The last generation of British Jews?


by Sunny
27th November, 2006 at 12:04 pm    

The Sunday Telegraph had an interesting article titled ‘Is this the last generation of British Jews?‘:

“The Jewish community in England, as in other parts of Europe, is demographically unviable,” he said. “It is a dying community, without even counting assimilation. They say that in order to remain stable, a community needs to average 2.2 children. I don’t think this is the case in Anglo-Jewry. Whatever the figure, when you add the devastating devaluation of assimilation and intermarriage, it is becoming smaller all the time.”

His comments are borne out by the decline in the outward expressions of Judaism, from weddings to synagogue attendance, and the disappearance of its cultural heritage, with Jewish architecture said to be more at risk than ever before.

It is the continual rise in the number of Jews marrying gentiles that poses the biggest challenge facing the community. In 1990, there were estimated to be about 340,000 Jews in Britain, but the population has declined by a fifth to only 270,000 today. According to the 1996 Jewish Policy Review, nearly one in two are marrying people who do not share their faith.

It is unnecessarily apocalyptic? Compared to British Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims there is probably less outward expressions of faith and lesser number of children being born. Inter-marriage is probably also a higher percentage. But then we know British Asian parents stress about the exact same issues regarding their own offspring. The article also states that while mainstream followers are in decline, the ultra-orthodox sections are growing, another parallel that can be drawn with Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. The real issue is this:

However, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, the president-elect of Liberal Judaism, argues that this decline would not be as steep if synagogues were more welcoming to those who still identify with Judaism, but have married out. She argues that many people retain a residual sense of their Jewish heritage, which often grows as they approach marriage or starting a family.

Lady Neuberger believes that Anglo-Jewry is at a crossroads, faced with a choice between following the ultra-Orthodox path and risking becoming isolated, or embracing people such as Lynne Walmsley who have married out and are no longer considered Jewish by many Orthodox rabbis.

A dilemma that will increasingly be debated within other minority religions too I bet.


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  1. Clive Davis

    TRADITION VS CHANGE…

    Sunny Hundal reflects on an article about the dwindling number of practising Jews in Britain. Will intermarriage create the same problems for Hindus and Muslims one day? (And would that necessarily be a bad thing?) Emel Abidin-Algan, former head of…




  1. Jagdeep — on 27th November, 2006 at 12:07 pm  

    Interesting article. I expect Asians of all religions are facing some of these issues now and will in the future generations.

  2. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 12:29 pm  

    Good on em I say for not being so blinkered and inherently racist. I don’t see someone who is half-Jewish or even a bit Jewish as someone who necessarily loses their Jewish culture. Diluted maybe, and…?
    Thing is, there are two strands to this story:
    1) The one I have already mentioned — that of cultural identity.
    2) the decline of organised religion generally in Britain (except for islam, which has become politicised in part and is making a comeback)

  3. Riz — on 27th November, 2006 at 1:32 pm  

    That’s an eye opening article, and the idea about religious institutions evolving in line with a changing society is an important one.

    I think there will always be a big lag between the mindset of society and the mindset of religious institutions, because the people in charge often have vested interests; also, these people are generally quite conservative and belong to the older generations, and so will naturally be more resilient to change and reluctant to let go of the old ways.
    But change they must.

  4. Chris Stiles — on 27th November, 2006 at 1:38 pm  


    I don’t see someone who is half-Jewish or even a bit Jewish as someone who necessarily loses their Jewish culture.

    What do you mean by half-Jewish? ‘Jewishness’ only requires a maternal line.

  5. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 1:46 pm  

    Point taken Chris, but I’m sure you know what I meant

  6. leon — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:05 pm  

    Interesting stuff, people of mixed origins/race are on the increase and this is effecting all communities. There was a study released recently about the shrinking Afro-Caribbean population in the UK due to inter-racial relationships. Basically AC people are being bred out of existance in this country due to having non AC partners.

    Many implications for the future in the area of race relations/social cohesion…

  7. Uncleji the Yenta — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:09 pm  

    Could it be that the Jews in Britian are simply too successful for their own good, once the pressures of economic inequality, persecution diminish so does the siege mentality that binds communities together.
    A Similar thing seems to have happened to the Parises in India.

    Ironically my local Gurdwara taken over the site of what was the local Liberal Synagogue in Ealing.

  8. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:13 pm  

    Uncleji, maybe.. but I also know a few descendents of jews who were assimilated via the public school system, after their fathers had tweaked their surnames presumably out of fear of persecution or in order to get on

  9. Jagdeep — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:16 pm  

    So Leon, can you see the day when there are no Afro-Caribbean people left in Britain?

    I think it’s a sad thing if any minority community is to simply become assimilated to the point of non existence. I think all communities should liberalise, but when it gets to the point of ceasing to exist, there is something terribly sad, and wrong about it.

