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Thread: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

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    Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    This post was inspired by the recent poll showing that 80% of Israeli Jews believe in God.

    It seems to me that the Jewish world is undergoing a major divergence - with Jewish life outside of Israel (and whatever secular minority remains there) embracing a more liberal, open and cosmopolitan identity, which views Judaism primarily as a cultural heritage, and Jewish life within Israel embracing a more closed Orthodox ethno-religious identity. It is true that this process has been underway for quite some time - in that the Reform and Conservative movements have dominated Jewry in the Anglosphere and the developed world more generally for decades whereas they have been far less influential in Israel - but while we could say with some certainty that most Israelis were secular in any case, this divide did not seem so important.

    However, in the words of a Ha'aretz article I recently read commenting on this poll, the truth is that "There is No Secular Majority." (I highly recommend the article for those of you who can read it - it is in Hebrew). As the Orthodox approach to Judaism continues its ascent in Israel, I suspect this rationalisation will quickly break apart. I believe that as the number of Orthodox Jews in Israel increases, as well as the number of non-Orthodox Jews which accept an illiberal ethno-religious Jewish identity under Orthodox influence, the chasm between the two "Jewish worlds" will grow, and may become irreconcilable. I do not think it unlikely that over the next 30 years we will see a major secular Jewish emigration from Israel as the public life of the country becomes more religious and illiberal, and subsequently a major schism between Israeli and world Jewry will take place as Israeli laws and policies become incompatible with the values and worldview of diaspora Jewry.

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    Senior Member Aliyah1995's Avatar
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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    I guess I don't share your pessimism Curlyg. If we are going to conclude that Israel is heading toward being a theocracy based on the statistics in your article, then one would come to the conclusion that America is on her way towards being a theocracy too. This is not to say Israel doesn't have challenges (Too many Haredim not contributing to the work force and not serving in the army or doing national service, for example), but I just don't envision the doomsday scenario you and your article portray.
    "Study astronomy and physics if you desire to comprehend the relation between the world and G-d's management of it." - RaMBaM (Maimonides), Guide For The Perplexed

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    I am not pessimistic either. What is so dramatic in believing in God? I believe in God too yet I consider myself secular. To me, God is not necessarily a God in a religious sense who spoke to human beings and told them what to do or not to do (religion). To me God is some form of higher intelligence that is so far above us that we cannot begin to explain. And IMHO the concept is not even anti scientific. That's how science works. Evidence based theory followed by research to prove or disprove theories. Believing in God on that basis (not in a religious sense) is exactly that.
    Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem.
    Author: John Galsworthy 1867-1933, British Novelist, Playwright

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    Senior Member Mediocrates's Avatar
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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    I think the American and western European concept of 'secular' is somewhat different from that of Israelis, mid easterners and west Asians generally. "Secular" in the US means being openly sometimes violently opposed to the very existence of faith, of organized religion and of people who embrace it. Secular in Israel does to some extent mean 'not wearing a kippah'.

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Quote Originally Posted by Aliyah1995 View Post
    I guess I don't share your pessimism Curlyg. If we are going to conclude that Israel is heading toward being a theocracy based on the statistics in your article, then one would come to the conclusion that America is on her way towards being a theocracy too. This is not to say Israel doesn't have challenges (Too many Haredim not contributing to the work force and not serving in the army or doing national service, for example), but I just don't envision the doomsday scenario you and your article portray.
    I don't think the comparison to America is appropriate. Firstly, Protestant Christianity is not really a 'rule-based' religion. Of course Christians still purport to derive their morals from the Bible, but for them religion is fundamentally about faith, not about adherence to a code of divine law. Orthodox Judaism mandates certain specific practices by divine decree. In a country with an Orthodox majority within a number of decades, what makes you think those God-mandated laws will not be enforced by the state? Alternatively, even if not imposed by the state, do you believe secular Israelis will still feel safe or free to, say, drive their car on Shabat? Secondly, though the American population largely believes in God, their Constitution enshrines the separation of church and state. Israel, having no constitution, is not protected against the introduction of mandatory religion in public life.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reffo View Post
    I am not pessimistic either. What is so dramatic in believing in God? I believe in God too yet I consider myself secular. To me, God is not necessarily a God in a religious sense who spoke to human beings and told them what to do or not to do (religion). To me God is some form of higher intelligence that is so far above us that we cannot begin to explain. And IMHO the concept is not even anti scientific. That's how science works. Evidence based theory followed by research to prove or disprove theories. Believing in God on that basis (not in a religious sense) is exactly that.
    I don't want to get into the merits of belief in God - I'm talking now in a very material, practical sense about the consequences of the divergence between Israel and the diaspora. Obviously, most Reform and Conservative Jews also believe in God -- this is not the real problem. The rise in believers is merely symptomatic. As the Hebrew article makes clear, however, most people's faith goes well beyond merely believing in some deity:

