I have dedicated thousands of hours in the past thirty years of my life to spending quality time with Jews who are completely estranged from traditional Torah Judaism. I have never made the claim that one Jew is better or holier than another Jew. I would submit that my record speaks for itself as someone who does not judge nor has expressed any warped sense of triumphalism when population surveys over the years have indicated that the only denominations that is growing is the Orthodox.
It is not despite the aforementioned, but precisely because of my background that I felt duty bound to participate in the historic Am Echad Mission to Jerusalem last week to meet with some of the leading decision makers in the current Israeli government. Why duty bound? The years of researching and publishing on the topic of Jewish demographic trends has made it painfully apparent to me that the root of assimilation causing tens of thousands of Jews to fall into the spiritual abyss is ignorance.
All the research points to the fact that the less a Jew understands and appreciates the beauty of our heritage, the chance of remaining in the fold diminishes exponentially. I was privy to a similar level of ignorance on the recent Am Ehud Mission from senior government officials when it came to appreciating the disproportionate reach that Orthodox Jews play with respect to the Israeli economy, and the demographic time-bomb that is being ignited by the calls being made primarily by Reform activists to compromise on halachic standards regarding conversion and divorce. It was also apparent to me from the members of the Knesset and senior officials that I spoke with, that there is a high level of ignorance and perhaps naivete with respect to the true motives driving the Reform Movement in Israel.
According to Edieal J. Pinker of the School of Management at Yale University in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR), 2021, the decline in self-identified Jews in The Pew Survey, 2013 is “powered in large part by the substantial shrinkage in the number of Reform and Conservative Jews as well as the departure from the Jewish people of many children of intermarried.” Despite self-serving representations to the contrary, there is no credence to claims that Reform /Conservative has a mandate in the Diaspora. In stark contrast, according to the raw data collected by The Pew Research Center, fifty percent of Jewish children under the age of nine years old will be raised by parents affiliated to the Orthodox denomination by the year 2030!
In short, the myth that I found myself at pains to dispel is the fact that the Reform and Conservative can speak for the majority of Diaspora Jews and that the Orthodox are a small group whose numbers are eroding. The numbers and demographic trends belie any such claims. There is nothing further from the truth.
The demand made by the Reform Movement that a section of the Western Wall needs to be allocated for mixed prayer services has been couched in term of egalitarianism, underscoring the claim that all Jews should be entitled to pray at the only remaining vestige of the Second Temple. If such claims were well intentioned, I would be the first person to welcome exploring ways to accommodate different expressions of pray. That said, through extensive research below the surface, it soon become evident that the overtures by the Reform are more akin to a ploy for transforming the State of Israel into a state for all citizens. One does not have to go further than the fact that the Reform and Conservative movements have submitted approximately fifty legal petitions before the High Court of Justice in recent years in an attempt to secularize Israeli society. I would submit that it is tough to make the argument that the motive of the Reform and Conservative movement are altruistic when some of these petitions include the insistence that hametz be permitted on military basis during Pesach!
The message that the Am Echad delegation brought to the attention of decision-makers in the Knesset have an impact far broader than the Orthodox denomination. It would not be hyperbolic to say that what is at stake is the future of Israel as a Jewish state. Pursuant to Section 4 (a) of the Law of Return, a ‘Jew’ is defined so broadly that non-halachic Jews can insist on being allowed entry to Israel. The potential demographic time-bomb is compounded should the government insist on dropping the standard of conversions and allowing marriages to be dissolved based on criteria that falls short of halachically accepted standards.
The battle to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish State is a fight against naïve ignorance. It is a fight that every sensitive Jew who is aware of our history and the importance of maintaining a Jewish State is to our survival needs to understand. I am proud to be a participant of Am Echad in waging that war.
Antony (Chanan) Gordon is a Fulbright Scholar, Sir Abe Bailey Fellow and graduate of the Harvard Law School (1990) and Harvard Business School Executive Program. Antony is the co-author of “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish?” a research article that has been published in whole or in part in numerous mainstream publications. He is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best-Selling Author and host of the critically acclaimed podcast, “The Antony Gordon Show – Lessons for Life I did not learn at Harvard.” Antony is a member of Am Echad and participated in the Am Echad Mission to Israel in 2018 as well as the recent 2022 Am Achad Mission.