Why Be Jewish?
Intermarriage, Assimilation, and Alienation
By Rabbi Meir David Kahane zt"l
HaMeir L'David: Ariel - Israel. (1977)
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 10, 2004
Why Be Jewish? When Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), posed this question in 1977, intermarriage and assimilation were growing problems. Now they have grown into two intertwined epidemics. The reasons behind the phenomenal growth in the rates of intermarriage and the desire of Jews to assimilate into the gentile culture are many. In his book, Why Be Jewish?
Intermarriage, Assimilation, and Alienation, Rabbi Kahane outlines the major reasons behind these figures, the real costs to those who separate themselves from their people, and the steps that can be taken to prevent the Jewish youth of today from 'marrying out' or so alienating themselves from their people that they not only live a non-religious life, but grow to not even consider themselves to be Jewish.
According to Rabbi Kahane, as well as modern statics, the biggest single indicator of whether or not a Jewish youth will 'marry out' is based upon the level of Torah observances practiced in their home while they were growing up. The intermarriage rate of those raised in an orthodox household hovers around 2-3%, while those raised in a 'secular' home have an almost 75% chance of marrying out the faith! Worse, the children of these interfaith unions seldom, if ever, maintain any semblance of a Jewish identity.
In this important book, Rabbi Kahane also delineates how Jewish assimilation into the gentile culture also has a tendency to increase anti-semitic activities, rather than decrease them. He clearly explains why this is the case, He also shows how the desire to try and 'forget' ones Jewish heritage can lead to self-hatred and, worse, the hatred of the Jewish people as a whole. Rabbi Kahane illustrates these points by providing a historical overview of the Jewish experience in America. He shows how political and social pressures where used to coerce Jews to 'blend in' with the dominant culture, and how the Reform movement has repeatedly betrayed the Jewish people by advocating or endorsing practices that are counter to the tenants of Torah Observant Judaism.
Rabbi Kahane's writing is blunt and to the point at times. His writing is also supportive and instructional without being didactic. When fingers need pointing, he freely points them where blame should be laid. Yet, he is also clear in stating that many of the youth that marry out, or try to assimilate into the mainstream culture, do so out of ignorance. They don't have any real reason to 'be Jewish' because for them, being Jewish is just an abstraction for which they have no 'real life' experience to judge it against. Given the chance to experience and understand the gift, and the responsibilities, inherent in being Jewish, many of today's non-affiliated Jews would 'turn back' to Judaism. This fact is clearly illustrated by the thousands of individuals who have become baalei tshuvahs, and started living a Torah Observant life after having attended a Shabbos dinner for the first time, or meeting an inspiring Kiruv (religious outreach) worker.
Why Be Jewish? is an inspiring book. Wether you are religious or not, it will make you question yourself in regard to your own attitudes toward intermarriage and assimilation, and the reasons why so many Jews feel alienated from both their brethren and their religion. This book will make you feel proud to be a Jew and to stand firmly behind the State of Israel. It will motivate you to become more observant in your everyday life. It may also motivate you to move to Israel, for your own sake, for the sake of your children, and for the sake of the Jewish people. For parents, teachers, and other interested parties, this book will help arm you with the information and stratagems necessary to help dissuade anyone who might come to you and say, "...but I love them. What does it matter if they're not Jewish?"
The overriding sentiment of this book is, say "NO!" to the melting pot and be proud to be not only Jewish, but a religious Jew. The Jewish people are unique, and this uniqueness should be nurtured, not diluted. Rabbi Kahane clearly outlines the reasons why so many Jews are asking the question, "Why be Jewish?" and he gives solid, authoritative answers why they should, indeed, 'be Jewish'.
I highly recommend that you also read, Will Your Grandchild be Jews? By Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz. This article delineates current and historical trends in intermarriage, in America, and the long term implications for the continued 'Jewishness' of the children from these unions. They also offer suggestions on how to halt this trend.
Please note: The views expressed in Why Be Jewish? do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the book's reviewer or The Jewish Eye.