Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America Hardcover – Jun 4 1997
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The Jewish population in the United States may shrink by two million people in the next half-century. This demographic likelihood--well known in Jewish circles and due almost entirely to intermarriage--creates a dilemma for group survival. A big part of the problem, writes Elliott Abrams, has been the secularization of Jewish life. Abrams uncovers data showing that Jews are among the least religious people in America. Many have made a tragic mistake in equating Jewish security with removing all forms of religious devotion from public life. And now, says Abrams, they must either rediscover the faith that can sustain them or risk vanishing into the great American melting pot. Provocative, but persuasive, this highly readable book deserves a wide audience.
From Library Journal
Neoconservative writer Abrams (Security and Sacrifice, Hudson Inst., 1995), who had a controversial career in politics as a former assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, is now the director of a Washington, D.C., think tank. Like Alan Dershowitz in his The Vanishing American Jew (LJ 3/1/97), Abrams is concerned with the loss of Jewish identity in an attractive, amorphous American culture. While both seek a revitalization of the Jewish spirit, Dershowitz sees belief in a deity as just a part of Jewish cultural renewal; Abrams believes that the only way for Jews to survive is by renewed religious faith. Dershowitz scorns the Orthodox methods of separateness, while Abrams believes Jews should emulate some of them. Abrams also argues for the benefits of a school voucher plan and heeding the influence of evangelical Christian groups. Libraries that ordered the Dershowitz tome may want to buy this one for comparison and contrast. Recommended for libraries serving a Jewish clientele.?Paul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Library, Ill.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The book is well-written and an easy read, which is a compliment for a book with an academic tone. Abrams' analysis of the generational patterns of American Jews maintaining or losing their Jewish identity are quite right, and a must read for any Jew who wants Jewish grandchildren. Some of Abrams' arguments were less convincing.
Whatever your reaction to the book, the discussion will never end. (Insert your favorite Jewish mother or Jewish guilt joke here). This book represents a productive contribution to that discussion, and as such I recommend it to anyone who is concerned with personal or societal Jewish identity.
Elliott Abrams, in his book Faith or Fear, How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, tackles the problem of Jewish continuity. Will Jews in America survive the ravages of assimilation and population decline?
"The results of the National Jewish Population Study of 1990, and several other major works of research, draw the portrait of a community in decline, facing a demographic disaster. The term "disaster" is no exaggeration: Jews, who once comprised 3.7 percent of the U.S. population, have fallen to about 2 percent....Demographers predict a drop of anywhere from one million to over two million in the American Jewish population in the next two generations" (pp.1-2).
At the same time, however, Orthodox Jews are increasing their numbers. Never has the Orthodox community been more vibrant, opening day schools and synagogues and demanding that marriage stay within the faith. Ironically, " the very Jewish groups who most loudly profess their anxiety about Christians are, with a frequency never before seen in all of Jewish history, marrying them" (P.99). Intermarriage is rampant because antisemitism among Christians has declined significantly over the last 80 years. At the same time much of the non-Orthodox Jewish community has abandoned Jewish ritual practice and injunctions against intermarriage. In its place the mainstream Jewish community has taken up the religion of secularism and liberalism--all religion is an anachronism and abhorrent. So the liberal Jew cares not about the Christian's faith (or his own) since it is simply a collection of old and ridiculous superstitions, and now, since she no longer demonizes his Jewish background, the two can and will marry.
Can the non-Orthodox denominations of American Jewry be saved from extinction? According to Abrams, it matters less if one is Orthodox as long as Jews use Orthodox tactics: high levels of admission to (private religious) day schools. Jewish communal groups need to lower tuition rates to make this happen. Secondly, mainstream American Judaism must increase ritual observance--more Torah study, keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, etc. Abrams argues that one does not have to become fully Orthodox and completely observant--just ratchet up one's level of ritual commitment. If you do not believe, do it anyway for the generations that will come after you. Only then will American Jews continue to thrive.
Elliott Abrams is, of course, the neocon, responsible for much national policy in the years before the Obama administration. One should therefore not be surprised that his book is a conservative reaction to the problem of Jewish continuity. The other option, Alexander Schindler's idea to convert secular non-Jews and non Jewish spouses has not convinced the children of these unions to stay Jewish (P. 118). I recommend considering Abrams' opinions.
Abrams' book is well worth the read for anyone with interest in the religious scene in the U.S. He clearly outlines the problem of the erosion of Jewish religious believers in the more or less tolerant society. His concern is that Jewish identity will gradually be lost through intermarriage and the eroding of Jewish religious training and practice. His remedy would be to bring the genuine religious dimension back into the life and practice of those who want to keep identity as Jews.
What is missing in his analysis is the problem of the rational justification of religious beliefs. Therein lies a problem he does not seem to recognize. But consider the following men of Jewish background who are either confirmed agnostics or outright atheists: Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Isaac Asimov, Freud. The list could be extended. Einstein once observed that religions, including Judaism, are incarnations of the most primitive beliefs. These men, as many others, have a strong sense of their Jewish heritage, but they could hardly support Abrams' admonition to build formal religious belief and practice back into their lives.
For example, he says that today's role of the Christian right and anti-semetism has been overexagerrated and feared by Jews. Great strides in the Christian-Jewish dialigoe has minimize hate teaching and proselytizing of jews by christian organizations. There is a great acceptance of Jews as senators,etc and other community leadership roles. And true, fundamentalists and evangetical organizations are no longer targeting jews per se and actually support Israel. But what is ignored is that they no longer have to directly. Why there are separate organizations that allow jews to do it to themselves. They are called Jews for Jesus and Messianic synagogues! There are over 100 messianic synagogues in Israel alone! Why no mention in the book? These outreach efforts are funded by the very evangetical organizations jews should not fear in allowing support to their religious political/educational agendas - in exchange of orthodox jewish ones.
Another example that struck me a bit off is the "abandonment" of the outreach to jews of mixed ethnic origins ("half" and "quarter" jews). Granted he does not say this directly, but he suggests money being more well spent in educating the remaining full jews from marrying outside the faith completely, regardless of a spousal conversion. To me this would be like jewish suicide, in denying the rest of the jewish population how they choose to idenify themselves as jews. If anything, jews of mixed ethnic or faith backgrounds need a special kind of sensitivity otherwise, they will deny their 'jewish self' all the more easily.
Lastly, there are divisions in the Jewish community on Israel due to their inability to create a peaceful solution with their neighbors, the Palestinians. Flag waving at the synagogues only help so much. The issue is not properly dealt with in this book which gives Abrams' book a false sense of authenticity.
Of course I recognize the problems Jews faced today. As a convert who has jewish relatives both though my step-father and now a jewish husband, I wonder how did I ever get into this mess! The jewish people have conflicts within their faith as well as outside of it, quite unique from say Irish or Italian american intermarriage to the protestants (though his comparisons to those groups are interesting). Identification with ourselves as a group must be more liberal that of the original torah. In this sense 'jewish survival' will depend more on the oral tradition of reinterpreting the original precepts of the jewish faith rather than the narrow view of jewish identification which he sees as the only way for Jews to exist as fully jews. And NO it does not mean that a Christmas tree needs to be put in a lobby of the Reform synagogue as he insinuates! Geez!