Category Archives: Anti Semitism

Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. A person who holds such views is called an “antisemite”.

A Sermon Regarding Anti-Semitism


September 29, 2011

Rabbi Dr. Ronald L. Androphy

East Meadow Jewish Center

         If it were not for a judge’s ruling, on Tuesday, November 8th, the citizens of San Francisco would be going to the polls to vote on a referendum to ban the practice of circumcision.

We may ridicule this attempt to outlaw a ritual that is at the very core of Judaism.  We may laughingly dismiss the anti-circumcision ban as being so “left coast,” thinking, “It is, after all, San Francisco.”  We may have felt certain that the referendum would have been defeated; we may have had faith that even if it were enacted the circumcision ban would be ruled unconstitutional by a court.

But, my friends, let us not be so smug in our assumptions, for San Francisco is not the only locale where circumcision is being condemned, nor is circumcision the only Jewish practice that is being challenged.  At this very moment the Netherlands is considering whether to ban shechitah, the traditional Jewish method of slaughtering animals for kosher food.  If passed, Holland will join Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden in banning the practice.  At this very moment, similar anti- shechitah campaigns are underway in Australia, New Zealand, England, and Denmark.  And lest you think that this type of campaign takes place only overseas, an anti-shechitah initiative was recently ruled off the ballot in Washington state.

As those of you who have been with me for the past twenty-eight years are keenly aware, I am not, nor have I been, a person or a rabbi who sees anti-Semitism lurking behind every tree.  In fact, I have delivered sermons, even on the High Holy Days, in which I have declared that anti-Semitism is no longer a major challenge or issue for us Jews, and should not consume a tremendous amount of American Jewry’s energy or resources.  I have suggested that the fact that almost every one of the Ivy League colleges and universities and their Sisters – schools that not so long ago placed quotas on the number of Jewish students they would accept – have had Jewish presidents or deans of their constituent schools; the fact that most Gentile families do not oppose their children’s marrying a Jew; and the fact that few Fortune 500 businesses are Jew-less – all demonstrate that anti-Semitism has virtually been vanquished.

Well, the High Holy Days are the occasion on which we admit our mistakes.  So let me admit my error: Anti-Semitism is not dead; rather it has reemerged in a particularly insidious form: this contemporary anti-Semitism is not an attempt to kill Jews. No; understand it for what it is:  Today’s anti-Semitism is an attempt to delegitimize Judaism.  That’s right: it is an attempt – curiously not primarily from the right, but equally, and I might even add “especially,” from the left – to delegitimize our Jewish religion.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s examine the San Francisco referendum.  Those who were proposing the ban claim that circumcision is a form of mutilation over which the victim, in our case the eight-day old boy, has no say.  They claim that it is unfair to inflict such permanent damage on a child who has not reached the age of consent.  But let me ask a question:  why are these people fighting only circumcision?  Why don’t they seek to abolish, for example, the piercing of young children’s body parts?  I am certain you have seen babies who have had their ears pierced.  Now you might argue that ear piercing is reversible in that a person can let the holes fill in.  Not always.  And I am sure you have seen young children with other parts of their body pierced, obviously before the age of legal consent.  Why not ban that?  You know, we live in an age in which tattooing has become the rage.  How many men and women did you see this past summer — when people wear shorts, and short-sleeve shirts or tank-tops — sporting tattoos on one part of their body or another?  How many times have you seen men and women who look like walking cartoons with their arms and legs almost fully tattooed?  I have also seen children with tattoos, children far below the age of legal consent, and I have a feeling that there are more cases in San Francisco than there are on Long Island, and despite laser abrasion, tattoos are still extremely difficult to remove.  Why don’t the anti-circumcision supporters try to abolish child tattooing and/or child piercings?  I’ll tell you why: because their goal is to delegitimize Judaism.

Need further proof? – Look at the rhetoric they use.  They employ words like “mutilation,” barbaric,” and “child abuse” to describe circumcision.  These are words of delegitimization.  Is anyone here in favor of mutilation? barbarism? child abuse?  Of course not.  What they fail to mention is that a brit milah, a circumcision performed by a skilled mohel, is not barbaric at all; it is invariably quick and safe.  While I am not going to tell you that a bris is painless, I doubt very much if any of us males remembers his bris or was irreparably harmed by it.

As all of us know, brit milah is one of the foundational mitzvot of our Jewish religion.  Every Jewish family knows that circumcising our infant males at the age of eight days is what we Jews do; it is constitutive of being Jewish.  That is why bris is probably the most observed Jewish ritual, even amongst unreligious or non-observant Jews.  A Jewish boy without a bris, while still Jewish, is an incomplete Jew; he always stands in need of repair.  A bris is the hallmark of male Jewish identity; it is the quintessential symbol of male Jewishness.  That is why throughout history Jews have fought and sacrificed their lives in order to circumcise their young.

