’s warning about Israel’s political polarization.
In addition to being demographically dubious and missing Beinart’s point apparently by design, Goldman also includes some really jarring notes like this one:
There is no more illiberal notion than the Election of Israel. To a generation whose heart bleeds for every endangered species, the prospect that peoples may perish of their own cultural failings is an unthinkable, horrendous, nightmarish proposition.
Excuse me? The “perishing of a people” should be a horrendous proposition to anyone. If Goldman belongs to some pro-mass-perishing party, let him identify it and have all his like-thinkers similarly identify themselves, so they can be better shunned.



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Antonius Magnus

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:10 am


The president of the local conservative synagogue informed me that, in his opinion, there was a growing rift in the Jewish community in the U.S. between the Orthodox or the orthodox-sympathetic and the more progressive-minded Reformed and Conservative, at least in social issues. The Orthodox do not want their traditional way of living and their observance of halakah to be changed, nor do they think it can be changed; they do not accept gay or women rabbis; nor do they feel they have to “modernize” or submit to contemporary trends and attitudes. The Chabad movement brings the Orthodox way of life to people as is, without abandoning the traditions that have defined Judaism for centuries, and in my humble opinion, is a blessing from G_d.
Many converts to Judaism, like me, seek out the most authentic and traditional forms of religion to practice, and Orthodox Judaism is the only form of Judaism that is growing in numbers; parallel to the growing interest in more traditional form of Christianity. People seem to want a faith that actually asks something of them, rather than a “buffet-style” approach to religion. The actual definition of “who is a Jew” needs to be discussed far more than it is: is an atheist who was raised by atheists, whose family used to practice Judaism but hasn’t ever been to a temple or synagogue in their whole life, a Jew? Is Judaism defined by religious practice, cultural identity, or ethnic ties? I would personally define Judaism as practice of the traditions and observance of the Law rather than any merely ethnic identity, so people like Sarah Silverman and Woody Allen wouldn’t be Jewish people, not because they try to keep the Law and fail (as some of us do), but because they don’t think they have to keep the Law, or even believe in G_d.



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TTT

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:10 am


Rombald: “secular Jew” is not an oxymoron. Secularists are not automatically atheists–they are just people who keep their religion private and want a firm separation of church and state. One could just as well argue that conservatives are asexual, because they don’t run around topless or posting sex videos on the Internet.



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Teena H. Blackburn

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:23 am


I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian who happens to be married to a Jew. Suffice to say, I married him before I converted to Orthodoxy-sort of grandfathered him in, as it were, since Eastern Orthodoxy does not perform marriages between Orthodox and non-Christians.
Anyway, given that little fact, I would say that as a traditional Christian, I would love for my husband to become a Christian. However, I would much rather have him be a Jew than an atheist or a Buddhist. Truth and error admit of degrees, and I would see him worship the one true God rather than have no god or a false god. Further, every Christian owes a deep spiritual debt to Judaism, since our Lord was a Jew, and the Jews were chosen to bring the knowledge of the true God to the nations. Obviously, I think my husband is missing out on something very important by not being a Christian, but I do care very deeply about whether Jews go off and become atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, et….



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Rod Dreher

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:38 am


If Jewish people decide they want to marry non-Jews, or raise their kids without a Jewish religious education, why is that some kind of tragedy? It’s their choice. It seems like a lot of people (many of them non-Jews, like Rod) want to make that decision for them.
How on earth do you conclude that? I don’t have any interest in telling any Jew what he or she should or shouldn’t do with their kids. You’ve missed the point of this post, which is once again to revisit a common theme on this blog: how to maintain religious and cultural tradition in modernity? Whether you or I or any particular Jew likes it or not, Judaism is in danger of being assimilated out of existence. If that is a choice that individual Jews make, that’s their business. But those who believe that they can thoroughly assimilate and maintain a distinct Jewishness within their family line, over the generations, are mistaken, evidence strongly suggests. There are lessons in this for everyone. If you go with the flow of modernity, you will be uprooted and carried downstream. If that’s fine with you, okay, that’s fine with you. But don’t be surprised when your kids don’t have much interest in Judaism (or Orthodoxy, or Catholicism, or whatever). Or, don’t be surprised if your kids, seeing how the choices you’ve made take them far from their roots, take on a more reactionary form of the faith, because unlike you, they understand what’s at stake in the choices we make in time.



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Rombald

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:45 am


TTT: OK, then, “atheist Jew is an oxymoron”. We were using different definitions of “secular”; I merely meant non-religious.



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stari_momak

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:47 am


Excuse me? The “perishing of a people” should be a horrendous proposition to anyone. If Goldman belongs to some pro-mass-perishing party, let him identify it and have all his like-thinkers similarly identify themselves, so they can be better shunned.
Great TTT, I presume you’ll start a campaign against those promoting mass migration of non-Europeans into European and European-settled countries.