    היה רוב חילוני. היה ואיננו. כך עולה מסקר מקיף בנושא "אמונות, שמירת מסורת וערכים של יהודים בישראל", שנערך על ידי מרכז גוטמן לסקרים, הפועל מטעם המכון הישראלי לדמוקרטיה. על פי הסקר שמתפרסם כאן לראשונה ומתייחס ל-2009, בקרב ישראלים יהודים - 80 אחוז מאמינים באלוהים; 67 אחוז סבורים שהעם היהודי הוא העם הנבחר; 65 אחוז מאמינים שמצוות התורה ניתנו משמים, ו-56 אחוז מאמינים בחיים שלאחר המוות. זה כבר לא עניין של חיבה עממית למנהגים מסורתיים אלא, בפירוש, עניין של אמונה: שלושה מכל ארבעה ישראלים יהודים אינם אתאיסטים. גם אם אינם שומרי מצוות, הם מחזיקים במערכת האמונות הבסיסית של הדת היהודית.

    Meaning:

    There was a secular majority. Was and is no more. Thus says a comprehensive survey on the subject of 'Faith, Tradition and the Values of Jews in Israel', taken by the Gutman Centre for Polling operating on behalf of the Israeli Institute for Democracy. According to the poll..., among Israeli Jews - 80 percent believe in God; 67 percent believe that the Jewish people are the Chosen People; 65% believe that the Mitzvot were given from heaven; and 56 percent believe in the afterlife. This is no longer a matter of folksy affection for traditional practices but, literally, a matter of faith: three of every four Israeli Jews is not an atheist. Even if they do not keep the Mitzvot, they hold to the basic belief system of the Jewish religion.

    Reffo, suppose hypothetically that the year is 2050 and we have a Haredi majority, or something approaching it. By some miracle all of the problems surrounding participation in the workforce and military service have been resolved - so the economy works just fine and Israel is military secure. However, it imposes certain minimum rules of modesty in women's dress, prohibits public displays of affection, mandates gender segregation in public institutions and buses, prohibits female singers from appearing on TV or the radio, enforces the Shabat, ensures the modesty of the internet, prohibits blasphemous speech, etc. Is this a country you could support or identify with? I know I couldn't, and this is what concerns me. Because I think the picture I have painted is not far-fetched at all...

    Quote Originally Posted by Mediocrates View Post
    I think the American and western European concept of 'secular' is somewhat different from that of Israelis, mid easterners and west Asians generally. "Secular" in the US means being openly sometimes violently opposed to the very existence of faith, of organized religion and of people who embrace it. Secular in Israel does to some extent mean 'not wearing a kippah'.
    I agree. The sensationalism surrounding the "80% believe in God" statistic is overblown, in my opinion. But the other results of the poll are seriously concerning to me.

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Quote Originally Posted by curlyg
    Reffo, suppose hypothetically that the year is 2050 and we have a Haredi majority, or something approaching it ...
    A Haredi majority holding the sets of beliefs (as I understand them ...) of the Haredim of TODAY, would cause me immense worry.

    But it is debatable that by 2050, even the Haredi community would hold on to their belief system of TODAY. I don't want to be dogmatic about it but let me illustrate my own history. My grand parents were orthodox Jews. Modern orthodox but strictly orthodox. My parents held onto some religion but I would describe them as secular. And I turned out to be even more secular than my parents.

    So you see, curly? The trend works the other way too. At the same time that some seculars put more religion back into their lives, some religious people too dilute their belief system and move towards modernity. At the least, they don't maintain the belief that God will provide (blind faith). They learn to believe that God helps those who also help themselves.
    Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem.
    Author: John Galsworthy 1867-1933, British Novelist, Playwright

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Quote Originally Posted by Reffo View Post
    A Haredi majority holding the sets of beliefs (as I understand them ...) of the Haredim of TODAY, would cause me immense worry.

