What is right and what is wrong in bolstering Jewish identity depends on the definition of Jewish identity. We have many definitions of Jewish identity from to do nothing Jewishly (if you born to a Jewish family you are Jewish independently of what you are doing in your life) up to what is almost impossibly to do (the 613 mitzvoth in the life of ultra-Orthodox Jews).
However if we believe in the Torah-based definition of Jewish identity, there is only one concept of the Torah, that we received on the Mount of Sinai, that distinguishes and identifies the Jews among the other humans, and this concept is the Chosenness of Jewish people.
There are many interpretations of the concept of the Chosenness. Many Reform Jews and Jewish atheists don’t believe in this concept at all – they say we have our own traditions like everybody else and we should not distinguish ourselves from the others. Many traditional Orthodox Jews interpret the Chosenness as the strictly ritualistic life in isolation from the others.
But that is not what the Torah implies. The Torah says (1) all the humans are created in the image and likeness of God and (2) God assigned to a small tribe of the humans – the Jewish people – a mission of the Chosen aimed at helping the others figure out how to live in accordance with the image and likeness of God – to be competitively diverse and unifying at the same time for different peoples.
So we have to find the true, God’s meaning of the Chosenness as the Jewish identity. It looks like the new breed of rabbis who called themselves modern, open …- not the traditional Orthodox or Reform – are best prepared to do it. Unfortunately that is not what is in planning as described in a Jerusalem Post paper of January 13 “Israel to spend billions on initiative to bolster Jewish identity in Diaspora”:
The paper says:
“The primary movers behind the initiative, which was initially conceived by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are a triumvirate of public figures: JAFI director-general Alan Hoffmann, Kahana, and the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker along with his deputy, Michal Frank.” The modern rabbinical community is not present here.
One of the partners in this triumvirate is JAFI, and its participation may indicate what kind of Jewish identity the initiative will be trying to bolster. A sort of spiritual arm of JAFI is Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies. The Institute’s areas of studies which are closest to the Jewish identification are the studies of history, tradition and culture of the Jews in different countries. Thus it is easy assume that Jewish identity the triumvirate will be bolstering is the identity in history, in traditions and in culture.
However the prevailing history, tradition and culture of contemporary Jews in Europe and USA are the history, tradition and culture of the countries where the Jews live. Bolstering the knowledge of Jewish history, tradition and culture in the countries of Europe and USA, although useful in itself, would be of little help to identify the Jews with the “image and likeness of God” and the “mission of Jews as the Chosen” among the others. The Diaspora Jews are living their lives mostly in non-Jewish environment, and they have to identify themselves positively in non-Jewish environment. And if we follow the Torah, the identification has to be connected to bolstering the human identity of all, Jews and non-Jews, as made if the “image and likeness of God”, and bolstering the unique Jewish identity as made the Chosen for helping the others define for them their own meaning of made “in the image and likeness of God”.
The following is an example of how it may be done.
The Jewish Daily Forward published on January 18 the paper “Poland Poll Reveals Stubborn Anti-Semitism Amid Jewish Revival Hopes” at
The paper says:
“Decades after the Holocaust, many Poles hold strongly anti-Semitic views, a new poll shows…. A majority of respondents in a recent Polish national survey believe that there’s a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media. And 90% of these Poles say they’ve never met a Jew. The national study, conducted by the Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University, found that in Poland, the belief in a Jewish conspiracy remains high – 63% in 2013 – and relatively unchanged from 2009 when 65% of respondents held this belief.”
So what to do? How to bolster Jewish identity in this unfriendly environment?
We may complain and try various legal avenues to fight such anti-Semitic attitude – however all that brings negative feelings to the Jewish identity.
Or, we may bolster the Jewish identity in a positive way: we may bolster the Jewish identity by helping the Jews explain to the others in this unfriendly environment the true meaning of “Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media”. And the true meaning is that the Jews are performing, as the Chosen, a necessary, God’s work in creating an effective international banking and news-media systems that is a prerequisite for building a better world for everybody – Jews and non-Jews. To do this explanation the modern rabbis are needed, and they have been – unfortunately – mostly silent on the subject.