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“American Life Has Annihilated Jewish Peoplehood”

[Last week, Ha’aretz Chief U.S. Correspondent Shmuel Rosner featured Jewcy editor in chief Tahl Raz as a guest on his site. Rosner and Raz e-mailed about the future of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood in America, and the volume of debate about Israel in the U.S., among other topics. We'll be reprinting their wide-ranging discussion all week.]

Dear Tahl,

Your remark regarding Jewish Peoplehood strikes me as the most controversial. You write that "American life has annihilated Jewish Peoplehood" and if that's so, then why should one expect American Jews (or maybe one shouldn't) to worry about fellow Jews in Israel or, for that matter, Ethiopia?





The death of peoplehoodethnicityamong American Jews is not an argument about its goodness or badnessit's an observation. Maybe the anodyne Jewish avoidance of hard truths is keeping us from realizing that a central concept in Jewish liturgy and self-image is kaput.

The SATs don't ask young American high school students whether they're Italian, Irish, Polish, or Jewish. They ask whether they're white, black, Hispanic, Asian American, or Native American. Ethnicity is an increasingly irrelevant category in the United States. Ask the country's Census bureau. Jewish leaders are about the only ones leftwith the exception of those from marginalized, extremist racialist groupsto publicly advocate for in-group marriage. Research shows that faith has become a fluid category with a growing percentage of Americans changing denominations more than once in their lifetime.

Identity, in America, is not a matter of blood; it's a choice. You can choose to embrace your Jewishness, or you can choose to revoke it. This is the milieu in which the notion of our "chosenness," and the requisite obligations traditionally associated with it, have been vanquished.

In an age of consent (rather than descent), can we make Jewish peoplehood into an idea, a communal unit, appealing enough that we (Jews, non-Jews, and everyone in between) will choose, rather than be chosen, to belong? Absolutely, but with a major caveat: If the revitalization of peoplehood implies dismantling the modern project of securing a universal human rights and returning to a primitive state of tribalism, as it apparently does for Steven Cohen and Jack Wertheimer, than Iand I suspect a large chunk of my generation here and in Israelwill want no part of it.

For Wertheimer and Cohen, who published an article in Commentary last year wailing against our plummeting ethnic identity, the apparent crisis can be summed up by the observation that American Jews seem to have more time for the people of Darfur than their own people. Shocking! In other words, as long as we can convince this wayward new crop of Jews that delivering groceries to a senior centera Jewish senior center!is of more moral importance than preventing the mass-rape of eleven year-old girls, everything is going to be just fine.

Far better than I on these matters is Jewcy's in-house philosophical savant and senior editor, Joey Kurtzman, who has reached out to Mr. Wertheimer for the purposes of conducting a dialogue in Jewcy. It's too important an issue not to talk about, even with those who don't necessarily agree. We're eagerly awaiting for Mr. Wertheimer to find some time in his schedule to make it happen.



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