Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Klal Yisra'el
To dedicate this lesson

Jewish Growth


Rabbi Berel Wein

Cheshvan 24 5781
Numerically, the Jewish people are only an exceedingly small part of humanity. Even at the height of the most optimistic of surveys, we were and are a small constituent in the overall picture of the numbers of humans who inhabit this planet. This is always been so, for the Torah itself guaranteed that we would be the least numerous amongst nations.

Nevertheless, at the very same time, we were promised that we would be as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands of the earth. For many centuries, the commentators and great Jewish thinkers have proposed ideas as to how to bridge these two seemingly contradictory predictions. Jewish tradition has redefined the idea of the stars of heaven and the sands of the earth in terms of quality and not of quantity, and out of proportion to their numbers.

It certainly is true that for such a small number of people, we have made a lot of noise in the story of human civilization, both as individuals, as a religion, and as a nation. So, in terms of influence and contribution to human society, there is no doubt that we are the stars of heaven and the sands of the earth. But as far as numbers are concerned, we certainly are still the smallest of all people numerically and, tragically, except for Jewish population growth in the state of Israel and amongst the Orthodox community and the exile, the statistics regarding the Jewish birthrate are very depressing and pessimistic. In fact, for most of American Jewry, the Jewish family is not even reproducing itself at a rate of replacement.

There is no doubt that this demographic disaster will, if it continues, have all sorts of consequences on the future of the Jewish community in the Diaspora. The tendencies to marry later in life, have few if any children, and the general negative attitude of much of modern society towards traditional family life, all have combined to take a severe toll on Jewish numbers. In effect, what is happening for the majority of secular and assimilated Jews, and certainly for those in the Reform and Conservative communities, is to ignore the handwriting on the wall and whistle past the graveyard.

If present trends continue, there will undoubtedly be a smaller Jewish community in the United States numerically and that will undoubtedly also have political and social consequences. That community will become increasingly Orthodox and traditional. The Orthodox Jew, contrary to all predictions and expert opinions voiced in the past, is simply not going to disappear. It is part of the promise of eternity that the Lord made in His covenant with us. Not only will the Jewish people remain eternal, but that the presence of Torah life would also always be preserved, no matter the challenges and difficulties that would arise.

It is remarkable that there are Jews in organizations and Federations in American Jewry, even though they may be non-Orthodox and non-observant in their own personal behavior, that recognize that the salvation of Jewish society and Jewish neighborhoods is completely dependent upon the continued growth of Orthodoxy and Orthodox educational and social institutions.

There are many neighborhoods in large cities in the United States that have been completely revitalized by young Orthodox Jewish couples who have moved into those neighborhoods, establish schools there and created a vibrant Jewish life on the streets and in the homes in these areas. These are the outposts of Jewish growth, not only spiritually but numerically as well.

One can never predict the future in a truly accurate or meaningful fashion. That certainly applies to everything that I have written above. There are many unforeseen forces and factors that lurk in general society that will certainly influence the growth and resilience of Jewish society as well. Nevertheless, I look back in amazement at the growth of Orthodox Jewry in my lifetime, once again, not only in terms of influence and intensity of Jewish life, but merely in terms of numbers and population.

The Jewish world was decimated by the events of the 20th century – by Germany, the Soviet Union, intermarriage and assimilation, etc. – to an extent that many despaired of any future for Jewish society at large, let alone for its growth and strengthening. One of the basic tenets of Jewish life is never to despair over the future, once again, not only individually but even nationally. Because of this, all steps should be taken again to continue to revitalize Jewish communities and Jewish life, so that we will truly be like the stars of heaven and the sands of the earth.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein

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