If It Ain’t BrokeIf it ain’t broke don’t fix it, is a pithy saying from the American South The idea is that if something has a track record of success, don’t tinker with it.
Over the last few decades, the words ‘Jewish continuity’ has become a catchphrase. What can we do to ensure continuity? Some say we must ensure that every Jew visits Israel at least once during their impressionable years. Others say we must be more accommodating toward intermarriage and thus boost our numbers. Yet others suggest that we should proselytize among non Jews to boost our numbers. There are so many ideas, it can set your head to spinning.
My question is this. Is Jewish continuity a new challenge that we don’t know how to fix? Are our age old solutions to this challenge, broken? Why don’t we use the solutions that were successful in the past?
Not NewEveryone is worried about assimilation and intermarriage. Statistics show that we are losing Jews by the thousands. Each year, more and more Jewish men and women leave the fold. They are leaving in droves and if the trend continues, forecasters worry we might soon run out of Jews.
But such trends aren’t new. In every era, curious Jewish minds have strayed from the fold. If it wasn’t paganism, it was idolatry. If it wasn’t idolatry, it was Hellenism. We have had Sadducees and Karaits, Hebrew Christians and Sabbateans. Nearly every ideological movement was led or supported by Jews. From communism to atheism, from enlightenment to emancipation, Jews have often led the charge away from tradition.
We are a creative bunch. We have always found ways to stray. We don’t require assimilation or intermarriage to do us in. We have been at it for centuries. Jews ain’t more broke today than at any other time in history. We are up to our old tricks, but we shouldn’t abandon our old solutions.
What WorksWhenever one encounters a problem, the first step is to look to the past. What have others done, when faced with similar problems? War colleges routinely study the military campaigns of the past in order to learn for the future. They learn the tactics and strategies that were employed with success and teach it to the next generation. If it works, it becomes text book. They don’t try to improvise at school. Improvisation is for the heat of battle. At school they learn the fundamentals from the past.
We do the same with medical research. If we discover that a particular herb successfully countered an aggressive virus, we isolate and study its healing component and then do our best to replicate it. Often we don’t understand why this herb heals that wound, but we know that it does. Understanding why it works is a bonus. Understanding how it works, is the key.
Jewish HistoryWhen we seek to ensure Jewish continuity, we look to our history and determine what has worked in the past. We might not even understand why it works, but if it does, we will replicate it today.
We have survived longer than any nation on earth. All the ancient nations have disappeared and we are still here. That is a resounding success. We have more experience with survival and overcoming obstacles than anyone on earth. We are the experts. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We know exactly how to do it.
If you scan all of Jewish history, you will notice that there is only one common denominator throughout the generations, and that is Torah observance. There were times of idol worship, there were times of assimilation, but one cannot say that those phenomena were part of the Jewish experience throughout its history. The only thing that has been part of Jewish history since its inception, is Torah observance.
We have survived with our land and without it, so our land is clearly important, but it is not the key to our survival. We have survived in poverty and in wealth, so once again neither is the key to survival. We have survived with a military and without one, so the military is not the key to survival. We have survived with friends in high places and without, so the key to survival is not diplomatic relations.
The only thing we have never survived without, is Torah observance. There was never a time without a significant number of observant Jews. We have had generations with more observance and generations with less, but we have never had a generation with no observance at all.
In fact, every movement comprised of Jews that has veered from Torah has dissipated. The Essenes, Hellenists and zealots, the Sadducees, Karaits and Sabbateans have all ceased as Jewish movements. Its adherents either leaving the fold completely or returning to a Torah way of life. The only Jewish movement that has survived all the persecutions thrown at it by history, is Torah observance.
Don’t Fix ItWe don’t need to fix our method of survival. It has been honed for thousands of years. We just need to replicate it. We don’t even need to improve it; it works just the way it is. it get’s the job done. We might not understand the scientific reasons Torah observance ensures our survival, but the facts speak for themselves. Our group has survived. What more proof do we need?
The first generation thought that Judaism was in trouble when Moses tarried on his return from the mountain. They chanced on a solution, instead of relying on mortal man, they would build an enduring calf of gold. They thought they had found a brilliant solution to fix Judaism for the future. They could not have failed more spectacularly. And they are not alone. Every single non-Torah suggestion that as ever been floated and accepted as a means of survival proved colossal failures.
We need to learn from history and do what works. Let’s stick to our time tested and fail safe solutions. Our massive communal organs such as UJA, JNF and the Jewish Agency, should make Torah Jewish Education their first priority. Judaism will not survive on secular or even national ideals. History has shown that only Torah can serve successfully as a pillar of our survival.
Invest in Jewish education. Support Torah observance. Foster a return to Torah traditions and encourage a reclamation of Jewish heritage. If we invest our charitable dollars and efforts in this direction, then Am Yisrael Chai. The Jewish people will certainly survive.
 This essay is adapted from a letter written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to an Officer from the Zahal in 1974. Igros Kosesh, v. 29 #11,013.