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Geoff G.

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:52 am


There’s a very simple explanation for this (and it ties in directly with the discussion of the “acting white” interviews).
Look at what happens with languages. Take a single large population that speaks the same language. Create enough distance between two parts of that population without regular intermixing and eventually the languages will diverge (viz. British English vs. American English or French vs. Spanish for a case where this process is more advanced).
Note that it doesn’t have to be physical distance. Look at how different the English of people of different social classes in London can be. Or how different Yiddish is from German or Ladino from Spanish.
And the same thing happens with culture. Jews were largely walled off in ghettos for centuries. And so their language and culture took on aspects different from those of the Christians that surrounded them. And the reverse process is also true. If Jews are truly integrated into American society then they necessarily will lose their distinguishing traits.
The only way to prevent this process is to voluntarily recreate the ghetto, which is precisely what many ultra-Orthodox Jews do. One might well view Israel itself as the ultimate attempt to create a ghetto that preserves European Jewish culture.
The exact same process is being addressed in the “acting white” discussion. Desegregation destroyed the parallel black institutions as black students were integrated into the larger white society, just as the walls of the Jewish ghettos were torn down in Europe. And so we see the same tension today within the black community.
Those who excel in the desegregated framework adopt the culture of the wider society. They’re integrating themselves. There are others who want to preserve the separate cultural identity who will do whatever it takes to preserve the walls, including rejecting the education offered to them.
You cannot have it both ways. If you truly want to be part of the larger community, then you have to surrender your cultural identity. You might be able to shift the culture towards your own to some extent, but overall you have to stop being (and acting like and speaking like) the other and become the establishment.
Incidentally, the exact same thing is happening in the gay world, as Sullivan noted a few years ago, except in our case, the whole process is drastically accelerated because of the very short time that we were both excluded from the larger community yet had a cohesive community of our own (maybe 30 years or so compared with 300 in the case of American blacks and 800 years or so in the case of European Jews).
Here’s the interesting thing: as minority communities are assimilated, they do tug the larger culture towards them to some extent. And that tends to make people who are very satisfied with the status quo feel uncomfortable. They may well go so far as to say that that tug in and of itself is sufficient justification to stop the entire assimilation process, at least as far as certain groups are concerned.
I might go so far as to say that that discomfort and resistance to the give-and-take of cultural assimilation is more or less the point of this blog.



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Chuck Bloom

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:52 am


As a Reform Jew all my life, I am perhaps the epitome of assimilation in American society. I am proud of my heritage, but do NOT consider myself to be a “race of people.” I am a member of religious belief (BIG distinction from my race which is Caucasian) and I hope to SOME traditions and have cast off others for the sake of modern expediency.
I married a shiksa, divorced her 15 years later, and got remarried to another shiksa (although being a Unitarian blurs that line somewhat). My three children were raised in the Methodist church (although my first wife was Lutheran at first and became a Methodist for one brilliant reason – the church was across the street from our house), but one of my daughters is dying to learn all she can about Judaism (sorry, I make a poor teacher; I just AM what I am).
I’ve never been a Zionistic fan of Israel, but remembering how proud I was, as a Jew, after the first Six-Day War in 1967, because, for the first time in MY memory, Jews stood upright and fought back. I had learned as a young boy that “Never again” meant our demise as a “people” would never happen without active resistance.
But I found the entire war mentality, often preached by the older supporters of Zionism, to run counter to my own set of beliefs – that killing never solved a damn thing other than to make everyone unhappy and bring too much pain to the world. I completely support Israel’s right to exist, its right of self-defense and completely understand the dynamics of the region which constantly threatens its future. Still, without some sort of “settlement” between the Israelis and Palestinians, there will only be the kind of violence that will endanger more than just this small plot of sand; it will continue to be a root cause of conflict and trouble for our nation.
I am guessing that my point of view is shared by many other Jews for the same practical reasons – having little to do with religious following.
I found too many of the Orthodox practices to be impractical in the modern world and too many of the Reform practices to be somewhat lax in my eyes. I always used a line from the old TV show, “Soap,” when asked if I were a practicing Jew: “No, I got it down pretty good,” because it was funny and how I felt.
When I moved to Texas, I originally found myself isolated from anything Jewish because the presence was sparse, especially in the suburban areas of Houston and Dallas. Not anymore, however. There are several congregations in the unlikeliest places and if I choose to attend services (which I don’t because of a long-standing habit of working on Friday nights for more than 30 years), I actually have a varied selection at my fingertips. Like everything else in America, the numbers have relocated in the last two decades. And from my La-Z-Boy, the younger generation among these temples and synagogues are steering toward a more traditional vision of Judaism than my baby boomer generation.
Yes, assimilation continues amongst the rank-and-file but the same can be said about Catholics and members of other “traditional” religions because that is simply how society has proceeded. Neighborhoods are less segregated, and the work place is far more integrated in terms of gender, race and religion than ever before.
So-called “mixed” marriages (religious and racial) are far more common because the barriers that previously kept people apart have slowly deteriorated. You can argue the value of that happening but denying it is simply to be blind to it. A religion and its followers only lose numbers and influence when its core values falter; the reason for following the faith in the first place.
I’m not worried about losing numbers in our ranks 100 years from now; we just don’t proliferate like other people (we talk too darn much about it). As for a more visual examination (or literary) of the clash of Jewish cultures, go find a slightly-obscure movie, “The Chosen,” a 1981 film with Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger and Robby Benson (of all people), based on the book by the late Chaim Potok. My words fail where his/their words are almost perfect.
La’chaim! Shalom! Sliante (ain’t Hebrew but love saying it).



