Global Anti-Semitism?

From the February 2015 Print Edition

Last May, the Anti-Defamation League made the start­ling pronouncement that one-quarter of the world’s population is anti-Semitic. The source for that charge was the ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism, a comprehensive survey of international populations sponsored by the ADL and funded by New York City real-estate magnate Leonard Stern. Newspapers across the country and beyond broadcasted the statistic without question, affirming the results as a fair measure of the deplorable state of world attitudes toward the Jews.We should be skeptical. The survey reports that longstanding misconceptions about Jews persist worldwide, a fully trustworthy claim—but it doesn’t stop there. The authors break those misconceptions down into a battery of specific cases, then judge them uncritically as measures not just of ignorance or misunderstanding, but of anti-Semitism itself. The assumptions are broad enough to make the survey results unreliable and misleading. The authors interpret opinions and attitudes flatly as evidence of ethnic hatred, though they might easily have other causes. This is to devalue the concept and the word, and to complicate the work of calling out genuine anti-Semitism as it is expressed not only in thought but in deed. Continue Reading »

The Decline and Rise of Secular Judaism

From the March 2014 Print Edition

In his 1782 book Letters from an American Farmer, John de Crèvecœur asked the most famous and important question in American history: “What then is the American, this new man?” The authentic American leaves behind him “all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.” The American “entertains new ideas, and forms new opinions.” Crèvecœur was enthusiastic about this new man whose “labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”Mark Twain, Henry James, and other of our greatest writers have contrasted American innocence, newness, and freedom with European sophistication, corruption, and fatigue. Our most famous folk hero, the cowboy, continually strikes out for the west, rejecting everything to the east, including Europe. Our language values change over tradition. To be a go-getter is better than to be a stick-in-the-mud. While British politicians stand for office, American politicians run for office. Twentieth-century politicians emphasized their break with tradition by naming their programs the New Nationalism, the New Freedom, the New Deal, and the New Frontier.It is not surprising that some American Jews should reject much of their past and develop new forms of Jewish identity. The issue of identity is more problematic for them than for other Americans, since there is no agreement among Jews as to what is authentically Jewish or even who can be considered a Jew.Do Jews comprise a religion, a race, an ethnic group, a nationality, or a cultural community with its own values, languages, and customs? Should people with a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother be considered Jews, as the Reform movement has declared, or is being Jewish dependent on matrilineal descent, as Conservative and Orthodox Jews believe? And what does Jewishness involve, when, as many have noted, the label “Jewish” is given to people of Jewish descent who have become entirely secular or assimilated or even deny being Jewish? Continue Reading »

New York Kippah Count

From the March 2013 Print Edition

Jews have been counting themselves since the time of Moses. The Bible provided an exact figure of the number of adult male Jews who left Egypt, and while traveling in the desert the Jews were commanded by God on more than one occasion to count the population of the various tribes. It is doubtful, . . . . Continue Reading »

We Are Many

From the February 1994 Print Edition

A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America by Jack Wertheimer Basic Books, 267 pages, $25 The slogan of the United Jewish Appeal, the most successful of all of America’s philanthropies in terms of fund-raising, is “We Are One.” The UJA’s success is due to the deep . . . . Continue Reading »

The 1960s Revisited

From the June/July 1992 Print Edition

The Death Of An American Jewish Community: A Tragedy Of Good Intentions by Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon Free Press, 370 pages, $24.95 In November 1969, Hillel Levine, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and a doctoral candidate in sociology at Harvard, addressed the annual conference . . . . Continue Reading »