The world Jewish community has recently been shaken to its core by the tsunami of anti-Semitism that has broken out in the wake of Israel’s third Gaza war. We have been horror-stricken as the world media has condemned the Middle East’s only democracy for the simple act of defending itself against terror rockets and tunnels.
We have watched with mouths agape at the tens of thousands of people marching in the streets of London and Berlin chanting “Hitler should have finished off the Jews” and “Ham-As rhymes with poison gas.” We have been gob-smacked with scenes of pogroms against Jews hiding in synagogues in Paris. Most of all, we have wondered how could a civilized world with liberal humanistic values choose the women-honor-killing, gay-murdering, free-speech-suppressing Hamas terrorist death cult over democratic Israel.
Why isn’t this being effectively combated? Simply stated, there aren’t enough Jews in the world.
The greatest challenge facing the world Jewish community is its puny size. The number of Jews in the world has fallen below a critical mass and our scarcity raises the specter of unpleasant consequences.
Foremost among them is our inability to defend the State of Israel properly.
The point is easily demonstrated. In the United State where nearly 6 million Jews represent about 2 percent of the population, our large size and well-organized numbers enable us to create an effective political lobby that has yielded concrete positive results in the form of American support for Israel. Compare that to the 230,000 Jews of Britain who live in a population of 64 million, a minuscule percentage of the population. Such a paltry number has condemned the supporters of Israel to being virtually overwhelmed by the growing Muslim community of Britain, with support for Israel falling precipitously as a result.
Even in France, where there are 500,000 Jews, they are outnumbered by a Muslim population of 5 to 6 million representing about 10% of the population.
But security issues aside, we Jews, whose biblical mandate is to be a light unto the nations, are meant to leave a mark on the world. Real influence, to be sure, depends more on quality than quantity, but even as the smallest of nations, Jews have arguably been the most influential over the long term.
Yet numbers still matter greatly. Just look at the United Nations as an example of how Israel is treated with contempt mostly because we are too small to influence a world body.
Kicking up Jewish numbers isn’t going to be easy, and vastly increasing the Jewish birthrate, as well as reversing assimilation, is vital. With intermarriage in the United States at 50%, millions of offspring in the world who have a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother are not considered halachically Jewish. But even with one Jewish parent, the connection is strong.
Should we not be approaching these people and inspiring them to connect with their Jewish roots? The same applies to hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of Europeans who stem from Jewish ancestry, like the growing community in Spain and Portugal of former Marranos. These people feel themselves to be partially ‘Jewish.’ but we allow them to founder and never connect them with the Jewish people, even though they have Jewish antecedents.
But it is high time we considered actively proselytizing non-Jews to Judaism. The number of people without any religion at all is a group to which we ought to offer Judaism as a monotheistic alternative and actively promote the Torah as the word of God.
Should they resist becoming Jewish because they are reluctant to embrace Judaism’s exacting standards of ritual observance, we can promote a confederation of Noachides, as the Bible calls them, men and women who identify with Jewish spirituality but do not embrace Judaism’s ritual tenets. In effect, these people would be explicitly adopting Jewish values without converting to Judaism.
We should fund billboards with Jewish teachings for non-Jews, offer classes in synagogues where gentiles can discover Jewish spiritual essentials, and engage in social media outreach to those unaffiliated with a faith.
There are likewise millions of Christians today who would be happy to discover the Jewishness of Jesus in order to better understand their own faith.
Two thousands years ago a still-mysterious man named Saul of Tarsus saw that the ideas and values behind Judaism were so rewarding that they could appeal to the entire world, if only they were stripped of Judaism’s tough ritual demands and embodied by a human god who was more comprehensible than Judaism’s invisible God. Thus, Christianity, and later Islam, was founded on Jewish spirituality. It’s time to facilitate access to the original source, not necessarily by converting others to Judaism – although this too must be a possibility – but also by reviving an ancient “associate” status that allows non- Jews to live lives deeply influenced by Jewish spiritually and values while retaining their own identity.
