HomeDecember 2013The Crisis of the Jewish Family

The Crisis of the Jewish Family

Shmuel Tamari was gravely concerned.  As a senior government official in the young State of Israel, he was facing a crisis.  The state economy was shaky, and the country was barely holding on.  A new idea was being considered, limiting the amount of children each family could have.  Clearly, this proposal  would encounter opposition from the Orthodox sector, so he sought out the advice of Rabbi Arey Levine.  Known as the Tzaddik of Jerusalem, he had been the rabbi of the early Zionist pioneers.  He was beloved by both religious and secular Jews in Israel.
Rabbi Levine responded to Tamari’s suggestion with a story:  “Many years ago a couple came to me to ask if they should have an abortion.  Things were rough during the British Mandate, and they did not know how they could support another child.  I told them that every child comes into the world with a unique spiritual mission, something only that soul can accomplish.  G-d has blessed them with a child, a sign from above that their child has a mission to fulfill in this world.”
Tamari asked the rabbi, “What happened?”  He answered, “That is still a question, the couple was your parents and the question is will you fulfill your mission?”  Each person has a unique mission in this world; when a couple brings another child into the world, the parents are partners in this Divine purpose.
The Pew Survey of the Jewish Americans has created a tidal wave of debate and discussion in the Jewish community.  One of the most startling statistics is the lower birth rate and high rates of intermarriage in the non-Orthodox segment of the Jewish community.  Demographer Steven Cohen, who advised the study, told the JTA: “For every 100 Orthodox Jewish 50-year-olds, there are 230 Orthodox 10-year-olds, and for every 100 non-Orthodox 50-year-olds, there are 70 non-Orthodox 10-year-olds.”  Coupled with the present intermarriage rate in the non-Orthodox community of 70 percent, there is a real question of a Jewish future for more secular end of the community.
Orthodox families are having about four children each; non-Orthodox families 1.5.  Why?  It’s a question of values.  In the more secular end of the community, young people have made a career a priority.  They are marrying later and deferring having a family.  They are so focused on making a living that they are not thinking about how to live.  In the Orthodox segment there is a much greater emphasis on the idea of family, and most are marrying earlier and having children.
It’s time for the Jewish community to begin a new conversation to encourage young adults to marry earlier and begin families.  The first commandment in the Torah is to be fruitful and multiply.  What has happened is the values of modern western culture have overwhelmed Jewish ideals, and more and more young people see marriage as something to do once they have finished school and have a good job and career.  A good job provides us with the tools to live a productive life, but it is not the purpose of life.
Jewish educators must stress this idea to children, and rabbis need to discuss this from the pulpit.  Major Jewish organizations need to develop strategies to promote the idea of creating Jewish families as a communal priority.
There can be no greater thing than to live a life with meaning and purpose.  Having a family is a key to this.  There is no greater accomplishment than bringing another human being into this world.

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