Has assimilation been bad for Judaism? Samuel Heilman made it clear that materialistic gain has led to the fall of Jewish culture. Have Jews turned their religious lives solely to conform to the Catholic American society? Heilman gives the argument that since Jews have moved up the socio-economic ladder, they actually lost focus on what it means to be a Jew. One must first answer the question of what is being Jewish? Is it simply something inherited? Does it mean living ones life solely regarding what the Torah tells one to do? Is the answer much more complicated than following rules, which were built for a time that was completely different? The Jewish religion has lasted thousands of years, which were filled with intolerance and murder, why is Samuel Heilman blaming the free Jews of today for being different than their predecessors? One must look at events, which Jews have had to endure, to fully comprehend the nature of why they have changed so vastly. Jews came to the United States to escape persecution and gain economic security, why are their grandchildren complaining of the state of Judaism, 100 years later? Since the beginning of time Jews have endured anti-Semitic regimes, which killed Jews merely for being Jewish. A clear illustration would be the past 150 years, which later involved a mass migration of Jewish people, to the United States. Jews began Gergely 2 leaving Europe because laws did not allow them to have common freedoms, which we take for granted presently.
Jews subsequently came to the United to escape persecution. Jews came from countries as different as Russia and Germany with two common bonds. Religion and having endured some form of persecution. Experiencing the pains of persecution, prepared Jews for any possible experience awaiting them in the United States. Most Jews arrived in Ellis Island without a penny in their pocket. Jews settled in a part of New York that was called The Lower East Side.
Jews chose the Lower East Side, because it was the only place one could arrive and not have to immediately assimilate into American society. These Jews began their economic endeavors with the only profession they knew, commerce. Trade was their main form of economic gain, the only profession that was allowed in Europe. In America, Jews had to follow the American govt., instead of the Kahilla.
Not being singled out meant that Jews had to pursue the American dream the same as Protestants, Catholics, and all other religions. To survive Jews needed to lose various parts of their religious rituals. Jews could not stop fulfilling economic duties simply because of religion. Jews were now competing with other immigrants who had arrived before them.
They had to learn customs quickly so they wouldn’t be isolated in a society, which does not identify itself with a religious preference.The only way to survive was to bend rules of Judaism. The Lower East Side was a cornucopia of Jews from various parts of the world. In the Lower East Side the Jewish community came together to solve each other’s problems. Apartments were extremely close together, so in little time every member of a Gergely 3 street knew each other’s name. Each street represented a small community in The Lower East Side.Hazardous health conditions caused sickness, and ironically created friendships that were based solely on the purpose of Judaism.
As time passed, Jews began to reminisce of homelands, which were far away. Lives in Europe were filled with torment, but Jews missed the sense of identity that came by living under the Kahilla. In Europe one did not have to worry if he/she was fulfilling a Jewish way of life. The Kahilla ordered one to accomplish Jewish duties. Responsibility was never placed on the individual to choose between economic affluence, and religious purity.
Jews needed to come together and form a sense of identity in The United States.This led to a Jewish renaissance within the United States. Yiddish, which was the common language among Jews, guided Jews to find the arts that they had left behind in their shtetls. If one uses the Samuel Heilman perspective on Judaism, than the era of renaissance, was the height of Judaism in the United States. Heilman explains that at about the time of the 50’s Jews became more affluent, and began to move farther away from the communal life, of the American ghetto. Heilman uses three essential alterations to the Jewish State, to explain why the United States has been bad for Judaism.
Demographics, Intermarriage, and the change in education. Heilman explains that each of these factors is equally important, in regards to the loss of Jewish identity. He also takes into account different periods of evolution that Jews experienced. He begins by describing the fifties as a transitional period were Jews attempted to figure out, whether being Jewish or being American was more important. The sixties and seventies are described, as times where Jews were beginning to move farther apart, from the traditions Gergely 4 of their ancestors. The eighties and nineties are described, as times were Jewish people are fighting to keep the religion intact.
As the 1950’s rolled around, Jews began to become more affluent. The American dream had been forfiled, and many chose to leave the ghettos that they had known all of their lives. These Jews were children of immigrants, and wanted to move away from their parents. “The movement to the suburbs consists largely of families in the most fertile of age groups (Heilman, 9).” Young Jews did not have the same perception of the ghetto that their parents had. Their parents cherished a lifestyle, which preserved some culture of the old country.
Fear of not being identified, as a community was a large reason why Jews moved into ghettos. Young Jews wanted to be known as Americans, and the only fear they had was one of anti-Semitism. “Jews or any other ethnic or religious group wanted to live together, forming their own community. Young Jews feared segregation, in contrast to their parents, who in many cases sought it (Heilman, 19).” Jews were moving to suburbs and attributes, which the old country had given them, were being lost.
