Pew Survey About Jewish America Got It All Wrong, by J.J. Goldberg, The Jewish Daily Forward, 13 October 2013:
If you’ve been following the news about that new survey of American Jews from the folks at the Pew Research Center, you’ve probably heard the basics. The New York Times summed it up nicely: “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish.”
There’s one more thing you need to know: It’s not true. None of it.
A “rise in those who are not religious”? Wrong. More Jews marrying “outside the faith”? Wrong. More Jews “not raising their children Jewish”? Wrong.
No, not wrong as in “I think there’s a better way to interpret those numbers.” Wrong as in “incorrect.” Erroneous. Whoops.
Mind you, most of what’s in the study seems solid, from what this reasonably informed layman can tell. It just so happens that Pew made an honest mistake in one highly visible spot, and that is what grabbed the headlines. Then the reporters made a few mistakes reading the material. The result was what you saw: a dark portent of doom.
Take away the errors, and you get a very different narrative. It would go something like this: Despite decades of warnings that American Jewry is dissolving in the face of assimilation and intermarriage, a major new survey by one of America’s most respected social research organizations depicts a Jewish community that is growing more robustly than even the optimists expected.
Who is a Jew?, Wikipedia:
“Who is a Jew?” … is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions. The question was of importance during the rule of the Nazi party in Germany, which persecuted the Jews and defined them for the government’s purposes by the Nuremberg Laws.
The definition of who is a Jew varies according to whether it is being considered by Jews based on normative religious statutes or self-identification, or by non-Jews for other reasons.
Jews who have practiced another religion
In general, Orthodox Judaism considers individuals born of Jewish mothers to be Jewish, even if they convert to another religion. Reform Judaism views Jews who convert to another religion as non-Jews.
According to the traditional Rabbinic view, which is maintained by all branches of Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism today, only halakha can define who is or is not a Jew when a question of Jewish identity, lineage, or parentage arises about any person seeking to define themselves or claim that they are Jewish.
As a result, mere belief in the principles of Judaism does not make one a Jew. Similarly, non-adherence by a Jew to the 613 Mitzvot, or even formal conversion to another religion, does not make one lose one’s Jewish status. Thus the immediate descendants of all female Jews (even apostates) are still considered to be Jews, as are those of all their female descendants. Even those descendants who are not aware they are Jews, or practice a religion other than Judaism, are defined by this perspective as Jews, as long as they come from an unbroken female line of descent. As a corollary, the children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother are not considered to be Jews by halakha unless they formally convert according to halakha, even if raised fully observant in the mitzvot.
The question “who is a Jew?” is also sometimes of importance to non-Jews. It has had exceptional significance historically when considered by anti-Jewish groups for the purpose of targeting Jews for persecution or discrimination. The definition can impact on whether a person may have a certain job, live in certain locations, receive a free education, live or continue to live in the country, be imprisoned, or executed.
The Nazi regime instituted laws discriminating against Jews, declared a race by the Nazis, and thus needed a working definition of who is a Jew as to its law-defined race system. These definitions almost completely categorised persons through the religions followed by each individual’s ancestors, according to membership registries. Thus personal faith or individual observance, as well as the religious definitions of Judaism as given by the Halacha, were mostly ignored.
To take away the rights of the German Jews.
Nuremberg Laws, Wikipedia:
The Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating antisemitism as a form of scientific racism.
The lack of a clear legal method of defining who was Jewish had, however, allowed some Jews to escape some forms of discrimination aimed at them. The enactment of laws identifying who was Jewish made it easier for the Nazis to enforce legislation restricting the basic rights of German Jews.
The Nuremberg Laws classified people with four German grandparents as “German or kindred blood”, while people were classified as Jews if they descended from three or four Jewish grandparents. A person with one or two Jewish grandparents was a Mischling, a crossbreed, of “mixed blood”. These laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and prohibited racially mixed marriages between Jews and other Germans. Although the laws at first were aimed at Jews, a week after becoming intact the laws applied also to “Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring”.
