How European Jewish Communities
Can Choose and Plan Their Own Futures
Daniel J. Elazar and Shmuel Trigano
Fifty years after the conclusion of World War II, European Jewry can be said to have emerged from the traumas and destruction of the war. They have completed the reconstruction and reconstitution of their communities. The entire continent is free and open to Jewish life, to the extent that there are Jews present to live it and in accordance with their desire to do so. European Jewry now needs to develop a new post-reconstruction agenda that will move them forward in the next generation and beyond.
1. A Postmodern Europe
World War II marked the end of the modern epoch which had begun 300 years earlier with the Treaty of Westphalia, ending another great European war, the Thirty Years War, fought between the same peoples and powers in their earlier political frameworks. The state system inaugurated by the Treaty of Westphalia came to dominate the European scene until it was perverted by totalitarianism and then brought down in the gotterdammerung of World War II. By the late 1940s when a new postwar Europe began to emerge, it was clear that there was much sentiment among Europeans for greatly modifying, if not abandoning, the Westphalian system of states and the system of balancing power among them to maintain continental security a system that failed twice in a single generation and achieving a substantial degree of European integration.
After an initially rocky road, the states of Western Europe from the border between West and East Germany to the farthest end of the British Isles became parts of the European Community and, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Communist empire, the European Union, which presently extends from the Finnish-Russian border on the north to the farther reaches of Europe in the Atlantic. At the same time, with the EU at its core, a network of other institutions of a confederal nature such as the Western European Union (WEU), the Council of Europe, the Conference (now Office) on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now OSCE), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were developed to bind the rest of Europe as well, to prepare some of the remaining European states for full membership in the EU, and to bring others into the EU's orbit of democracy and human rights. The OSCE, for example, organized originally as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and now being institutionalized, includes all of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. It is now the auspices under which the peace talks between Russia and Chechnya are being held, even though, under the old state system, that would have been considered a domestic Russian problem and definitely off limits to any multinational body. While this has not prevented inter-European wars on Europe's peripheries, it has set the continent on a new course which promises to bring it greater peace and prosperity than it has ever known. Indeed, the invention of the European Union can be compared to the invention of the United States of America as a modern federation in 1787, a landmark in the history of world political developments that in time will have reverberations far beyond its borders.
2. The Revival of European Jewry
Jewish life in Europe also has had its revival, far more modest because of the way that Jewish ranks were decimated (in truth, even worse; decimated literally means one in ten for European Jewry perhaps one in ten survived). Nevertheless, the Jewish communities of Europe did revive. France, the largest (listed as having 530,000 Jews, others estimate more), revived first through an infusion of Eastern European refugees immediately after the war and then through a massive influx of North African, particularly Algerian, Jews in the 1960s. British Jewry, the second largest (300,000), revived as part of the processes of British reconstruction.
Germany has become the third largest Jewish community in Western Europe through the settlement of Eastern European displaced persons who remained after the war, Israelis who followed them in the 1950s and subsequently, and Jews from the former Soviet Union who have arrived more recently. It has approximately 50,000 Jews within its borders and is predicted to have 100,000 in a few years. The other European Jewish communities west of the Iron Curtain followed the same pattern of reconstruction and reconstitution in their own ways in a manner compatible with their respective sizes. Even communities that had little or no Jewish life throughout the modern epoch because of pre-modern expulsions, such as Spain, found themselves with smaller but very real Jewish communities that developed in the postwar years through immigration of wartime refugees, Jews from Arab lands, and Israelis.
East of the Iron Curtain, the few remaining Jews outside the Soviet Union hung on by their toenails throughout the Communist years, only to reemerge in communities after 1989. Hungary, always among the largest, remains the largest and most active today with 56,000 Jews. There are reports that the less than 4,000 Jews listed in Poland at the end of the Communist regime have become as many as 80,000 as others have emerged out of hiding, as it were.
A similar situation exists in the former Soviet Union. Although close to 850,000 Jews are documented as having left since its gates opened this last time, estimates of the number of Jews remaining range from a million and a half to three million. The story of the revival of Jewish life in those successor states is in itself a chapter worthy of note in Jewish history, one that demonstrates the great capacity of Jews for self-organization at any opportunity.
Table 1 gives the recognized estimates of Jewish population in Europe. We should note three facts about these population figures. First, most are estimates, especially in the largest Jewish communities, and no official census figures are available. Even where official figures are available, they only show who is enrolled in the Jewish community or self-identified as Jewish by nationality and many Jews, while known as Jews, do not enroll in the community or so identify for various reasons, not the least of which is to avoid anti-Semitism or paying the extra taxes or other charges levied upon members.
