One of the most difficult series of questions in the Jewish world today concerns demography. How many Jews actually exist in the world today? What is happening to the Jewish population in different centers of the world? What are the relative shares of Israel and Diaspora in the overall Jewish population of the world? And as important as the numbers themselves are, the really crucial questions lie underneath the surface.
What is the meaning of the numbers? What is the nature of the changing balance of demographic power between the State of Israel and the Diaspora as a whole? What trends do they suggest? What are the implications of today’s numbers for tomorrow’s future? And perhaps the most difficult question of Jews for those who spend their lives counting Jews: Who, exactly do you count? In other words, for the purpose of demographic calculations, who is a Jew?
In this chapter we will examine the dynamics of Jewish community in the emerging Diaspora center. We will see the growth and the decline of great Jewish communities, each with their own Rabbinic leadership in different parts of the world. The basis had been laid in Palestine. The results were to be seen throughout the world. The story of the Jews was changing yet again.
Looking for a place to park our weary bones
We will be looking at themes connected with the idea and the practice of Jewish community within the historical framework that we have already established. The development of the Jewish community is an inseparable part of that story. The question that we are going to examine in this chapter is ‘why?’ Why was the Jewish community such an important part of the historical story? What was it in the Jewish community that made it so central in Jewish history?
So what did the whole thing look like?
In this chapter we will examine how the Jewish community was structured and how the values and beliefs that lay behind the whole Rabbinic system produced an institutional structure that reflected them. We will examine the institutions of the community and we will acquaint ourselves with the main types of personality that could be found in such communities. We will then go on to examine the way that individual communities fitted into a wider structure within a given center and finally we will look at the issue of relations between different centers.
The United States is the largest Diaspora community in the world and has been since the mid twentieth century. It is an extraordinarily successful community, on the whole, and there are many who argue that it represents a totally new chapter in Jewish history in that there has never been a community where life has been so good for the Jews and where Jews have been able to create such a strong community and at the same time contribute so greatly to the wider society. As with all the contemporary Diaspora communities we will examine the community by asking twelve questions about it. So, welcome to America!
The past two weeks have seen an eruption of responses to the recent ad campaign commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The campaign, targeted at Israeli ex-pats living in the United States, sought to convince the Israelis to return “home”. Though the ads were in Hebrew and clearly intended for Israeli ears in the United States, it seems that the real audience was North American Jewry. Aside from the Jewish Federation’s statement last week (and Netanyahu’s subsequent cancellation of the campaign), countless blog posts and editorials have been popping up each day since this story came to light less than 2 weeks ago. One thing is certain: these videos have struck a nerve among North American Jews. To Full Post
Look, let’s be straight. I think that living in Israel is a good thing. I also, continuing to taste its fruits to this day, think that making aliya is a good thing.
I think that the Absorption Ministry is completely within its rights to try to encourage people to come to live in Israel – particularly those people who were born in Israel – and if Jeffrey Goldberg thinks that’s being mean to American Jews, then so be it.
You can’t get all uppity about Israelis saying that it’s good for Israelis to live in Israel, even if that implies they should leave America. It’s not “archaic” to suggest that aliya is good for the future of the Jewish people: It’s what we call debatable. That’s not the same thing, and it borders on cowardice to suggest it is. To Full Post