“Replanting themselves in a suburban environment seemed to call for homogenization differences led them to diminish communal and tribal ties while emphasizing continuing mobility and the individual pursuit of happiness above all else, it encouraged a life-style that denied the importance of anything that happened before the move to the suburbs (Heilman, 19).” Jews did not simply move away from the ghettos to move away from their parents. Jews ultimately chose to move to the suburbs because they could not stand the crime and health hazards, which were so prevalent in the ghettos. Gergely 5 Did the movement out of the ghettos mean Jews were losing a part of their culture? This epoch of Jewish life, according to Heilman, was the beginning of the end for Judaism. Heilman describes the time period as misleading, because after moving to the suburbs Jews began to build synagogues in America.
This can deceive many because Jews were merely following mainstream society. “In 1954, Gallup reported that 79 percent of American adults were members of the church (Heilman, 28).” Heilman argues that Jews were now trying to become better Americans, rather than becoming better Jews. These new temples were not like the old ones according to Heilman. They represented economic prosperity instead of religious affiliation. The 50’s were not the beginning of the end! Jews were not losing a part of their culture, because they began to move out of the ghettos! Moving to the suburbs was done out of necessity rather than comfort. Crime and death were the first factors for migration out of the ghettos.
“The apartments in the buildings were packed with relatives and children, many of them fugitives from unpaid rent (Howe, 2).” To survive Jews had to leave the death traps. One cannot blame Jews for trying to move away from their poverty stricken past, and move into communities that were not solely comprised of Jews. When Jews lived in the ghettos it was very easy to identify them. Young Jews feared identification, because of the alarming emergence in anti-Semitism that was happening in the United States.Henry Ford, a presidential favorite at that time, announced how dangerous he thought Jews were by releasing the publication of the International Jew. By the end of 1925 the Dearborn Independent, Fords anti-Semitic publication, reached a distribution of 700,00(Sachar, 316).
Heilman does not stress this as an important factor Gergely 6 of Jewish assimilation. Jews of this time felt it was important to prove to Americans, they were not the source of any problems. Jews adapted, they did not conform to live in the United States. Jews would have to find a way to express their religion in other forms that did not base itself solely on community. Jews watched their families being murdered in the Holocaust, and they wanted to make sure nothing of the sort would happen in the United States.
When Jews finally accomplished being able to move into communities, they had achieved the dream they had set out to do, when they left the oppressive regimes in Europe. Leaving the ghettos was a sign Jews had overcome struggles that had plagued the lives of their ancestors. As Jews moved out of the ghettos they continued the practice of Judaism by building synagogues in their communities. This is a sign of religious affirmation rather than conformity. Since Jews came the United States it was evident that their Jewish education would be different than those of the old country.
In America their was no czar to bar one from receiving the govt. education (Sachar, 189).This led to the decline of Jewish formal education. “A survey taken in 1908 indicated that only 23 percent of New York’s 170,000 school-age Jewish children were receiving any form of Jewish education whatsoever (Sachar, 189).” Jews in America would have to receive their Jewish education through supplemental schooling. Yeshivas were created by European Jewry because they believed that America was the last possibility to instill Jewish culture in youngsters (Revel, 504). Jews never concentrated on the supplemental schooling, which was given to them.
They mostly took advantage of the American education that was provided to them. After the 1950’s Jewish education almost disappeared. “In 1946, Gergely 7 62.7% of students enrolled in supplementary schools attended five days per week; in 1958, 66% of the students attended three days and only 6% attended five days. By the 1970’s there were almost no five-day-a-week supplementary schools left (Heilman, 77).” Presently Jewish education is done in four major categories: 1) supplementary, afternoon, Hebrew school; 2) independent all day school; 3) yeshiva; and 4) University based studies (Heilman, 32) Have the Jews of today forgotten their history due to a lack of proper education? Heilman believes this is absolutely true. He believes this can also be attributed to Jews attempting to make Americans forget the status of immigrant, which had previously been placed upon Jews.
A step Jews took to relieve this status was to concentrate their studies on American education. “Jews saw a college education as a way to escape the poverty and second class citizenship which their immigrant status and identity had imposed on them (Heilman, 39).” Heilman believes that even though formal Jewish education is growing in America, it does not compare to the education that was given to them in the ghetto. Jews who presently receive religious schooling do not spend enough time on them to come away with any significant knowledge. “More and more for this type of Jew, Hebrew school, became mainly remembered as the place where Hebrew wasn’t learned (Heilman, 78).” Heilman thinks Jews have moved away from studying the wisdom of the Torah, which the Yeshivas of the past taught so well.
“Now they were thinking about other wisdom in the secular and open atmosphere of the liberal arts university (Heilman, 83).” Gergely 8 I disagree once again with Heilman’s belief that Jewish education in the United States, has led to a decline of Jewish awareness. He believes that due to the decline of Jewish five-day-per-week, Jews have forgotten much of their history. Heilman’s perception is based on blaming statistics that are deceiving. As Jews have begun prospering in the United States they have chosen to reacquaint themselves with Jewish education.
In 1908 only 23% percent of Jews received formal education (Sachar, 189). By the end of sixties 80% of Jewish males, and 70% of females had received some sort of Jewish education. Only recently have Jewish Studies programs been part of college education. The bottom line is that more Jews are presently getting some sort of Jewish affiliated education, than in the past. Jewish education can never be solely based on beliefs of the past. If present Jewish beliefs are not incorporated into Jewish education, than the Jewish people will never evolve.