  10. leon — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:24 pm  

    I can see it yes (well in significant numbers). On a personal note it does sadden me also (half my family is from the Caribbean so have a fondness for the cultures and peoples) but in terms of the big picture? Well, Britain is and always will be a mixed nation, all throughout it’s history it’s changed, merged peoples and cultures and created new ones. If that change and the others rid us of our current predujices, make us better/more enlightened than I’m all for it.

    I look forward to where it may take us. I’m not fearful about things changing or being replaced, new cultures have to be and will born.

  11. leon — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:27 pm  

    *’new cultures have to be and will be born’

  12. Rosa — on 27th November, 2006 at 2:27 pm  

    Chris, I’d say Jewishness doesn’t even require a maternal line – there are plenty of people with just Jewish fathers who consider themselves Jewish to a greater or lesser extent. Jewishness doesn’t get ‘lost’, I think, so much as denied by tedious orthodox types who refuse to recognise this. Lots of people seem to get terribly hung up on the maternal line thing, as if it trumps everything else, including a strong sense of your own cultural heritage.

  13. Chris — on 27th November, 2006 at 3:14 pm  

    “I think all communities should liberalise, but when it gets to the point of ceasing to exist, there is something terribly sad, and wrong about it.”

    Why, exactly?

  14. Jagdeep — on 27th November, 2006 at 3:43 pm  

    If you have to ask, I guess I can’t explain to you in words on a blog why it’s sad that a culture and way of life with all the experience, traditions, history, culture and genius that makes up that community should simply cease to exist one day and become assimilated into the mass.

  15. Kismet Hardy — on 27th November, 2006 at 4:29 pm  

    I had two children with a jewish lady. Neither kids give a toss about religion. So that judaism and Islam I’ve helped kill off for at least two freer souls to create a brighter future. I’d like an award. A shiny one, preferably with a statuette of a golfer

  16. funkg — on 27th November, 2006 at 5:53 pm  

    Leon although I agree with you that the afro carribean community is a declining one, Im not convinced its purely down to intermarriage outside the community. The afro carribean community were part of the first, post war immigrants to Britain. Many of these post war carribeans have either sadly died or went back ‘home’ to retire. The afro carribean demographics age range is older, no longer can we shout the loudest, there are other newer communities with their own issues especially the Muslim communities of which we too are part. Nowadays I call the Bengaladeshi young guys in parts of London and beyond the ‘new black’ as they are generally younger and are now the ones who are being stopped and search by the police.

    The pattern in the carribean is to emigrate to the US or Canada, which are now culturally closer to Caribbean culture rather than England i.e from cricket to basketball. Most afro Caribbean’s can trace back to a European, indigenous ‘Indian’ or Asian ancestor as well as of course African. The DNA mix in the Caribbean is obviously down to factors including slavery, (where plantation owners often sexually abused their female slaves). Of course there were exceptions, intermarriage was common on many islands, and one unfortunate consequence was that mixed race people were in the past more favoured than their darker skinned brothers and sisters.
    You have to remember that afro Caribbeans were generally of the same faith (Christianity) as whites and shared lots of similarities in the culture. Afro-Caribbean’s did not have the shackles of an over powering religion, we could go to the pubs, eat pork go football along with our white friends there was not huge differences in our culture that made us ‘outsiders’. If you look on Pathe news, there is a clip from the 1940s of white and black men sitting in a pub in lime house.

    You have to remember in the 60s you had Motown music and Ska, black music was popular music worldwide. Black music and culture was accessible and easily digested by working class whites, since the jazz era in the 20s, swing and big band.

    Its true that many afro-Caribbean’s date out of their ethnic group, this is a pattern which will dramatically increase in Asian communities I reckon. Many Hindus and Sikhs under the age of 40 I meet are highly secularised, I know many who will not even date from their own ‘race’. Many of these Hindu, Sikhs and some Muslims will not tolerate the ‘shackles’ that tied their ancestors to their dating norms, they will fight tooth and nail to make their own choices. In my circle of friends only 2 of my close Asian friends out of 5, dates or is married to another Asian person and 1 of these secretly dates white girls and he is a Muslim.

  17. William — on 27th November, 2006 at 6:46 pm  

    I agree that things are changing. I know two Jews one is atheist and the other is interested in Hinduism. Both have none Jewish partners. Wolverhampton is mostly Sikh and I meet an increasing number who don’t bother with the religion, customs etc. At one Gurdwara they are so concerned about falling numbers that they are giving sevices in English and projecting in English the content of the services on to a screen so that young Sikhs who are losing Punjabi as a language may be tempted back in.

