My plan to reboot Anglo Jewry

June 29, 2012 16:30

Jews don't like censuses. We're awkward folk and, anyway, that famous one held in the reign of Caesar Augustus ended up doing us no favours at all. So the bad news is that, in a few weeks, we'll be seeing the results of the 2011 census and we almost certainly won't like them.

The biggest thing we won't appreciate is how few Jews there are. In the 2001 census, numbers of self-declaring Jews were down to 270,000 odd from a post-war high of half-a-million, and it's quite possible that, this time, it'll be the same story, despite there being more of almost everyone else.

Last time caused enough lamentation. So suppose for a moment that we - you and I - were asked by the board of UKJews Inc, to make a presentation on how to reverse the decline. We go into a brain-storming session, complete with flip-charts, to examine the options. We note that Jews are older on average than the general population and are increasingly concentrated in certain areas, such as the new super-shtetls of Hertfordshire. What do we come up with? What can be done to (and let's be clear here) procure more Jews?

First, you've got to decide you really want more. Muslims, evangelical Christians, Buddhists and Mormons, they're all clear that the world would be better if it contained greater numbers of their co-religionists. Do thou likewise. Say it out loud. "We want more Jews."

Second, you aren't going to do it just by reproduction. Though some Orthodox families are heroic in the baby-making department, Jews overall have a tendency to prefer at most a Sara, a Daniel and then, please, some peace. So we have to create more Jews from out there, if you like. Jewish Hero Mothers of Labour won't catch on.

The time for circumcision is when you don’t know about it

So. Third, make it easier for people to become Jews (or at least stop making it so difficult). Measures to do this can range from the uncontroversial to the radical. Don't quibble with conversions, disputing their validity and trying to keep people out of Jewish schools. That's fairly easy. Stop demanding circumcision as a prerequisite to adult male conversion; the time for circumcision is when you don't know anything about it and not a day later. That's difficult. At 30, the snip is a very big ask.

Fourth. Stop the Jews we have from leaving. And here I want to address myself to the excellent rabbi of Mill Hill, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. Over the years the rabbi has spoken out against mixed marriages and more recently against gay marriages.

Not long ago, he gave advice to a young man who had fallen in love with a non-Jew, that, if really wanted to please his parents, he would "dump the girl and find a nice yiddisher maidel". The young man was more likely, one felt, to dump the nasty yiddisher rebbe. Likewise, if gay Jews can't marry under Judaism, they will probably find somewhere they can.

This also means that, instead of celebrating aliyah (the numbers went up last year, as the JC has reported), we should worry about it. Unless we can have a guaranteed matching supply of returning Israelis (and thereby hangs a tale).

Fifth. Spread it out a bit, guys. Look at the property ads in this paper and see the problem for yourself. By 2031, there'll be 100,000 Jews left in Britain and they'll all be living in Radlett. The spora, to be frank, must be a bit more dia. People must go and found new Jewish communities and presences in places that have few Jews. Rabbis must set out from (say) Mill Hill and plant themselves in the soil of the Shropshire and the loam of Lancashire. Shuls must spring up in Torrington and Workington. The JC must vie with the Western Mail in the cafés of Aberystwyth. It's the only way.

June 29, 2012 16:30

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