Changes for Jews

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

"Diaspora Blues" headlines a January 11 Economist editorial, and accompanies a news account that appears under the title "Second Thoughts about the Promised Land." Both articles reflect some of the spiritual travail within Israel and the hearts of many Jews. "As the threat of genocide or of Israel's destruction has receded, a growing number of diaspora Jews neither feel comfortable with always standing up for Israel, nor feel a need to invoke Israel in defining what makes them Jewish." Yet, the editors argue, "the big Jewish diaspora institutions," especially "the pro-Israel lobby groups in America," have not caught up, as they exist mainly to support Israel in crisis and to defend it from critics. The British magazine also says that these groups "have ended up representing not Israel but its right-wing political establishment, with American defenders of Israel accusing critics of being 'anti-Semitic' for saying things that are commonplace in Israel's own internal debate."

Sightings focuses chiefly on domestic matters, but Israel poses issues that fit our mandate to observe "public religion" here. Says The Economist, the lobbies "have formed an unholy alliance with evangelical Christian groups who believe, like the religious Zionists, that the ingathering of the Jewish exiles will bring forward Judgment Day," and in their fervor they are "more uncompromisingly Zionist than most Jews." That such a Judgment Day will "entail the destruction of Israel and the deaths of a great many Jews does not seem to bother the Jewish lobbies."

Now to the point: Such defensiveness, it is argued, does not much help the Jewish diaspora, as young Jews leave the faith, finding the uncritical attitude toward Israel distasteful or Israel irrelevant. "Many are simply drifting away," something that Christians also experience, even without the issue of Israel. "Israel is strong enough to cope with harsh words from its friends," so more diaspora Jews should feel freer to criticize the scandal-ridden government and policies they find hard to defend. Religiously, Reform and Conservative Jews in America resent the monopoly of the Orthodox in religious affairs and ceremonies in Israel.

Aliyah (Hebrew for "ascent") immigration to Israel has slowed, and since 1948 only 120,000 Americans have taken part in it. Today only 17 percent of American Jews call themselves Zionists. In a new survey, Steven M. Cohen at Hebrew Union College found that "only 57 percent of American Jews said that 'caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish,' down from 73 percent in a similar survey in 1989." American Judaism, says The Economist, is today too pluralistic, multi-denominational, and influenced by intermarriage and varying degrees of assimilation – and, most of all when it comes to the young, it is not preoccupied with Israeli policies. The young are "searching for identity, spirituality, meaning and roots."

Cohen foresees "a polarization in American Jewry: a small group growing more pious and attached to Israel, while a larger one drifts away." News accounts of Israel's wars, scandals, and policies, and American lobbies' involvement with each, obscure something that Jews have in common with so many other Americans today: a spiritual search undertaken in ways oblivious to, or in rejection of, many traditional institutions. Welcome to the club?

"Second Thoughts about the Promised Land" appears in the January 11, 2007, online edition of The Economist, and can be read at:

"Diaspora Blues" appears in the January 11, 2007, online edition of The Economist, and can be accessed by subscribers here:


Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at Original Source: Sightings – A biweekly, electronic editorial published by the Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.