    Interestingly the fastest growing religion in the west is Buddhism in terms of white converts. It is reckoned that there are over 100,000 in the UK maybe 500,000 in France and a couple of million in the US.
    Most Buddhists in the UK are white except in Wolverhampton they are mostly descendents of people from India. Wonder how this will turn out.

    Jagdeep

    “If you have to ask, I guess I can’t explain to you in words on a blog why it’s sad that a culture and way of life with all the experience, traditions, history, culture and genius that makes up that community should simply cease to exist one day and become assimilated into the mass. ”

    I kind of agree but maybe as long as some things are kept.

  18. justforfun — on 27th November, 2006 at 6:47 pm  

    Why the sad faces – why the crying into your beer Jagdeep?.

    Leon, Kismet and Funkg are the only one who seem to have grasped the future. Things move on.

    Britain is not some sort of zoo , a sperm bank for cultures from around the world – a perverse experiment in stopping time. Perhaps a sperm bank for endangered cultures, but that is what asylum is about – but we are not talking about endangered cultures here. We are not talking about Tibetians , where I hope we are a place of refuge until they have the opportunity to go back if they desire.

    We are all human beings living in this country and the evolving benefits and advantages of British culture should be open to all sons and daughters. Access to these should not be determined by our parents , no matter from where they came.

    Britain is not a pickling jar or is that what we want? Lots of jars of pickled, grumpy old men and women. If a culture wishes to set its self apart, then fair enough, but then it must persuade its young to remain in its fold out of choice and not through emotional blackmail, and certainly not through edicts from a priest, rabbi, immam, ayatollah, lama, druid, dastur etc etc who try to ostrasize parents whose adult children decide to marry someone of a different religion or no religion at all.

    Just to quote from the article –
    “Rabbis used to tell couples that they were doing Hitler’s work for him by marrying out. The community used to assume that once you married out, that was it – you had opted out. But slowly attitudes are changing.” – what a fucking outrageous thing to say to someone – when its the rabbis and communities own actions that are doing Hitler’s work. I am not singling out Jewish rabbis here – its the same sort of crap that comes from all sorts of priests from all sorts of religions.

    We can have sadness at the passing of a culture that has so enriched this nation, but things move on and these are adults making adult choices which are compatible to with their conscienses – some to live here as they see fit and others choose to go to Isreal. That is their choice.

    But are we really saying that the great men and women who have come from the Jewish communities of the past were great because of their belief in Jehovah? Perhaps but I would hazard it was also because of their parents instilling the idea of hard work, a belief in education and a desire to allow their offspring to forge their own path. These are traits shared by hundreds of cultures spread around the world – but these are also traits suppressed by hundreds of cultures throughout the world. I hope we never allow the second sort here and the ossification to happen here. There are enough “yee olde pubs” around without having ye olde mosques, synagogues gurdwaras, temples, etc cluttering up the place and attracting foriegn tourists in 50 years time. I can just see it in 50 years time – plane loads of tourists form the sub-continent coming to Britain to see how their culture was in 2006, with real life living people in realife houses, but withoiut the paan spit on the floor!!

    An idea – the Japanese love this sort of thing – Any community that who want to stay still can go and set up their communes in Japan and then charge for Japanese tourists to look around. The Japanese will be more than happy if you just stay as you are. They may even pass a few laws preventing you from mixing, just to reassure your elders that there will not be any marriages outside the communities.

    I think I need my medication before I rant on! :-)

    Justforfun

  19. Jagdeep — on 27th November, 2006 at 8:42 pm  

    I kind of expected a parody and mis-representation of my thoughts as you have just written justforfun, representing them as a longing for stasis and ‘stopping time’. It doesnt matter, some people will get the wrong end of the stick and run with it for miles.

  20. Don — on 27th November, 2006 at 8:42 pm  

    A jewish friend, more or less completely secular except for keeping the family happy on the main holidays, married a christian. She has taken up jewish tradition in a big way, kosher kitchen, meticulous observation of holidays, painstaking pronunciation of hebrew words. Didn’t convert, still the annoying evangelical but much more ‘jewish’ than he is.

    The kids are being raised as Woodcraft Folk.

  21. Gibs — on 27th November, 2006 at 8:50 pm  

    Globally speaking,none of these religions/cultures is actually dying out. The population of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims & Christians is actually increasing (just as the population of the world is increasing).

    What is happening is that in Britain, there are more inter-racial relationships/marriages than there hitherto have been (which, means that in the long term, segregation and racial tension are likely to decrease).

    As for fewer people taking religion seriously – bring it on !

  22. Jagdeep — on 27th November, 2006 at 8:54 pm  

    Why do they always say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in Britain if, as William says, it is Buddhism? Weird.

  23. Anas — on 27th November, 2006 at 9:04 pm  

    I thought it was Jedi Knight myself.