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kenneth

posted May 19, 2010 at 11:55 am


“….the future belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion.”
Should young Muslim men take this to mean that Wahabbism and basic training in the Swat Valley are the way to go?



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Geoff G.

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm


kenneth
“….the future belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion.”
Should young Muslim men take this to mean that Wahabbism and basic training in the Swat Valley are the way to go?
(Not sure who you were quoting)
Yes, yes, yes.
Extremist religion of any variety, including radical Islam, ultra-Orthodox Judaism, conservative Catholicism, whatever, is a deliberate attempt to wall of the religious tradition from the ravages of assimilation. It is fundamentally an exclusionary act (no matter the pretentions to a worldwide Caliphate or universality or what have you), designed to wall out mainstream Westernism which seeks to engulf everyone and everything in its path and create, for the first time, a single, unified world culture.
Yes indeed, this may well be viewed as a form of cultural genocide. Things are indeed lost as all of these varying cultures are absorbed and digested. Larger cultures may well leave their stamp on whatever it is we end up being, while smaller ones may disappear with nary a trace. I’ll also point out the those cultures that have members who have mastered the technological tools that allow this global assimilation to occur have much better odds of making and leaving an impact.
And who knows if this single world culture will be more Brave New World or Star Trek?
On the other hand, without the capacity for cultural misunderstanding, how much less conflict will there be in the world? Look at our culture here in the US. Assimilation is the hallmark of American culture (the “Great American Melting Pot”). And our conflicts are almost entirely resolved through non-violent means. That is a real and important accomplishment. Is it worth the price we pay in terms of the loss of cultural diversity?



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Rod Dreher

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm


C’mon, Geoff, one may certainly reject “conservative Catholicism”, but to mention it in the same breath as radical Islam and ultra-Orthodox Judaism is an extreme stretch. George Weigel is not in the same category as the Satmar rebbe, who is not in the same category as this al Qaeda nut Al-Awlaki. There are important gradations between religions, and among exponents of traditionalism within religions (i.e., not every “conservative” Muslim is a violent radical). To lump them all together obscures significant distinctions. You would not find a conservative Catholic or Modern Orthodox Jewish neighbor endorsing your homosexuality, but in most cases you would be treated with genuine neighborliness by them. Not so if, say, a haredi Jewish family moved in, or a salafist Muslim family. Or a Mormon or Christian fundamentalist family.



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dangermom

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm


Rod, you have no idea what an LDS family would do.
[Note from Rod: I meant "Mormon fundamentalist" family, but I see that I wasn't clear in my wording. I'll change that. Thanks for the heads-up. -- RD]



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dangermom

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm


Hm. That wasn’t meant to sound like a threat, just pointing out ignorance.



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Geoff G.

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm


Rod, you misunderstand me. I’m not trying to equate the actions of the varying conservative religious groups. Clearly, a religion that sanctions indiscriminate murder is in a wholly different category.
My point was that all three do share a profound rejection of mainstream culture. To be sure, they go about that rejection in entirely different ways. But that doesn’t mean that the basic impulse isn’t the same.
You, yourself, have discussed how Pope Benedict appears to be trying to create a kind of “time capsule” of Catholicism that will survive the current era and preserve Catholic teachings for future generations (I’m paraphrasing heavily, and that’s my understanding of what I read here, so please correct me if I’m wrong).
That kind of strategy is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a means of resisting assimilation.
Radical Islam approaches the same problem using different means. It seeks to use violence to drive Western culture out of traditionally Muslim areas, and so to wall off the Muslim world from being assimilated into Westernism.
Yes, of course, the means are different. But the ends are the same.
(Incidentally, some gay people have explicitly rejected the idea of gay marriage precisely because it’s assimilationist; they don’t want to see the “gay ghettos” disappear and fear the loss of that separate identity. It’s a small minority, but the fear that drives them is precisely the fear that the religious groups under discussion have)



