Are Jews better off outside Israel? Alan Wolfe reconsiders the Diaspora

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Alan Wolfe author photo by Lee Pellegrini

Alan Wolfe author photo by Lee Pellegrini

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(RNS) In the Diaspora, writes Alan Wolfe, Jewish can embrace universalism -- applying Jewish values to make the world a better place. "Jewish particularism" better describes the defensive, inward posture of Jews in Israel.

  • Jews thriving outside Israel begs the question how much better would they be outside Judaism?

  • Now, why would anyone thing being swallowed up in mall-land is a ‘less authentic’ form of Jewish life?

    Alan Wolfe fancies his social and political viewpoint should be advanced and slaps the appellation ‘Jewish’ on his sectarian opinions. He’s advancing specious nonsense and should be ignored.

    By and large, Jewry will disappear from the occident over the next several generations, consumed by religious indifference, inter-marriage, and regression to the mean. Jewish life will remain only in Israel and in orthodox community for whom Judaism and Jewish family life are animating principle. You got two choices, you academic maroon: Tel Aviv or Kiryas Joel. Deal with it.

  • Jack

    When Wolfe uses the word, “universalism,” he means, at least in part, the political agenda of the hard left.

    But three things go against his vision.

    First, for the Jews, anti-Semitism is rising across the West. In European democracies, the rising tide of Islamism is bringing not only attempts to destroy its Europe’s Christian heritage, but violent acts against Jews. There are entire areas of European cities where Jews who wear yarmulkas are taking their life in their hands.

    And in America, albeit to a much lesser extent, a large percentage of black Americans are anti-Semitic. To be fair, those who are not are disproportionately within the ranks of Christian Zionism. In other words, a very large percentage of black Americans either love or hate the Jews.

    Second, for the first time in 25 centuries, more Jews live in Israel than in any other country, including the US. The statistic that there are 5 million Jews in Israel is flatly incorrect. It is probably closer to 7 million. There will come a time within the next generation when for the first time in 25 centuries, a majority of the world’s Jews will live in Israel.

    And third, both in Israel and the Diaspora, secular liberal “universalist” Jews like Wolfe are reproducing at below-replacement levels, whereas orthodox Jews continue to gain in numbers. For the past few years, the majority of Jewish babies born in America have been Orthodox. This trend is unstoppable and will only accelerate.

    So in terms of both religion and nationhood, the future of the Jews appears to be less secular liberal, universalistic, and Diaspora-centered, and more religious, more particular, and more Israel-centered.

    The hard left is dying out in the Diaspora, while the observant Jews are gaining everywhere and will one day reach critical mass both in the Diaspora and Israel.

    And that will be good for America, good for Israel, and good for the world.

    One other point — As these trends accelerate, it will become increasingly clear to both Jews and Christians that their futures are intertwined. They disagree on their past, and they remain separate in the present, but their holy books look to the same future — when a Messiah will come, reign from Jerusalem, and bring peace to the world. They differ on whether He has come before, but they don’t disagree on His coming in the future and what He will do once He arrives.

  • Prior to 1948 Jews had to live in the Diaspora, they currently at least have a choice.

    However the Diaspora is far wider than the American focus of this article.
    Elsewhere life is not so comfortable for Jews even in Europe. One day life may be so bad elsewhere even in the US, that aliyah is the only option on the table.

  • Art

    @ Jack:
    “…but their holy books look to the same future — when a Messiah will come”
    Jack; you are probably a smart fellow so I don’t want to insult you. Please take some time to compare Messiah of the Bible with what Judaism believes and you will see a stark difference. Jesus is Messiah! Jews do not think so. Cheers.

  • Fran


    Jesus will reign as King from “heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22) since his kingdom or government has been established in the heavens. Jesus referred to it as being heavenly (Matthew 4:17) and also that it is no part of this world (John 18:36).

    And yes, his rule will bring peace to the entire world, and Jesus is referred to as the “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

    Hopefully, Jews will be accepting of his upcoming millennial rule.

  • Michael Glass

    One of the tragedies of Israel is that the state is founded on the dispossession of the prior inhabitants of the land. In that Israel is like North and South America and Australasia, where the original inhabitants were pushed aside by newcomers.

    In other settler societies, there are at least some signs of reconciliation between the groups. However, in Israel, the two groups seem to be drawing further and further apart. I cannot see how this situation can last in the long term.

  • One of the tragedies of Israel is that the state is founded on the dispossession of the prior inhabitants of the land.

