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Why Be Jewish?

Why Be Jewish?



I am teaching a high school class about threats to Judaism in the modern world. What do you see as the biggest threat to Jewish survival--assimilation or anti-Semitism?


The biggest threat to Jewish survival is confused Jewish identity. Sadly, today in many Jewish schools and families, Jewish identity is built through teaching Holocaust awareness and a fear of marrying out. The Jewish community's preoccupation with assimilation and anti-Semitism is not the solution, it is the problem.

A pessimistic and negative presentation of being Jewish turns off young Jews more than anything else. When we obsess about anti-Semitism we paint ourselves as perpetual victims. When we over-emphasize the threat of assimilation, it makes us feel like an endangered species. The Jews are alongside the hump-back whale and the giant panda in the list of helpless and pitiful communities disappearing from the planet. Is it so surprising that young Jews are opting out of Judaism? Who wants to be a victim?

We have to stop defining ourselves by the way others perceive us. Assimilation is when non-Jews love us so much they want to marry us. Anti-Semitism is when non-Jews hate us so much they want to kill us. They both just happen to us; but what do we think of ourselves?

We need a clear and positive reason to stay Jewish. Failing that, why should Judaism survive? Is there a good argument for not assimilating into the welcoming societies surrounding us? Is there a compelling reason to stay proudly Jewish in the face of anti-Semitism?

I think there is.

Judaism is the most powerful idea that the world has ever seen. Jews should survive because we have a message that the world needs to hear.

The Jewish way of life is a revolutionary force that can transform ordinary lives into lives of meaning. A family that keeps Shabbat is always reminded of what is really important--that there is more to life than accumulating wealth. The kosher laws teach us that we are not mere animals that must feed our every urge and desire, and that eating itself can be holy. A mezuzah on the door tells the world that this home is built for a higher purpose.

Judaism teaches lessons that the world urgently needs to learn--that every individual person is created in the image of G‑d, and is therefore unique and valuable; that morality is not relative but absolute; that humans are partners with G‑d in creation, with a mission to create heaven on earth.

These bold Jewish ideas are more relevant now than ever. But bold Jewish ideas need bold Jewish people to perpetuate them. The world can only be elevated if individuals first elevate themselves. We can only make the world into a divine home if we start with our own home. This is Judaism's formula to change the world for better. This is why we must stay Jewish.

The biggest threat to Judaism is not external pressure but rather internal confusion. When we lose sight of our mission, we lose the strength and stamina to survive. The Jewish feeling we need to develop in ourselves and our children is not fear of anti-Semitism, or guilt about assimilation. It is a humble pride in the greatness of the Jewish mission and confident resolve to fulfill it. When we are clear about our identity, no threat in the world can shake us.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
Illustration by Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik; click here to view or purchase Mr. Muchnik's art.
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Discussion (108)
December 22, 2015
I am replying to the 'Why be Jewish' mail.
Some years ago I made a visit to Israel to study the migratory birds.
I was raised as a fairly strict Christian, a member of the 'Knights Templar'(as children at our Sunday school we were referred to as 'Good Templar's)I can recall many symbolic images and items on the wall of my Sunday school when I was a kid, I did not understand what it was all about. Anyway when I went to the money changers in Eilat to get some shekels, the money changers refused to change my money. Upon enquiring why, they told me that I should speak my mother tongue, i.e. Yiddish? and that I should be ashamed that I did not speak the language! I went to another money changer to be met with exactly the same response! I was faced with the possibility that I was Jewish. How would those people be able to work that out, I had absolutely no idea, I was 45 years old. How could this happen?
March 18, 2015
I saw somewhere that long long ago there were 10 million Jews and 30 million Chinese Now 14 million Jews and 1200 million or so Chinese It seems to be
Ordained that Jews will be 10-20 million throughout time
Also even with 100% intermarriage Mendelian genetics say 25% will be ethnically
100% Jewish so it appears assimilation threats were anticipated from day one
Patrick Rooney
Phoenix AZ
November 19, 2014
Whay be Jewish
This is fantastic letter.About moral way of life. Your way of living and teaching give light in life.God blessJewish nation, state and all Rabbi s.Shalom.
Igor Bartolic
November 15, 2014
Thank you so much
What a wonderful, truthful article! Amen amen
November 14, 2014
"You don't look Jewish"
Many times in my life this was said to me - by Christians. They were people who I thought were my friends -- and they became no longer friends when they discovered I am Jewish.

My not looking Jewish has given me a particular type of insight -- non-Jews would tell me great jokes about Jews - which "jokes" are very derogatory. Once finding out that they just told a Jew - believe me, they were NOT happy. Not upset with what they said - just that I somehow should have let them know beforehand that I am "a Jew" (said with that sound of hatred).

If I am not liked because I'm Jewish - then I don't need enemies in my life. Especially those who purport to be 'true Christians.' I need to know my enemies.

I already know my friends.
Meira Shana
San Diego
November 7, 2014
Christians and Jews
As a student of Theology I find myself seeking knowledge from both religious belief systems. Today, our world is at war with itself and it seems religion is a key element. I pray for G-d's speedy return for the sake of all humanity!
July 15, 2014
Dear Anonymous,

On a theoretical level, one can assimilate and not be Christian, it wouldn't make much sense assimilate into Christianity or any other religion unless is out of absolute conviction... Furthermore, spreading good is not the main mission of Christianity, their theology moves around a person.
Couldn't it be that the problem of Judeophobia is of those who hate and not ours? The way I see it, if someone wants to hate me because of who I am, it also tires me and scares me sometimes, but I'd never consider giving up the essence of my being to the unjustified and unjustifiable hatred of some fools (to avoid using other words). If you give up who you are, what is left of you? Do you really think you would you be less tired or less scared?

I hope you have a supporting community. You may want to share your feelings and fears with them, there's no need to go through it alone....
Paris, France
July 15, 2014
You say to keep going because of our mission, but why not assimilate when there is so much anti-semitism and the Christians have that same mission. I don't believe in Jesus but I believe in helping people and spreading good. Why can't I assimilate and do good without continuously feeling hunted? It always feels so surreal that everywhere I turn on the Internet people want to kill me and hate, and I'm tired and scared.
May 19, 2014
Don't use the word convert
it isn't that we have a problem with the word, it's that the rest of the world, including aspects of the religious and secular world, have made it a problem for us!
May 19, 2014
I couldn't agree more with Rabbi Moss' perspective... I have tried to share a similar point of view and people tend to look at me as a radical.
Some people are complaining here about how "converts" are treated. How about not using at all the word "convert"? No one is a convert, people undergo conversion or not, and at the end they become Jews (or whatever people become).
Netanya, Israel