Sunday, April 26, 2009

fear of hope - a review of Edgar Bronfman's book

I subjected myself to reading Edgar Bronfman's "Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance" and can summarize the book in a few sentences to spare you the effort. I agree with Bronfman that inspiring greater Jewish commitment requires a vision of hope and a demonstration that Jewishness adds to the richness of one's life. Fear that Judaism and Jewish culture will vanish is not sufficient to inspire commitment. So how do we communicate Jewish values to a generation of Jews quickly assimilating into secular culture? Here Bronfman fails miserably. His answer is simply to discard all those tenets of Judaism that one finds unappealing (e.g. kashrus, shabbos, no intermarriage) and lo and behold, the liberal secular humanism that one is left with is objectionable to no one. Of course not! -- it's not objectionable because it makes no demands, asks for no real commitment (even once a year synagogue attendance is not a must), and is essentially no more meaningful than a Seagram's sales slogan. If this is what the left has to offer it is no wonder that the intermarriage rate is skyrocketing and despite the millions that the likes of Bronfman can spend on funding programs, the results amount to less than what a Chabad house in Timbuktu achieves on a shoestring budget.

Using Bronfman's own reasoning I don't know why he stops with intermarried couples and does not take the next logical step. Plenty of people born to 2 non-Jewish parents appreciate the sort of secular humanism he espouses and would enjoying reading Biblical texts and using them as inspiration to think about life-choices. If having a tree in the house in December is not an obstacle for accepting the intermarried couple as fully Jewish, then why is having a tree in the house an obstacle for our accepting any of the millions of Americans who observe Christmas as honorary "Jews" as well? We can expand the flock by millions! All you need to do is pledge to try to be ethical and commit to make the world a better place and you can be as Jewish as anyone else -- we are the peace corps of the world!

A renaissance in Jewish life is deperately needed, but Bronfman's hope is not the answer.

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