    One of the tragedies of these discussions is that their dominated by people trading in mawkish nonsense.

    Prior to 1949, 98% of the Jewish settlement in the Ottoman Vilayets of Syria and Beirut and in the Sanjak of Jerusalem and in successor jurisdictions occurred right around Jerusalem itself, on the coastal plain running from south of Jaffa to around Haifa, or in the valley of Jezreel. The Arab population in these areas was not ‘dispossessed’. It increased during those decades and increased at a rate faster than the adjacent areas. The Jewish communities had self-governing organs but did not exercise public authority. Their work was accomplished completely voluntarily. Much of the Arab population departed in 1948 to clear the decks for the coming invasion of Egyptian, Hashemite, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi armies, as well as the Husseini irregulars.

    They lost the war, so tough. You can see what their political posturing has brought them in the intervening 65 years.

    While we’re at it, do Edward Said and Yasir Arafat count as ‘dispossesed prior inhabitants’?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just as with so many other peoples–like the Irish–having a homeland and a diaspora has been a benefit to the Jewish people and the world. It should not be treated as an absolute either-or.
    America is treated as a great place for Jews–but so wasn’t pre-Holocaust Germany.
    Today. as Moslems spread hatred of Jews almost everywhere (especially France and gradually more in America) Israel as a quick place of refuge for Jews may be necessary. Even now apparently very many French Jews are fleeing that country because of Islamic stirred up anti-Semitism.

  • Jack

    Art, let’s walk this through:

    Christians believe that the Messiah has already come in Jesus and will come again to reign in Jerusalem over the whole world.

    Jews believe the Messiah has yet to come but that when he comes, he will reign in Jerusalem over the whole world.

    Ergo, both Christians and Jews believe that the Messiah will come to reign in Jerusalem over the whole world.

    Ergo, both Christians and Jews will accept as Messiah whoever shows up and reigns in Jerusalem over the entire world.

    This is not rocket science.

  • Jack

    Art Deco, you’re being way too factual and logical. Lefties like to deal in emotion alone. It makes them feel warm inside.

  • Jack

    Actually, Fran, the new, heavenly Jerusalem to which you allude does not arrive until after the millennium, if we interpret the account in Revelation plainly and straightforwardly.

  • Karla

    Jack-Amen! People forget that the antichrist and the false prophet
    will come first before the real Jesus to fool people so that’s why we
    need to tell people to get saved and know what the Bible says so
    people don’t get fooled/deceived. Bible says that man shall perish
    because of their lack of knowledge and we see it everywhere with
    people who claim to be Christian yet they haven’t changed and still
    don’t know what the Bible says. Psalm 22:16-18 and Isaiah 53:3-7
    both are very specific about Jesus. While on the earth Jesus said
    the Father was greater because He had to submit to the will of the
    Trinity to fulfill Bible prophecy/didn’t know when His return was but
    now that He/Jesus is back in heaven He now knows when He returns
    and He is only coming for those who are saved/accept Him as their
    Messiah/Lord. 2 Thessalonians talks about how there will be a great
    delusion coming to the world not only for all of the people that denied
    the Truth but also for those who delighted in their wickedness so the
    people who claim to be Christian yet delight in sin/don’t change are
    in for a very rude awakening on judgment day. We all must Repent!

  • Michael Glass

    According to the Wikipedia article on the 1948 Palestinian exodus, more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes. This was based on a report from the Minority Rights Group in 1987. That’s an enormous lot of dispossession. It is also quite understandable that many people should feel concerned about this.

  • No, that’s not, as explained. You start a war, that’s what happens. You clear out so foreign armies can run your Jewish neighbors out of their homes, and you lose. There are 1.6 million Arabs living within the 1949 armistice lines today, and, bar some modest populations of Gulf Arabs living atop natural resource bonanzas, these 1.6 million Gallilean Arabs are the most affluent concentrated population of Arabs in the world and they live in the region’s most congenial political society. You stay in place, take what you can get, and work with your neighbors, you can prosper. This is what the Arabs who’ve been on the UNRWA dole since 1949 have failed to do.

    Co-incident with the departure of Arab populations on the coastal plain &c., hundreds of thousands of Sephardic and Oriental Jews migrated to Israel from the Yemen, from Iraq, from Egypt, and (after some delay) from the Maghreb and Turkey and Iran as well. The Hashemite monarchy also integrated a large mass of refugees. If you’re dedicated to building something, you can. The Arab refugee problem manifested itself concurrent with much larger refugee flows in the immediate post-war period (the expulsion of Germans from the Sudetenland, Silesia, and Prussia; the mass migrations attending the partition of India). In these other places, the populations cut their losses and rebuilt.

