Ambassador Friedman: Diaspora Jews are too ‘illiterate’ about Judaism

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tells online conference on Judaism he believes that the Jews’ lack of knowledge about their own religion is the “greatest threat of all” to the future of Jewish life outside Israel.

By World Israel News Staff

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman sounded a warning bell Wednesday, saying that the lack of knowledge by Jews living outside of Israel about their own religion posed an existential threat to Jewish life in the Diaspora.

“The Jewish state, while not without issues, is growing: both religious and secular institutions are thriving, basic Jewish education is available to all and there is little risk of assimilation. The same cannot be said for the Diaspora,” Friedman said in his online presentation during the Haaretz newspaper’s second annual Judaism, Israel and Diaspora conference.

Friedman noted that the world population was growing eight to ten times faster than the world’s Jewish community.

“From a quantitative perspective the prospects of Jewish continuity in the Diaspora are not good. The numbers alone are daunting,” he warned. “In 1941 there were 18 million Jews in the world. By 1945 there were only 12 million and most of the greatest Jewish institutions of Jewish learning had been destroyed” during World War II.

“Today there are only about 15 million Jews in the world, so during the time period from 1945 to the present, when the global population has increased by somewhere between 200 and 300 percent, the Jewish has increased only 25 percent and almost all that growth is in Israel,” Friedman said.

“As we have now all become experts from the coronavirus in the concepts of exponential growth and exponential reduction, I don’t need to tell you where this trend is leading.”

The ambassador, himself a practising orthodox Jew, said Jewish continuity will depend on being “fluent in Judaism,” which required Jews to be educated in their “our past, our heritage and our legacy.”

While praising Jewish communities for their diversity, he warned that Jews were losing the long-game by simply not knowing about themselves.

“We lose ground through one primary factor: Jewish illiteracy… How many of us are fluent in Judaism?” Friedman asked, adding that Jewish education “is an imperative for the future of the Jewish people, especially outside the state of Israel.”

The ambassador took a poke at Jews who limit their Judaism to living by Jewish values of “doing things that are morally just or helpful to others,” saying that such actions added nothing to their fluency in Judaism.

“Let’s face it, Jews do not have a monopoly on acts of kindness, charity or social justice,” he said. “We all know many non-Jews who are as fine and admirable people as one could be.”

Friedman said the solution required Jews all over the globe to learn about Judaism and to “dedicate ourselves to recharging around Jewish education and sharing our learning with many, many, many others.”