Worry Instead About Jews Not Doing Teshuvah

If non-Jewish Americans want to start practicing some form of teshuvah, I see little downside. After all, any time Jewish cultural elements enter into the mainstream, it signals affirmation for Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture. And Jews like that — they feel appreciated and admired. Jewish foods, jokes, words, perspectives, and even some ritual practices have been adopted, translated, and transformed by larger societies and cultures for centuries. So why worry now?

However you do touch upon a valid and critical concern: the maintenance of some clear and observable boundaries and distinctions between Jews and others. Jews have survived for centuries amidst other societies and cultures by negotiating between integration and segregation, similarity and difference. Unfortunately, in the last several decades, Jews in America have so thoroughly integrated that millions of erstwhile Jews no longer identify as such.

We have 7.2 million adults in America who had a Jewish parent, or two. Of them, 2.2 million do not think of themselves as Jewish. Now, most of them (1.7 million) had only one Jewish parent. Still, over 500,000 who had two Jewish parents say they do not identify as Jews.

So you are right to be concerned about the melting of boundaries, the end of distinctions, and what we may call the excesses of integration. But these problems will not really be exacerbated if some non-Jews practice teshuvah. They’ll be ameliorated when millions of erstwhile Jews do teshuvah!

Steven M. Cohen is Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR, and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner.

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Worry Instead About Jews Not Doing Teshuvah

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