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What American Jews need to think about this Rosh Hashanah

Tuesday, Sep 14, 2004

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The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins at sunset this Wednesday. The holiday’s primary purpose is to engage in an “accounting of the soul,” and usher in the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminate in the holiest Jewish day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Both the individual and the community are required to ask themselves big questions such as: What type of person have I been, and what type of community have we been, this past year? Where am I, and where are we, headed?

In this spirit, as a deeply involved member of the Jewish community, I offer some accountings of the American Jewish soul.

First, in the spirit of this time of year, some Jewish leaders owe our fellow Americans who are Christian an apology. These leaders predicted that serious anti-Semitic consequences would follow in the wake of American Christians seeing the film “The Passion of the Christ.” Not only did no such thing occur, polls indicated an actual diminution in anti-Jewish feelings among some Christians who saw the film, and no change whatsoever among the vast majority.

Second, connected to the above, this Rosh Hashanah is a good time for American Jews to publicly acknowledge that American Christianity has been overwhelmingly a blessing for America’s Jews. The fears of Christians and their religion that many American Jews have are a carryover from Europe and the Jews’ awful experiences there.

No country has ever honored Judaism or blessed its Jews as has America. And this includes secular Europe today just as it did religious Europe of the past. The prevalent idea among American Jews that a secular, rather than a Judeo-Christian, America is better for America, let alone for its Jews, is so obviously wrong, only the irrational can hold it. For proof, ask the Jews of France.

Third, the majority of Jews have substituted liberalism for Judaism, and this has been a Jewish and American calamity. Given Jews’ professional success and social activism, Jews tend to have an influence on society quite disproportionate to their numbers. Unfortunately, though, nearly all those Jews who attempt to influence society have little or no connection to Judaism. They are guided far more by The New York Times and its values than by the Torah and its values. And they ask, “What do I feel?” far more than “What do 3,000 years of our world-changing religion teach?”

Fourth, religious Jews need to enter the world. The built-in tendency of Halakhic (Jewish law) Judaism to keep Jews away from non-Jews is not good for them (it leads to insularity, intellectual laziness, ethical rationalization) and not good for humanity, which only hears from Jews advocating values frequently antithetical to Judaism. The current situation is nothing less than tragic: the Jews who take Judaism the least seriously talk the most to the world, and the Jews who take Judaism the most seriously talk the least to the world.

Fifth, we must face the fact that American Jewry is declining in numbers because Jews are not taught Judaism, not because Jews are becoming Christian. Jews for nothing, not Jews for Jesus, are the greatest threat to Jewish survival. Jewish concern with Christian missionizing is therefore both un-American (in a free society, everyone is entitled to spread his message) and lazy (it is the Jews’ obligation to keep Jews Jewish, not the Christians’).

Finally, because Judaism believes that Rosh Hashanah is the world’s New Year, not the Jews’ alone, a word to the non-Jewish world.

However many Jews may live lives alienated from their God and Bible, it should be obvious to anyone that Jews have a special role to play in the world. Whether non-Jews like it or not, and whether Jews are aware of it or not, Jews carry the burden of God-based universal morality in the world. That is why the most evil of any generation direct their venom first at the Jews.

Our generation is no different. Therefore, non-Jews who dismiss the enemies of the Jews as only the Jews’ problem are deceiving themselves terribly. Jew-haters come after the Jews first but never the Jews only. Had the world taken Hitler’s anti-Semitism seriously earlier, and therefore confronted him earlier, tens of millions of lives would have been saved. Had the world taken the Arab and Muslim terror unleashed on Israel seriously — and not dismissed it as Israel’s problem or even more absurdly, as Israel’s fault — and confronted that terror immediately, much human suffering would probably have been avoided.

With a genuine accounting of the soul, America’s Jews can make the year 5765 one of the most significant in their history.

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