  24. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 9:30 pm  

    There’s an odd dichotomy coming through on this thread.
    What happened to the future is brown?
    At the end of the day, afrocaribbeans are part of the British social fabric in the same way that the Irish are and south Asians increasingly are too.
    Just as reorts of the death of the ginger was premature, so i feel is talk of the death of British jewsih, let alone British west indian traditions.
    There will be people have west indian pepper sauce with their roast tukey long after you and i leave this world funkg, just as jewish traditions live on in salt beef sandwiches and the cockney.
    In fact they say the latter is dying too, but it isn’t, it’s evolving. That’s the beauty of a free and open society
    Speech over

  25. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 9:30 pm  

    There’s an odd dichotomy coming through on this thread.
    What happened to the future is brown?
    At the end of the day, afrocaribbeans are part of the British social fabric in the same way that the Irish are and south Asians increasingly are too.
    Just as reorts of the death of the ginger was premature, so i feel is talk of the death of British jewsih, let alone British west indian traditions.
    There will be people having west indian pepper sauce with their roast turkey long after you and i leave this world funkg, just as jewish traditions live on in salt beef sandwiches and the cockney language.
    In fact they say the latter is dying too, but it isn’t, it’s evolving. That’s the beauty of a free and open society
    Speech over

  26. justforfun — on 27th November, 2006 at 9:36 pm  

    Tap tap tap .. Testing – is this the server working?

    El Cid has just posted twice and my reply to Jagdeep to cheer him up has been lost?

    Justforfun

  27. justforfun — on 27th November, 2006 at 9:52 pm  

    Arh – back on line.

    I think the delay must be temporary – perhaps caused by new routings through the GCHQ servers due to Sunny’s rise to prominance and the issue of the “manifesto”. Sounds so 1917ish –

    Anyway – Jagdeep – cheer up. It was only the word ‘wrong’ that flipped me. As El Cid has pointed out – the whole thing is a storm in a teacup and just another “community” leader banging on about how his flock is diminishing. If only they would just stop trying to lead from the front and started to lead from the rear it would be so much better. When they lead from the front , everytime they look around to see who’s following them they see the Kismets of this world skulking off and doing their own thing. This just gets them upset. Better to stay at the back and follow the flock, and just pick up the lost and berwildered when catch up with them.

    Funny story – a 7 yearold at my daughter’s school is a very perceptive boy – he told his mother about the conspiracy to make them all Christians!! who was this Jesus bloke they keep going on about. We had a good laugh on the way back from school – and the funny part – she is a devout Catholic!

    Justforfun

  28. William — on 27th November, 2006 at 10:07 pm  

    Jagdeep

    Islam is the fastest growing religions taken from numbers of Muslims who migrate to the west etc. Buddhism is the fastest in terms of white western
    converts.

  29. El Cid — on 27th November, 2006 at 10:20 pm  

    Is blog imitating life, or vice versa? I wish this was an open thread as I have a ‘well I never, can you adam and eve it, ‘en it a small world’ anecdote from today to share. Sunny if you’re around I can write a few pars for a separate post. Otherwise I’ll save it for the weekend.

  30. William — on 27th November, 2006 at 10:39 pm  

    Talking of cultures dieing and how what we value changes over time etc I have just watched a programme on Channel 5 “Disappearing Britain” it was about the miners.

    I lived with my grandparents as a kid. My grandad was a miner. At the time I thought nothing of it. Probably neither did he. Now it seems I am the grandson of a dead museum piece. On the programme they were even called the glorious miners. They are now like icons of culture. These days if it is mentioned to some people especially on the left there may even be a bit of awe. This is weird. During the programme I took an opportunist couple of minutes pride. Why not, oooh so we were not just working class plebs after all!! But he died from a miners disease so in a way it’s like getting a hit off someone’s suffering.

    The programme also talked of wonderful community stuff etc. I would hate to live in a close knit community like one of those even if I did not have to work the mines. It just seems so old England. I would feel just stifled. My granddad or ourselves did not just mix with white people. He was Welsh but also a Pentecostal church goer so we were used to having our house full of black and white people talking in tongues etc. However, that time was an old world. Things change so fast it’s as if time almost determines culture. I would hate to go back to it even though it is only now I can appreciate it.

    Incidentally there are a good few miners who have a soft spot for the Sikhs. During the 1980’s miners strike they were often supported by Sikhs, and some Sikh community centres, given food etc.

    eeeee those Singh’s, salt of the earth!!!!

    I bet I sound like and old codger relating all these little anecdotes

  31. Zak — on 28th November, 2006 at 12:43 am  

    I like the idea of someone called El Cid posting in a thread about integration and assimilation.