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kenneth

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm


It’s a difference in degree, not kind. Once you adopt the worldview that society at large is some decadent force seeking to corrupt and contaminate your one true path, you’re obligated to respond with more or less reactionary methods. From there, the question of violence just becomes a matter of the degree of alienation and the ability to employ it. Fundamentalists Islam didn’t start life as Al Queda. They progressed on that spectrum as they failed to gain traction by other means.
Are most conservative Catholics and other Christians at that point yet? No, but more of them are approaching it than we care to admit. They have lost their ability to order the entire society to their rule, and they perceive that as persecution. Compound that with the financial disenfranchisement that most of us are going through these days, and add some conspiratorial and apocalyptic thinking to that. The rhetoric of much of the tea party movement is not materially different from that used by the Muslim Brotherhood in the old days or in 1930s Germany, Spain or Italy. These folks may not end up at the Al Queda end of the spectrum, but they are flirting heavily with the idea…



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Grumpy Old Man

posted May 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm


Rod, it has become customary for Christians to eschew, or at least downplay, the goal of converting the Jews, an issue I have never seen you discuss.
No doubt the WWII genocide and the frequency of conversion by force or social pressure explains this reluctance. Nevertheless, if Christianity (and in particular, Orthodoxy) is true, the church is called to pray for the conversion of the Jews and welcome Jewish converts.
Hellenistic-Roman Judaism, already riven by sectarianism, fed into two streams, Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. Both had to reframe Temple Judaism, centered around the priestly abattoir. The rabbis created a cult centered around ethnic (and eventually caste) particularism, ritual observance, and endless scholastic study of multiplying texts. Christianity became universalistic and centered around the Eucharist, faith, and works of charity. (Both, of course, catered to kings when they had the opportunity.) They cannot both be true.
If rabbinic Judaism is a false religion, why would we regret its decline, if not procured by force, any more than we regret the disappearance of the Druids? After all, they were great bards, notwithstanding their penchant for human sacrifice.



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adrian

posted May 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm


Why on Earth is cultural development so terrifying?
In my opinion the motivation behind this fear of “Judaism going extinct” is either: a) racist (Jewish blood is being “diluted”) or more likely: b) well meaning but moronic (“I think abstaining from pork has no effect on going to heaven, and maybe there is no God anyway, but I still think anyone descended from people who thought the opposite should still follow their ancestors to preserve diversity”.
People should not be able to choose their lifestyle and religion?? Am I allowed to vote differently from my parents or will that dilute our family culture and hence the cultural diversity of our village??



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Jillian

posted May 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm


any more than we regret the disappearance of the Druids? After all, they were great bards, notwithstanding their penchant for human sacrifice.
Ah, but the druids and their equivalents have never actually disappeared in Europe. These days they get educations that have certificates and have books rather than overtly sticking with the 17 years of paper-free apprenticeship and memorization. And they prefer to be called by titles such as “Father” or “His Excellency, the Bishop”. They sadly don’t know as much about herbs and animals and planting season and weather as they used to, or write as much poetry or song- but they do have more clever theologies and financial arrangements.
When they tire of the common folk they still greatly enjoy congregating in great oak groves and by springs and/or altar stones as the sun sets (these days all constructed from stone and glass and termed ‘cathedrals’), surrounded by statuettes of those of blessed memory, burning incense and wearing gaudy robes while speaking eruditely and eloquently.



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Jeff

posted May 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm


Why do I have to have a connection to Israel to be a jew? Granted I am jewish in name only at this point since I married a non-jew and have no intention of having kids, but it’s not like there will never be jews in the world. Is there a quota to have 10 Million jews in the world? Do we have to inhabit every state in the US?



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Rod Dreher

posted May 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Adrian, examine your own assumptions here. If society were to become much less liberal tomorrow than it is today, would you call this cultural development something positive, or at least neutral, and nothing to be “terrified” of? Try to be empathetic to the point of view of the Orthodox Jew. He judges cultural progress or regress by the standard of the health of Orthodox Jewish life and tradition. If, in his judgment, broader conditions in society, or conditions within the Jewish community, make it easier to live out an authentically Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, then that’s progress; if not, that’s regress. What seems progressive to you might be regressive to the Orthodox Jew, and vice versa.
What is so terrifying about what you term “cultural development” is the possibility that something highly prized could be lost, possibly forever. That something could be Orthodox Jewish tradition and worship. It could be freedom of speech. It could be women’s rights, or the craft of traditional house-building. Each of us, and each group, has an idea of what’s worth preserving, and what’s inessential. Because liberal modernism has created a culture in which freedom to choose is the absolute telos, no group can count on a broader culture shoring up its values and ways of life — and that includes liberal secularists as well as illiberal religious. We live in a time of enormous fluidity. Let’s assume that you are a liberal Methodist; you can’t tell me that it’s a matter of no concern to you that your children would choose to practice (say) salafist Islam, and to raise your grandchildren in that faith. If that would trouble you, because it would put at risk some basic values that you would like to see adopted by your offspring and supported in society, can you at least not understand why an Orthodox Jew, a pious Muslim, a traditionalist Catholic, etc., would be concerned about the loss of their own longstanding traditions? Put another way, I suspect that your scorn for those who fear “cultural development” would evaporate if the “cultural development” turned in a way uncongenial to the core values of liberalism (by which I mean not “liberalism” in the Democratic Party sense, but liberalism in the way all cultures definitively shaped by the Enlightenment are liberal).



