Assimilation: Nothing New for the Jew

This year a survey came about from the Pew Research Center on American Jews and intermarriage. Greg Smith and Alan Cooperman wrote an article on the survey highlighting the findings and giving over the facts of the survey. (See the article here: Their discussion is around the question does intermarriage cause assimilation?

I would like to suggest that in fact assimilation of Jews into their surrounding cultures allows for intermarriage but that intermarriage is not the cause rather a symptom. I recently was at the Young Israel Business Conference for young professionals in Tel Aviv, where Professor Alan Dershowitz ( addressed the issue of assimilation in front of the thousand plus crowd and he said, as an agnostic Jew with no religion, that Judaism is moving into a new age away from the religious aspects of being a Jew and to embrace and celebrate “Jewish Heritage”. Professor Dershowitz declared (to an applauding crowd) that we need to make Judaism more attractive and to be more open minded.

The idea of “Jewish Heritage” and making Judaism more attractive are philosophies that come from the Jewish exile. This is nothing new for the Jewish people and this always ends in disaster. There are two major issues with assimilation, one is the obvious that the more the Jews assimilate the less people there are to carry on the religion. Two, which in my personal opinion is scarier, is that every time Jewish assimilation goes up, intense Jewish persecution is right around the corner.

The biggest problem the Jewish people have is learning from their own historical mistakes. In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Shemot (Exodus) we see very clearly how and why the Jews began to be persecuted in Egypt.  It says in the Parsha, in the first few Psukim that the Jews multiplied in the land and Pharaoh became worried and he did not remember Joseph and he persecuted the Jews and he commanded the Jewish mid-wives to throw the boys into the Nile. However, something of that magnitude does not happen overnight. The Torah hints to us, that the persecution and slavery was a result of our previous behavior.

The very first Psukim in our Parsha include a list the 12 tribes and a reiteration that Joseph passed away. Why are we mentioning the tribes again? We are starting a whole new book of Shemot why are we still referring to Beresheit and the previous Parshiot if we already told this story last week?!

The answer I would like to suggest is that the Torah (which does not add words unless for a reason) is reminding us that the same Jews who came from Canaan to Egypt to get away from a famine temporarily, and slowly but surely began creating a permanence in exile are the same Jews that became slaves.

Through their assimilation into Egyptian culture and feeling that they had rights in the land, the Jews were as bold as to bore many children and make a permanent residence in Egypt they ended up being persecuted and put into slavery. Joseph, tried warning his brothers by putting them away from the other Egyptians in Goshen, separating them from the Egyptians, but as we see at the end of Parshat Vayigash, the brothers acquired more land and they made a permanent residence in Egypt. They did not heed their brothers warning.

When we assimilate into our surrounding cultures we are telling Hashem that we are content where we are. That we see a long-term future in this place, and that makes us very vulnerable to a wakeup call from Hashem to remind us that our permanent residence is Eretz Yisrael and there is no substitute.

Even for the orthodox Jews, when we build lavish Synagogues and Beit Midrash and put so much effort into our exile existence and we do not have a constant drive to leave and get to Eretz Yisrael and bring the third beit hamikdash, then that complacent behavior will ultimately lead to our destruction.

Unfortunately, we see this happening in the diaspora today. We have major Yeshivot and outlandish and massive Shuls as if we are planning to be in diaspora for the next 100 years. Is it not enough that the Shuls built in Europe only a century ago are now empty, walked through as tourist attractions?

Why do we long term plan in the diaspora? Why are we not working on making Aliyah and building up Israel? We cannot rely on miracles! We need to make an effort to do our part in getting the Jewish people out of the Diaspora.

That is the message in the beginning of Shemot and that is why we mention the tribes again. To remind us that when we cannot get complacent, we must as a nation strive to get ourselves out of the diaspora and bring in the Third Beit Hamikdash in our lifetime.