    Anyway, it did take 800 years for the jewish community to achieve this level of assimilation. By contrast i suspect the time its taking other groups to do the same will be far less.

    There is a sidepoint in this article whih deserves mention, assimilated groups with an ancestry to x,y or z community. Often maintain that affectionate blind spot for the country of origin, one only has to look at Irish americans and the neo cons of america..many of whom are assimilated jews who are passionately pro Israel and often more hardline than the hardliners in Israel.

  32. Sid — on 28th November, 2006 at 12:44 am  

    funkg – I love reading your stuff. You should blog.

  33. Desi Italiana — on 28th November, 2006 at 8:07 am  

    “Interesting stuff, people of mixed origins/race are on the increase and this is effecting all communities. There was a study released recently about the shrinking Afro-Caribbean population in the UK due to inter-racial relationships. Basically AC people are being bred out of existance in this country due to having non AC partners.”

    I don’t know whether intermarriage necessarily means the watering down of cultural identities to the point of indistinguishability (this is not a word, is it? Oh well, just created one)….

    Being a part of the diaspora, I have seen an unmistakable yet interesting trend as of late: those South Asians (specifically Indian and Pakistani descent) that have intermarried with others have the attitude of making their children 110% Indian, Pakistani. Out of the 9 people I know who are in mixed relationships, all of them seem hell bent on shoving India and Pakistan down their children’s throats. One friend is married to a Black American; an uncle married an El Salvadorean; a cousin married a Mexican American and another got with a Romanian; and the rest married Whites. For a lack of a better term, it looks as if they are trying to “wash out” the other half. All of them have gone out of their way to teach them the religion (Hindu, Sikh, or Muslim), the regional language, dressing up in Desi clothes, listening to Desi music and watching Bollywood ad nauseum; and they almost behave or even pretend that their children are not of a mixed heritage.

    That is what I have observed.

  34. El Cid — on 28th November, 2006 at 8:26 am  

    Zak, there is more to El Cid than Charlton Heston

  35. Chairwoman — on 28th November, 2006 at 9:47 am  

    “Is this the last generation of British Jews?”, asks Sunny. I doubt it. But Jewry in the UK is undergoing a sea-change.

    At the moment we basically fall into three camps. The completely orthodox (hats, beards, Stamford Hill & the north face of Golders Green Road); the Reform/Progressive Group; and, in the middle, what I call the ‘paying lip-service to orthodox Judaism’ group (synagogue Saturday morning, Brent Cross in the afternoon, Kosher at home, bacon double cheeseburger in the restaurant), otherwise known as the United Synagogue. It is the latter group that will fall by the wayside.

    Some of them will gravitate to the extremely orthodox and become considerably more observant. More, I suspect, will start to attend services at the more progressive synagogues. Both will take their religion more seriously.

    Those who marry people from different religions (I so hate the constant use of the word ‘faith’) and cultures will find that they and their partners and children are welcomed by the more inclusive Reform/Progressive congregations, whereas the others will have many children, but will have to find their spouses from a diminishing global gene pool.

    Yes, the face of British Jewry will change, but last generation? I don’t think so.

  36. sonia — on 28th November, 2006 at 10:52 am  

    good points chairwoman.

    desi italiana – i hear you loud and clear! well observed.

  37. Jagdeep — on 28th November, 2006 at 12:08 pm  

    Incidentally there are a good few miners who have a soft spot for the Sikhs. During the 1980’s miners strike they were often supported by Sikhs, and some Sikh community centres, given food etc.

    William! I remember some miners coming to a Gurdwara in Nottingham as a young lad when I was visiting family, and they made a speech and got hundreds of pounds in donations from the congregation, and I remember I went up to one of them and shook his hand and he was crying, he was so touched by the support he received.

  38. bananabrain — on 28th November, 2006 at 3:33 pm  

    there are a number of issues here, not helped by confusion over terminology and various not-very-well hidden agendas. naturally, the most broad definition of “jewish” is sought by the more religiously leftwing, such as baroness/rabbi neuberger, whereas r. steinsaltz is only considering the strictly defined criteria of halakha (jewish religious law) whereby you are jewish if your mother is jewish or if you convert. by his criteria, “anglo-jewry” is dying if it is becoming non-orthodox. similarly, by neuberger’s criteria, “anglo-jewry” is dying if it is becoming unwelcome to outsiders (ie orthodox). the two points of view are incompatible from beginning to end. the situation is compounded by the fact that mainstream orthodoxy in the UK is becoming more outwardly visible, ie more people are wearing black hats. a lot of people are emigrating to israel because of anti-jewish feeling, which is hardly a dead issue nowadays, although a lot are merely investing in beachfront property or retirement flats in netanya.

    personally, i think the most important point to make is that neither muslims, hindus nor sikhs are threatened demographically on a worldwide scale. jews are, therefore we need to consider that a problem. and regardless of your definition, you can work easily on the premise that jews exist only insofar as we do jewish things. eating a bagel once a month isn’t being jewish. the problem is not necessarily whether marrying out is a catastrophe. the problem is that when, somewhere down the line, your once-a-month bagel, or the fact that “my grandfather was jewish” becomes your only actual connection to it, it’s not really a big step from that to bugger-all. some people may not consider it a problem. some people may consider this part of the greater part of the development of civilisation.