And what about the anti-kosher slaughter campaigns?  Shechitah, the traditional Jewish method of killing an animal in a kosher manner, reflects the Jewish concern for what is called in Hebrew tsa-ar baalay chaim — not causing pain to an animal.  In the hands of a skilled shochet, using the required razor-sharp knife, an animal is killed almost instantaneously, and virtually painlessly.  When I was in rabbinical school, I saw kosher slaughter performed.  I was as close to the animal as I am to the people seated in the third row.  The shochet drew his long, sharp knife across the cow’s neck, there was a massive outpouring of blood, and, almost instantaneously, the animal was dead.  No lowing, no contortions of the animal’s face, no screaming; the animal didn’t even blink its eyes.

What the anti-shechitah movement is campaigning for is to require that all animals be stunned, either electrically or percussively, prior to slaughter.  Supposedly, this causes the animal less pain, but I cannot imagine that being shocked with electricity or being smashed on the skull with a high-powered pneumatic device, is painless for the animal.  From the kosher standpoint, stunning is problematic because it causes coagulation of the blood, and prevents its free flow, as is required.

By banning kosher slaughter, these people are undermining one of our cardinal Jewish observances.  Whether you personally keep kosher or not, you must be concerned that attempts are being made to ban a traditional Jewish practice, a ritual that has been observed by our people for thousands of years.  And, again, the opposers of kosher slaughter are using the language of delegitimization: they call shechitah “cruel,” “barbaric,” “inhumane,” etc.  And who is in favor of anything “cruel,” “barbaric,” or “inhumane?”

Switzerland first enacted its anti-shechitah ban in order to keep Jews out of the country.  Once Jews began fleeing Russia and Poland in the face of pogroms, Switzerland did not want to be inundated with what they considered to be backwards, dirty Jews. So it passed laws to prohibit kosher slaughter so that Jews would not immigrate to Switzerland.  See, even in the 1890s the Swiss did not want us, a situation that would be repeated during the Holocaust.   But in Europe today the anti-Semitic, anti-kosher slaughter campaign is more devious.  The European Union is considering a requirement that all meat bear a label indicating whether an animal was stunned before slaughter.  Obviously, kosher-killed meat would not bear such a stamp; some treyf meat would, some would not.  Sounds harmless, no? But here’s the insidious part: what would happen next is that there would be a campaign to pressure stores to carry only meat that was stunned prior to slaughter, and/or to boycott meat that was not derived from animals that were stunned.  Sounds relatively benign, right?  But, as you probably know, only the front quarters of an animal are koshered in the United States and Europe; the hind quarters are sold to non-kosher meat packing companies.  This helps keep the price of kosher meat lower than it would otherwise be. But imagine that under pressure from the anti-shechitah movement, stores would no longer buy meat that came from the hind quarters of kosher-killed animals.  The price of kosher meat would at least double or triple, rendering keeping kosher extremely difficult.

And the attempt to delegitimize Judaism does not end with bris and shechitah.  It even goes to the very heart of Judaism.  As all of you know, I have earned a doctorate in Bible.  Those of you who took a Bible course in college undoubtedly learned about the Documentary Hypothesis, the theory, enunciated in its clearest form over 120 years ago by the German Protestant scholar, Julius Wellhausen.  This theory suggests that the Torah is not a monolithic text, but rather an edited book comprised of four different strands written over a period of approximately 500 years.  As a Bible scholar, I can tell you that much of the Documentary Hypothesis is beneficial for the study of the Bible, and much of it is simply wrong and is no longer accepted in the realm of modern Bible study.  Today, however, an even more daring theory has gained considerable acceptance: this minimalist hypothesis claims that none of the Bible was written before the Persian Period. What this theory suggests is that there never was an Israelite/Jewish presence in the land of Canaan/Israel prior to the fifth century B.C.E.  In other words, there was no Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; no Moses and Exodus; no Joshua and Conquest; no King Saul, David, and Solomon; no Kingdom of Judah or Kingdom of Israel.  Its more radical expression denies the historicity of such great prophets as Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah.  While I am not a Biblical fundamentalist, while I do not believe that everything the Bible records occurred exactly as stated, while I realize that the texts and stories of the Bible were subject to the some of the same forces of transmission and story-telling that characterize all literature, nonetheless, I maintain that substantial evidence – archaeological, linguistic, etc., — supports much of the Bible.  Do you realize what this theory – the product of European universities – means for us Jews?  It totally delegitimizes our religion; it totally delegitimizes our claim to the Land of Israel.  It says that the Jewish religion is a sham, and that we Jews have no right to the Land of Israel.

