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Brookline, MA, United States
I'll post rants here, and musings; articles and thoughts about articles. I'll keep it quite complex and yet astoundingly simple: whatever it is I am interested in at any given moment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On the Dangers of Demography

Demography strikes me as being quite similar to Torah - easy to interpret however you'd like to, difficult to find the essential truths about which debate is unnecessary. In short, it's more about interpretation than about facts, which, to expand the simile of the previous sentence, puts halachic decision-making, meteorology, and demography in the same subset of hermeneutic masquerading as science.

Such is the context for this piece in Haaretz, which imagines a worldwide Jewish community at 32 million with a strong base in Eastern Europe - and likely no State of Israel - if the Holocaust had never happened. (No word in the article's synopsis on what became of the Jewish communities that were rescued by the Israeli government from the rising tide of rabidly parochial Islam.)

Would the American Jewish renaissance of the last sixty years have existed at all? Would we not be talking about "Jewish continuity" and intermarriage rates? Or would Judaism have been stifled underneath the weight of the iron curtain?

These questions might be addressed in one of Robert Cowley's books recording contrafactual (i.e., What if things didn't turn out the way they actually did?) history (I own What if? and What if? 2 - they're fun). I prefer the contrafactual history to most demography studies, except when someone is willing to get creative, like this work of Calvin Goldscheider, who has argued that the Jewish community in the United States is growing, not shrinking.

As we approach יום השואה והגבורה here in Israel - where the גבורה is emphasized as it is nowhere else - I am inclined to focus more on reflecting on the loss of the 6 million than on naval gazing at what might have been.

As for all of those who wish Anti-Semitic, Catholic or communist Europe had remained the home to Judaism's great population concentration, I remind them of one of Chancellor Emeritus Ismar Schorsch's most astute observations: that never in the history of the world has a Jewish community disappeared by a factor as benign as assimilation.


Eli Grossman said...

Inaugural comment:

On a bus home from ירושלים to ירוחם just last night, I would posit that 70% of the people on the bus were under the age of 5. Considering the fact that many of the children sat four or five to ever two seats (or as Israelis apparently call it: ספסל), there was an overwhelming amount of toddlers. Call it what you want, but a demographic crisis it is not.

Wolkin said...

You know as well as anyone else that one of the top fund raising tactics i the Jewish community is the combination of any number of buzzwords with the word "crisis". Demographic, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, spoiled Kosher milk, intermarriage, Jews for Jesus, ran out of vowels in Scrabble, you name it. Combine any one of those with "crisis", and you have yourself a capital campaign.