There is a midrash in which Moshe complains to God about the Jewish babies buried between the walls inside the pyramids. “Rabbi Akiva taught, ‘Moshe cried to HaShem, I know that you will save the Jewish People. But what do you care about those who are already set under the buildings of Egypt?” (Shmos Rabbah 5:27) How many Jews have been lost on the way to redemption?
The new Pew Research Center 2020 population survey of the American Jewish community has been released. The Orthodox Union recently hosted a panel of communal professionals concerning itself with only a few issues specific to Orthodox communal vibrancy. Why? Are we two peoples; the 9% of Jews who are Orthodox and the 91% who are not Orthodox?
Here are some of the sadly tragic numbers, which reveal the continuing, increasing, epidemic disaster of the assimilation of our people. There are 7.5 million American Jews. About 4.2 million of the adults identify their religion as Jewish, while the rest are what Pew calls “Jews of no religion.” Overall, about a quarter of US Jewish adults (27%) do not identify with the Jewish religion: They consider themselves to be Jewish ethnically, culturally or by family background and have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, but they answer a question about their current religion by describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rather than as Jewish. Among Jewish adults under 30, 4 in ten describe themselves this way.
The future of American Jewry appears to be one of polarization. The numbers of Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews are growing. The Conservative and Reform movements, which once claimed the bulk of the American Jewish community, are shrinking. 41% of Jews under 30 are unaffiliated and have no connection with any Jewish organization. Nearly three-quarters of non-Orthodox Jews who married since 2010 wed non-Jews. In total, 42% of married Jews have a spouse who is not Jewish. In fact, based on the more traditional measures of religious observance, Jews in the United States are far less religious than US Christians and Americans overall. More than half of all Jews say that religion is “not at all important” or “not too important” in their lives. There are even bigger gaps when it comes to belief in God. About a quarter of Jews (26%) say they believe in God as described in the Bible, compared with more than half of US adults overall (56%), and eight-in-ten Christians. A tragedy even closer to home, is that a third of all Jews who were raised Orthodox are no longer Orthodox.
As reported by Elizabeth Kratz, “The Pew Study’s Lessons for the Orthodox Community”, May 27, the Orthodox Union practically applauded themselves in celebrating the vibrancy, high retention rates, high fertility rates, early marriages, and higher education of the Orthodox. We Orthodox are only growing in strength and numbers.
But, we are one people, not two. We are not the Orthodox, and they are the others. Moshe asked God, what about the babies already lost, buried between the walls of the pyramids? Many great rabbis have ruled that non-religious Jews are in the category of Infants who were kidnapped by Gentiles. They are not sinners. They were never exposed to the beauty and greatness of our heritage.
Every one of us has a responsibility to do something to influence our children, our relatives, our co-workers, our neighbors. Give a Jewish charity box to someone. Contribute to Aish HaTorah or to a college Hillel or Chabad. Buy a mezuzah for a young couple moving into a new home. Invite someone to a Pesach Seder. Give Shalach Manos on Purim not to your friend but to a non-religious neighbor or co-worker. Direct a young teen to Birthright Israel. Go to a Gateways lecture weekend with a friend who needs some inspiring Torah. Give a book such as, “Judaism’s Life Changing Ideas” by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs.
The Redemption depends on you.