Which leads me to the most concentrated attack against the Jewish people, and that is the attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel.  And, my friends, at this point the attacks against Israel – especially in Europe, but also here in the United States – go far beyond demanding that Israel surrender the West Bank and Golan Heights. These attacks deny that Israel has any right to exist as a Jewish state.  In other words, these assaults delegitimize Israel.  Israel, they claim, has no right to exist – not within the 1947 Partition borders, not within the 1949 armistice borders (which are the pre-Six Day War borders), and certainly not within Israel’s current borders.  They would argue that the Jewish State of Israel should be erased.  Just look at the boycotts against Israeli products that have been organized around the world.  Until recently these embargos were directed only against products that emanated from the West Bank, Golan, or Gaza.  More recently, however, the sanctions have involved a boycott of all products made in Israel, no matter whether those items derive from the West Bank, etc., or whether those Israeli products are produced within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.  Some of these boycotts have been successful in Europe (witness the recent closing of the Ahava store in London), some have failed on college campuses here in this country – but almost all of these boycotts today unjustifiably equate Israel with South Africa of the apartheid era, and just as many people refused to buy goods from South Africa, so, according to these anti-Zionists, should people boycott Israeli products.  And these attempts to delegitimize Israel will only become more pronounced and more vociferous with last week’s appearance by Mahmoud Abbas before the United Nations seeking the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian State.

As all of us know from seeing the article that has circulated on the internet, if a person boycotts Israeli products, he/she will have to give up his smartphone, her computer, etc., since all of these technological devices were invented in Israel.  Such a person would also have to refuse many forms of medical treatment since many medical devices and pharmaceuticals were developed in Israel. Nonetheless, these Israel delegitimizers should have all of us worried.  With the Palestinians about to proclaim unilaterally a Palestinian State, these delegitimizers will make Israel’s already tenuous standing in such international forums as the United Nations even more unstable.  Israel’s existence as we know it is very much in the balance.

So what do we have here?  We have an attempt to delegitimize bris, the basic Jewish symbol of identification for males; a challenge to the legitimacy of shechitah, the indispensible method of eating kosher meat; the denial of the sacredness and basic historicity of our Bible, the foundation of everything we Jews hold sacred – our religion, our rituals, our morals and ethics, our history, our homeland; and a massive campaign to deny Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state.        So what is left?  Not much, and that’s the whole point.  By delegitimizing much of what is Jewish, these modern anti-Semites do not intend to kill us physically; they are out to destroy us spiritually and to rob of us all Jewish distinctiveness.

And this attack against us is not coming from its usual sources: right-wing, super-nationalistic groups like the skinheads and neo-Nazis.  These attacks against Jewish individuality are coming from the academic and political left.

I am certain that most of us here today, including me, consider ourselves liberal to one degree or another, though I am well aware that here on Long Island there is a tendency for former liberals to magically transform into conservatives.  Nonetheless, those of us who view ourselves as liberal must realize that liberalism today, at least in its academic form, has changed radically.  No longer is liberalism about supporting rights of all people, like fighting against discrimination and supporting liberalization of immigration laws, and the like. Academic liberalism today basically works toward the elimination of all distinctions amongst people, especially those associated with First World groups like Jews, and in its political forms its goal is the elimination (which is a polite word for “destruction”) of all supposedly bourgeois societies.  It does so by branding a group’s distinctive practices as “barbaric,” and its society as “evil.”  And since we Jews are one of the most distinctive ethnic/religious groups, and since these delegitimizers know that Jewish rituals and our Bible are major factors in our distinctiveness, they label our practices “barbaric,” and question the validity of our sacred texts.  And since the State of Israel has been one of the most successful countries on the face of this earth in terms of economy, technology, education, social services, and integrating immigrants; and since Israel does exert authority over more than a million Arabs on land that these groups erroneously consider Arab land, the State of Israel is vilified and its legitimacy denied.

That modern academic liberalism is the epitome of hypocrisy is manifest in a phenomenon that occurs on many college campuses, an action that defies logic.  As you probably know, Israel is frequently maligned on college campuses, and pro-Israel speakers are commonly heckled and prevented from speaking, even though a university campus is supposed to be a bastion of free speech.  But the ludicrousness goes beyond that.  Isn’t it farcical that many feminist groups on college campuses have issued anti-Israel resolutions and taken anti-Israel, pro-Arab stances?  Something is wrong here.  How free exactly are women in Arab countries?  In many they cannot vote.  In some they are not allowed to drive a car.  In all Arab countries they are legally subservient to their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  How many Arab women have been murdered in honor killings by male members of their very own families?  Yet, these women’s groups on campus, which include many Jews, incidentally, praise the Palestinians and condemn Israel, the very country in which women have more rights, have achieved more equality, and have attained the highest levels of success than in any other country in the Middle East or in the rest of the world, for that matter.  Let me ask a question: would any woman here today want to live in an Arab country?

