January 16, 2019

Can Judaism Find the Right Balance?

“If I could travel forward in time —maybe a hundred years — and encounter a random group of young Jews who could trace their origins back to a Jewish family living in the UK in 2019, one thing is more or less certain. The Jewish family that they traced their origins back to would be significantly more likely to have been strictly Orthodox than anything else.

The strictly Orthodox simply have much better demographic prospects than other denominations. Charedi women, on average, have between six and seven children. Non-Charedi women have fewer than two. The Charedi population remains a minority in the Jewish population overall, but within about a decade, half of all Jewish children born in this country will be born into Charedi homes. The UK Charedi population has been doubling in size roughly every two decades for some time now, and even though they are still some way from becoming the majority, they are clearly heading in that direction. And Charedi Judaism is “stickier” than other forms; people leave that part of the community of course, but they leave other parts of the community in higher proportions, typically travelling in a more religiously liberal or secular direction.

So, in many respects, Melanie Phillips (JC December 7) is right. What is happening in the Charedi parts of the Jewish world today is a kind of “Yavneh”: a focused attempt to rebuild the Jewish world in the aftermath of a tremendous moment of destruction, the Shoah, not wholly dissimilar to Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s efforts after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. Yavneh 2.0 draws today on three essential principles: an unrelenting emphasis on the strictest interpretation of Jewish law; a clear separation from wider society and the dangers that exist there; and a determination to replenish the Jewish population by creating large Jewish families.”

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