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The Institute for Jewish & Community Research QUAD - March 2008

Jews Should Allow Judaism to be Part of the American Religious Marketplace

In this Issue

1. Featured Commentary: U.S. Jews Should Allow Judaism to Be Part of the American Religious Marketplace

2. Pluralism Strengthens Religious Freedom and Promotes Religious Civility

3. American Universities Have No Business in Saudi Arabia

Dr. Gary A. Tobin

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Featured Commentary: U.S. Jews Should Allow Judaism to Be Part of the American Religious Marketplace

Gary TobinJTA, Op-Ed
Op-Ed: Stop Keeping Out Non-Jews
By Gary Tobin, March 3, 2008

San Francisco (JTA) -- A study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans are switching religions more than ever. As many as one of every two adults does not practice the religion in which they were born or raised.

Evangelical and nondenominational Protestantism are the big winners. Catholicism and mainline Protestants are the big losers. As an aging religious group, it is time for Jews to take heed of the changes affecting religion in America because they are Americans, too, and no major trend passes them by.

Pew refers to the "marketplace" of religions in the United States, and that is exactly right. People shop around for the religious theologies, practices and communities that suit them. Some may try on a number of faiths until they find the one that fits.

This is one of the great benefits of the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment, freedom from the government sanctioning any particular religion and allowing many faiths to thrive. The result has been a healthy competition, a country relatively free from the religious strife that plagues so many societies.

Competition means that individuals are unshackled by theologies they may not believe or communities of faith that they may find spiritually or otherwise unfulfilling. How wonderful that there are so many choices available and people can find the religious home they seek -- or choose nothing at all if that is where they land.

At a time when other religious groups are seeking adherents and promoting their religious faiths, Jewish organizations and institutions generally are so afraid of decline and loss that they turn inwards. The result, however, is that these very insular approaches end up ensuring that decline and loss occur.

The reason is that Jews, like other Americans, crave free choice. We are more likely to retain more people because they feel they want to be Jews, not because they have to be.

The Jewish communal response to this expression of religious freedom is locked somewhere in another time or place -- Europe and North Africa in the 1700s, for example. We keep having the same tired discussions about "preventing intermarriage" or "strengthening Jewish identity" or saving the Jews from assimilation with the right kind of, or enough, Jewish education.

Again and again we respond with rhetoric, ideas and programs that circle round and round in the same orbit -- how do we keep Jews in? Hundreds of years of discrimination, violence and murder take a huge toll. They create a psychology of fear that results in Jewish isolation, a construct of us and them, insiders and outsiders, Jews and enemies. And with unabashed and straight-faced boldness, as if no one else is listening, we ask how do we keep strangers -- meaning all non-Jews -- out of our families, out of our synagogues. Out.

We don't want to be part of the marketplace of religious ideas and practices, thank you, we just want to be left alone to marry each other keep everybody inside, safe and secure.

This of course is an illusion.

Still, we fantasize that if we inoculate our young people with enough Jewish education, then they will reject the 98 percent of other Americans they might fall in love with or not be attracted to Zen Buddhism. What nonsense. We all have seen the numbers to prove that the head in the sand, return to the ghetto and hope the gentile will go away strategy is not going to work. No number of day schools or summer camps is going to turn back the clock on religious freedom and competition.

It is time for Jews to join every other group in America and quit obsessing about who is being lost and start acting on who might come in. Right now it is largely a one-way street because we cling to dangerously obsolete ideas, attitudes and practices about conversion. We do not welcome people with open arms but rather we stiff-arm. We still question people's sincerity -- do they really want to be Jewish? We make people jump through hoops. Those who convert have to be persistent enough to batter down the barriers.

Yes, of course we need standards and procedures -- and to say that making Judaism more accessible means abandoning rules of admission is a straw argument to cover up how suspicious, off-putting and unfriendly we often are to those who want to be part of the Jewish people.

Openness and excitement do not mean that learning and ritual requirements to become a Jew should be abandoned. Just the opposite is the case. Spiritual seekers are looking for meaning, content and purpose. Becoming a Jew can be a deeply intellectual and emotional experience, and spiritual seekers are willing to engage in rigorous education about Jewish life, rituals of conversion and rites of passage to become a Jew.