Or what about gay and lesbian groups on college campuses that have denounced Israel and proclaimed their solidarity with the Arabs, or those GLBT groups that have prevented Israeli representatives from marching in gay pride parades in Europe?  How can they condemn Israel and voice support for the Palestinians and Arabs when homosexuals have been executed in Iran and other Arab countries, have been maimed and imprisoned in others, and have been victims of, for lack of a better term, embarrassment killings in the Palestinian controlled areas?  Do you know that many Palestinian homosexuals flee their homes in the West Bank or Gaza, and settle where? – In Israel, which takes a live and let live attitude towards GLBT people and hosts one of the most popular gay pride parades in Tel Aviv.   I would love to ask the members of these college LGBT organizations if they would want to live as open, active homosexuals in any Arab country; somehow I doubt that they would. Yet, the delegitimization of Israel and anything Jewish is so rampant that it causes these activist groups to endorse ridiculous positions that fly in the face of the very principles for which they were created.  That’s how deep and pernicious this anti-Israel, anti-Jewish campaign has become.

My friends, these modern anti-Semites are out to deny the validity of everything we Jews hold sacred: our Bible, our religious traditions, our Jewish way of life, and our ancestral homeland.  It is not that they are out to kill us; instead, they want to destroy us spiritually, they want to destroy us religiously, they want to destroy us politically.  They want to obliterate everything that is unique about the Jewish people.

And we must not let that happen.

Those of you who have been here over the years know exactly in what direction this sermon is heading.  You can probably guess – correctly – that I am going to suggest that the way we counter this modern anti-Semitism that seeks to deprive us of our uniqueness and our identity is through greater devotion to Judaism; more observance of Jewish laws, rituals, practices, and traditions; stronger determination to conduct our lives according to Jewish morals, ethics, and values; and greater allegiance to the State of Israel.

Specifically, if bris is under attack – we make sure that we circumcise our male children.  If attempts are being made to outlaw the traditional Jewish method of slaughter – we keep kosher.  If the validity of our Bible is challenged – we both study and live by the Bible.  If the very existence of the State of Israel is questioned and threatened – we increase our support for Israel, through visits, through financial donations, and through political activism.  If Jewish uniqueness is derided – we celebrate our uniqueness.

All of us here today must decide what Jewish course of action we want to undertake this year.  All of us here today must decide what Jewish rituals, traditions, and observances we are willing to assume this year.  All of us here today must decide on those Jewish values and ethics by which to live this year. All of us here today must decide on how we will demonstrate our support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people this year.  All of us here today must decide how we will demonstrate our support for the synagogue and the Jewish community this year.  And every person here today must decide on how he/she will express through ongoing deed and action his/her uniqueness as a Jew.

If we fail to engage in any of these actions, then we will hand a victory to these modern anti-Semites who seek our delegitimization, and, trust me,  Judaism will become a bastard religion, our Bible will be viewed as a forgery, and Israel will become even more of a pariah state, God forbid.

One final thought:  as a Rabbi, I do not want anti-Semites to define how I express my Judaism.  Yes, I have just asked you to assume greater Jewish commitment and identity in the coming year in the face of the multitudinous attempts to delegitimize much of what is Jewish.  But that should not be the only reason we embark upon a more intense Jewish way of life.  We must do so primarily because it is the right course of action to undertake, and because it can add tremendous meaning and significance to our lives.

Remember: it has been the Jewish willingness to be distinct and unique that has not only molded us into the extraordinary people we are as individuals and as a people; through our distinctiveness and our uniqueness we Jews have contributed disproportionately to the betterment of the entire world, the world whose creation we celebrate this day.

I call upon each and every one of you: do your share so that עם ישראל חי  — the Jewish people continues to exist!

Shana Tova.

When Hatred Becomes the Core Value

Yom Kippur Morning 2012/5773

When Hatred Becomes the Core Value

I am proud to be your Rabbi.  I am proud to be an Israeli.  I am proud to be a Jew.  I am proud to be a Rodefet Shalom v’tzedek… one who at her core pursues, teaches and insists upon peace and justice.  The essence of Yom Kippur is exactly that.  It is the opportunity for each of us to do an honest accounting of where we are and what our deeds have been…and to commit to and insist upon the changes necessary to protect, sustain and prioritize “sacred living”.

Atonement is reaching for the sacred.  True atonement requires a stubborn refusal to succumb to or make excuses for or tolerate evil.

