Op-ed: Orthodoxy, unintentionally, has managed to systematically alienate most of France’s Jews from their identity. If there were Conservative and Reform Jews there, things would look different.

About half a million Jews live in France today, most of whom are of Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan descent. The percentage of marriages between Jews and non-Jews, the assimilation rate, is almost 50 percent – less than the United States (65 percent) but more than Canada (35 percent). In those two countries, the US and Canada, most Jews are Conservative and Reform. In France, however, the number of Conservative and Reform Jews is no more than 2 percent, together.

And here, the Jews of North Africa, most of whom arrived in France only in the middle of the 20th century, and who only met Orthodoxy, without any disturbances and background noises, underwent an accelerated assimilation process at a record pace. What happed in America in 200 years happened in France in 50 years. Orthodoxy, unintentionally, managed to systematically alienate most of the country’s Jews from their identity. They saw it as irrelevant. If there had been Conservative and Reform Jews there, things would have looked different.

Soldiers outside a synagogue in France. An almost 50 percent assimilation rate (Archive photo: Israel Bardugo) (Photo: Israel Bardugo)
Soldiers outside a synagogue in France. An almost 50 percent assimilation rate (Archive photo: Israel Bardugo) (Photo: Israel Bardugo)


I don’t like the world “assimilation.” There is something arrogant and patronizing about it. The euphemistic term “interfaith marriage” is more suitable, as it is less judgmental. But forget about the word, the problem itself is acute. In the modern world, Jews face a shocking challenge. Secularization on the one hand, and the option of assimilating on the other hand, have made the impossible possible.

If it were not for anti-Semitism, which occasionally raised its head and decreased the trend; and if it were not for Zionism, which offered a Jewish existence even without mitzvoth; and if it were not for the Holocaust, which disrupted plans from a different direction – the rate of interfaith marriage between members of the Jewish people and members of other religions would have been much higher than today.

The only place where the Jewish people are growing is here, in Israel. And not because we are better or stronger from a national, cultural or religious perspective, but because we live in a majority. We “assimilate” amongst ourselves.

Interfaith marriage in the Diaspora should concern anyone who cares about the continuation of the Jewish people. One can approach this issue from a religious reference point, one can connect to it from a national or cultural position, but one cannot remain indifferent to it. The statistical data are clear. We are diminishing, and if we don’t learn how to deal with this historic trend we will decrease in alarming dimensions.

The Haredi hate discourse against the non-Orthodox streams is blinding. Many people, including completely secular politicians, blindly accept anything said by Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri and Knesset Member Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), who time and again rant that Conservative and Reform Jews are to blame for assimilation in the Diaspora. But that is so implausible that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s not even a theological dispute. It’s pure ignorance.

Those who understand that, those who fight, who invest intellectual and physical resources, are the Conservative and Reform Jews. For hundreds of years now – since these movements were born – they have been courageously and successfully dealing with the blessed threat (yes, that’s an oxymoron) that the emancipation and the modern world imparted on the Jewish people with. Each of the religious denominations of the Jewish people – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform – have a well-established and self-justified Jewish outlook. But the question here is not right or wrong, or who is right. The numbers speak for themselves. Orthodoxy, which represents a small minority in the Jewish people, has a solution which suits few people, period.

Raising the walls does not create more Jews. It never did. That’s a myth. Faced by a reality in which the easiest thing to do is to assimilate, the two liberal movements are putting up a fight. Each in its own way, each with its own successes and failures, but those who belong to them assimilate much less. They are the solution, not the problem. They are fighting – creatively, faithfully, with a lot of love – to make Judaism relevant, to match the Jewish tradition to this era. That is, by the way, what our Sages of Blessed Memory did at the time.

So the next time someone tells you that “the Conservative and Reform Jews are to blame for assimilation,” buy them a ticket to France. Reality, so it seems, is completely different.

As reported by Ynetnews