Waves And Ripples Of Immigration
European Jewry is stressed out from the pogroms, persecution, forced relocation, and discrimination. Some adopt a fatalistic mentality and they quietly surrender, hoping to ride out the storm. Many sense a need to get out.
Between 1880 and 1910 some 2.5 million Jews abandon Europe. Up to seventy percent of Romanian Jewry pick up and leave.
The invention of the steamship and railroad facilitate making the choice. Media, publication, and telecommunication technologies help reduce the fear of moving into the unknown.
The vast majority of the European emigrants head for the United States of America. There are eighty-thousand Jews in New York in 1880 and one and a half-million in 1910. Its a land of opportunity and for a while the door is wide open. A one-way ticket to the United States of America cost thirty-three dollars, steerage class.
The Jewish immigrant in the US struggles to make a living, but at least physical safety is relatively secure.
Spiritual survival is another matter and it's a major concern. The cultural transition between the shores of Europe and America is very sudden and blunt.
The immigrant poverty and the constant pressure of making a living take its toll on family life and unity. Many people abandon Shabbos observance in order to maintain steady employment. They dont have the time, energy, or drive for Torah study. Many Jewish organizations even promote assimilation.
The American public school system is a great melting pot and children are encouraged to discard their ethnic trappings. Many from the second generation detach from their heritage. They are influenced to be ashamed of their parents European accent and mannerism.
The German Jewish reform inspires a similar movement in the United States. Like their German counterpart, the American Reform suggests revolutionary changes to Jewish practice, based on liberal and free interpretations of the Torah which they assert are permitted. They claim that everything is subject to any and every interpretation. There are no absolutes, no guidelines.
Many American Jews can not accept Reform's radical changes. However, they do not have the background and strength to appreciate Traditional Judaism when it requires personal sacrifice. Some leaders postulate that they would conserve the ranks and save Jewish America from going reform or assimilating by reducing the requirements for Jewish practice. They introduce changes to Jewish practice that are partially based on convenience and popular thought. They bring the Torah standard down towards the people and become known as the Conservative Movement.
Other leaders resist tampering with G-ds Torah. They see no evidence from within the Torah that changes can be based on popularity. They strive to raise the people up to meet the Torah standard through education and encouragement. They are labeled as being Orthodox, although they are the most conservative of the three groups. Confusing?
At the turn of the century, even though there appears to be a good case for relaxing Torah standards and even though the future of Torah observance in America looks bleak, the Orthodox maintained the line. The following story illustrates their position.
A king once sent his Prime Minister on a mission to a neighboring duke.
Among the guidance provided, the king instructed the Prime Minister not to remove his pants in the presence of the duke. Somewhat puzzled, the minister set out on his mission.
He was cordially received and discussion of state matters went smoothly. Towards the end of the visit, they engaged in casual conversation in the duke's court.
The duke remarked how well the minister was able to maintain his composure even though the minister was afflicted with an irritating skin rash.
The Prime Minister was quite puzzled by the remark. He courteously denied having a rash.
The duke was certain that the complement was appropriate, for he once had a similar problem, himself. He knew that the Prime Minister had this condition by the way he walked.
The minister continued to deny it. The duke was sure that he had the rash. He became so emphatic that he put up a huge sum of money as a bet that the Prime Minister had the affliction.
Eager to win easy money for his king, the Prime Minister accepted the bet and removed all of his clothes, showing that he had no rash on any part of his body.
Quite embarrassed, the duke apologized and sent him on his way, together with the money that he won.
Upon his return, the king first asked whether he followed all of his instructions. A bit flustered, the Prime Minister presented the money and explained how he won this huge sum for the king.
Rather than showing elation, the king became very somber.
The duke had made a secret bet for ten times that amount with the king that he could get his Prime Minister to stand naked in his court.
The moral of this story is that G-d subjects us to tests of life. Also, more can exist than that which meets our eyes. Therefore, the safest thing for us is to carefully follow the instructions in the Torah.
Someday we will also be asked by a King whether we followed all of His instructions.
The dissociation of the Torah as it has been understood for the past thirty-three centuries from the definition of acceptable Torah practice is the major difference between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. The Orthodox make modern life relevant to the Torah. Their standard is the Torah. They maintain continuity with the past and they link their following to a destiny of personal and national greatness. The non-Orthodox define Torah practice in ways that makes it relate to modern life. Their standard is significantly influenced by modern life, which always changes and can take on many forms. It doesnt need to maintain as much continuity with the past, if at all.
The Conservative movement becomes the fastest growing group in the early and mid twentieth century. The Conservative movement provides American Jewry with a way of asserting Jewish identity so that entails no restrictive personal requirements, does not interfere with their social lives, and yet on demand it can put them in touch with their past.
By the end of the twentieth century less than a quarter of Conservative Jews keep a kosher home, slightly more than a third light Shabbos candles weekly, and only 29 percent attend synagogue at least twice a month.
By the end of the twentieth century the Reform and Conservative segments are the greatest losers to intermarriage and assimilation. Reducing Torah requirements reduces the significance of the Torah, crucial for Jewish survival in a dominant non-Jewish culture. Judaism cant compete. Fun becomes more significant to their youth.
The Orthodox become the fastest growing segment, down to this day.
The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey measured contemporary intermarriage rate for Orthodox to be three-percent, Conservative thirty-seven percent, Reform fifty-three percent, and non-affiliated seventy-two percent. They also found the average number of children per family to be 3.23 in Orthodox homes, 1.82 in Conservative homes, 1.72 for the Reform, and 1.62 for the non-affiliated. Based on the tragic figures, the Jewish identity of the non-traditional generations, which are currently the vast majority, appears to be headed towards extinction.
Ninety-percent of non-Jewish Spain today has some sort of Jewish ancestry. Unless something is done to stem the tide, the same fate may happen to non-traditional Jewry, G-d forbid.
By 1901, fifteen thousand European Jews emigrate to Palestine. They find a malaria ridden and rocky waste land with starkly primitive and inhospitable living conditions. They find small and downtrodden Sfardic communities. They also find pockets of deeply religious Ashkenazic Jews, communities founded by students of the Vilna Gaon who immigrated with Messianic aspirations. The latter are financially dependent on contributions from world Jewry.
Palestine is part of the corrupt Turkish Empire. European powers vie for a foot hold in the Holy Land and are glad to be granted the right to protect their citizens in Palestine. They look for ways to demonstrate their sovereignty. The Ashkenazic Jew, a relative foreigner in his ancestral Home Land, is now well protected by the same government that seeks his destruction in Europe. Another miracle for the Holy Land. Amazing.
Throughout Palestine, only four cities host Jewish communities: Jerusalem, Tzefas (Zafed), Tveria (Tiberius), and Chevron (Hebron). The Jews are somewhat tolerated by the Arab majority. By mid nineteenth century there is a Jewish majority within the walls of Jerusalem.
Many endure temporal suffering in order to have the privilege of living in the Holy Land. Some cant take it and leave, some die.
The vast majority of Jewry chooses to dig in and remain in Europe. Many are deeply religious and are afraid to risk the spiritual hazards of America. Palestine is no option for them due to the primitive conditions.
Others, mainly those who substituted secular ideology for Judaism, stay in Europe to build a workers paradise in the area. If necessary they will rot in the Czars jail to make it happen.
Some Jews dont move simply because they have made it. They are comfortable and have something to lose. Those who have the most to lose will be the last to want to move.
JewishAmerica: Sharing and caring on behalf of Torah Judaism.
Preserving a near-lost legacy and heritage.