Scott Shay’s new book, Getting Our Grove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, deals with the impending Jewish demographic disaster and how to avoid it. Here is the problem: Jews don’t marry Jews, and even when they do they don’t have enough babies, and even the babies they do have aren’t raised to be serious Jews. Mr. Shay wants to fix that. Good idea.
The first thing I did when the book arrived is to look through the index to find the words “God,” “spirituality,” “religion,” “faith,” “Torah,” and “Judaism.” They were absent. Whatever groove we Jews are supposed to get back, it isn’t the God Groove.
Mr. Shay just wants the tribe to continue not the religion that makes the tribe worthy of continuation. I assume that he assumes that if there is a critical mass of Jews we will once again produce geniuses like Marx, Freud, and Einstein. Maybe so, but we will never again produce genius like Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, or the Baal Shem Tov. If it weren’t for the latter, I suspect the former would not have emerged at all. While I in no way wish to see a return to Orthodoxy, I don’t see the point of a purely secular Jewish people lacking the spiritual iconoclasm that is at the heart of authentic Judaism.
The second thing I did was to see how Mr. Shay’s proposes we counter the demographic doom facing us. I didn’t find anything really new in his suggestions. So let me offer a few suggestions that are new. Judaism aside, here are four things we can do to rebuild the tribe.
1. Rather than spend millions of dollars sending Jewish kids to Israel, let’s spend millions of dollars in stipends to Jewish couples willing to marry, have, and raise as serious Jews five children through the age of 21. Divorce is not an option until all their children are in college.
2. Let’s reinstitute the holiday of the 15th of Av (Jewish “Valentines Day”) making it a day on which parents of any age Jewish children arrange marriages to Jewish children of a similar age.
3. Let’s build state-of-the-art shtetls in major cities throughout the United States where signage is in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and English, and Judaism and Jewish culture in all their forms are the norm rather than the exception. Costs would be subsidized so that Jews of all economic brackets could get in.
4. Let’s add a sex-ed curriculum to confirmation class that focuses not only on health, but also on sexual acumen and a Song of Songs celebration of human sexuality. Let’s make Jews the best sex-partners in the world.
I’m sure you can come up with more ideas for turning the demographic tide. Share them with your local Jewish Federations. Who knows? They may actually listen to you.