Dear Rabbi,

I recently read through a study published in 2005, in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service. What I gather from study, titled “Engaging American Jews,” is that the author divided the greater Jewish community into three categories.

  1. The inner core are those who are fully Orthodox and observant of Jewish law. They are not at risk.
  2. The outer layer is made up of those who are not at all engaged with Judaism. They are on the edge, and most at risk of assimilation.
  3. Then there is a large middle layer, comprising those who are somewhat traditional, have a Jewish identity, but are not religious.

The author writes that communal funds and effort should be focused primarily on the middle group. The religious core are fine, they are mostly marrying within the community and having Jewish children. The outer layer is too far gone and too hard to bring back. It is the middle who is at risk of drifting away but still within reach.

Do you agree that we should give up on an entire group of Jews?


While this analysis makes sense when discussing a business model, Judaism is not a business and Jews are not mere potential customers. When it comes to questions of identity, the Jewish nation is not governed by the rules of the market, but by rules of the soul.

The study above, by dividing the community into categories, ignores the most important of those rules: All Jewish souls are intertwined.

The fate of one single Jewish soul impacts the fate of the entire nation. To think we can help one part of the people and ignore the rest is ludicrous. Imagine a boat passenger announcing, “Hey, this is my part of the boat and I want to drill a hole in just this part! Mind your own business!” Should we ignore that passenger to focus on the others who are more mindful of the boat?

The boat is a single entity. If one part of the boat has a hole, the entire boat has a hole.

The same with us Jews: We are all in this boat together.

It works two ways.

One Jewish leader explained our collective responsibility like so:

A great rabbinic leader was once asked why he was so diligent in his studies. Could he not rest for a few hours?

He answered, “If I stop learning, another Jew, somewhere in the world, will become lax in his Judaism.”

The rabbi explained to his surprised listeners, “All Jewish souls are connected. Your actions do not just impact just you; they have a ripple effect that reaches and affects others too. When one does not concentrate on his studies, it causes another Jew, less of a scholar, to not feel like coming to synagogue to pray. And that causes yet another Jew, slightly further away, to stop eating kosher, which leads another Jew to lose his faith in G‑d, which leads to yet another Jew losing his identity altogether. This is all because you were slack in your Jewish studies!”

The same applies in reverse. When a soul on the edge of the community, disconnected and disillusioned, is inspired to turn around and rediscover his or her Jewishness, this generates waves of spiritual energy that are felt throughout the Jewish world. Even the most committed Jew needs inspiration, and nothing inspires more than seeing a dimmed soul reignite.

We have to become one people again. Let the divisions between religious and secular fall away. Let those who are connected share their enthusiasm with those who have yet to feel that connection. And let those who question the relevance of Judaism to their lives ask those questions openly and consider the answers with equal openness.

Rather than dividing our community into isolated groups, let's mingle as one big complicated family. We will all benefit, because we are all in the same boat.