    *i* say that it’s a pretty damfool waste of one of the last surviving independent cultures of antiquity and the only one that has survived as a diaspora, without the benefit of a nation-state. you don’t think that the end of judaism would be a crime against humanity? only a cultural vandal would say such a thing.

    the inconvenient truth here is that bereft of religious content, by which i include theology, laws, ceremonies, synagogues, courts and the like, whether these are orthodox or not, the fact is that without them judaism withers and dies. obviously you can fiddle the figures by redefining what judaism is, as neuberger and her buddies do (which also increases their constituency, but i’m sure they’re not entirely unaware of that) but the fact remains that they wouldn’t need to do that if people were opting in voluntarily. and, whether we like it or not (and mostly not) mainstream orthodoxy as represented by the united synagogue is kept going by regular infusions of motivated leadership from the ultra-orthodox black-hat world. truth be told, most of the actual leadership of the religious institutions is black-hatted anyway, even if the membership isn’t. and all the signs is that this is filtering *down*, not filtering out. i also disagree with the esteemed chairwoman auntie about polarisation, as i can see the revitalisation of the middle ground happening from the brain-drain of thinking orthodoxy into masorti/conservative and vice-versa. plus i would also point to limmud (http://www.limmud.org) as a grass-roots mainstream organisation that is non-denominational and yet still has mass appeal across the community, even quite far right.

    put it this way – and i say this as someone who makes jewish culture widely available through music – there’s a difference between a museum and a community. unless people sing the songs as part of their life, whether at dinner table or in groups or at ceremonies, it’s a museum, not a living culture.

    i’d also point to my own, albeit anecdotal experience. ten years ago, people in my social circle didn’t have sheva brachot parties after their wedding. now they do. a generation ago, my parents and their friends didn’t send us to jewish schools. we are considering doing this. people are keeping kosher more and shabbat more. i see people getting more excited about it. and the fact is, it’s the ones who don’t marry out who are most reliable in this respect. you can’t really beat the figures on this. now, it has to be said that my generation are also more accepting of intermarriage than my parents’ generation, but partly this is a recognition of the status quo rather than something that is approved of. this woman lynne who is mentioned in the article, for example, is the sister of a close friend of mine and she’s clearly engaging with the issue in a productive, rather than unproductive fashion. it helps that she has a supportive and close family and a sensible and supportive partner. nobody i know would dream of insulting him – or her – in the fashion described above. unfortunately, the fact remains that her children (who are, because she’s jewish, also still jewish) are more likely to marry out *simply because the choice is presented*. my wife and i never considered this as a possibility and that doesn’t make us racist, or chauvinist, or prejudiced at all – just anxious to ensure that it isn’t our generation that drops the ball. after all, judaism may be stressful, demanding, expensive and downright dangerous but it’s also an amazing thing to be part of.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  39. Chairwoman — on 28th November, 2006 at 3:48 pm  

    bananabrain – personally I know as many people who are leaving the United Synagogue for Reform, as are leaving for a shteible on Brent Street. However those who go to the Reform Synagogue become just as much more interested in Judaism, prayer, study, communal affairs etc., as those who become Charedim. They just do it differently. They are however just as committed to a continuance of Judaism.

  40. Etzel — on 28th November, 2006 at 3:55 pm  

    Mutts of the world unite and feel bemused…

  41. bananabrain — on 28th November, 2006 at 4:39 pm  

    chairwoman,

    i know, i totally get that. however, the statistics say that *assimilation* (however you measure) from reform is a hell of a lot higher than it is from orthodoxy. i’m not saying that orthodoxy is better, i’m just saying it’s better at “repeat business”. in a lot of ways, it’s a lot harder to be reform than it is to be shomrei mitzvot – personal autonomy powered by a strong sense of free choice is not nearly as effective as a sense of theological obligation backed up by a set of self-reinforcing behaviours. i’m also not saying reform people are less jewish – my own family are reform and that’s where i grew up. i’m saying that it’s sometimes difficult to maintain a sense of just why this stuff is so important if you don’t buy into the halakhic obligation model. assimilation doesn’t happen overnight. it takes at least one generation of a family.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  42. Chairwoman — on 28th November, 2006 at 5:10 pm  

    bananabrain – I don’t disagree with that either :-)

  43. Anas — on 28th November, 2006 at 5:22 pm  

    This just underscores the point I made on the White Mughals thread: that adherence to a clearly circumscribed and historically authentic (insofar as that can be ascertained) set of rituals, is an essential prerequisite for the continued survival of a faith community as a faith community, and not merely as an ethnic community. I think we in the secular West fail to understand just how important ritual is.