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allbetsareoff

posted May 19, 2010 at 2:55 pm


“[T]he future belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion.”
Maybe. More likely, the future of *religion* belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion. If that rigor is manifested in, say, attempts to impose ancient and medieval strictures on modern technological societies, the future of humanity may belong to non-believers.



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BobSF

posted May 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm


can you at least not understand why an Orthodox Jew, a pious Muslim, a traditionalist Catholic, etc., would be concerned about the loss of their own longstanding traditions? Put another way, I suspect that your scorn for those who fear “cultural development” would evaporate if the “cultural development” turned in a way uncongenial to the core values of liberalism (by which I mean not “liberalism” in the Democratic Party sense, but liberalism in the way all cultures definitively shaped by the Enlightenment are liberal).
You seem to be ignoring the mechanisms by which societies alter and, perhaps, eliminate subcultures. Liberalism may diminish the likelihood of Orthodox Judaism’s survival because it offers too many distractions. That’s not quite the same threat posed by, say, 15th century Spain’s forced conversion and expulsion.



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allbetsareoff

posted May 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm


“[T]he future belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion.”
Maybe. More likely, the future of *religion* belongs to those who practice a more rigorous form of religion. If that rigor manifests itself in, say, attempts to impose ancient/medieval strictures on modern technological societies, the future may belong to non-believers.



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MH

posted May 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Rod Dreher, if Judaism is true then its survival is guaranteed by God as part of the covenant. That’s not my opinion, but a Rabbi who was countering the common argument that Jews who marry out are destroying their people. Also if a religious tradition is so fragile that it can only survive in isolation then you have to wonder how valuable or true it is.
According to my spouse the reason Jews marry out are fairly complicated. First, there’s the issue of being a minority and probability dictates most people you meet won’t be Jewish. Second, its possible to be not Jewish enough to marry another more observant Jew, so its easier to marry a “none” to avoid conflict. There’s also the lack of belief which makes religious observance pointless and weak identification with the ethnic aspect of the sub-culture.
Although Jewish outreach efforts to the intermarried have been more successful in resent years, they face a problem. The message to the non-Jewish partner before the wedding was that you weren’t welcome. That taints that person’s impression about the religion after the wedding when children arrive.
Rombald, there are a fair number of non-religious Jews in Israel who would disagree with you. The problem is that Judaism is an ethnicity and a religion which means it blurs categories.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm


I am a Jew by birth only. My mother and her family were saved from certain death by northern Italian, Roman Catholic peasants, who put themselves at fatal risk daily on their behalf. In the end, the common factor of both the risk and survival was cultural quite as much as it was religious, more so I assert because religion was the primary pretext for their risk in the first place.
I hasten to add that I would never discount the faith of those Italians.
The pretext here, the hidden subtext (as it were), is the assumption that parents have the right/duty/obligation/whatever to make their children believers in their religion. This assumption of automatic indoctrination is the issue at odds with modern pluralism, and is even at risk from the American “tradition” of freedom of religion.
So, those who cry about the “death” of their tradition are building on a fallacy, that indoctrinating a child is a positive value. We shy away from discussing this except for that rare case where “we” all agree that the religion in question is itself bad, evil, whatever. What we miss is the basic concept of ownership of the hearts and minds of our children, that we can make certain decisions for them before they have any chance of acquiring the native skills to think about such abstracts, and we fill them with dogma and doctrine by rote.
I’ll just note that the survival of Judaism as both a religion and culture was due to the astonishing adaptability and resilience of its members. Take a close look at the superficial differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions (as just one example), and you will find the same Jewish faith underneath both.
Geoff, I was thinking of rebutting your analogy to language divergence, but on second read I will refrain. I will note that physical distance is the primary cause for divergence, and it is intellectually and logically dangerous to cite (for example) class-differentiations when they can be better explained by idiomatic differences… and while some like to consider idiom sufficient in support of divergent, when they refer to the same object they remain more like synonyms than divergences. :-)



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CAP

posted May 19, 2010 at 4:29 pm


one thing that’s getting lost here, though somewhat alluded to above, is that no one is preventing orthodox jews from practicing orthodox judaism.
as a christian, i don’t feel as though my relationship with god is any weaker or diluted if i’m not surrounded by like-minded believers. in fact, the overwhelming majority of my friends and associates do not share equivalent beliefs of myself. but i don’t feel that my values are ‘under attack’ or that i’m being marginalized. my faith rolls on.
now granted, everybody appreciates the choir. and having like-minded supporters around them. people that, y’know .. “share our values”. but if faith falters or moderates, that’s at the level of personal decision. not persecution or conspiracy.
in america 2010, if an orthodox jew’s granddaughter falls in love with, and marries, a gentile, are we suppossed to blame liberalism, or amy winehouse, or ‘the culture’ for that?