Three weeks ago during the days of Elul, the period of heightened awareness leading up to these days of Awe… as I prepared my Shabbat Sermon on Parashat Shoftim, the portion named “Judges”, I was inspired by the words of Deuteronomy 16:20 Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof; justice justice you shall surely pursue.  And as the teaching of the weekly Torah portion came into focus so did the breaking news from Israeli newspapers that in downtown Jerusalem, Tzion Square, a late night hangout for young people, 10-15 Jewish youth, their ages ranging from 13-19, beat a 17 year old East Jerusalem teenager Jamal Julani until he was unconscious.

What can I tell you, my Congregation.  How do we make sense of this heinous act?  Jamal was beaten almost to death…by a group of Jewish Israeli teens, for no other reason than because he was Arab.  The attack was unprovoked.  He was set upon by with a ferocity and hatred and willingness to kill.  But as if that is not devastating enough, a few dozen other young people stood by and watched without intervening.

In the aftermath of the incident eight young Israeli’s were arrested, two of them girls.  After his arrest a 13 year old countered: “he could die for all I care he is an Arab.”  The Times of Israel ran an article entitled “The Kids are not okay and neither are their parents”.  The discourse evolving from Israel described not an aberrant tragic incident but rather a world view that has tragically become tolerated.

Two weeks ago Germany was shaken by a series of anti-Semitic incidents.  In one incident a Rabbi wearing a kippah was approached by several youths who asked him if he was a Jew.  When he answered in the affirmative they attacked and beat him.  Horrendous, intolerable… the Rabbi was beaten…by a group of German teens, for no other reason than because he was Jew.

Tzedek Tzedek tirdof , the word for Justice appears twice in succession.  Wanting justice for ourselves, that is simple.  The repetition of the word suggests implicit reciprocity; justice must be assured for the other as well.  The phrase Tirdof is the assurance, we will surely pursue.

Justice Justice you shall pursue.  Do not pervert justice.  Do not oppress your neighbor.  Love the Stranger as Yourself.  More than any other mitzvah commanded in the Torah, 36 times we are implored to love the other.  Thirty six times because when we really care for the other, then we forge justice.

It is too easy to hear these stories and point a finger at the anti-semitism that rears its ugly head in Germany.  It is too easy to point at the Arab communities and remind ourselves that they teach violence and hatred to their children.  But ultimately, the only way forward is for us to ask ourselves, what are we teaching our children.  What message do we justify in our hearts.  Are we ourselves harboring, justifying and tolerating racism?  What action do we take in this world that we live?  There is only justice for us when we assure justice for the other.

Let me tell you what followed in Germany.  A kippah campaign was launched in response to the unprovoked attack on the Rabbi.  Prominent German actors and politicians were asked to and elected to wear a kippah in an act of solidarity with the Rabbi and defiance of the resurgence of racism.

Let me tell you what happened in Israel.  Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin visited Jamal Julani in the hospital.  He said these words “we are sorry… it is hard to see you hospitalized because of an inconceivable act… what happened is the responsibility of every leader and Member of Knesset.”  The Education Ministry ordered schools to confront the episode in the opening day of the school year in EVERY middle and high school classroom throughout Israel.  Educators were told to let they youngsters express themselves, but that “the unequivocal message must be a condemnation of racism and violence.”  I am proud of these steps that Israel has taken but we all must recognize that an unequivocal message of condemnation of racism and violence must emanate from the very top of Israeli leadership and must be reflected not only perfunctory platitudes but must be protected and preserved as policy and creed.

As your Rabbi, a proud Israeli and a proud Rabbi I cannot accept that racism will be tolerated by us.  Whether we are behaving poorly and inadequately with our Ethiopian Brethren, whether it is our intolerance and lack of compassion for illegal African immigrant workers in Israel or illegal immigrants in the United States arriving from Central and South America or whether it is a hatred of Arabs that is fostered and tolerated in Israeli Society and in the fear tactics and nuances of American society, this we cannot afford to condone or allow.

Last year I delivered a sermon describing an act of racism in the parking lot of my children’s high school.  Here we are today Yom Kippur 5773 once again racism is a topic that I feel compelled to address if we are to make an honest accounting of where we have been and where we are going.

May our teshuvah lead us to an insistence of tzedek.  We must be vigilant, not about other’s racism, but about the racism that we harbor through our ignorance, justifications and complacency.  Real teshuvah means that we do not repeat the same mistakes.   Tzedek tzedek tirdof, we will have justice for ourselves only when we assure justice for the other.