Jewish education must revolve around the present society were Jews are living, or else Jews will once again find themselves ostracized. One can never complain whether a child is learning Hebrew or not. Hebrew is the language of Israeli Jews, English is the language of American Jews. Heilman blames the progressive nature of Jews, but he fails to mention that 90% of Jewish Day schools today are Orthodox, even though only 25% of their students contain to this section (Sachar, 853). Heilman never takes into account how Jews, who are not in America, are teaching kids about Judaism.
As a fortunate individual I have been able to visit various countries were family members of mine are receiving a Jewish education. The perception of these acquaintances is a Jewish education will teach one about the history of the Jewish culture, but it fails in regard to teaching individuals how a Jew can Gergely 9 live his/her life outside of education. We are privileged to live in country, which allows an individual to choose their occupation. One must never forget the Jews of the old country never had the freedom to choose their profession, and that is why they opted to leave.
Jewish intermarriage has changed from epoch to epoch. “Sephardic Jews did intermarry frequently, the post-1820 Jewish immigrants did not (Diner, 130). In the past forty years, Jews have begun to marry outside their religion once again. ” 9 percent of those married before 1965 married Gentiles, that number grew to 25 percent by 1974, and 44 percent by 1984.
Since 1985, 52 percent of those Jews marrying have married Gentiles the first time in American history when more Jews are marrying Gentiles than Jews (Heilman, 130)” The increase of inter-marriage has ultimately led to the decline of the Jewish population in the United States. Has inter-marriage led to the decline of Jewish culture? Heilman believes that inter-marriage is one of the most significant factors in what he calls the squandering of Jewish identity. “All this out-marriage signifies not only a Jewish demographic erosion but also a cultural drift toward the rest of America. That is, not only do high rates of out marriage threaten directly demographic survival of small minority populations, but they also symbolize, as perhaps no other indicator, the conflict between universalism and particularism (Heilman, 131).” As a result of intermarriage, according to Heilman, Jews have interwoven elements of other religions into Jewish life.Heilman deems that this will only result in more inter-marriage in the future.The cycle will continue until Jewish identity vanishes. “While maintaining linkage may make the trauma of Gergely 10 intermarriage bearable by Jewish families and individuals, it may, in the long run, prove to be devastating for the cultural integrity of the Jewish people (Heilman, 134-135).” When two people of different cultures come together and live in happiness, it is a beautiful thing.
One can never consider saying that one must look at a life time partner, simply based on religion. With that being said, the decline of intermarriage can be attributable to a Jewish identity, which has emerged recently. Jews do not want to marry a person who is ignorant, to the fact, cultures other than their own exists. “I don’t want to marry someone who is too Jewish (Prell, 177).” Jews marrying outside of their religion will not result in the loss of Jewish identity. Intermarriage will spread Judaism to cultures, which have never experienced it before. Jewish intermarriage is a prime example of why, Jews who left Russia, made the correct decision in choosing the United States.
They wanted a country where they would be free of religious oppression, and they could make decisions based on intuition rather than force. In 1953, 43% claimed they would be unhappy if their child married a non-Jew. By the end of the 1980’s 79% claimed they would support intermarriage (Heilman, 132). Segregation between Jews and other citizens of the United States has been eliminated.
Love between these two factions is due to religious tolerance, which can only be found in the United States. America has been good to Jews, and it has helped evolve Judaism to match present day concerns. Judaism is not the same as 100 years ago. 100 years ago Jews were stuck in the ghetto and were unable to practice services, which were so prevalent to their culture. Now that Jews have fulfilled the American dream they have the freedom to choose the ceremonies they practice. Judaism has always based itself on justice and Gergely 11 Democracy.
“As Americans of Jewish faith we believe implicitly in the fundamentals of democracy, rooted, as they are, in moralities that transcend race and state, and endow the individual with rights, which he is answerable only to God (American Council For Judaism, 523).” America has freed Jews from prejudice that has always been part of their past. Jews have responded by living in the United States peacefully and together with people of other religions. Cultural assimilation does not mean the end of Judaism. It means Jews will now be able to spread their word of God, without prejudice.
Presently, there are less restrictions on Judaic practice, than in the past. This will ultimately lead to the distribution of the Jewish practice; not it’s demise Gergely 12 References American Council For Judaism: A Statement of Policy. Feb. 1944 Diner, Hasia R. A Time For Gathering: Striving for The Sacred. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Baltimore and London. 1992. Heilman, Samuel C. Portrait of American Jews:The Last Half of the 20th Century. University of Washington Press. Seattle and London.
1995. Howe, Irving. A Margin of Hope: In the Movement. Harcourt Brace Jovanich, Publishers. San Diego, New York, London. 1982 Prell, Ellen.
Fighting to Become Americans: The Jewish American Princess. Beacon Press. Boston. 1999.
Revel, Bernard. Builder of American Orthodoxy; The American Yeshiva. Publication Society of America. Philadelphia.
1972. Sachar, Howard M. A History Of The Jews In America. Vintage Books.
NY. 1992. Words / Pages : 3,946 / 24