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Brock

posted May 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm


I don’t have any settled opinion on this, but I wanted to relate some recent experiences. I’m Catholic, and my husband, who has been an unbaptised believer in Christ (I know, I know) but Jewish by birth, has recently had a faith crisis and has been going to one of the major Jewish outreach groups lately. I’ve gone with him, and whilst I’m quite impressed with the members of this group I’ve met, and most of them have been very warm and welcoming (including the ones who know I’m Catholic) – nevertheless, a lot of people there don’t yet know I’m not Jewish, and I’ve heard some comments that I’m really uncomfortable about.
For example, for years I’ve been accustomed to hearing that the idea that the Jews are in fact a nation (to the point where dual loyalty problems might come into play, for example) is anti-Semitic, and/or that the fact that European nations did not encourage assimilation is anti-Semitic. But just this morning, I was at a Shavuos party and listened to someone telling my husband all about how the Jews are a nation and shouldn’t really consider themselves as American or English, and that being assimilation-friendly is just the latest attempt of other nations to destroy the Jews, and that assimilation is therefore even more dangerous and evil than the Nazis. Perfectly nice guy otherwise, not obviously nuts or anything.



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MH

posted May 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm


Also, I would reserve the word terrifying for events like the Canary Islands having a major eruption, followed by a landslide and a mega-tsunami leveling the East coast. People losing their religion doesn’t even rate on this scale.
Brock, there a fruit cakes in every crowded.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm


Also, I would reserve the word terrifying for events like the Canary Islands having a major eruption, followed by a landslide and a mega-tsunami leveling the East coast. People losing their religion doesn’t even rate on this scale.
That was my thought also…



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Yirmi

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:22 pm


It’s not true, as your post suggests, that most Orthodox Jews are bigoted and completely insular. Most Modern Orthodox, and an increasing amount of Charedim (“ultra-orthodox”), have normal jobs and interact with secular Jews and gentiles on a regular (and pleasant) basis. The point is, most Jews don’t believe strongly enough in their religion to insist that their children marry Jews and observe the religion. The Orthodox, including the Modern Orthodox, are the only grouping that are successful in doing so. Millions of (potential) Jews have already “disappeared” through this silent holocaust of intermarriage and assimilation.
The problem is liberalism — many people are so invested in liberal politics (gay marriage, no distinctions between men and women) that they cannot imagine believing in and practicing a religion that doesn’t share these liberal values 100%. Then again, quite a large percentage (though probably not a majority) of the Modern Orthodox are liberals who vote Democrat. Probably quite a few crunchy-cons among them — people liberal on environmental and economic issues but moderate or conservative on social issues.
Liberalism, really far-left liberalism, is so deeply ingrained among college educated people that it is really hard for them to accept seemingly illiberal traditions like a male-only rabbinate or a ban on marriages to (and even dating) non-Jews. That’s why we need people like you to popularize cultural conservatism — to make it intellectually and socially acceptable, even cool. Only when that happens among the general population will liberal Jews move to Orthodoxy en masse.



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Rombald

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:54 am


I do think it is sad for cultures to die out – something is lost to humanity. However, I don’t see why the Jews are such a special case, in a purely cultural sense. We live in the age of language death. Most surviving Native American languages are on their last legs, as are the cultures they belong to. Various local European languages (Scots Gaelic, Breton, Sorb, etc.) are threatened. When a language dies, a whole way of looking at the world dies with it, as, often, does a whole set of traditional technologies relating to natural resources.
The thing about the Jews is that their culture is linked to a specific, scripture-based religion. Therefore, the question of whether the loss of the Jews is any more of a tragedy than the loss of any small culture, is whether Judaism is factually true, or at least whether its existence is of some sort of benefit to humanity.



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Larry

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:27 am


The whole faulty premise of this piece is that it defines Judaism and religiousity in terms of more or less ritual observance. It loses sight of the fact that that the whole reason we are facing this “crisis” is because our parents and grandparents worked tirelessly to make sure we had the right to participate fully in all that America has to offer and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Most American Jews would never go back to an environment of limited choices. So Judaism will thrive or fail based upon the ability of our wisdom traditions, ethics, and insights to add value to the lives of people who have unlimited choices.
It’s a new and daunting challenge but it is what it is and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.