The American religious sociologist Rodney Stark explains in One True God, Historical Consequences of Monotheism that “Jews constituted 10% of the Roman world, and attracted many pagan God-fearers to their synagogues.... Jews in general and the synagogue in particular were attractive to non-Jews. The simplicity of Jewish theology (belief in the one God), the ethical standards (the Ten Commandments), and the many festivals exercised a certain fascination among many in the Greco-Roman world. Some made a full conversion to Judaism. Others remained in a kind of ‘associate’ status – what Luke in Acts refers to as ‘God-fearers’ – perhaps unwilling to take upon themselves the peculiarities of Judaism.
A vast movement existed in Rome before the birth of Christianity, based on an ancient concept called “Judaizers.” It is very likely that many of the non-Jews who embraced Christianity were first exposed to the Jewish scriptures and Judaism through their association with the urban Diaspora synagogues in the Roman Empire.”
Jewish values and spirituality can be integrated into their existing identities of practically all groups. Becoming a Judaizer would entail a seven-step program of living: 1. Observe Friday night as family night by tuning out all electronic interference and focusing on children, friends and community.
2. Eat kosher food (20% of Americans already look for kosher symbols as a symbol of cleanliness and purity) and separate milk from meat as a symbol of the affirmation of life and its negation of all forms of corrosion and death.
3. Celebrate the themes of the Jewish festivals. Passover Seders, which emphasize the human capacity to rise above material enslavement. (President Barack Obama already hosts his own annual Seder at The White House.) Dismissing material comforts by returning to the essentials of nature on Succot. Lighting lamps on Hanukka as a symbol of the human capacity of illuminate a dark earth and heal a painful life, etc.
4. Studying Judaism’s great texts, from the Torah portion of the week to selections of the Talmud to the epistles of Maimonides to mystical and kabbalistic works.
5. Observing the marriage laws, including the monthly barrier to sexual and erotic involvement, thereby enhancing desire and lust.
6. Appreciation of, and respect for, the feminine, including codes of alluring modesty for women and domesticity of men based on reinforcing marital commitment.
7. A commitment to acts of communal kindness like regular visits to hospitals and to homes for the elderly and giving 10% of one’s income to charity.
There is a definite need to offer Judaism as a religion to those who wish to become deeply committed, Torah-observant Jews.
If we could agree on moderate yet essential halachic norms of conversion that focus on observance of Shabbat and festivals, a kosher home, and the laws of Niddah (mikve and sexual purity), we could add millions to the Jewish people and strongly redress depleted Jewish numbers.
I envision a seven-week class offered every Wednesday night at 7 all over the world on the seven essential values and teachings of Judaism, a single curriculum that is promoted to non-Jews. The venues would be synagogues, schools, Jewish Community Centers and other Jewish educational centers.
A massive media campaign would be launched to promote Judaism as a way of life. Imagine billboards throughout the United States with a single teaching in one of four areas: child-rearing, happier marriages, spiritual purpose, and commercial and business ethics. The ads would be changed monthly and would be augmented by TV, radio and social media. People would get the message that Judaism has much wisdom to offer in the area of mastering life and finding purpose.
The campaign would funnel people into the weekly classes. From there people would decide which of the three categories most appeals to them: 1. Living a life of Jewish values as a non- Jew.
2. Being a Judaizer, an “associate Jew,” a practitioner of essential Jewish values and selected Jewish ritual, without becoming legally Jewish.
3. Formal conversion to Judaism.
It’s time for a true, worldwide push to offer the resources of Judaism as a religion to the world’s inhabitants that focuses not on heaven but on earth. Not on salvation but on redemption. Not on perfection but on spiritual struggle.
I believe that through this effort we could, in just 20 years, increase the number of Jews in the world from 14 million to 20 million, and push the number of fans of the Jewish people and Israel into the billions.
With Israel’s survival threatened on all sides, the time has come to promote a global Jewish spiritual effort that shuns Jewish insularity and promotes the Jewish people as a light unto the nations.