Jews are often in the news. It can be good or bad, but even though the population isn't large (under 14 million worldwide) they continue to make their presence felt. We who are Christians consider ourselves connected to them -- their Bible is part of our Bible. Our founding figures were Jewish. So, you could say -- I'm interested.
Martin Marty writes in this post about the issues facing the Jewish people and Israel, as recounted in an article in The Economist. I would like to share it and invite comment.
Jews in the Economist
-- Martin E. Marty
Jews receive and merit attention, in this case twelve pages of it in a “Special Report” in the Economist. According to the report, there are 13,580,000 Jews in the world, which is fewer than there are Southern Baptists (15-16 million) in the United States, where there are 5,275,000 Jews. Both of the two “populations” choose to make news and do make news, so Sightings could not overlook them when sighting public religion. Picking out a few high spots in the magazine is difficult, but we’ll point to some which have a bearing on controversies in American life. First of all, in the United States Jews currently share the fix or fate of moderate or liberal faith-groups of all sorts; namely, they experience decline. Compare “mainline” Protestantism and non-Mexican-American Catholicism.
All three suffer from membership bleeding into another religious group spotted by demographers, namely “Nones,” as in “None of the above.” The magazine quotes Stephen Cohen of Reformed Judaism’s Hebrew Union College: “The unchurched are growing, the religious surge has peaked. The winds of America are blowing in a more secular direction, especially in the blue [Democratic] states, where Jews live. Blue states are Jew states.” Sightings pointed out recently that Southern Baptists and other conservative churches are also seeing some seepage to the “Nones.” But the Economist focuses on another topic, especially when it comes to Israel. That is, on Orthodoxy, and especially hyper-hyper-Orthodoxy, nurtured by Russian Jewish migrations to Israel and New York. It prospers in Israel which is suffering economically by the growth of the haredim, most of whom do not choose to be employed, so that they can devote themselves to Torah study, and also from social unease, thanks to growing resentment of the draft-free status of young haredim. The system which allows both causes great stress in Israel, and something has got to and is going to give, Economist writers and others say.
Many American Jews continue to support Israel, but the numbers who are disaffected and critical here as they are in Israel, grows. “As their attachment to Judaism weakens, so does their commitment to Israel,” but they find other ways reflexively and reflectively to be and feel somehow Jewish. Meanwhile, strongly pro-Israel politicians command media and political attention. Arnold Eisen of Jewish Theological Seminary: “Honest discussion about Israel is largely shut down. . . Some rabbis will speak their minds, but people don’t want to fight and there is a disinclination to argue about Israel.”
The editors see reactionary Orthdoxies still winning over moderate movements. No surprise here. In the six-year five-fat-volume study of militant fundamentalisms I co-directed (with R. Scott Appleby) for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,we found everywhere, in all religions, that it was not conservatism that was growing but extremism based less in history-based traditions but in fear, reaction, and aggression. As I read the Economist and other such literature I think of an observation by Harold Isaacs which we paraphrased as we looked at Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian and other militancies: “Around the world there is a massive convulsive ingathering of peoples into their separatenesses and over-againstnesses to protect their pride and power and place from the real or presumed threat of others who are doing the same.” To its credit, the Economist does justice to the many things in Judaism which are other-than-extreme.
For a rounded picture, read it.
“Who Is a Jew? It’s Less Obvious than You Might Think,” Economist, July 28, 2012.
Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found atwww.memarty.com.
Editor's Note: Sightings will be on hiatus in the month of August. We return in September.
This month’s Religion & Culture Web Forum is entitled "Give me back my Children!": Traumatic Reenactment and Tenuous Democratic Public Spheres by Mark Auslander. Every year, thousands of Americans re-enact Civil War battles, while tens of thousands more witness these restagings. But recent years have seen the rise of a different type of historical reenactment--the reenactment of "traumatic historical events related to slavery, race and power in American history." Mark Auslander draws from fieldwork to describe three such reenactments: "the annual reenactment of a horrific 1946 mass lynching in Walton County, Georgia; the daily mounting of a 'historical experience' of slavery in Selma, Alabama; and a reenacted slave auction in St. Louis, Missouri." Invoking a distinction formulated by Claude Levi-Strauss, Auslander proposes that traumatic reenactments can be understood as rites, which "produce sameness out of fundamental difference," rather than as games, which produce difference out of sameness. Ultimately, however, traumatic reenactments according to Auslander engage "the classic problem of managing the unquiet dead ... The living must labor to help relocate the wandering interstitial dead--to help move them along towards their proper place." Read "Give me back my Children."
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.