Undermining Assumptions

I’m a little late on noting this, but a few weeks ago Scripps News published a thought-provoking column by Rabbi Arthur Blecher on intermarriage, the High Holidays and the Jewish future. Attentive readers of this blog will recognize his name as the author of the recently published New American Judaism, which argues that widely held anxieties about Jewish continuity rest on a false image of the past and a faulty analysis of the future.

In both his book and his column, Blecher brings a much-needed historical perspective to the debate over intermarriage and Jewish continuity. He points to the revered Solomon Schechter’s completely misguided prediction that “traditional Judaism will not survive another generation in this country.” Schechter died in 1915. He also points out that¬†the Jewish population in the U.S.¬†has grown six-fold since the beginning of the century.

His arguments on the demographic impact of intermarriage mirror our own. He says, “The math of intermarriage should give rise to optimism, not comparisons to genocide.”

Probably the most fascinating section of his book deconstructs the myth of historical Jewish continuity. When one compares the rites and worship of pre-rabbinic Judaism¬†compared with the rituals of modern Judaism, it’s clear that the two share only a few philosophical underpinnings–and little else. Moreover, the idealized notion of a rich Jewish life on the shtetl is as much a product of fiction (primarily Fiddler on the Roof) as it is of fact.

If you’re interested in having your assumptions tested, buy this book.

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