Can Conversion Save the Jewish People?

In the article from Reuven Hammer that I quoted last week, he criticizes the adherence to halachic standards of conversion with the following statement:

This perversion of Judaism by placing unnecessary stumbling blocks before potential converts is particularly painful when one considers the fact that the number of Jews in the world is shrinking. If we have people who are eager to join us, why are we pushing them away?

In other words — we’re losing the battle with assimilation, and if we accept these converts we’ll keep our numbers up. This is the same argument that Reform leaders make in favor of patrilineal descent, just in favor of taking in the children rather than the parents themselves.

The latest Bnai Brith magazine makes this claim even more bluntly, with an article entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight” — but featured on the cover as “Lost Tribes: Can They Save The Jews?”

The article begins with the premise that not only are we a dying nation today, but that it has always been so:

Jews have been called the “ever-dying people,” a tiny and embattled group that sees itself perpetually lurching toward demographic oblivion. At first glance, the latest numbers seem to bear out this pessimistic view.

The second claim is true — the latest numbers are bad. The first claim, however, is false — we have not always lurched towards oblivion, even in eras of tremendous persecution. Only in an era of widespread disregard for Torah and the Commandments do we find rapid and widespread assimilation.

But their solution, needless to say, has little to do with Torah:

Yet, the solution to the Jewish demographic crisis may not be online, in New York, or in other well-established Jewish centers. The solution may be in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, home to a vast reservoir of individuals claiming Jewish ancestry. Some of them are now reconnecting with what they believe is their ancient heritage and are practicing Judaism. Little known in the West, these “lost” Jews are seen by some as our ultimate salvation.

It is unquestionably true that there are huge numbers of non-Jews with some Jewish ancestry; one intermarriage ten generations ago would result in 210 (1024) descendents of that one Jewish ancestor today, even were there no overall population growth. But there is no “vast reservoir” of lost groups — even my friend Michael Freund, director of Shavei Israel, would not claim otherwise. Whether or not it is worthwhile to reach out to these groups is independent of whether they can reverse the decline. If we are indeed losing 50,000 of our own every year, as the article claims, that is much, much larger than the number of “lost tribes” who might even entertain thoughts of conversion in a given year.

Furthermore, what would happen to them afterwards? They might be part of our people for another few generations, but then their children will hardly be immune to the malaise afflicting the rest of Jewry. Are we merely to staunch our losses by doing mass conversions every year? It’s like treating a patient with a spurting arterial wound by giving him a transfusion.

There’s a medical term for that solution: malpractice.

One hardly needs better proof that the great institutions of organized American Jewry have no clue how to deal with the continuity crisis.

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3 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Don’t know if this has anything to do with the subject at hand, but our numbers dropped precipitously, between the mid Roman period until the time of Rashi,
    from 7 million to somewhat less than a million.

  1. March 15, 2006

    Rabbis easing rules on conversions?…

    According to the Miami Herald, “Now even Orthodox rabbis, the staunchest opponents of interfaith marriage, are exploring ways to encourage conversions.”

    Of course, as the article goes on to stress, the rabbis at the conference they were …

  2. February 12, 2007

    […] I have said in the past that reaching out to non-Jews is an ineffective way to ensure a Jewish future—comparable to “treating a patient with a spurting arterial wound by giving him a transfusion.” […]