The Diaspora is Doomed

The writing is on the wall for Jews in the diaspora and only Israel can secure Jewish survival, argues Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, the former head of the Beth Din in Australia and New Zealand, in an edited extract from his new book Diaspora is Jewry’s Graveyard (Urim, $19.95)


Demographs have asserted that diaspora Jewry has lost a million of its sons and daughters in intermarriage and assimilation during the last two decades. They predict that in fifty years’ time only one and a half million of the present seven and a half million Jews will remain in the diaspora as a result of intermarriage and assimilation. Presently we are losing 60,000 young men and women every year.

In addition, 70 percent of the Jewish children in the diaspora do not get any Jewish education; 20 percent of the American Jewish students do not call themselves Jews anymore. We have sunk to the lowest birthrate of all nationalities, far beyond replacement level; while at the same time we have risen to the heights of intermarriage.

In the United States, 50 percent of our young men and women intermarry; 60 percent in France and in the other countries of Europe. In Russia it is about 70 percent of intermarriage; while in Australia it is about 40 percent. The statistical data as they have been published suffice to shock any Jew that is concerned about Jewish existence.

Today, wherever we turn, signs of national disintegration are apparent everywhere – the estrangement of young Jews, the alienation from Jewish sources and Jewish thought, the abyss of the Jewish ignorance and the growth of assimilation.

Yet the Jewish leadership is silent, calm and content. No lesson seems to have been learnt from the Holocaust, whose main characteristics appear to be similar to those that afflict us in the present crisis.

First, the Jews of Europe did not know what was awaiting them. They did not believe it was possible. “This is Europe, not the jungle; these people are enlightened Germans, not beasts. What can they do to us? We are better off where we are,” they said. The German murderers cunningly hid the truth from their victims. They knew very well that the less they knew about their tragic end, the faster and easier the machinery of extermination would run.

Similarly, today in the midst of the raging plague of intermarriage and assimilation, many of our people are committing the same fatal blunder by believing that it would not happen to their children.

The father is as non-observant as his son. But there is a big difference between them. The father has a good memory, his nostalgia is unimpaired.

He had drawn liberally from a religious home a vast reservoir of Jewish attitudes and feelings. He feels perfectly Jewish without religious observance, as he often puts it: “I am a good Jew at heart.” Hence, he is sure that his son, like himself, would never betray his people.

The father forgets that his son never saw the real Jewish home, which he had experienced, and that unlike himself, this son has no nostalgia and no memories. Hence he drops it all. He does not particularly care about being Jewish and sees no calamity in assimilation.

The number of Jews who have lost their children in this manner is staggering. And yet there is a deadly silence. The Jewish leadership does not sound the alarm, does not enlighten the Jewish masses of the inevitable plague of intermarriage and assimilation awaiting their children in the diaspora.

The Jewish house is burning while its inhabitants are asleep, and there are no alarm bells, nor fire brigades. Every visitor to New York, Paris, London, or Moscow, who open-mindedly regards what transpires among Jews, senses that the uprooted are drowning in the depths of disintegration and loss of identity.

This brings us to the second main characteristic of the Holocaust: The Judenrats, even those who knew about the final solution, followed a policy of silence and non-revelation, which contributed to the illusionary hope of survival and assisted the German scheme of extermination.

We seem to be repeating the same fatal mistake of the Judenrat by not revealing to the people the truth about the severe crisis of diaspora Jewry and that aliyah is an inevitable step.

Among other peoples, in time of national peril, during crisis and emergency, leadership rises, speaking truth to the people to strengthen the spirit for struggle. It was thus in Britain also during its time of destiny, when Churchill was elected prime minister. In his historic speech, he revealed the awful truth: that he can promise the people only sweat and blood. These words were engraved on British hearts and they carried them on their lips into battle. The leadership of diaspora Jewry does not understand that it is impossible to fortify a people to withstand grave crisis without analysing its situation and without presenting effective methods required to ensure its future.

Today, Jewish knowledge and observance are no prerequisites for Jewish leadership. The lay leaders are part and parcel of the community and are objects of the same weaknesses. Hence they speak and behave as if we live in normal times and circumstances.

But what about the spiritual leaders, why are they silent? Why do they not sound the alarm, while our people are living in the realm of illusion, both in the danger zone and in the countries of freedom and prosperity? The rabbis are described in the Torah as “the eyes of the community.” Hence they are in duty bound to see, detect and reveal to the community the real situation.

The Jewish people in exile loses circa 5,000 young every month, due to intermarriage and assimilation – a loss of circa 60,000 young souls annually.

This dread critical state should rightly seize our attention, appal us, and allow us scant rest. How could we remain tacit and tranquil as so many Jewish souls are lost? The Torah admonishes us: “Stand not by your brother’s blood!” Moreover, saving Jewish souls in the spiritual and national sense is also a commandment outweighing all others in the Torah. The deafening silence of diaspora rabbis is terrifying!

There is but one ray of light – Israel, which has the distinction of having the highest fertility rate of any western country; where intermarriage is nonexistent; and where Judaism is addressed to the eye. There, children absorb their religion and national spirit unconsciously. It is the only county in which the Jew can live a full Jewish life.

Israel has become the most immense centre of yeshivot and Torah study the Jewish people has ever seen; where young Jews are free, proud and brave, imbued with high ideals and principles. Truly, Israel has developed into the spiritual and national health resort of the Jewish people; while the diaspora has degenerated into the Jewish Chernobyl, whose poisonous radiation consumes the souls of our children.

The conspiracy of silence is devastating. Our people are entitled to know the truth. Only if they know can they help themselves. And what they should know is that Israel can survive without their children, but their children cannot survive without Israel.

The present process of Jewish disintegration clearly demonstrates the fact that the Jew cannot survive in a diaspora, where he enjoys freedom, equality and prosperity. Assimilation is the law of existence of the diaspora.

It is fatal to deceive ourselves by assuming that Jewish day schools can preserve us. They can only postpone assimilation but not cancel it; they can only delay it, but not prevent it.

The clarion call: “Liquidate the galut [diaspora] or the galut will liquidate you,” is as realistic and life-saving today, as when it was originally sounded on the eve of the Holocaust. For the plague of intermarriage and assimilation is sapping us of our people in a way as deadly as gas chambers.

One day we shall be called to account for having remained silent while Israel was calling. Tragically, some positive Jews, certain Chasidic sects, even affirm and justify the galut. For them, evidently, the messianic idea – which is the idea of redemption – has served as an ideology of wandering – ultimately assimilation; rather than as a stimulus to return home.

While the ship of diaspora Jewry is sinking, we, the spiritual leaders, are going around with our ordinary rabbinic ministration and ceremonialism, like the stewards on the Titanic – while she was sinking they were serving the passengers drinks and were shining the mirrors.

Actually, the galut Jew acknowledges the charge of the antisemites, who claim that Jews do not know the meaning of homeland, that they are a nation of chronic wanderers, and that their only ideal is materialistic gain.

Obviously, such an ideal-less generation could not survive for long.

Similarly, the generation of the wilderness that preferred Egyptian fish, cucumbers and onions to the Promised Land had to fall in the wilderness.

That is the law of the Torah as well as the law of nature.

No wonder that the Talmud ruled that the precept of living in the land of Israel is equivalent to the observance of all the biblical precepts. For the observance of the former would preserve the Jew and enable and inspire him to observe all the other commandments of the Torah.

    Last updated: 4:19pm, March 3 2010