Saturday, February 19, 2011

Intermarriage, Divorce, and the "Great Jewish-American Wealth Transfer"

The deluge of divorce and intermarriage sweeping across the Jewish-American landscape has and will continue to impact the Jewish-American community in unforeseen ways.

No, I am not referring solely to the loss of half of our children to marriages where Jewish values, culture, and history are not passed on. Nor do I refer merely to the drop in numbers of Jewish children born due to the accelerating epidemic of single life propagated by the likes of Huffingtonpost.com. Instead I am referring to the transfer of wealth from the hands of hard working and entrepreneurial Americans who identify themselves as Jews, to the hands of others who do not.

The real consequences of this trend are already being felt. In a recent survey of the most philanthropic in America, Jews, unsurprisingly, held five of the top six spots, and there were 19 Jews amongst the top 53
(http://www.jewishjournal.org/story/news_features/survey_finds_jews_are_top_givers_in_the_u.s/). Yet most of their charity was directed at non-Jewish causes. This is, in itself, not a bad thing. After all, Jews have always contributed to larger society and such contributions are considered central to Torah-true living. On the other hand, the upkeep of Jewish institutions is a prerequisite to maintaining Jewish tradition and heritage. Day schools, hospitals, museums, houses of prayer, political action , kosher food, mikvahs (ritual baths), soup kitchens, medical assistance etc. are all expensive enterprises that have historically been considered the collective responsibility of every Jew, each according to their means (Jews are required to give 10 percent of their earning to charity, on top of taxes).

There is a long standing Jewish tradition of philanthropy. The 19th and early 20th century Rothschilds have been replaced by the 21st century Lev Levaivs. The biblical tabernacle built in the dessert, the two temples of Jerusalem, and almost every single past and present Jewish institution was funded by Jews who stepped up to the plate and continued the historic use of Jewish wealth to benefit the global Jewish community.

Until now.

For the first time since the era of Ezra and Nechemya (the end of Babylonian/Persian exile) assimilation and divorce has become the norm in the Jewish diaspora. This new norm has in-turn impacted the entire Jewish community in unforeseen ways.

Jews are disproportionally wealthy and, in most cases, happily shoulder the burden of corollary taxation. However, public schools, fast food, and churches do not assist the Jewish community in passing on 3000 year old traditions. Many Jews pay for public schools but send their children to private schools; Jews don’t eat cheap fast food, but pay close to double for (often equally unhealthy) kosher food. Jews close their businesses on the busiest consumer day of the week. Despite all the above challenges the Jewish community has committed itself -for over 2000 years with little complaint and out of love and devotion- to propagating Jewish tradition.

Every intermarriage that ends in divorce or results in offspring who eschew Jewish tradition engenders an unquantifiable, and often undesired, transfer of wealth from Jewish hands. The ramifications are felt across the nation and globe, and have been further compounded by the general economic malaise. Many Jews turned their back on their secular coreligionists, but that was wrong both from a humanitarian perspective and from a Jewish-legal viewpoint (Rabbi Hillel said “love your neighbor like yourself, this is the great law of the Torah”), and now the tangible economic implications are clear. Jews continue to be leading philanthropists, but many Jews are unable to educate and pass on their traditions. Many Jews eat only Kosher, so they don’t buy meat which they can’t afford. Many houses of prayer and study-halls (Beit Knesset, Beit medrash) want to provide a relaxing and comfortable milieu for prayer and study but they close their doors do to the lack of funds.

Where is all that famous Jewish wealth? Just look at the wonderful New York Philharmonic and billion dollar endowments of Harvard and Yale.

Yes this is a free and integrated country, yes all have a fundamental right to choose their own destiny, and yes Jews are not required by secular law to provide for their brothers and sisters. But the Jewish community should at least be made aware of the implications of the continued failure to educate and pass on our millennia old tradition to the next generation. Our failure translates into the continued transfer of Jewish wealth into the hands of others -from Jewish synagogues and schools to libraries and universities. This is not just about losing a generation of "other" Jewish children, this is about our own children!

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