    But it is debatable that by 2050, even the Haredi community would hold on to their belief system of TODAY. I don't want to be dogmatic about it but let me illustrate my own history. My grand parents were orthodox Jews. Modern orthodox but strictly orthodox. My parents held onto some religion but I would describe them as secular. And I turned out to be even more secular than my parents.

    So you see, curly? The trend works the other way too. At the same time that some seculars put more religion back into their lives, some religious people too dilute their belief system and move towards modernity. At the least, they don't maintain the belief that God will provide (blind faith). They learn to believe that God helps those who also help themselves.
    Your story is the story of every secular Jew in the present day. All of our great grandparents, if not our grandparents, were religious (usually somewhat Orthodox) Jews. The appearance of the secular Jew is a recent (and apparently transient) feature of the story of the Jewish people. The fact is that the general trend in Israel is, and has been for at least 40 years, towards greater religiosity (with occasional interruptions like the Russian Aliyah). Do some religious people become secular? Yes, but far more secular people become religious - not to mention the Haredi birthrate. So yes, I am pessimistic, and I think the data gives me good reason to be.

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Here are the reasons why I am not pessimistic:

    1. Religion itself is not a force for evil. It can be a force for good. Only extreme religion tends to be a a force for repression and friction.
    2. The trend is not a one way trend. The long term trend is a trend towards the middle. Some seculars becoming more religious. Some religious shed religion. Right now the religious trend seems stronger. By 2050 it might again go the other way.
    3. Trends are never monotonic. We humans tend to overdo some things, we burn our fingers, we learn and trends change the other way. Until eventually we find momentary equilibrium till something happens and the process repeats.


    Curly, I understand where you are coming from but things are never as simple as we think. I guess I am a 'glass half full' person and you are not. Who knows which one of us is right? I certainly don't. I guess looking into the long term future, we have to have an element of faith too.
    Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem.
    Author: John Galsworthy 1867-1933, British Novelist, Playwright

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    Senior Member Aliyah1995's Avatar
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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Curlyg-

    I don't think the comparison to America is appropriate. Firstly, Protestant Christianity is not really a 'rule-based' religion. Of course Christians still purport to derive their morals from the Bible, but for them religion is fundamentally about faith
    That's just it, Curlyg. Many Jews keep mitzvot not because G-d tells them to, but because they want to remain "culturally" as Jewish as possible. Most secular Israelis circumcise their sons, for example, not because G-d told them to, but because they want to keep that connection to their people/heritage. Ditto for not eating hametz during Pesach, building a Sukkah, even fasting on Yom Kippur.

    In a country with an Orthodox majority within a number of decades, what makes you think those God-mandated laws will not be enforced by the state? Alternatively, even if not imposed by the state, do you believe secular Israelis will still feel safe or free to, say, drive their car on Shabat?
    I have my doubts, for reasons Reffo mentioned, that there will be an Orthodox majority in a number of decades. I also believe that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are rational and that Ha'aretz get off on reporting supposed dooms day scenarios (to make people more anti-religious)

    Secondly, though the American population largely believes in God, their Constitution enshrines the separation of church and state. Israel, having no constitution, is not protected against the introduction of mandatory religion in public life.
    On, this I agree and that is why I think a constitution is important and why I started the thread "should there be public transportation on Shabbat/Chagim". I believe by tackling on issue at a time (starting from the least complicated) and with good will from all sides involved, we can all work this out.
    "Study astronomy and physics if you desire to comprehend the relation between the world and G-d's management of it." - RaMBaM (Maimonides), Guide For The Perplexed

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Curlyg, many religions, and many nations, have gone through periods of insularity. But insularity is never a permanent process. I think of it as a cycle.

    It is true that it can be destructive and smothering, and societies that emerge from insularity, as China did in the 20th Century, often go through great trauma.

    I do not think that Israel's fate will be insularity, as Israel must by its nature confront its enemies, and that means knowing them and their culture on rather intimate terms. The countries that oppose Israel are all very close to it in terms of physical geography.

    Israel also must have ties with other outside societies, and that means the importation of their cultural influence in some measure.

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    I wonder if there is a correlation between a lessening of security, and a growth in religion? IE while Israel has always been surrounded by bad guys; the future looks bleak to many.

    Folks gain religion when they are getting shot at.

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    Re: Jewish world headed towards major convulsions

    Hey guys i attached this great source about Jewish religion and communities around the world, thought it will be handy in this topic

    Jewish communities

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