How Not to Save a Sinking Ship
by Rabbi Aron Moss
A recent study on Jewish continuity divided the community into three categories. The inner core are those who are fully Orthodox and observant of Torah. They are not at risk. The outer layer are the Jews who are not engaged at all in Judaism, on the edge and most at risk of assimilation. Then there is a large middle layer, comprising those who are somewhat traditional, have a Jewish identity but are not religious. The study went on to say that communal funds and effort should be focused solely on the middle group. The religious core are fine, they are mostly marrying within the community and having Jewish children. The outer layer are too far gone and too hard to bring back. It is the middle who are at risk of drifting away but still within reach. Do you agree that our money and effort should focus on them alone?
This analysis makes business sense. But Judaism is not a business, and Jews are not mere potential customers. When it comes to questions of identity, the Jewish people is not governed by the rules of the market, but by rules of the soul. The study above, by dividing the community into categories, ignores the most important of those rules: All Jewish souls are intertwined.
The fate of one single Jewish soul impacts the fate of the entire nation. To think we can help one part of the people and ignore the rest is ludicrous. It's like the captain of a sinking ocean liner announcing, "The upper decks are safe, so the people by the rooftop pool can stay there. The lower decks are gone already, so we are sorry about you. Let's just see what we can salvage in the middle."
That captain didn't get that we are all in one boat. Here is a leader that did:
A great rabbi of pre-war Europe observed that one of his best students was being lax in his Torah studies. So he told him, "You know, because of you there is a Jew in America who is dropping out of Judaism." The rabbi explained to his surprised student, "All Jewish souls are connected. Your actions do not just impact you, they have a ripple effect that touches others too. When you, a Torah scholar, do not concentrate on your studies, it causes another Jew, less of a scholar, to not feel like coming to shul to pray. And that causes yet another Jew, slightly further away, to stop eating kosher, which leads another Jew to lose his faith in G-d, which leads to yet another Jew losing his identity altogether. All because you were slack in your Torah studies!"
The same applies in reverse. When a soul on the edge of the community, disconnected and disillusioned, is inspired to turn around and rediscover their Jewishness, this generates waves of spiritual energy that are felt throughout the Jewish world. Even the most committed Jew needs inspiration, and nothing inspires more than seeing a turned-off soul reignite.
We have to become one people again. Let the divisions between religious and secular fall away. Let those who are connected share their enthusiasm with those who are yet to feel that connection. And let those who question the relevance of Judaism to their lives ask those questions openly and consider the answers with equal openness.
Rather than dividing our community into isolated groups, let's mingle as one big complicated family. We all will benefit, because we are all in the same boat.