Is Demography Destiny?
Photo by Moses Pini Siluk
After 75 years, Israel’s population has increased to 9,727,000 people.
Twenty-one percent of the population (some 2 million) are Arabs. Non-Arab Christians, followers of other faiths, and those with no religious affiliation account for another 535,000 people in the non-Jewish population of Israel.
73.5 % (some 7,145,000 million) of the people currently living in Israel and the settlements are Jews. Among them, 1, 28 million are “Haredim.”
In other words, 13.5% of Israel’s population are “ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Though Israel is still a secular country where secular Jews account for 36 percent of the population
it is estimated that by 2059, the Haredi community will constitute 35% of the Jewish population in Israel.”
“It doesn’t mean that outcome is assured, however. A lot can happen in 50 years. External events could cause another mass influx of non-Haredi Jewish immigrants, like the million who arrived in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union. Haredi birth rates could decline, and there are some signs that it is already happening. The attrition rate – people choosing to leave Haredi life – could go up, and that seems to be happening as well. And the young people who choose to remain Haredi could also change their outlook, become less insular and more liberal, get a better education for themselves and, most crucially, for their children, that will allow them join the workforce and in better jobs. As they say, demography is not destiny.”
 PFEFFER, ANSHEL: “Secular Israel Needs a Dialogue With the ultra-Orthodox, Not Misdirected Rage,” “Haaretz,” May 1923
Frequently called “the repetition of the Torah” (Mishneh Torah) in rabbinic literature and the “the second law” in the Greek and Latin translations, the fifth and last book of the Torah, the book of Deuteronomy, comes to us in the form of Moses’ long farewell speech.
Facing a new generation, a new leadership, and a new land, the man who led Israel out of Egypt and through the desert recapitulates its past history.
The immediate question, of course, is: Was it necessary to repeat what was already said in the previous books, that judgment had befell the generation delivered from Egypt due to its rebellious behavior? That no one from that generation would enter the promised- land and that only their children would inherit it?
The answer is yes. Deuteronomy came to answer the question: “Why have these things happened to us? What has to be done not to repeat past mistakes?”
The answer came in the form of a radically new vision of religion and society. Presented as a continuation of the past, Deuteronomy’s new vision of religion and society abrogates and transforms the previous Torah texts.
On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching. (Deuteronomy 1: 5)
Moses interpreted the Sinai covenant to the new generation about to cross into the land. He does not offer a new law, but by recapitulating what has happened since Sinai, he seeks to apply the law to the unique situation facing Israel’s new generation.
“Deuteronomy,” says Bernard M. Levinson, professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota, “is, on the one hand, among the most radically innovative literary units in the Hebrew Bible and, on the other, among those that most loudly silence the suggestion of innovation.” Having to confront one of the central problems in the history of religions: the justification of innovation, Deuteronomy authorizes the radical cultic and legal transformation found in its pages by disclaiming their innovative force.
This is a typical response of institutionalized religion. Keeping forms that contain substantial differences from previous ones requires creating the appearance of continuity.
The book of Deuteronomy concern is how to actualize the covenant to a new generation, a new leadership, and a new land.
Psychologists have long noted that people generally dislike drastic change. Rapid social change causes a widespread loss of certainty about the meaning and purpose of life.
In fact, the Hatam Sofer, the nineteenth-century Central Europe rabbi considered to be at the root of many of the extreme exclusionist positions adopted by what has become known as “Haredi”- “Ultra-Orthodoxy” Judaism-coined the slogan that “the Torah forbids anything new in every place.”
Yet, as the Book of Deuteronomy shows, corrections, development, and changes, are the engine of any vital and long-lasting religious culture. “Orthodoxy,” even “tradition,” are in many cases nothing more than smokescreen labels disguising ideological positions that, under the pretense of returning to original religious positions that have been distorted, try to stop self-corrective changes in religion.
For Deuteronomy making the old cultic and legal traditions relevant for a new generation was basic. Still, as Professor Levinson says: “Deuteronomy is also a deeply traditional text that, more than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures, provides the foundation of Judaism. The religious conviction that God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai and that the Torah embodies the terms of that covenant.”