Tidbits From Israel

By Ron Jager

During the recent chagim, while we were reading that timeless aphorism from Kohelet, “There is nothing new under the sun,” a resolution that calls male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” was passed overwhelmingly by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a pan-European intergovernmental organization. The European Council called on all member states to “clearly define the medical, sanitary, and other conditions to be ensured for practices such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys” and also to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.”

“Israel calls on the Council to rescind immediately the resolution,” a statement issued by Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Circumcision of male children is an ancient religious tradition of two important religions, Judaism and Islam, and it is also common among some Christian circles,” the foreign ministry’s statement said. “Any comparison of this tradition to the reprehensible and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation is either appalling ignorance, at best, or defamation and anti-religious hatred, at worst.”

According to Palmor, claims that circumcision harms young boys’ health and bodies are false, and do not rest on any scientific evidence. He noted that an official paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on August 2012 shows the health benefits of newborn male circumcision. The resolution is “an intolerable attack both on the respectable and ancient religious tradition that lies at the base of European culture, and on modern medical science and its findings,” it added. “This resolution casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe.”

Also during these very same days of Sukkot in which the Europeans proved once again that they cannot let go of their timeless anti-Semitism, the first comprehensive survey of American Jews in the 21st century was released, revealing dramatic changes in American Jewish identity. According to one of the study’s lead authors, no less than one-fifth of American Jews don’t even call themselves “Jewish” when asked about their religion.

The results of the national survey by the Pew Research organization, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” were published after interviews with over 70,000 Jews across the United States. The most significant revelation is the increasing rate of assimilation or the attrition rate of all the movements (including Orthodox). According to recently published data, the rate of mixed marriages among the vast Jewish community is nearing 60%, and a Christmas tree is placed in a third of Jewish homes in America around the time of Hanukkah. Let’s not forget the 22 percent who consider themselves “Jewish with no religion.” What exactly does it mean when a Jew claims to have “no religion?” Only G‑d knows!

Greg Smith, director of U.S. Religion Surveys at the Pew Research Center, had stated that this group, “Jews of no religion,” is rising in numbers. Among U.S. Jews who were born before 1927, the so-called Greatest Generation, only 7% did not call themselves Jewish by religion. By contrast, among American Jewish millennials, those born after 1980, 32% do not describe themselves as Jewish by religion. “That is a big and significant number,” says Smith. “The generational pattern suggests that it’s growing, and that’s very important because the data show that Jews of no religion are much less connected to the Jewish community, are much less engaged and involved in Jewish organizations, and are much less likely to be raising their children Jewish as compared to Jews who describe themselves as Jews by religion.”

According to the survey, Orthodox Jews, which make up only 10% of U.S. Jewry, are much more observant on a variety of measures such as synagogue attendance and participation in lifecycle rituals. But the study also discovered that less than half of U.S. Jews who grew up Orthodox remained part of the community.

The Pew Survey clearly shows that Israel has become a source of pride for Jews again. The rebranding of Israel as a “startup nation” and the thriving religiosity of the Israeli public, incorporating all denominations, pulsating with religious creativity and activity–all one had to do is see the sold-out audiences in non-Orthodox shuls throughout Israel during the recent holidays–have contributed to the overall identification of American Jews with the State of Israel. Emotional attachment to Israel has not waned among American Jews in the past decade. Overall, close to 70 percent of Jews said they feel either very attached or somewhat attached to Israel. In addition, 43 percent of Jews have been to Israel, and of those, 23 percent have visited more than once. A solid 40 percent of Jews say they believe G‑d gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. More than 40 percent of those surveyed said caring about Israel is a big part of what it means to be Jewish.

During the same week that the Europeans moved toward adopting regulations that conveyed the simple message that Jews and their religion are no longer welcome on the Continent, we also learned that for American Jewry, a large area of agreement is in their identification and sense of affiliation with Israel. In both cases, Israel enables the power of ritual and community to be upheld for future generations of Jews. Israel ensures that the chain beginning with our forefathers and foremothers will remain unbroken. Only Israel can sustain the likelihood that future descendants of Jews will remain Jewish in future generations. v

Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Today, Ron is a strategic advisor to the Office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail medconf@netvision.net.il or visit www.ronjager.com.


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