Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Solving Israel's Demographic Problems

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is worried about the demographics of Israel and he has a characteristically grandiose and dramatic solution: bring in 1,000,000 Jews. Fortunately he is distracted by other problems and has not been able to focus on this policy, but it is a proposal that he has referred to frequently and consistently since he became prime minister.

Although Sharon is known for fresh thinking, this approach is straight from the past. "Aliyah" has been the chorus of the leaders of the State of Israel since its founding, and even before. The need to find a place for millions of displaced Jews after the turmoil of the Holocaust years was even considered by some rabbonim one of the major justifications for supporting the establishment of even a secular state. But in this case the usually forward-thinking Sharon is proposing to solve tomorrow's problems with yesterday's tactics.

Finding a million Jews who are at all interested in coming to Israel is no easy matter these days. In the past 15 years about a million people came from the former Soviet Union, but at least a third of them are not Jewish by any standards, and the more recent arrivals are less Jewish than ones who came in the first waves, and the younger arrivals, who may raise families here, are almost all not Jewish.

Most of those who have come here in this most recent wave of immigration -- the non-Jews as well as many of the Jews -- have little interest in Jews or Judaism. They are coming here to live a life in the affluent West and getting their share is all that interests them. A significant number are open antisemites.

All this is not lost on the prime minister, and he thinks that our response should be to loosen up the requirements for conversion to Judaism, thereby "solving" the problem of the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who have already come and making it significantly easier to find new olim in the future. Sharon has not learned enough Jewish history, it seems, to know that Jewish antisemites are worse than the non- Jewish kind.

As the prime minister, Sharon has the power and the legitimacy to change the laws of the State of Israel. However no one has either power or legitimacy to change the rules of the Torah. It is the Torah that is the basis of our identity, and its rules tell us that in order to become a part of the Jewish people one has to fully and practically accept the Torah, in addition to the ritual requirements of milah and tevillah.

But more fundamentally, the entire direction is wrong. According to our estimates, a solid majority of the hard core Jews in the world already live in Israel. The best and most cost-effective way to increase the Jews here is to encourage more Jewish births among all those who already live in Israel, rather than look to outside sources. Those who are born and raised here will be better citizens than those brought in from the outside, especially if the newcomers' ties to anything Jewish are very weak to begin with. Child support payments also come out quite a bit cheaper than aliyah benefits, and more children stay on here than olim.

Instead of cutting back child support payments, the government should increase them. Leaders should praise the contribution of those who have big families to the entire Jewish people. Everyone knows that imports are a second-best stopgap and the only sustainable, long-term solution is to rely on local production. The chareidi community is fully committed to this. The sooner everyone else realizes it, the better off we will all be.

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