I share with Shmuley Boteach a great sense of loss for all those (including many members of my family) who were murdered by the Nazis and their many eager accomplices throughout Europe. And I understand why Boteach, searching for a way to appeal to his ultra-Orthodox audience, could have eagerly grasped on to sanctifying their already-large families by laying on this higher mission to their sex lives. But I think the notion that we could and should "replace all the ones that we lost during those terrible years" is misguided and ultimately destructive. It is the wrong way to respond to the Holocaust, and the wrong way to preserve the Jewish people.
Here are some reasons:
1. No one can replace the lost lives of the Holocaust. These were individuals who were precious to God and to us. The notion that future generations can replace them pushes us toward a utilitarian calculus in which uniqueness is replaced by numbers--reminiscent of the Nazis trying to reduce us to the numbers tattooed on the arms of many of my family members.
2. The Jewish community already gives too little support or place to singles. Many single people tell me that they feel that the synagogues and institutions of Jewish life seem constructed solely for families, and they feel excluded. As a result, many people join synagogues only when they have children in the pre-Bar and Bat Mitzvah years. We lose a whole generation of young people--from the age of 18 to those in their late 30s--who are not yet having children. Jewish life needs to go in a very different direction, but Boteach's injunction will only intensify the pressure to marry, making singles or couples without children feel that somehow they are betraying the memories of the slaughtered.
Before writing my book "Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation" (Harper/Collins, 1995), I spent several years interviewing hundreds of Jews aged 20-50 who had been brought up in the Jewish community, and I explored with them their current relationship to their Jewishness. Many had been "turned off" by their experiences in the Jewish world, and when I asked them why, they often tell me there is an obsessive focus on the Holocaust and Jewish suffering. This focus makes many people feel that their own desire for a joyful existence is in some way a violation of the honor due to those who suffered in the past. (Imagine how this dynamic would be intensified if Jewish children were named after Holocaust victims and had the burden of being their "replacements.")
3. Boteach wants us to have more Jews, but his advice will actually have the opposite effect. The greatest threat to the Jewish people at the present moment is not that we aren't having enough babies, but that the content of what we offer to those babies as they grow up in the Jewish world often produces alienated Jews who want little or nothing to do with Judaism.
My point here is that if Shmuley Boteach is worried about the number of Jews we have for the future, he'd do much better to focus his attention on rebuilding the spiritual and ethical foundations of Judaism in the present. The damage done by distorted lessons from the Holocaust will drive far more Jews away from Jewishness than can be replaced by overburdening religious Jews with the obligation to produce more babies.