The Jewish people need marketing, not exclusion

A non-Orthodox Zionist Jew's take on the burning issues or religion and state. The key difference, according to the writer, between Judaism and other religions, has to do with marketing.

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Dr. Avi Perry,

Dr. Avi Perry
Dr. Avi Perry

The Israeli government’s latest decision—concerning the cancellation of part of the western wall agreement  and the controversial legislation on conversion, preventing recognition of non-Chief Rabbinate conversions performed in Israel - thereby de facto confirming current non-recognition for marriage purposes of non-Orthodox conversion, is a fateful mistake that has generational implications. It is a serious blind spot characteristic of the Jewish religion, which contributed, throughout history, to its minority status and isolation in a world filled with anti-Semites and Israel bashers.

Years ago, I discussed Religion with a colleague of mine, a devout Christian. I asked him to elaborate on the key difference between Christianity and Judaism. My colleague was well schooled on the topic. He immediately dived into the teachings of Jesus and the issue of his acceptance (or rejection by Jews) including the associated rewards in the afterlife.

“I don’t think that this is the key difference.” I interrupted. My colleague looked confounded. He believed he had made a bullet-proof case. How could I dismiss it so bluntly?

“The real difference is,” I stated, “Marketing.”

“Marketing”? He did not get it.

“Christians believed in proselytism,” I claimed. “Christians were able to become a world’s major religion by marketing their faith quite rigorously, persuading people to come and join them. They did so by catering to people’s longing for a better life, if not on Earth, then in Heaven. This “Marketing” strategy was very successful,” I claimed.

“Islam, in contrast, used violence and intimidation, forcing people to join their faith,” I added. Then, too, Islam became a major world religion. “But, Jews, on the other hand, made it extremely difficult for any gentile-born individual to join their faith.” I paused, watching the assenting expression on my colleague’s face, then continued. “Judaism turned into a minority faith. Consequently, Jews were pushed-around, terrorized, murdered, shoved down to the bottom of the pecking order by followers of the other major religions.”

Israel needs friends. Israel needs supporters. In a world where anti-Semites, Iranians and Arabs from across the Middle East seek to wipe it off the map, Israel cannot afford becoming isolated.  Friendly democratic governments are elected by people whose hearts beat to the rhythm of the Israeli drums.

Can you imagine having Judaism as one of the world’s major religions? Can you imagine having a world comprising 1.6 Billion Jews rather than 16 Million, a majority of whom not only would have supported the Jewish state, but would have considered it as part of their heritage? Could you fancy how anti-Semitic movements would have been pushed down the peck and stepped on? Could you picture the power derived by this vision?

The latest decision by the Israeli government is painting a picture, which does the opposite. It excludes and alienates many diaspora Jews or more than half of the already small Jewish population; it also further obstructs and prevents other non-Jews from joining the team—our team, leading to further weakening of the Jewish state and its world-wide’s support.

Increasingly, secular and reformed Jews, especially in the United States, have been losing members of their faith to intermarriage. It’s time to counter that loss by making it attractive for people of other faiths to join us by accepting them even if they are as secular as are the majority of Israeli Jews. The bulk of these potential converts are a direct result of intermarriage. By accepting them into the Jewish faith , we stand the chance of not only adding a right person to our side, but we also increase the prospect of not experiencing the loss of our person and his/her offspring to the other team.

Still, as Arye Deri, Israel’s Minister of the Interior, has pointed out, there is a risk that illegal immigrants from Africa or other countries may seek to exploit laid-back conversion rules to gain Israeli citizenship by way of the Law of Return. Deri is correct. He has referred to economic migrants who may never take their Jewishness seriously, but rather see it as an opportunity, an opening, a scam used to improve their economic situation and resolve their illegal status by becoming permanent and legal nationals. They may never want to fit in and assimilate; they could become an economic burden and a sore spot socially within the Israeli society.

This loophole could be remedied by amending the Law of Return rather than denying conversions performed by reformist rabbis. The amendment should clearly state that conversions of illegal immigrants, foreign criminals or any other undesirables, should not award them with an automatic Israeli citizenship; it does not change their illegal or undesirable status. In addition, conversion of foreign workers who came to Israel on a temporary work visa must take a period of several (the actual number needs to be determined) years before they can become citizens of the Jewish State.

Resolving the issue presented by Arye Deri by amending the Law of Return would clear the way for the Israeli government to do the right thing. 

Please Bibi, do not let it happen. Reconsider your government’s latest decisions, then change them.