Reform Judaism is dying, according to an article by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin in Forward. As secularism increases, the number of synagogues decrease. The same happens to churches, too, except Christians don’t make up less than 1% of the population like Jews do.
Jewish converts to Christianity wouldn’t be nearly as controversial if not for the minority status of Jews worldwide. Consequently, I lived for years with tension between following what I believed to be true, and not wanting to dishonor my ancestors, who were persecuted for their Jewishness.
I’d be lying if I said that tension was fully resolved.
The reality is that most Jews in America are secular. Many describe their religious affiliation as atheist or agnostic first, and Jewish by birth second. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, more and more Jews are embracing the cultural aspects of Judaism over the spiritual (which is the track I have followed as well).
But lack of belief doesn’t have to mean the death of Judaism. By virtue of its origins, the existence of Christianity ensures that Judaism will continue to be studied (ideally, anyway). Being the religion of Jesus and the apostle Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament) ensures that Judaism will always be relevant.
The need for Jewish education in churches, and in other pluralistic settings, is evident in passages like this one:
At the wedding, an Episcopalian friend marveled at the Eisner facilities. “If only we [mainstream Protestants] had something like this!” I told her that, decades ago, the Dalai Lama sent emissaries to Jewish summer camps — to see how informal religious and cultural education could really work, and how it could nourish a Diaspora community.
I don’t know many secular Jews who believe that Judaism has nothing to offer this world anymore. I certainly don’t believe that. Even if I never converted, Judaism found ways to sneak into my life without my intending it. It characterized me in ways I did not expect. I imagine the same is largely true for even the most non-religious Jewish-born people.
Part of my spiritual journey has been learning to respect how people identify themselves spiritually, even if I disagree with them. I don’t believe it’s fair for people to tell me I’m no longer Jewish in any sense, as if my heritage disappeared the moment I accepted Jesus as my savior.
And as an Episcopalian, I learned through many altercations on the internet just how annoying it is to be told I’m not a True Christian because my politics lean to the left. So I no longer consider myself a gatekeeper for who is allowed to use certain labels. That’s God’s job (though I’m sure He’s more concerned with the heart than the label).
So for what it’s worth, Judaism as a religion may be on the decline, but Jews are not. I am fully invested in using my Jewish background to build bridges wherever I can. I’m still here.