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Why Be Jewish?

Why Be Jewish?

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
Illustration by Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik; click here to view or purchase Mr. Muchnik's art.
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JDV July 11, 2016

Why be Jewish Rabbi Moss, you are right on. I always enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work. Reply

Shlomo Király Budapest May 18, 2016

Re donating to cancer research When you donate all your money to cancer research, and I mean all of it, that will be a good time to ask others do redirect their money there. Until then, the proper thing to do is respect people's choices. Some folks spend on vacations or cars and others spend on G-d. That's impressive to me. Reply

Theresa May 18, 2016

Why be a Jew I think G_d commands us to a Jew, we are example of what survival is . I am proud to be a Jew, The only think that is an absolute is ignorance. Ignorance kills, you can't win this fight when the outside world is ignorance. Be a Jew is a beautiful thing to be. We probably are the last of the Human race that really honors our Fore Fathers, we don't need to make excuses because people have vain ideas of who we are. It is up to them to recognize who we really are and who we represent, we are a light unto this world. we don't need to change who we are to get people's acceptance. I like being who I am and I love our Jewish traditions, many people outside of Israel, especially the Christian they are learning our G_D given ways and they want to be Jewish and come live in Israel, I think this is good, not every one hates us. People just don't have the information they need to know why we are on this earth. Reply

André Lima São José dos Campos / Brazil May 17, 2016

When the judaism is strong nothing can defeat it Assimilation become in several times the proof in your faith. All things we believe need be redeemed and put into practice. Assimilation does not exist when we practice every day in our lives.
I know assimilated families and they are not people who live the Judaism into the your lives.
Be strong and loyal to G-d.
Best wishes my friends! Reply

arthur yanoff May 17, 2016

assimilating many years ago, my father,alava shulim,told me when I was a teen that assimilation was one of our most serious threats. telling me that so long ago, i thought that he was prost mishigah. when I finally realized how correct he was , I realized that there is no substitute for Torah. we have to realize that it is what it is. our jewish mothers means that we are jews. an atheist of a jewish mother is a jew. he or she is as much a part of klal yisroel as the most religious rabbi. it is important for young jews to understand that the dimension of Torah/Talmud is more far reaching than the political expedient of the moment. there is a movement to reach out to hidden jews. this should be a priority. by way of jewish law they can be brought back into our community. pride in being jewish must be encouraged. Reply

Anonymous May 17, 2016

Truly, truly amazing and excellent answer. Well said! Thank you for posting this much needed article! Reply

Anonymous May 17, 2016

Question - Would you ever believe that by donating the cost it takes to be Jewish (shul fees, burial fees, additional cost of kosher food, tefillin, shatnes and ALL the other costs) to cancer research and by doing so it would save a life.... what would you do? Reply

Arthur December 22, 2015

Hi,
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? Reply

Patrick Rooney Phoenix AZ 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 Reply

Igor Bartolic Zagreb 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. Reply

Jody Toronto November 15, 2014

Thank you so much What a wonderful, truthful article! Amen amen Reply

Meira Shana San Diego 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. Reply

Anonymous USA 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! Reply

Livni Paris, France 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.... Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

JDV 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! Reply

Livni Netanya, Israel 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). Reply

Sarah Lin Oakland, CA January 28, 2014

From a goy Here is how I feel. I don't want you to be me. I want you to be you, a true Jew. I don't want to marry you. I just want to be your family and your kindred spirit. I will protect you and honor you for who you are meant to be. Reply

Daniel Sweden July 24, 2013

Jew/Gentile - differencies? I have come across the use of 'Jew' in regard to social subject matters that made me realise i really have no acceptable understanding of what the word means. I have previously had a very narrow, naive yet innocent concept based on studies of different religions and what bible-study came with my christian upbringing, in an otherwise quite secular society (Sweden).
It has abstractly dawn upon me that in the many ways the word (Jew) is used, it seem to carry a much deeper and complex definition than what would encompass someone merely defining s/he a loose classification of religious affinity (to what I am used to). Instead it seems to be able to be quite fluid in its meaning depending on what aspects a person whish to refer to. This makes it even harder to grasp and give it a cryptic and even mysterious property I rarely see in relation to attributing identity.
If anyone have some good source where I can find a somewhat deeper understanding of it's meaning to fill my logic gap, I'd appreciate it very much.

Thank you for you patience! Reply

Gabriel FL May 22, 2013

Converts Check out Numbers 9:14, you should treat a convert and a native born citizen the same Reply

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