Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Arrival Day: Israel's Missionary Future?

Jonathan Edelstein is today marking the 350th anniversary of the Jewish arrival in America by sponsoring a blogburst, with links to a number of thoughtful posts dealing with the future of Judaism. In putting together my own thoughts on the subject, I found it appropriate that Ha'aretz would today have an article on the Inca Jews, Peruvians who converted to Judaism and immigrated to a West Bank settlement.

I say this because I think it possible that the future of Judaism could involve a return to the missionary faith that it was during the first millennium of the common era. Edelstein himself has speculated on this possibility. The key for me is Israel's existence and the need felt especially by the more conservative elements of society to keep the population growing in relation to that of the Muslims in the area. At the same time, as I noted in my Morocco travels, many people in the developing world sacrifice everything to move to industrialized nations for economic reasons, and in the case of Moroccan Jews, Israel is part of the developing world.

So let's just say that, since history has seen people convert to a new religion for economic reasons, you have a potential solution to Israel's population issues, one which is especially likely to be pursued if the Arab-Israeli conflict continues unabated and the settler movement finds itself in need of more recruits. I suspect that such missionary work would be undertaken largely by the orthodox, who have in the case of the Inca Jews, also known as the B'Nai Moshe, shown a willingness to accept converts. (Article like this actually cause me to suspect the orthodox leaders had thought of exactly the points I am making here.

Such converts could easily tip Israel toward a more conservative path even as they face likely social discrimination and carry with them certain traditional practices from their homelands. If western Judaism tilts in a Reform direction, that could have serious implications for the identification between Israeli Jews and the Diaspora, which of course affects American policy towards Israel, as well. In addition, the migrants would probably compete with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs on the low-wage job market, making the economic situation in the Occupied Territories even worse than it already is.

How likely is this path? Historians can be terrible at predicting the future. This future, however, is in the interests of several parties with the power to make it happen. If so, it will be the greatest change to overcome Judaism in centuries.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home