  • Larry

    I have to agree here. It is not an either/or situation. America hasn’t always been so friendly to the Jewish people, Israel is not always looked upon as a “Promised Land” either.

    The economic and political situation in Israel hasn’t always been stable or rosy either. There is a sizable population of Israelis that immigration to the US (about half a million people +)

    American Jews have many differences with Israeli Jews religiously and politically. Conservative and Liberal Jewish sects are the majority in the US, in Israel they are largely minor groups. Orthodox and secular Jews are the majority in Israel. The majority of American Jews oppose the settlements in the West Bank (but aren’t sympathetic to the Palestinians).

    Jack points out that orthodox and ultra-orthodox populations are increasing proportionally, but he doesn’t realize such populations are politically useless. In Israel, without coalitions with conservative hawkish secular parties, they have no power on their own. They don’t serve in the IDF, causing a great deal of friction. They aren’t engaged in American politics outside of efforts to isolate themselves from the secular community. Plus ultra-orthodox communities in the US are largely impoverished in nature. To put it bluntly, they are deadweight in a political sense.

    Don’t get me started on the religious claims by Christians for supporting Israel, most of them are backhanded nonsense. It was only a generation or two ago that the fundamentalists/evangelicals were still calling Jews “Christ-killers” and condemning them for rejecting Jesus.

  • Garson Abuita

    My understanding of “Next year in Jerusalem!” is that it is a messianic statement, recognizing a rebuilt Jerusalem as central to that vision. It’s not specifically that we want to hold our seder in Jerusalem or Israel next year. In fact, at the seders I’ve gone to in Jerusalem, we said this same line, fully aware that we were in Jerusalem but not in the messianic age. With regard to the article, I am someone who sees Israel as “the first blooming of our redemption” (as stated in the original Chief Rabbi’s prayer for the State), and someone who believes that a strong Jewish life is possible in the Diaspora. They’re not, as others have also said, mutually exclusive.

  • Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi

    I have to take issue with some of the articles premises.

    1) The Diaspora is safer: “But today most Diaspora Jews live in North America, where they feel safe and free and take pride in their contributions to the societies that have accepted them.” Let us not forget the 1 million plus European Jews. Today, antisemitism has already approached 1933 levels of pre-War Europe. It is no longer safe to be openly Jewish in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and even Italy (not to mention traditionally antisemitic East European nations). Antisemitism is indicated by FBI hate crime statistics in the US to be proportionally and statistically as or more significant than anti-gay crimes. American Jews are 6 to 7 times more likely to be victims of hate crimes in the US than Arab Americans, amazingly despite America having gone to war against multiple Arab countries. One would think Americans would attack Arabs more frequently than Jews, yet it is the opposite! Antisemitsm is a staple in certain areas of the US, especially including US campuses.

    2) The presumption of a non-existant evangelical Judaism: “The other sees the Diaspora as a positive thing, “because a relatively enlightened religion associated with Judaism can be spread to the world as a whole, and not just confined to the Jewish people.” It is not at all clear, both from the declining numbers of Jews in all areas of the Diaspora, that Judaism is “spreading”. Judaism does not proselytize, nor have intermarrieds converted wholesale and the less than 2.1 child/per family has caused a net decrease in Jews outside Israel. Israel in fact is the only place where natural growth of Jews is occuring. That fact alone speaks for the need for “Jewish particularism”. If one works to preserve the existence of dolphins and whales, the perseverance of the only Biblical people to survive would seem a greater imperative. Jewish civilization is worth preserving and it does not survive well in the Diaspora. Already, Judaism has been drained of significance in all but the Orthodox or fervently Zionist enclaves in the Diaspora.

    3) Jewish population statistics: “Today, Diaspora Jews, as they are called, account for 8 million of the approximately 13 million Jews worldwide; the remaining 5 million live in Israel.” These numbers are undercut by the fact that the official census in Israel is 6 million plus Jews and growing (also see point 2 above). The so called 8 million Jews in the Diaspora is perenially challenged by definition of who is a Jew. Halachic Jews (according to Jewish Law) number no more than 5 million in the US and many who claim to be Jewish by intermarriage have not gone through even a watered down conversion. The US Jewish population has shown declines from 1990 (5.6 million) and 2000 (5.2 million) and not so oddly the largely assimilated Jewish organizations refused to fund the census in 2010, probably because they could not handle the expected bad news (4.8 million?) and the intra-Jewish issues of Jewish self-definition.

