In his essay entitled “The Jewish Future in Black and White.” (The Forward, October 16, 2009) Uzi Silber reminds us of the inevitable take over of American Judaism by Orthodox Jews. It is simply a matter of numbers: for every 100 Orthodox Jews in their 50s today there are 192 children; while for every 100 nonOrthodox Jews in their 50s there are 55 children. Do the math. Eventually Orthodoxy wins.
Does this matter? Not to me. Does that make me want to be an Orthodox Jew? Not at all. I’m too liberal, too pro-choice, too pro-GLBT, and too tolerant of Jews who like BLTs to be an Orthodox Jew. I won’t change. I don’t want to change. And if this means that Judaism goes the way of the Orthodox, it is fine with me.
More than fine, actually. When asked at a conference what I thought Judaism’s greatest gift to the non-Jewish world was, I said, “Jews.” I then went on to explain that Jews raised in traditional Torah study have a certain kind of mind, one that tolerates paradox, multiplicity of meanings, and doubt. Some of these Jews will apply that mindset outside the Jewish world and use it to enrich the larger world. I’m thinking of people like Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein, Derrida, and others. While none of them was an “orthodox” Jew, none of them would have been the revolutionary he was without “orthodoxy” in his background.
Liberal Jewish education, based on the western model of learning, lacks that penchant for paradox that traditional Jewish education promotes. Not that Orthodox Judaism is consciously iconoclastic or that Orthodox Jews deliberately raise iconoclastic kids, but that there is something about the pedagogy of Torah study that sharpens the minds of the well educated in a way that Western education does not. While liberal Judaism can produce good people, it probably can’t produce revolutionaries. And revolutionaries have been Judaism’s gift to the world for millennia.
So if we liberal Jews are opting out of the race to determine who is a Jew in the 22nd century, I’m not afraid. Just as Orthodoxy gave us radical liberationists in the 19th and 20th centuries, I am certain it will do the same in the 22nd.