    BTW, if you think it’s bad for Jews, check out the Zoroastrian disapora.

  44. bananabrain — on 29th November, 2006 at 9:22 am  

    i thought the problem with zoroastrians is that they don’t accept converts at all (as opposed to us, even if we don’t actively seek them) whereas, if you look at any two jews, you’ll see a wide variety of different ethnic characteristics, which demonstrates that whatever has been going on for the last 2000 years, we haven’t become inbred, whether willingly or unwillingly. i don’t know enough zoroastrians to be able to check this, however.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  45. justforfun — on 29th November, 2006 at 12:53 pm  

    bananabrain & anas

    As you both mention Zoroastrianism – you have put your finger on the heart of the matter and what we are probably all discussing. When is a religion a culture?, and when do it’s teachings become a philosophy that is seperate from the practice of its original rituals?

    Take Zorastrianism for example. Tongue in cheek but Zorastrianism is actually growing world wide – or certainly its way of thinking – individualism and personal responsibility. It has never really ever gone away, just been subsummed into much of western philosophy. Its so deep in the western outlook on life, that is very difficult to actually recognize it any more as originating in Zoroastrianism.

    Parsi orthopraxy, which is what you both are talking about is certainly on the decline for the very reason that they don’t accept converts (to honour a promise made 1200 years ago) and that both sexes of the community are so highly educated that they marry very very late, if at all. Don’t confuse the Parsi orthopraxy with what Zoroaster actually said. The Gathas are all that remain and they are 17 very short poems. – Good luck in deciphering them!, but they are fun to read, and Anas , you can put on your Highlander kilt and take out your claymore out and recite them in the streets of Glasgow – Christopher Lambert could not do better with the words.

    So Anas – your point 44 is relevant if you believe that religion is mainly driven orthopraxy, or even that religion is one of many “Rough Guides” to Planet Earth – which are out of date the moment they are printed. But at least they give a sense of direction for those who want someone to advise them where to stay and what to eat and what to see, but not much use for those who just want to travel and see for themselves.

    Why can’t they just give us a few simple teachings and then say – “off you go now – see you when your dead”, rather than a list of hotels and restaurants
    that you have to visit and 100 and 1 things to do and see before you die..

    Chairwoman – I agree the article is an exaggeration. It’s just one persons form of Judaism is dieing out perhaps, not everybody elses. A bit on a non story really.

    Justforfun

  46. Chairwoman — on 29th November, 2006 at 1:11 pm  

    I feel that religions have to evolve to live, pretty much like everything else, otherwise they just become quaint museum pieces, pretty much like the Amish, rather than living, breathing entities.

    And before you come back and correct me banabrain (I’m cool with that though, you know what they say, 2 Jews = 3 opinions and 4 political parties :-) ), the way you live your orthodox life is somewhat differently styled from the Golders Green variety, and in my opinion, far more in keeping with a vibrant religion.

  47. Anas — on 30th November, 2006 at 12:37 am  

    See, I think that ritual is important in the understanding of religion because it helps one to appreciate the deeper meaning and teaching of religions, or the aspects of religion that are difficult to capture in words. And this is because, to a great extent ritual bypasses the rational mind, just as a sublime piece of art might, instilling a sense of magic, mystery, and awe. The teachings you find in the books of various religions are not only reinforced but expanded upon and developed by the rituals of those religions; just as those same rituals are understood by reference to the teachings of the holy books. I think it’s a big mistake to think you can just drop ritual to move with the times.

  48. bananabrain — on 30th November, 2006 at 8:57 am  

    shock horror “bananabrain-agrees-with-anas” exclusive!!

    and chairwoman – that’s why i do it that way. and there are plenty more like me, too. they just tend not to be british, apart from friends of mine.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  49. Chairwoman — on 30th November, 2006 at 1:44 pm  

    Anas – I’ve just read your last post here, and I too agree with you. I am not for dispensing with ritual, I just think that some rules can be updated. the premis on which I base this is, if it is accepted that all things come from G-d, we must assume that he meant us to use them. Surely if we don’t, we are rejecting his munificence.

  50. Jai — on 30th November, 2006 at 2:49 pm  

    =>”that adherence to a clearly circumscribed and historically authentic (insofar as that can be ascertained) set of rituals, is an essential prerequisite for the continued survival of a faith community as a faith community, and not merely as an ethnic community. I think we in the secular West fail to understand just how important ritual is.”

