Would making Israel more Progressive kill its growth?

Would making Israeli Judaism  more Progressive lead to the nation’s demographic demise?
If one accepts the thesis in David P. Goldman’s 2011 book, “How Civilizations Die,” the answer is “Yes.’

Goldman, who also writes under the pen name Spengler, contends that behind the collapse of fertility is the loss of faith.

Here, in his words, is the problem:

“As a matter of arithmetic, we know that the social life of most developed countries will break down within two generations. Two out of every three Italians and three of four Japanese will be elderly dependents by 2050. If present fertility rates hold, the number of Germans will fall by 98 percent over the next two centuries.”

“In the absence of religious faith, if our culture dies, our hope of transcending mere physical dies with it…. When men and women lose the sacred, they lose the desire to live.”

To maintain numbers,  it takes one to replace the mother, one to replace the father, and a bit more to account for deaths and disabilities. Fertility in Israel is over 3; in America it’s higher than in most European countries, but still below replacement rates. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/upshot/american-fertility-is-falling-short-of-what-women-want.html  

Goldman insists that loss of faith leads to demographic demise;  he believes that behind the implosion of  European populations is its rejection of Christianity.

Only Israelis – Israeli Jews – alone among Western civilizations,  are having enough children to produce a rising population. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/with-fertility-rising-israel-is-spared-a-demographic-time-bomb-1.6131135

What are the implications of a more Progressive Israel?  Would it mean a lower number of births and a stable or even shrinking population?  Perhaps it’s not politically correct to ask, but are the Reform and possibly Conservative traditions equivalent to faith?

Last year, Rabbi Ben Goldstein of  Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA, who describes himself on Facebook as, ” a deeply religious, secular and agnostic Jew who loves God,” wrote the following in E-Jewish Philanthropy:

“The future of non-Orthodox Judaism is outside of a sanctuary and might be outside of synagogues. The most successful communities have started to find alternative ways of organizing. Whether it’s around social justice, cultural or educational events, most thriving synagogues provide different types of engagement.”

The link to his post is here https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-future-of-north-american-synagogues/

The Google dictionary definition of agnostic is:  a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

Here is a picture of modern American Jewry and its rabbinate, as drawn by Isi Liebler:

“Reform Judaism is the leading denominational group within the Jewish community… (https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/CANDIDLY-SPEAKING-The-impact-of-non-Orthodox-Jews-on-America-569114)

“Rabbis are overjoyed to have a unique opportunity on the High Holy Days to address large audiences, but many of them, instead of concentrating on Jewish themes, use the occasion to promote the anti-Trump campaign, often urging their constituents to vote in order to defeat the purported “enemy of democracy,” the “antisemitically inclined” Trump.

ReformJudaism’s web page includes a piece by Rabbi Marla Feldman;  who argues that, “Social justice is an essential component of Reform Judaism.”  https://reformjudaism.org/why-advocacy-central-reform-judaism

She quotes  Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reformed Judaism, “Reform Jews are committed to social justice. Even as Reform Jews embrace ritual, prayer, and ceremony more than ever, we continue to see social justice as the jewel in the Reform Jewish crown.”

But is advocacy for gun control, immigration expansion, LBGTQ rights and other Left Wing agenda items the same as religious belief?  And, if it is not sufficiently religious, will the adherents of Reform have lost the drive to procreate?

It seems plausible also, that something corrosive lies within a Progressive movement which supports a prospective first lady who insists ““For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country…”  and a Democratic governor of New York who says, that America “was never that great.”

Not to mention a growing number of professional football players who refuse to stand while the national anthem is played.

Call it a lack of faith in the country.

It is very rare among the children and grandchildren of my friends to have more than two children.

This spring, my congregation’s senior rabbi, Aaron Starr, invited his 98-year old maternal grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, to speak .Later, he wrote about it in a Times of Israel blog.  https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-conversation-about-the-birthrate-conversation/

There, he acknowledged that his grandfather and grandmother had had three children, four grandchildren, and only four great grandchildren.

Rabbi Starr – and others like him – speak pointedly about the differences they harbor with the Orthodox rabbinate which rules in Israel.  In this sermon, published on Youtube, he complains about the rules which make it impossible for Mrs. Starr to join him in prayer at the Kotel.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugbh1u21sAA

If Goldman is correct, fertility disappears in people without faith.  Strict application leads us to the following choices:  Either

  1. a) Goldman’s belief (that people of faith produce fertility) is incorrect;
  2. b) Progressive clergy  are not “people of faith”, advocating political activism not equivalent to religious faith; or
  3. c)  The sample size is too small to be meaningful.

Attempting to gather a larger sample size, I looked for family sizes of rabbis, at websites of Detroit area synagogues, finding:

Orthodox Sample size of 14. .  The 2013 Pew study reported Orthodox fertility in America at 4.1.

Conservative – Sample size of eight  (2.5); Reform  Sample size of nine,  (1.56); Secular Humanist (2); Reconstructionist (0) Sample size of one.  Included in the non-Orthodox were two male rabbis married to men.

Rabbi Starr’s blog post concludes with the following:

Were the Holocaust not to have come to Poland, it is safe to assume that the descendants of my great-grandparents might number now in the hundreds. But they and their children were murdered by the Nazis, leaving only my now-98-year-old grandfather to survive. He and my grandmother, also a survivor, produced three non-Orthodox Jewish children. Those children raised four non-Orthodox children of their own, and those four grandchildren of my grandfather are raising four great-grandchildren.

As we watch the decline of non-Orthodox Judaism — a form of Judaism that I believe is impactful upon our People, upon our country, and upon the world — the time is right to begin to have the conversation about the conversation of fertility. And I am looking for help in how to do so.

Although it may be politically and emotionally uncomfortable to do so, perhaps Goldman has written a guide book for how to have that conversation

About the Author
A resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I hold BA and MA degrees in economics, and spent the first decade after graduate school in journalism. I have worked on Wall Street, met a payroll, won a wire service award, and served on three boards. With a partner, I am involved in a litigation funding business.