– Rabbi Yael Romer

Let My People Know

Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport
Rosh Hashanah 5758


This is an old sermon. I have given it before. In fact, Rabbi Diamond preached this sermon long before I came here. It is actually a rather historic piece, given first in the Reform movement by none other than Isaac Mayer Wise and passed down from rabbi to rabbi since then. In fact, if you listen carefully on Yom Kippur morning, you will hear what I believe to be the original version of this sermon which was delivered by Moses himself to the Children of Israel as they stood on the banks of the Jordan river ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses called it Atem Nitzavim, and it’s all about the future of Judaism. Like I said, this is very old stuff.

But the really fascinating thing about this sermon is that prophets and priests and philosophers and rabbis have been giving this same sermon for more than 3,500 years. And yet we keep convincing our unsuspecting audience that this wisdom is somehow uniquely suited for the struggles which our generation of Jews must face, here and now, in order to preserve this fragile thing called Judaism for yet another generation beyond our own. It has taken our greatest Jewish leaders three millennia to perfect this “sermonic slight of hand” and then some fool confessed it all to Alan Dershowitz.

He, of course, wrote the whole thing down and published it under the title “The Vanishing American Jew” which ruins everything. Not because he had the Chutzpah to cut himself in on the longest running case of plagiarism in human history, but he didn’t even bother to change the title. And anyone knows that if you don’t change the title people will begin to figure this out. Particularly since “The Vanishing American Jew” was used on the cover of Look Magazine back in 1964 and there are still people alive today who remember that issue. (I was only seven in 1964 so some of you probably remember this stuff even better than I do.)

OK, sure he updated the piece a bit and he added some pretty good Jewish jokes to keep it interesting, but look here– Same title, same theme, same predictions of doom if we don’t repent… people are beginning to talk. He probably planned this all along and who is going to sue Dershowitz for copyright infringement. As a matter of fact, anybody who uses this sermon from now on is probably going to have to pay him royalties. So, I’ve decided that the only thing to do is come clean and tell you the whole story.

The truth is, this sermon is the closest thing to pure biblical prophecy you are ever likely to see. The facts are undeniable, the stakes are incredibly high– Jewish Survival Itself hangs in the balance. It is a classic “repent now for the day of your destruction is at hand” message, perfectly suited for the High Holy Days. And yet somehow in every generation, we escape these prophecies of doom which means, of course, that the sermon is still good for another run the next time you really need it.

This is how Dershowitz tells it, which is, I must admit, a pretty good spin on the old tale:

The future of Judaism is in a state of crisis.  The survival of our ancient people has never been more clearly in doubt.

(This, of course, is the most difficult part to sell in the modern age, since just about everyone knows that the American Jews of today are the largest, freest, best educated, most politically and economically successful Jewish community in the history of the world.)

Dershowitz knows this, too, and he knows we know this, so this is his approach: instead of arguing against the obvious, he first proves the apparent case against him beyond a shadow of a doubt. He argues essentially, that never in all of human history have we as a Jewish people been more safe and secure. And, as you can imagine, he pulls together a pretty impressive case.

Anti-Semitism in America has been marginalized to the point of near irrelevance. That is not to say that it doesn’t exist or that the potential for its resurgence in harder economic times may not be real. But for most of us and for most of our lives we no longer live in fear of violence or overt discrimination. The attitudes of anti-Semitism may remain in the minds of some, but without the support of government, church, educational or business institutions to enforce such bigotry, it will remain where it resides in the rantings of the ignorant fringe.

Legal barriers to our entry have been stripped from every field. Jews are now over represented in many of the same board rooms and professions which once excluded our very presence.

Jewish attendance at Ivy League colleges is running at about 10 times our percentage of the population. There once was a time when the president of Harvard questioned openly whether having “too many Jews” on campus would be good for Harvard or good for the Jews. Dershowitz now teaches at Harvard and the new president acknowledges openly that the University simply could not survive without the incredible support it now receives from its philanthropic Jewish Alumni.

Of America’s Nobel Prize winners in science and economics 40% have been Jews.

On a list of America’s 200 most influential intellectuals, half are what Dershowitz describes as “full Jews” and 76% have at least one Jewish parent.

For the first time in history two of the nation’s 9 Supreme Court Justices are Jews.

Countless members of the Clinton Cabinet are Jewish and while it may still be some time before there is a Jew living in the White House, we have for the first time seen an American President and his family praying in a synagogue on the High Holy Days.

There are now 10 Jewish Senators and 31 U.S. Representatives serving on Capitol Hill. And most of these men and women were elected from areas with just a tiny population of Jews. Just for the sake of comparison there are only 9 women Senators and the one African American in the Senate is also one of those nine.

Jews represent 10% of America’s Business Movers and Shakers which is a far greater number than any other ethnic group.

Jewish Charities far outstrip their general counterparts. With Just 2% of the population to draw from, United Jewish Appeal raised more money in one year than any other charity in the nation. More than the Salvation Army, more than the Red Cross, more than Catholic Charities, more than the American Cancer Society. And most of the Jews who give to the UJA are among the strongest supporters of these general charities as well.