Some rabbis do a great job in dealing with potential converts; many do not. Our synagogues often are less welcoming than we think. And our newspapers, sermons and sociological literature are filled with hysterical reprimands and dire predictions about the demise of the Jews that result from gentiles breaking through our traditional walls. How welcoming do we think it is when we say we wish our sons or daughters would have married someone else, but as long as you are here, we will try and be nice to you?

We have a theology that has no intermediary between the individual and God. That is appealing. We have a set of daily, monthly and yearly rituals that provide guidance and purpose. That is appealing. We have rich liturgy, beautiful prayers, deep roots in Israel, a strong communal system. All appealing. By being attractive to others, we will also be more attractive to born Jews. What are we afraid of?

We are checkmated by our own notion of ourselves that Jews don't do that -- we don't compete for newcomers. Maybe Jews in 18th century Poland did not -- and with good reason. It brought wrath of the church and the state on them.

But this is 21st century America, not 18th century Poland or 20th century Germany. Pew tells us that Americans are switching religions like never before. Do we want to enter the competition armed with our wonderful 3,000-year-old history, or kvetch about assimilation, intermarriage and our dwindling numbers?

Those who choose to join the Jewish people will enrich us with their ideas, energy and passion. And born Jews who choose to embrace their Judaism in an open marketplace also will enrich Jewish life. It is time to embrace the American in which we live. We must abandon the paradigm that out children and grandchildren are potential gentiles and promote the new belief that American is filled with potential Jews.

Pluralism Strengthens Religious Freedom
and Promotes Religious Civility

Rodney Stark and Gary TobinReligion News Service, Op-Ed
Guest Commentary:
Competition and the American Religious Marketplace

by Rodney Stark and Gary Tobin,
March 2008

(Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. Used by Permission.)
San Francisco (RNS) -- A recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found 44 percent of American adults have switched away from the religious affiliation in which they were raised. Cause for concern? Maybe, maybe not.

One of the report's major findings is that Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations are the big losers, while evangelical and non-denominational Protestants are the big winners.

Changing one's church often does not reflect a lack of faithfulness or indifference to theological variations among the denominations. Nor is it a symptom of impending religious decline. To the contrary, church-switching reflects the vigorous good health of American religion.

The Pew study refers to the American "marketplace" of religions where people shop around for the religious theologies, practices, and communities that suit them. Some may try on a number of faiths until they find the one that fits.

This is one of the great benefits of the First Amendment's protection from government sanction of any particular religion, which allows many faiths to thrive. Competition means individuals are unshackled by theologies they do not believe or communities of faith that they find spiritually or otherwise unfulfilling. There are many choices available where people can find the religious home that they seek -- or choose nothing at all.

High levels of religious activity in the United States is the result of pluralism. American denominations must compete to attract and hold members -- or else face decline or extinction. That competition, in turn, leads to clear differences among the religious "products" that denominations offer.

To understand the impacts of several centuries of competition, consider that in 1776, fewer than one in five Americans belonged to a local church; today, that figure is about 70 percent.

These gains occurred precisely because Americans change churches so often and so easily. Church-switching is not anything new: Americans have always flocked to the more effectively competitive faiths. Congregationalists, for example, went from being the largest denominations in 1776 to one of the smallest (in the United Church of Christ) today. Methodists had just begun to grow, and within 100 years were the largest U.S. denomination, and now face a period of serious decline.

The notion that church-switching is symptomatic of religious discontent is only a partial truth. A person leaving one denomination does indicate a sense of dissatisfaction; but when he or she settles in another, that indicates that they simply found satisfaction elsewhere.

If pluralism greatly increases the general level of religiousness by satisfying the diverse religious tastes of the public, it has two other consequences; it strengthens religious freedom and promotes religious civility.

The Founding Father chose the course recommended by Adam Smith, who envisioned a society "divided into two or three hundred, or perhaps as many (as a) thousand small sects, of which no one could be considerable enough to disturb public tranquillity." Smith also argued that the leaders of these many sects would necessarily learn to be respectful and agreeable, since each was surrounded on all sides by potential adversaries.

