Daniel Pipes wrote an interesting column in which he discusses the future of Judaism. His opening paragraph reminded me of the “pitch” that many of my BT and FFB friends have made to me.
“Until the 18th century, there was basically only one kind of Judaism, that which is now called Orthodox. It meant living by the religion’s 613 laws, and doing so suffused Jews’ lives with their faith. Then, starting with the thinker Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) and moving briskly during the Haskala, or “enlightenment,” from the late 18th century, Jews developed a wide variety of alternate interpretations of their religion, most of which diminished the role of faith in their lives and led to a concomitant reduction in Jewish affiliation.”
The underlying suggestion is that we were always one people and it wasn’t until somewhat recent times that things really changed. But that is at best questionable and not entirely accurate. There have always been divisions and groups within Judaism that debated how we observe things.
Pipes goes on to discuss how there has been a resurgence in the number of Orthodox Jews and how due to things like assimilation the percentage of Orthodox Jews relative to others is growing.
“Should this trend continue, it is conceivable that the ratio will return to roughly where it was two centuries ago, with the Orthodox again constituting the great majority of Jews. Were that to happen, the non-Orthodox phenomenon could seem in retrospect merely an episode, an interesting, eventful, consequential, and yet doomed search for alternatives, suggesting that living by the law may be essential for maintaining a Jewish identity over the long term.”
I am not convinced that this is real likely. I don’t have any scientific data to provide or scholarly works, just the tried and true “Jack’s Gut intuition” which says that Orthodoxy is attractive to more people during times of unrest and less so during more stable times. Right now things are kind of hairy, in a few years that may change.
I recognize that this does not deal with assimilation, but it is fair to say that there are efforts being made within the various denominations to combat this. In the end not everyone wants to be give up their Saturday ball game and or cheeseburgers.
It is however an interesting thought to ponder.