Dershowitz presents an overwhelming barrage of statistics until even the most skeptical must concede that in all of Jewish history we have never had it this good.

And yet for all our material success as individual Jews, he argues just as effectively that Judaism and the Jewish community as a whole are facing a crisis beyond any proportion in our long history of exile and oppression.

He states the issues with the clarity and precision of a brilliant jurist:

“American Jewish life is in danger of disappearing, just as most American Jews have achieved everything we ever wanted: acceptance, influence, affluence, equality. As the result of skyrocketing rates of intermarriage and assimilation, as well as ‘the lowest birth rate of any religious or ethnic community in the United States,’ the era of enormous Jewish influence on American life may soon be coming to an end.”

And then he launches again into a barrage of facts the weight of which seems almost crushing in its force:

The Birth rate for all but the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community ranges between 1.5 and 1.6 children per couple, far below the 2.1 “replacement level” necessary for our survival as a community. The rate of unaffiliation among Jews in our urban population centers of New York and Los Angeles is now nearly 75%. Intermarriage rates have crested over 50% and for the first time in American Jewish history there are more Jewish children being raised as Christians than as Jews!

The paradox of our power and our powerlessness is all but perfectly portrayed.

If you play out just those numbers over the 1000 or so people in this room, for just one generation of such dismal expectations, we would lose 250 to low birth rate, another 325 to intermarriage and if this were New York or Los Angeles another 250 to unaffiliation leaving just 175 committed religious Jews left in the room one generation from now.

Now I could argue with those statistics, most of which do not apply to the people who are actually sitting in this room. You are all obviously affiliated with a religious congregation. You wouldn’t be here if you were not. The rate of affiliation in Louisville is about three times that of Los Angeles. Religiously identified Jews have a much lower rate of intermarriage, a higher number of children per family and a much higher rate of successfully raising children who are clearly identified with their Judaism. We could end this sermon now by simply saying that Dershowitz is right HE has a problem. Because for unaffiliated secular East Coast Jews like Dershowitz all of the predictions above do apply directly and it is that stark reality which occupies the next 300 pages of his book.

What would American Judaism look like in the next generation if, like lemmings to the sea, the entire secular wing of our community were to vanish beneath these waves. According to Dershowitz we would be unable to sustain our national prominence amidst the rise of other ethnic and religious communities. The insular orthodox community of Hasidic Judaism would become much more dominant and the few Reform and Conservative Jews who remain committed to involvement with the broader community can, at best, hope to establish themselves as something akin to the small but respected Quaker community of today.

The Dershowitz prescription for the multitude of ills which now befall us is an interesting if sometimes impractical collection of programs and ideas which he groups together under the slogan: Let My People Know! Better Schools, an even more open community, a recognition of secular Jews as an essential element in the leadership of our future, a broad ranging publication project to make all of Jewish learning accessible in English language translations. The establishment of a 24 hour Jewish Television Network somewhat akin to the History Channel which would emphasize the cultural and communal heritage of our people. My favorite suggestion was that we migrate all our communal institutions to the Internet establishing virtual study groups or even prayer services for far flung communities across the globe.

These will not stem the tide, even by Dershowitz own estimates, but they may perhaps salvage a Judaism which will be smaller, less unique, and considerably less significant for its broader impact on American life.

This all assumes, of course, that we are lemmings– unable to resist the self destructive instincts which have set us on this hapless course. Which brings us to an interesting fact which I Iearned from my seven year old son, who is fast becoming a recognized expert in all things related to the animal world. Did you know that lemmings don’t actually run to the sea with the intention of drowning? Actually, they are just very bad swimmers! No, really. When the population of lemmings in a particular area grows beyond its ability to sustain itself on the available food sources, a migration begins which whenever it encounters water, will attempt to swim across. And since lemmings are not particularly well suited for swimming, many invariably drown in the process.

There was a point to that digression. One which Mr. Dershowitz for all his brilliance and insightful suggestions seems to have missed. That having charted a course toward our inevitable destruction we are not somehow honor bound to continue on that path to the sea. A more knowledgeable Jewish community led more directly by our more secular educated elite might well be a worthwhile suggestion, but with no offense meant to Mr. Dershowitz, College professors like him are among the most educated within our ranks and yet they are also among the least affiliated, the least charitable, and the least committed Jews on the planet!

Alan Dershowitz was raised in an orthodox background which he rejected half a lifetime ago and like many “used to be orthodox Jews” he harbors just enough nostalgic memories of those years to make him disdainful of any other branch of Judaism in the alternative. When he chooses to visit his religious past, he visits it where he left it, in an orthodox congregation, for state occasions like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What he finds when he returns are pleasant moments which are, nonetheless, totally irrelevant for the rest of his modern life.

