Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, one of the heads of the Tzohar rabbinical organization and the head of a yeshiva in Petach Tikva, returned from a visit to the US with the understanding that the Jews are becoming increasingly assimilated into mainstream American life. In an article published on the yeshiva's website he determined that "the assimilation percentages are horrible. It is estimated that about 50% of students who can be linked to Judaism do not have two Jewish parents. Some very serious studies show that 5% of New Yorkers who identify themselves as Jews are not Jews according to any definition (not even the Reformist definition) and have not gone through any conversion process - even Reform conversion – yet they still consider themselves to be Jewish."
In his article the rabbi discusses the possible ways to reverse this trend and notes its far-reaching consequences on the future of the State of Israel. Just hours after the article was published, Rabbi Cherlow was forced to publish another article in which he defended himself from the wild onslaught by reactionary circles claiming he recognizes Reform conversion.
This is one of our greatest national tragedies: One cannot discuss any existential issue without being accused of crossing the lines. Rabbi Cherlow is an Orthodox rabbi who fears for the fate of the Jewish people and the future of the State of Israel. Why should he have to keep proving that he is loyal to the Halacha?
The issue Rabbi Cherlow's article touched on is too important to be left in the hands of those who are currently dealing with it. The future of the Jewish nation is not a matter that belongs to the Orthodoxy, the Reform Movement or any other Jewish institution. This issue is significant to all Jews living today.
The Jewish nation sustained a severe blow during the past century. On September 1, 1939 there were 17.5 million Jews in the world. Today, according to the most optimistic estimations, there are 13.5 million Jews. While Orthodox Jews in Israel and abroad have a high birth rate, there are less than two million of them. Their belief that they are the sole and legal heirs of the Jewish nation has no statistical basis.
The significance of the assimilation process in America is that if we do not act fast in the fields of culture, identity, education that connect all Jews - particularly American and Israeli Jews – the State of Israel will also suffer from the decline in the number of Jews worldwide. Any damage caused to Israel will directly affect the Jewish nation's ability to develop and prosper.
Reversing the trend in America requires national dialogue, which has yet to begin. This dialogue must deal openly with beliefs and opinions, without hatred or fear. Even those who do not agree with the liberal and Reform Jews must realize that these are the only Jews we have. They are our family and, like us, are the sole heirs of the Jewish past and its future prospects. Boycotting them, criticizing their lifestyle, humiliating their rabbis and shaming them at the Kotel or anywhere else constitutes a national crime and indicates a lack of understanding of the national reality and its implications.
The American Jews survived the Holocaust with us, and we must renew the alliance with them for the sake of our national future.
Bambi Sheleg is an Israeli journalist and founding editor of the magazine Eretz Acheret