The American religious model encourages religious groups to challenge one another for adherents, urges the adoption of the moral values, and the creation of a civil society that reflects faith but is not burdened by it.

A recent spate of anti-religious polemics portrays religion as the ultimate evil. Yet religious competition in the American model does not foster warring factions, inquisitions, or even much religious strife. America may not be entirely free of religious animosities, yet the competition of ideas has produced cross-fertilizations and the emergence of new religious forms. It has also fostered a sense of mutual respect and acceptance unequaled in the world.

Most cultures abandon religion on the road to "harmony," or impose religious restrictions and stifle religious freedom. In the U.S., competition among religions has led to the emergence of new religious ideas and ideals and the creation of a more vital civil society. The free enterprise model produces more tolerance and reduces bigotry.

While some religions grow and others decline, the overall result is something that is integral to the American spirit.

Rodney Stark teaches at Baylor University and is co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.

Gary Tobin is president of The Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.


American Universities Have No Business in Saudi Arabia

Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh WeinbergFeatured Commentary:
American Universities Have No Business in Saudi Arabia
By Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg, March 2008

San Francisco (IJCR) -- At first glance, it seems more than appropriate for the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University to help the newly founded King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia (KAUST) to recruit and train faculty and to expand and share scientific knowledge. What could possibly be wrong in furthering teaching and research abroad, with an American friend and ally no less? Behind the assurances and surface rhetoric both Berkeley and Stanford offer the public, and themselves is the truth--that the agreement with Saudi Arabia is an ugly betrayal of what universities themselves claim to be.

Universities are quite proud of their role in fighting discrimination of all kinds and sell themselves as bastions of moral virtue and behavior. They fancy themselves as trailblazers in the fight against global injustice.

Yet the history of race, religion, and gender within higher education itself is not a pretty one. Higher education's devotion to equality is a recently acquired taste. Colleges and universities slammed the doors with quotas for both Jewish faculty and students in the first half of the 20th century. Southern universities were forced to open their doors to African Americans through national legislation and the imposition of Federal troops. Long after women had entered the voting booth, elite schools kept them out of the classroom. All in all, it was not a flattering picture.

Today, higher education advocates would say that the past is past, and where universities concentrate their efforts would seem to support their claim as citadels of liberalism in American society. That is, of course, until they smell money. The Saudi's lured both Berkeley and Stanford to the tune of $20 million each and we can be sure that both institutions hope there is more where that came from.

Take gender equality, for example, a core concern of universities. While both Stanford and Berkeley may intend to bring positive change to the Middle East, they are about to do business with one of the worst abusers of women's rights in the world --a country where women are not even allowed be in public without a male guardian. Only recently, an American businesswoman was arrested for appearing in a Starbucks with a male co-worker. But that is par for the course. Many likely recall the recent ruling by Saudi Arabia's Sharia legal system, sentencing a rape victim to jail time and lashes.

Religious freedom is non-existent. An entire city is off limits to non-Muslims. If a Muslim wants to convert from Islam? The punishment is death. And the extreme interpretation of Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia, known as Wahhabism, which has no room for the lofty ideas of academic or any other kind of freedom, is actively being exported by the monarchy.

Why would any American university, some of which have evicted the ROTC programs from their campus for being anti-LGBT because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy team up with a nation that has no qualms about punishing its own gay and lesbian citizens? Of course, one could just assume that Saudi Arabia, like Iran according to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while speaking at Columbia University, has no gays.

Berkeley and Stanford assure us-and their own campus communities--that the university in Saudi Arabia will be non-discriminatory. Tell that to the Jewish faculty who will not be allowed into the country, or anyone for that matter if they have visited Israel and the stamp shows on their passport.

Either campus officials believe the Saudi lies denying the extent of their discrimination, or they want to believe them because their payout is high enough to turn a blind eye.

But Berkeley is a public university supported by California taxpayers. Both Stanford and Berkeley receive healthy doses of federal funds for research and financial aid. Charitable contributions are tax deductible, so all those tens of millions of dollars going to these schools are subsidized by American taxpayers.

Voters, elected representatives, and donors should put a stop to this unsavory arrangement. Colleges and universities have some ugly history when it comes to bigotry and discrimination that should not be revived today.