    In my observant community, most of us already have friends and relatives living permanently in Israel, many of us plan to retire to Israel and our children spend 1 to 2 years learning in Israel. Israel is becoming the place to find spouses based on European Jewish population demographics and the US will soon follow. As US intermarriage, low birthrates and other antisemitic pressures grow in the Diaspora, Israel will continue to thrive and grow.

    4) The Pew study on Jewish life, the ADL study on Worldwide antisemitism and other studies all confirm the obvious. Yes, Jewish life can be vibrant in democracies (you will note that most of the Jewish Diaspora lives in democracies) – the question then is – why are they in decline? Other than Orthodox communities, which make huge social and financial investments in Jewish education – where else are Jewish numbers growing? Answer: nowhere (except Israel). Israel speaks to the peoplehood and nationhood of the Jewish people, a biblical concept, as well as the natural, tribal and ethnic expression of an historical people. Judaism, seen merely as a religion, only speaks to the “faith”, based on this articles’ premise and on the presumptions of the Gentile Enlightenment (300 years ago). The wedding of peoplehood, nationhood and faith in Israel far outweighs the results of Diaspora living: Israel has grown from 605 thousand to 6 million plus in 66 years – while in a constant state of warfare forced on it. The US Jewish population has grown from 4 to 5 million people in the same period. European Jews are now generally declining, where the last Jewish generations in Scotland, Sweden, Norway are already predicted and assured. Anyone who has looked at the data can see that.

  • Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi

    Of course, there is the original messiah concept, often explained in modern terms by Rambam. You can Google Rambam and Messiah and find the quotes. The end of days scenario is not pleasant. There will be a war, everyone including Israel is affected, but Israel and the true Jewish messiah emerges – based on the original understandings of the Hebrew prophets faithfully communciated by the rabbis down to today. That is the messiah, who meets the predictions based on a Hebrew understanding of those biblical sources, we Jews await and will accept. The rabbis long ago ruled Jesus out on historical, theological, moral and family reasons. That question was already decided.

  • Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi

    Please learn from Maimonides. The Jews will follow the messiah that liberates them from Gentile oppression (Christians and Moslems).

  • Aharon Michael ben Chuna HaLevi

    Original inhabitants? Most of the Palestinians cannot trace their lineage back 3 generations in Israel. Yasser Arafat’s parents were Egyptian if you recall. The Jews outnumbered Arabs in Jersualem from at least 1837 onward according to British sources. The Arabs came because the Jews returned (yes, we have the DNA and demographic blood studies to prove origins from Israel) to Israel and created an economy (Arab sources even admit this). And lastly, not one Arabic coin has been unearthed from 2,000 years ago – and “mysteriously” every artifact dug up had Hebrew on it or reflected Jewish life.

  • Michael Glass

    Art Deco,

    Your explanation sounds like “blame the victim.” So when people flee their homes you claim it’s to make way for armies to attack the Israelis. It ignores the fact that there were massacres of Arabs, the most notorious of which was the Deir Yassin massacre. Conflict between groups of people lead to very nasty things happening, and plenty of those nasty things happened to Palestinian Arabs.

  • Jack

    Aharon, whoever shows up at the appropriate time — ie to rout Israel’s enemies before they destroy her and then reigns over the world from Jerusalem — will be the real Messiah.

    Aharon, somehow I suspect that if it turns out to be Jesus, you won’t turn him back.

    And as for what the rabbis have said, they’re just human, like the rest of us. They are not infallible. They wrote lots of wise things, but the majority of rabbis were absolutely wrong when they taught that Jews could not return to their land and set up a Jewish state there until the Messiah came and personally brought them back. Not only was that teaching biblically in error — it put Orthodoxy largely on a collision course with Zionism in its formative years and decades. It also meant that some younger orthodox Jews would have been safe in the Land rather than perishing during the Holocaust in Poland had their rabbis not opposed the Zionist enterprise and thus given their blessing for them to return to the Land. Thank goodness that some of them like Menachem Begin returned anyway….but more would have done so had they not been discouraged by rabbinical opposition.

    The irony today is that the Orthodox are among the strongest Zionists, while secular Jewry, which once was the backbone of early Zionism, is now drifting away from it in increasing numbers.

  • Jack

    Aharon, whoever is the Messiah will certainly liberate the Jews “from Gentile oppression.” There’s nothing in my post that suggests otherwise.

