Impatient with the Israeli government's refusal to honor a commitment to create a state-funded pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall, non-Orthodox Jews have held prayer demonstrations at the traditional Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Nir Barkin

What will be news for the Jews in 2019?

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Jewish sages said: “Ever since the destruction of the Temple, prophecy has been taken from the wise and given to children and fools.”

Since I am neither a child nor a fool (OK, perhaps a fool), I know that prophecy and prediction is a very dicey game.

Nevertheless, I expect that these trends in the Jewish world will continue in 2019.

First: Jews and American politics. Many American Jews see elements of the Democratic Party moving further to the left on Israel. They are moving from criticizing Israeli policies, to flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, to outright demonization of Israel itself.

Many American Jews also see elements of the Republican Party that are moving further to the right on the domestic policy — wandering into nativist, anti-immigrant and, frankly, anti-Semitic territory. Oddly, ironically and tellingly, some of those Republicans are still fervently pro-Israel. They see in the Netanyahu government a mirror of their own xenophobic, authoritarian and hyper-nationalist tendencies.

Therefore, the two major political parties are toying with issues and values that American Jews venerate: the state of Israel and liberalism. Can those two values continue to coexist? Must American Jews choose between their love of Israel and their commitment to liberalism?

Those on the center-left are increasingly saying: no, those two allegiances can no longer coexist. Israel has failed, in their minds, to live up to the liberal standards that have nourished American Jewry. Therefore, it is time for a parting of the ways.

But most American Jews will not find that convincing. They will want to continue to hold onto both values. And they should.

Prediction: American Jews will increasingly find themselves to be politically homeless. I predict that most American Jews will continue their historic allegiance to the Democratic Party. They will say that Israel is strong, that she can take care of herself — and that our first priorities will be the healing of the American soul.

Second: gender issues in the Jewish community. Recently, the Central Conference of American Rabbis appointed Rabbi Hara Person to become its first female chief executive. This follows on the heels of Erika Rudin-Luria becoming the new president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Increasingly, women are ascending to the pulpits of large non-Orthodox pulpits. The presidents of two institutions of higher Jewish learning -- Reconstructing Judaism/Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Hebrew College -- are women.

Prediction: Women will increasingly get more top jobs in the Jewish world. Jewish women will increase their activism in the Jewish world, with the help of their allies. Nothing will happen regarding the Western Wall (sigh).

Third: the growth of anti-semitism. In Europe,  the growth of anti-semitism is deeply disturbing.

Prediction: European Jewish leaders will call for increased aliyah to Israel. More European Jews will wind up at Ben Gurion Airport. Others will come to the United States and Canada.

Fourth: anti-Israel agitation. The Jewish voices that have been critical of Israeli policies have morphed into voices that are critical of Israel itself. For too many, anti-Israel agitation is either hip, or something to be ignored.

Prediction: I fear that there will be increased agitation against Israel on college campuses, and that it will target Hillels, Israel events, and students who choose to go on Birthright. Aggressive speech leads to aggressive actions.

Fifth: conservative rabbis and intermarriage. The Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical body of Conservative Judaism, is slowly easing up on its ban on rabbinical presence at intermarriages.  In October, it gave the green light to Conservative rabbis attending intermarriage ceremonies.

I understand overturning that ban; it's about shalom bayit, a peaceful family life. You would be amazed (or, you wouldn't be amazed) how many rabbis have relatives who marry people who are not Jewish.

Over the last few years, an increasing number of Conservative rabbis have expressed their uneasy feelings about their movement's ban on officiating at wedding ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews. Some have openly defied the ban; a rabbi was discharged from the Rabbinical Assembly for having done so.

Prediction: more Conservative rabbis will come out openly in favor of officiating at intermarriage ceremonies. More will actually do so. This will produce increasingly heated conversations within the Conservative movement. Nevertheless, I predict that the ban on officiation will continue.

That is what I see on the Jewish horizon for 2019.

And as I like to say, I could be wrong. May it be a good, healthy, and martini-driven year for all!






  1. In 2019, the New Torah for Modern Minds will gather more followers. Summarizing:

    New York Times origin: NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true ”is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis,” observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ”Etz Hayim.” But some congregants, he said, ”may not like the stark airing of it.” Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that ”virtually every modern archaeologist” agrees ”that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.” The rabbi offered what he called a ”LITANY OF DISILLUSION”’ about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have ”found no trace of the tribes of Israel — not one shard of pottery.”

  2. The conscientious and informed people the world over is appalled by the unequal conflict between the sophisticated fire-power of Israel and defenceless Palestinians. What is more appalling is the disproportionate response from the Israel army. The killing and incarceration of Palestinian civilians, women, children and the settlers unrestrained grab for more occupied land does not bode well for Peace in that troubled land. Perhaps the Jews in America could lobby against the status quo and influence for a more restrain outcome.

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