    That depends on whether one’s priority is the continued survival of an organised religion and/or the associated religious group just for the sake of it, or whether one thinks that these rituals should assist in bringing the adherent closer to God in a tangible spiritual sense. If the latter isn’t the case then the rituals are pointless; you’re just going through the motions and perpetuating the rituals for their own sake.

  51. Chairwoman — on 30th November, 2006 at 3:37 pm  

    Jai – I have always had an interest in religion, as opposed to a religion, and the one thing that observant people of all faiths have told me is that if you perform the rituals, the belief, and with it the spiritual aspect, will follow.

  52. Jai — on 30th November, 2006 at 3:57 pm  

    Chairwoman,

    I think we both know that, despite the claims of many (not all, in my experience) “observant” people of various religions, simply following the associated rituals does not necessarily make the person concerned more spiritual in the real sense of the term or, indeed, nicer people.

    There are plenty of nasty people around who, on the surface, may make a big song & dance about how “religious” they allegedly are, and this will include visibly following the various rituals involved. There are also plenty of people around who are, generally speaking, fairly lax with regards to how strictly they practice their respective faiths (and in many cases people are atheists full-stop), yet they are inherently nicer people and often appear to have an intuitive spiritual awareness (even if they don’t necessarily classify it as such).

    Guess who’s really more in touch with God ?

    Examples of both of the above have occurred throughout history — and negative examples of the former are currently wreaking havoc worldwide (both in the West and the “East”).

    Again, regardless of the claims of the people you’ve described — and I’ve met plenty fitting the description too — rituals are meaningless if a) they’re based on superstition, b) done for selfish, arrogant and/or generally corrupt reasons, and c) the individual concerned doesn’t place far greater emphasis on their general conduct – with regards to their internal mental & emotional discipline and their compassion and fairness towards others.

    This is my own view based on my own independent thoughts & life experience, although it does happen to be one of the fundamentals of Sikhism too (and yes I do know that there are plenty of Sikhs who think that wearing the beard & turban etc is the be-all-and-end-all of the faith and will automatically make them more spiritually aware, which isn’t actually true).

  53. Anas — on 30th November, 2006 at 6:10 pm  

    Yes, you’re right Jai mindless adherence to ritual and custom will probably not make you a more spiritual person (nor should ritual be pursued solely as a means of propagating a certain faith system). But for most people ritual is a necessary means of gaining a deeper understanding of religion.

  54. Don — on 30th November, 2006 at 7:30 pm  

    Ritual can certainly produce a receptive mental state, which can be interpreted as spiritual. It may make one more emotionally attached to one’s religion. but I’m not sure if ‘understanding’ is the right word.

    Jai is right, of course. Adhering to ritual and practices simply to ensure the continued cohesion of the group is not genuinely spiritual, although it may be comforting. Follow that rout and you end up with something no more substantial than Freemasonry or druidism.

  55. Anas — on 3rd December, 2006 at 12:12 am  

    Here’s a leetle excerpt from a discussion we’re having over on the media underground forums around Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology, I thought it was relevant to the thread:

    Instead of seeing primitive ritual [but the point holds for any kind of religious ritual] as simply some sort of unfathomable yet inessential and superfluous practice arising from an inability to understand and to explain the basic phenomena of nature using scientific or rational means or to understand the principles of causality without invoking the agency of supernatural or otherworldly entities, Campbell argues that ritual might be more profitably examined from a viewpoint which sees it as an (at least partly) conscious attempt by the participants to reach altered states of consciousness.

    Basically, many of us believe that rituals are founded on the gullibility of their participants in believing in the ostensible aims of the ritual; Campbell is arguing this is not necessarily the case.

    The participants in a ritual [ideally] give their acquiesence to the professed claims and assumptions behind a ritual in the same way we as an audience are willing to suspend our disbelief or entertain various unlikely contentions when viewing films or plays (the biggest being that we’re watching anything but actors reading rehearsed lines or improvising them). This open “playful” state of mind that is neither complete scepticism nor mindless acceptance facilitates passage into what we might call higher states of consciousness; it makes the participants more susceptible without necessarily anchoring them to one reality. In fact it makes it a slightly irrelevant question whether the participants actually believe or to what extent they believe, for the ritual what is important is the openness I have mentioned. Here is where the situation is analogous to that of the placebos, the difference is that while for the placebos it is necessary for the participant to be unaware of the process in order for some kind of result to take place, for the primitive ritual we require the level of tolerance embodied in the spirit of play and make believe.

  56. Anas — on 3rd December, 2006 at 12:22 am  

    That’s why rituals shouldn’t really “work” if they’re performed merely for the sake of propagating a set of particular religious practises and thereby helping to reinforce a religious identity.

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