    But the Messiah will do far more than that. He will rule as king of the Jewish people from Jerusalem over “the Gentiles”, justly and wisely, but in a no-nonsense way (Psalm 2:9) when necessary. And prior to that, he will defeat the armies of the world who will come against Israel.

    Meanwhile, lift up your head and look around you….and see that, at least here in America, Christians are looking for the Messiah to do exactly the same thing when he arrives.

    The only difference is that Christians believe he’s been to earth previously, while Jews believe he has not. What devout people on both sides share is, again, a common set of beliefs about what he will do once he comes in the future.

  • Jack

    Michael, you’re failing to answer an obvious question: If the Jews were really seeking to drive the Arabs out in the prelude to the 1948 declaration of their state, why did so many Arabs — hundreds of thousands — stay? If it was the official policy of the Yishuv to drive out the Arabs, they did a pretty poor job of it, given how many remained after the war.

    This simple fact supports the view that most of the Arabs who left did so not for fear of the Jews, but in the hope that the Arab armies would conquer the Jews and drive them out or into the Mediterranean.

  • Jack

    Good points, Aharon, but you may even be understating the case regarding Jerusalem. It may well be the case that apart from a short span after the failed Bar Kochba rebellion in 135, when they were barred from Jerusalem by Hadrian, Jews have comprised a majority of Jerusalem’s inhabitants for the better part of three millennia.

  • Jack

    Larry, you’re making a mistake in lumping together in Israel the orthodox generally with the ultra-Orthodox or haredim specifically. You are correct that the ultra-Orthodox do not serve in the military, and many of them don’t even work, but study all day while their wives or other relatives go out and work. Many of them are not even Zionists.

    The mainstream or modern Orthodox are precisely the opposite. They are just as much a part of the mainstream of daily life of Israel as their secularistic brethren. They serve in the IDF in a very big way, they have secular jobs, professions, and businesses, and they are unabashedly Zionist, believing in the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

    There is a similar divide here in America between ultra-Orthodox and modern Orthodox. But what’s interesting is that, according to friends of mine who live near an ultra-Orthodox community, the sons and daughters of the ultra-Orthodox are moving toward modern Orthodoxy. They are dressing accordingly, and are increasingly choosing professions like law and medicine. Far from being “dead-weight”, they appear to be where demographics are heading….definitely toward Orthodoxy and quite possibly toward modern Orthodoxy rather than ultra-Orthodoxy.

    As far as American Christians supporting Israel, it’s hardly a new story. David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has written an interesting little book on the history. What is more interesting is the fact that Brog is in no way a Christian. He does not believe in Jesus in any way, but is in fact Jewish, and was formerly chief of staff for the late Arlen Spector, a moderate-to-liberal Jewish senator and a Republican for most of his career. But like many other Jews who care deeply about the future of Israel, Brog has a deep and abiding respect for the sincerity and depth of Christian support for Israel. I suspect that’s why he agreed to be executive director when CUFI was formed.

  • Asim

    Curious, where did black antisemitism come from. It’s not real and more a construct by white liberal supremacists to justify u their kinds.

  • Susan

    It’s much easier to say that when Israel exists. I can live in the diaspora, because Israel exists. I think we need both. The Deacon is right. You never know what can happen even in America. We know what is happening in Europe right now. Jews that are visibly marked as Jews are being attacked. Synagogue need guards and bars on their windows.

    Although, I do have to say that as a Jew that is not secular or Orthodox, my choices are much more limited in Israel than they are in America. That is partially the result of the political power of the Ultra-Orthodox, but it is also the lack of interest of the completely secular.

  • Jack

    As I said, Asim, both black anti-Semitism and black philo-Semitism are powerful and real. In other words, black American has very strong feelings either for or against the Jews and their state, depending on the person and which influences are decisive in their life.

    Blacks who have been touched by radical influences coming from two sources — the Nation of Islam and Marxism, both of which have been America’s oldest black communities for nearly a century — tend to have high animosity for the Jews and Israel.

    Blacks who are most influenced by Bible-believing churches who take the Bible as written tend to be just as strongly for the Jews and Israel.

  • Jack

    Wow….My post above is littered with typos…sorry.

    My point is that a large percentage of black Americans have very strong feelings for or against the Jews and Israel…..and it mostly depends in which longtime influences are more decisive — the radicalizing influences of the Nation of Islam and Marxism (both of which have been in established black communities for nearly a century) and the influences of Bible-believing churches, which have been there even longer.