Jewish Survival - The Fact and its Implications


1. Universal interest in trying to explain Jewish survival. Need to address the historical facts of survival.

2. The ancient period: from King David until the fall of the second Temple   

a. political independence (except for Babylonian conquest - <100 yrs)

b. absolutely unique ideology (differing where all others agree): monotheism, no physical representation of G-d, moral perfection (of G-d), G-d's absolute power, anti-homosexuality

c. cultural experiments - polytheism, Hellenists, Sadduces

d. no outstanding secular success             

3. From the fall of the second Temple until the present

a. scattered minorities among a variety of successful majority cultures -> expect disintegration through assimilation and/or differentiation

b. compare Christianity during same period: loss of basic information despite ideal conditions for preservation; Judaism preserved information despite worst possible conditions for preservation (variety of Jewish practice does not question the information from 2000 years ago)

            c. cultural experiments - Karaites, Morrannos

4. Theories suggested to explain survival - confronting the evidence

a. anti-semitism (e.g. Sartre): does not explain the ancient period, why the hundreds of communities persecuted by Christianity and Islam disappeared, why traditional Judaism is flourishing in contemporary U.S.

b. natural talent for survival (genes or genius): does not explain the failed cultural experiments

c. practices and values naturally promote survival (e.g. kashrus, scholarship):

1.     no evidence that the cited practices and values promote survival (e.g. kashrus may be embarrassing to immigrant population and may be the first practice to be lost, and then lead to other losses; scholarship may lead to non-Jewish academia)

2.     does not explain origin of such practices and values - why other cultures not invent or copy them [genius must be recognized as such - as solving recognized problems in as intelligible way - otherwise it will not affect its contemporaries]

d. combination of a-c: there is no evidence that a-c contribute at all to survival (and considerable evidence against) - 3x0 = 0!

5. There is no reasonable naturalistic explanation of Jewish survival (at present); the evidence therefore points to Providence as the agent of survival.)

6. Jewish Continuity must determine what shall be continued - the eternal in Jewish history is a particular cultural form which has proven its resistance to the corrosive forces of history - that cultural form is the foundation of all Jewish survival. 


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