The Nuremberg Laws also included a ban on sexual relations between people defined as “Aryan” and “non-Aryan” and prevented Jews from participating in German civic life. These laws were both an attempt to return the Jews of 20th-century Germany to the position that Jews had held before their emancipation in the 19th century; although in the 19th century Jews could have evaded restrictions by converting, this was no longer possible.
Nazi Eugenics and Racial belief
The Nuremberg laws were based on a belief in Scientific racism and derived from a primitive understanding of genetics. Although the Nazis took these ideas to violent extremes, they were based on thinking that already existed across Europe and America. Nazi laws banning “interracial marriage” and according to Nazi racial ideology the Germanic Nordic-Aryans were a master race and in accordance with ideas expressed in Eugenics and Social Darwinism; they therefore sought to preserve their supposed racial superiority by banning inter-marriage with people they regarded as inferior or as a threat, in particular Jews, Gypsies and blacks who were classified as untermenschen (“subhumans”) that were seen as racially distinctive minorities of “alien blood”.
Russian-speakers who want to make aliya could need DNA test, The Times of Israel, 29 July 2013:
A source in the [Prime Minister’s Office] told Maariv that the consul’s procedure, approved by the legal department of the Interior Ministry, states that a Russian-speaking child born out-of-wedlock is eligible to receive an Israeli immigration visa if the birth was registered before the child turned 3. Otherwise a DNA test to prove Jewish parentage is necessary.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the decision to require DNA testing for Russian Jews is based on the recommendations of Nativ, an educational program under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office to help Jews from the FSU immigrate to Israel.
The issue cuts to the heart of Israel’s Law of Return, which allows anybody with a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse to move to Israel and be eligible for citizenship. Determining who is a Jew — a definition which has evolved along with the religion’s many streams — has led the interior Ministry to create a somewhat byzantine system of checks and rules and has sometimes led applicants, especially converts to Judaism, to fight for the right to immigrate in Israeli courts.
Translation: Nuremberg Race Laws, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Reich Citizenship Law of September 15, 1935
1. A subject of the state is a person who enjoys the protection of the German Reich and who in consequence has specific obligations toward it.
2. The status of subject of the state is acquired in accordance with the provisions of the Reich and the Reich Citizenship Law.
1. A Reich citizen is a subject of the state who is of German or related blood, and proves by his conduct that he is willing and fit to faithfully serve the German people and Reich.
2. Reich citizenship is acquired through the granting of a Reich citizenship certificate.
3. The Reich citizen is the sole bearer of full political rights in accordance with the law.
Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor of September 15, 1935
Moved by the understanding that purity of German blood is the essential condition for the continued existence of the German people, and inspired by the inflexible determination to ensure the existence of the German nation for all time, the Reichstag has unanimously adopted the following law, which is promulgated herewith:
1. Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden. Marriages nevertheless concluded are invalid, even if concluded abroad to circumvent this law.
2. Annulment proceedings can be initiated only by the state prosecutor.
Extramarital relations between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden.
Jews may not employ in their households female subjects of the state of German or related blood who are under 45 years old.
1. Jews are forbidden to fly the Reich or national flag or display Reich colors.
2. They are, on the other hand, permitted to display the Jewish colors. The exercise of this right is protected by the state.
The Nazis settled on defining a “full Jew” as a person with three Jewish grandparents. Those with less were designated as Mischlinge of two degrees: First Degree – two Jewish grandparents; Second Degree – one Jewish grandparent.
After the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, a dozen supplemental Nazi decrees were issued that eventually outlawed the Jews completely, depriving them of their rights as human beings.
To create his homogeneous and harmonious Aryan society, Hitler had first to discard the Jews, a “people” incompatible with “true Germans.” The Nuremberg Laws helped Hitler take the first step toward getting rid of “these parasites” and imposing racial conformity on society.
Image source: Wikipedia, full size: 3328 x 2332.
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