At one point he complains that he has attended more than fifty Yom Kippur services at which the famous Haftarah from Isaiah was dutifully chanted aloud: “Is this the fast I desire, a day for you to starve only your bodies?… No this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness,…to let the oppressed go free,… to share your bread with the hungry, and take… the poor into your home, when you see the naked, to clothe them and never to ignore your own kin.” And yet never has he heard a rabbi “emphasizing that the Yom Kippur fast is a hollow gesture unless it is accompanied by a commitment …to share your bread with the hungry, to take the outcast poor into your home, to clothe the naked and assist the less fortunate.” The religion he sees is totally insular to his sense of pressing social needs, which all but demands from me the response: Where do you go to services and what there do you hope to find? Certainly no one has ever accused your rabbis of ignoring any opportunity to preach to you about our pressing social needs. He could hear that sermon year in and year out if he would attend any Classical Reform congregation in the country. But at a Reform Temple he would lose that childlike sense of nostalgia he craves, so he rejects his religious heritage entirely in favor of a secular Jewish cultural heritage which provides for him a sense of pride, and a wealth of material from which to teach his Harvard courses, try his cases, and write his best selling books. But a more spiritual, socially driven Reform Jewish experience seems somehow impossible for him to consider.

In a separate section on Reform Judaism, Dershowitz spends several pages lambasting Leonard Fein, the founder of Moment Magazine and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. He likes Leonard and respects much of the work he has done, but he finds his connection between Jewish Religious Values and Social Action to be a prime example of everything that is wrong with Reform Judaism. Social Action is not Judaism he says, it is Feinism– a liberal political agenda which he agrees with, but from which he derives no sense of religious authenticity.

I had the opportunity to discuss this with Leonard Fein just last week (don’t be too impressed, I don’t often get the chance to have conversations with such personalities) and he shared with me an insight which I thought I might share with you as well. He said that “the life of the Jewish people is a Midrash on the text of Jewish law” and that while he agrees that our broader concern for the communities in which we live is unique to Reform Judaism, that there is a nexus between Judaism and Social Action. The world is not working as it was meant to, as God intended it to be, and it is an essential part of our Religious heritage to repair that breach with our own hearts and hands. Because for Leonard Fein, as for many Reform Jews, Judaism is not a culture alone, it is a Religious Culture which provides values and direction for our lives.

And though secularists like Dershowitz may have a perfect right to cling to the agnostic Jewish culturalism which has defined their lives until now, this “proud secular heritage” is not a Judaism which is particularly well suited for swimming in the turbulent waters which he so eloquently points out on our horizon just ahead.

The Talmud teaches that there are three obligations of every Jewish parent, and that among them we must teach our children to swim. It is time to teach the lemmings how to swim. The motto for our coming age should not be “Let My People Know” however nicely that may rhyme with the original, the motto of a Judaism which will survive through the next generation of intense social change must be “Let My People Care!”

We don’t need to know an amorphous body of facts or theories to keep us Jewish. It couldn’t hurt, it might even help. But the ultimate answer to the problems we now face isn’t how much we know about our Judaism. It is how much we care!

If we cared enough about our Jewish life — Intermarriage would represent a net gain. Because we would be committed Jews who would marry people committed to Judaism by birth or by choice or by their commitment to raise our children as committed Jews. Because Judaism would be so important to us that anyone who loved us would want to fulfill that essential part of our soul.

If we cared enough about our Jewish life –Unaffiliation would become unthinkable because our Jewish Community would offer so much to us spiritually, relationally, communally, an practically that we couldn’t imagine living without it.

If we cared enough about our Jewish life — Raising the next generation of Jewish children, our children, our children’s children, our congregation’s children, and our community’s, would become a priority which we would not only speak about, but commit ourselves to providing the time and talent and funding necessary to truly educate and enrich the lives of each and every Jewish child.

If we cared enough about our Jewish life — then studying our own Judaism wouldn’t require the candy coating of 24 hour TV, or the allure of cyberspace, just the commitment to provide the highest quality educational programs available from cradle to grave.

So let me ask you, do we care enough to survive? To build for our Jewish future? To give of our resources and our time to insure it? To empower this and every congregation as the proven institutions of education, affiliation, spiritual growth and social outreach to allow us to not just survive, but to flourish in the coming age? Do we care enough to commit our affluence, our influence, our vast education and our boundless abilities as a people, to the cause of our own survival as a free people in a free land. Simply put, if we care enough, then we will. And having done so, we will live on as a blessing for many generations yet to come. May this be our chosen path and may this be our certain destiny.