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Larry Snider

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:40 am


It seems to me the future belongs to anyone, everyone who has the chuztpa to redesign the culture of learning to appeal to the next generation, (the now generation) of young American Jews. This is the challenge for Reform Judaism, for Conservative Judaism, for the smaller Reconstructionist and Renewal streams of Judaism and for Modern Orthodox Judaism as well. It is possible to teach the history of the Jewish people in a way that is compelling to young people in 2010 and connect it to the challenges of present day Israel. It is possible to begin to tell a story of two peoples with three religions and create a stake for every young American Jew and non-Jew alike in understanding the history, the clash of civilizations and religions that will encourage them to become actively engaged in the next phase of a Jewish, Muslim, Christian observance which can be all about developing relationships here in the United States and there in the Holy Land.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:51 am


Yirmi, I didn’t mean to imply that most Orthodox Jews, even haredim, are bigots. I would have no way of knowing that, certainly. I don’t think choosing to live in some sense a life separate from the mainstream is evidence of bigotry. The point I was trying to make is that modernity is so corrosive to religious and cultural identity that if one wishes to preserve it as a living tradition, one will have to in some sense live separately from the main. You understand that. Many people, and not just contemporary Jews, don’t get this.
Larry identifies the irony of assimilation to modernity for Jews: the very thing their parents and grandparents worked so hard to achieve for them is the thing that is dissolving their particular identity as Jews, and which threatens the demise, over time, of the Jewish people. Again, the Jews are outliers here. We will see the same thing with Muslims, and we have been seeing the same thing with Christians, though it’s less obvious because modernity, in the sense I’m talking about (e.g., liberalism) emerged from within Western European Christian cultures. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has observed, there really aren’t any viable conservative traditions to counter modernity; there is only liberalism — conservative liberalism, liberal liberalism, and radical liberalism. So many Americans who identify themselves as conservatives have no idea how much their own position depends on liberalism in the 19th-century philosophical sense.



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Ginny

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:06 pm


It is untrue to say that anti-Semitism has virtually disappeared in the West. Quite the contrary, there is more of it and anti-Israel feeling and it seems to be increasing. Also calling Orthodox Jews bumptious and bigoted is an anti-Semitic remark (to say nothing of not being true). I’m sorry that this article was linked to a site that usually has reasonable Jewish content.



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Martin

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm


What I found particularly odd was a small comment in passing, I think Dreher’s quote of something from David Goldman, about the predictable decline of the Jewish population because of intermarriage. Here was the argument:a 50% intermarriage rate, and a birth rate around 1, means that there will be a 75% population loss among Jews. The arithmetic looks pretty sound. But it flies in the face of facts that promise a very different future for Jews in America. In the Reform temple where I and my family belong, 50% of the membership started out as gentile. Some formerly gentile spouses have converted to Judaism, but many have not. Yet, 100% of their offspring are being brought up as Jews. And all of those kids participate in the rich curriculum provided by the religious school, which in the best circumstances is a supplement to Jewish practices at home. Confirmation services during Shavuot this past week testified to the excitement generated among those kids. Sure, there are plenty of intermarried families that stay outside of this kind of scenario, but that is no less true for millions of all-Jewish couples who never affiliate. From where I am sitting, there is a promising future for Jews in America that does not depend on the one third of the young adult Jewish community that professes an Orthodox orientation. It is the real reason that Reform Judaism continues to prosper.



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MH

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Martin, last year the Boston Globe did a story on this. From what I’ve remember the average of intermarried couples is 1/3 raise Jewish, 1/3 Christian, and 1/3 nothing. In areas with aggressive outreach efforts like Boston the percentage that raise Jewish increases. I don’t recall the percentage, but it was helping to reverse the demographic slide. Basically if Jews get their number above 50% in the case of intermarried couples they will end up with positive growth.



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Didi

posted May 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm


The title of this piece grabbed my attention as an American woman who converted to Judaism after I got married to my born-Jewish husband. The bottom line is that according to many, I would not even be considered Jewish because of my Conservative conversion. Despite a year of study, despite immersion in the mikveh and despite appearing before the beit din, I would have a hard fight in trying to obtain right of return should I want to make aliyah (move to Israel). And as time passes, I am less and less inclined to see Israel as my home. Why? Because of the theocratic state that Israel is becoming. If you are not Orthodox, you are not welcome. State money is given only to Orthodox schools, yeshivas and shuls. Orthodox rabbis are paid by the state. The basic attitude is “to hell with” the Concervative and Reform Jews. And little is being done in America to change this.
The treatment I received when enrolling my son in a Jewish preschool in our home state was terrible. The lack of warmth and welcoming was unreal. The attitudes of our community towards the less observant and Gentiles is evidently negative. I am heartbroken and disillusioned over what I have seen and experienced among my people. And my husband is as well. So if I and my family are not welcomed as Jews, how can we feel any sort of connection to American Judaism or to Israel?



