I don’t think rabbis in America should comment on or criticize Israeli policy.
While I understand their affinity to Israel as Jews, they are not citizens of
the state and therefore in my opinion they should not attempt to dictate policy;
they are best served keeping their opinions to themselves.
In turn, the
same should apply vice versa as well. Israeli rabbis should not necessarily
comment on or impose policy upon the American Jewish community; the exception
being when the matter at hand could have direct influence upon preserving and
protecting the Israeli community, as is the case regarding the message behind
the findings of the recent survey of US Jews conducted by the Pew Research
The survey suggests that Jewish identity is changing and
declining in America, where one in five Jews (22 percent) now describe
themselves as having no religion. The number of Americans with direct Jewish
ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves
as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion appears to be
62% of US Jews say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of
ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of
These statistics are frightening both from a Jewish and a
religious viewpoint, but it is the following finding of the study which is most
insightful regarding the Jewish community in Israel. Compared with Jews by
religion, secular Jews in America are not only less religious but also much less
connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their
More than 90% of Jews by religion who are currently
raising minor children in their home say they are raising those children Jewish
or partially Jewish. In stark contrast, the survey finds that two-thirds of Jews
of no religion say they are not raising their children Jewish or partially
Jewish – either by religion or aside from religion.
demonstrates a correlation between religious affiliation and preserving the
Jewishness of children in the US; it is extremely important to recognize however
that this is not, and more importantly, does not have to be the case regarding
Israel’s Jewish secular population, for a number of reasons.
Israelis have a head start over their Jewish American counterparts.
are regularly presented with opportunities (whether they welcome them or not) to
strengthen their Jewish identity, at the very least from an ideological
perspective, as they settle the Jewish homeland and serve in the Israeli army,
becoming effectively responsible for preserving an entire nation.
gather that this is not enough on its own; the Jewish identity crisis is alive
and well in Israel. As a rabbi and educator for the Jewish identity branch of
the IDF I am consistently shocked by the ignorance displayed by our youngsters
and soldiers with regard to elemental tenets of Judaism and the Jewish faith.
However, the very fact that they are confronted with situations which encourage
them to explore and understand them can constitute a strong premise with which
Secondly and more positively, as much as there is a decrease in
desire for secular Jews in America to identify with their religious roots, the
opposite seems to be true in Israel.
There are study groups and seminars
dispersed throughout the country consisting of secular Israelis who are
interested in identifying with their roots by discussing the texts of the
Many of these forums are referred to as cultural encounters and
they distance themselves from being associated with anything which could be
called religious, but they represent a resurgence of learning and a renaissance
in connecting with one’s Jewish roots.
As a religious Jew I would like
everyone to become religiously devout. I also do not believe that being
“culturally Jewish” is enough to perpetuate Jewish identity, however, I am
cognizant of the current positive dynamics exhibited by Israeli secular society
and I view them as an invitation to examine Judaism in non-coercive and
It is important to be confident enough in our religion
to realize that it can speak to people in different ways, sometimes
sporadically, but right now we should be concentrating on making Judaism
accessible to the masses regardless of their affiliation or lack thereof, by
introducing innovative and effective programs on the foundations of
This will help promote an understanding that all people in
Israel share the privilege of shaping the future of Jewish history, a
constructive paradigm which can help assure that the Pew survey’s findings
regarding the issues American Jewry is dealing with will not reach Israel’s
The writer serves as a lecturer on Jewish identity and ideology
for the IDF Education Branch and Machane Meshutaf of the IDF Rabbinate. He is as
an educator for the Menachem Begin Israel Government Fellows in Jerusalem and a
guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora including the United
States, United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.