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The Continuity Crisis

by Rabbi Dov Greenberg


Library » Torah » Education | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Assimilating Bagel

A cry reverberates throughout the Jewish world today: continuity! And what the term continuity obviously implies is a fight for survival, because only when you are on the verge of disappearing do you need to speak about continuity.

A recent front page New York Times story entitled “The Assimilating Bagel” told this: Once a hard, round roll with a big hole in the center, the world renown bagel was a Jewish specialty, which when eaten with cream cheese and lox allowed one to momentarily forget their worldly troubles. But the bagel is rapidly changing. Its crust is getting softer, the hole is getting smaller and little by little, the once unique bagel is turning into a bun.

Replace “bagel” with “Jewry” and the metaphor is obvious. American Jews are assimilating with frightening speed.

At Chabad House at Stanford University, I’m occasionally called by distraught parents worried about the impending intermarriage of their son or daughter. I always agree to meet the student, and in most cases the story is the same:

Today’s youth are the fourth generation. They do not take it for granted that they will marry another Jew or establish a Jewish home, or will raise Jewish children
Mom and Dad sent me to Hebrew school, and gave me a bar or bat Mitzvah. But they sent mixed messages. When I neglected my secular education, they were angry, but when I missed Hebrew lessons, they didn’t mind. I learned about the laws of Jewish life, but they did not seem to keep them, or if they did, they did so selectively. They said that Judaism mattered, but their actions showed that it didn’t matter much. At my bar/Bat Mitzvah, they were more concerned about the catering than if I understood the words I recited in synagogue. As I grew older, they were more interested in which college I went to and which career I pursued than whether I followed Judaism. They wanted me to marry a Jewish person, but gave me no real reason why.

The Vanishing Fourth Generation

It is said that inherited wealth lasts for three generations. The same applies to inherited Judaism. Today’s young Jews are by and large of the fourth generation. In the fourth generation, Jewish identity is either renewed, or it vanishes.

In about a month we’ll be addressing the Haggadah’s famous “Four Children” at the Seder table. These may represent four successive generations. The wise son is the immigrant generation who received a good Jewish education and still lives Jewishly. The rebellious son is the second generation, who lacking a meaningful Jewish education, abandons Jewish identity for social integration. The “simple” child is the third generation, confused by the mixed messages of religious grandparents and nonreligious parents. The child who cannot even ask the question is the fourth generation, who no longer has a memory or context of Jewish life.

Today’s youth are the fourth generation. They do not take it for granted that they will marry another Jew or establish a Jewish home, or will raise Jewish children. Nothing can be taken for granted in the fourth generation, especially in an open society with its huge marketplace of competing ideologies.

From Loving and Living to Continuity

The fourth generation will choose to be Jewish for one reason only: knowing the sacred history of our people, sensing the richness of Jewish life, understanding the profundity of Judaism, and feeling proud to be Jewish. To guide their children into the promised land of Jewish heritage, the parent must be there themselves.


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Mitzvot » Education
Philosophy » Religion

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Text read at the Passover Eve feasts. The Haggadah recounts in great detail the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Bat Mitzvah
The twelvth birthday of a Jewish female. On this day -- customarily celebrated with a lavish party -- the adolescent reaches adulthood and is responsible to observe all the commandments of the Torah.
1. Additional name given by G-d to Patriarch Jacob. 2. A Jew who is not a Kohain or Levi (descendant of the Tribe of Levi).
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.