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MH

posted May 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm


Didi, sorry to hear that. My spouse and I are in the 1/3 doing nothing because we’re equally apathetic. But we have friends who have found that choice of synagogue makes a big difference as some are more welcoming of intermarrieds and converts than others.



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Mr. X

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:18 pm


Didi,
To abandon the Jewish community and the community in Israel in the face of threats of genocide, actual discrimination and whatever else is problematic all because the community is imperfect.
I am in an intermarriage, and for venues that do not want us around. I do not push myself where i amnot wanted.
People do what they think is correct, and interpret laws to the best of their ability. I hope that it works for them.
but if you are selling out other Jews, and from what you indicated, all Jews because some do not meet your standards of tolerance smacks of your intolerance.
Tolerance is a double edged sword. Its one thing to surgically remove offensive elements from your main area of concern, as the theologies and philospophies in the Jewish tent are vast, but selling out a your whole people smacks of exremely questionable character. whats next? your employer? Your clients? Your country?
A sell out is a sell out. I cannot trust you and no one you affiliate with can or should.



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a.s.allessio

posted May 21, 2010 at 12:46 am


I am findng more and more that I HAVE CONTEMPT FOR GENTILES. I am not proud of this, and I am glad that at some point I did recognize it.
I tolerate the Episcopalians to a great degree because they re so NOT pushy and the Catholics that I work for, are dedicated to the causes they support. As am I, the refugees that are brought to this area in a humanatarian relief effort. I could stand toe to toe with the pope over the use of condoms in Africa (AIDS & BITH CONTROL BOTH). The thing that I really am contemptous of are the “non religions”, the
fringe, the door knockers that won’t let you alone, the cults that hide behind jesus & evoke his name when its needed to promote a cause or in the case of George W., an unnessessary war. jesus sending young soldiers into armed combat. How can you even be civil to these people? I am finding it more and more difficult and there is no one that is aware of my feelings because I keep them totally hidden until now. Like I said I am aware that my feeling are neiher kindly or Christian but then I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN, NOR DO I WANT TO BE ONE.



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sklein11

posted May 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm


The notion that there is “no such thing as a secular Jew” is nonsense. There is a large population of people who are irreligious, but whose behavior and beliefs conform to a significant extent to Jewish norms and values, who are connected to a variety of Jewish cultural, charitable, social and religious institutions and who (sometimes) self-identify as Jewish. You can’t usefully describe such people without “Jewish” as part of the label.
Finally, the “assimilation = destruction” trope is long-standing ideological propaganda designed by Jewish opponents of assimilation to induce guilt in and extract money from assimilated Jews. Assimilation changes things, and some of the changes involve the loss of valuable institutions, but it is change, not destruction.



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Jessica

posted May 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm


I want to add to all these comments that it doesn’t really matter what religion we are! that is not what makes us a good, loving, non-judgemental, caring person and that is not what our God the living God the creator of the Heavens and the Earth said that is going to get us into heaven! Not once, anywhere I have read it says that religion is going to get us into heaven, it is what is within us, our hearts, our souls and how we treat others, How can one say that a Jew does not belong in Israel? or for that matter anywhere that person wants to be? Who are we to say that a Christian cannot live in the U.S.A. or anywhere else? are we so high and mighty that we have made ourselves God? for God is the only person who is our judge and executioner, it is no one’s place to tell another person they don’t belong somewhere or to treat them unkindly because we think they don’t belong where they want to be. I find myself with a heavy heart most of the times how we gentiles for I am one, treat Jews! How can some say they are Christians and treat Jews with contempt? Our lord Yeshua was a Jew! whether he was an orthodox or not was not made important in the new testament not once did it say that we should treat them any different if they were not orthodox Jews or if they are not! Grow up people not only in mind but in spirit I am a gentile yes, we were extended the mercy to be in God’s grace the Jewish people are his beloved, his first children remember this before any one of you point a finger or treat them as if they were not children of God whether they choose to believe in Yeshua or not is not for us to judge! Remember God loves us all whether Jew,Gentile, white, black, asian, spanish, causasian, greek, well, you get my point God is not interested in what is on the outside people!!! love one another and be patient with one another for if we do not have charity we have nothing! May God bless you all!



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shoshanna

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm


David Goldman is a follower of Rand Paul.
As an Orthodox Jew, Goldman must adhere to Talmudic precepts. Dr. Paul believes that private businesses have the right to discriminate
against any potential customers, and the Talmud calls upon Jews
not to engage in commerce with – i.e., to discriminate against- Gentiles.



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