Second, the definition of who is a Jew is almost entirely subjective. No halakhic criteria are used and in most cases none are even suggested as relevant. For example, Michael Chlenov, while head of the Jewish community of the Soviet Union in that interim period between the collapse of Communist restrictions and the dissolution of the USSR, stated in a private meeting that there were three kinds of Jews in the Soviet Union: those whose passports listed them as Jews, those who were Jews by ancestry but had succeeded in having a different nationality listed on their passports, and "those who shared the fate of the Jewish people." This latter category, which from any perspective elsewhere in the world would be considered for non-Jews, is no doubt the source of most of the non-Jewish migration to Israel. Without saying so in so many words, the vast majority of European Jews are adamant on using this broad and inclusive definition of "who is a Jew" or one similar to it.
Estimated Jewish Population in Europe, End 1993
|Country|| Jewish Population |
|Austria|| 7,500 |
|Denmark ||6,400 |
|Finland ||1,300 |
|France ||530,000 |
|Germany ||52,000 |
|Gibraltar ||600 |
|Ireland ||1,300 |
|Luxembourg ||600 |
|Netherlands|| 25,500 |
|Portugal|| 300 |
|Sweden|| 15,000 |
|United Kingdom ||296,000 |
| Total European|
|Norway ||1,000 |
|Switzerland ||18,000 |
| Total Other |
| 19,000 |
|Belarus|| 40,700 |
|Estonia ||3,200 |
|Latvia|| 11,600 |
|Lithuania ||6,000 |
|Moldova ||15,000 |
|Russia ||415,000 |
|Ukraine ||245,000 |
| Total Former |
USSR in Europe
|Bosnia-Herzegovina|| 200 |
|Croatia|| 1,300 |
|Czech Republic ||3,800 |
|Hungary ||55,000 |
|Poland ||3,500 |
|Romania ||15,500 |
|Slovakia ||3,800 |
|Slovenia ||100 |
|Turkey ||19,500 |
|Yugoslavia|| 1,600 |
| Total Other East|
| Total Jewish |
Source: U.O. Schmelz and Sergio DellaPergola, "World Jewish Population, 1993," American Jewish Year Book 1995 (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1995).
Third, the most scientific population figures seem to be underestimates. In every documented case that we have, whenever more detailed studies have been made or Jewish emigrants have left the country for Israel or elsewhere, more Jews have suddenly come out into the open, increasing the numbers to at least the earlier totals if not beyond.
What we can say is that in Europe west of the CIS it is reasonable to assume that there are 1,300,000 Jews, while minimum estimates in the CIS claim at least 1,500,000. Either concentration is substantial. Separately or together, the nearly three million Jews of Europe as a continental concentration represent the third largest body of Jews in the world after North America and Israel.
3. Lagging Linkage Among European Jewries
But despite the Jewish revivals countrywide, the European Jewish communities have been laggard in their cross-European linkages. Unlike the European states, they have not created an equivalent European Jewish Union or anything like it for themselves. At most they have some weak to moderately functioning specialized pan-European leagues, most of which are sustained from the outside by the efforts of Jews of the United States and Israel through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the World Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, or the Jewish Agency for Israel (Table 2).
Multi-Country European Jewish Organizations
Organizations|| Member Communities |
|1. European Council of Jewish Communities ||Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia |
|2. European Region of the World Jewish Congress ||Member countries include all Western European countries, the three Baltic states, Moldova, Belorussia and Ukraine|
|3. B'nai B'rith District #19 || Austria, Belgium, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland |
|4. Conference of European Rabbis ||Rabbinical organizations in England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Russia, plus individual members in 20 other countries|
Indeed, the communities of continental Europe, both West and East, not only benefited substantially in their reconstruction from the Joint Distribution Committee's funding and leadership, but remained dependent upon both long after their communities had revived themselves organizationally.
Without serious linkages, most of the Jewish communities of Europe, possibly (but not likely) excepting France and Britain, are small and weak, without the demographic or economic wherewithal to provide for their needs as Jewish communities, jeopardizing their continuity and even survival. For example, with those two possible exceptions above, they do not have the resources to train their own rabbis or teachers, Jewish communal professionals, or other needed personnel. They cannot sustain more than the simplest Jewish educational experiences for their children and even those depend upon importing teachers and shlichim from Israel. The smaller communities cannot even provide potential Jewish marriage partners for all of their young people, nor can they undertake the tasks of political representation of European Jewry on questions of European Jewish interest such as shechita, combatting racism and anti-Semitism, or mobilizing support for Israel. In very few if any fields can they bring to bear the true weight of the millions of Jews now living in Europe. Thus the first item on the European Jewish agenda must be to establish a European Jewry to do at least as well at achieving union as the existing European states have done for themselves.
The difficulties of habit, language, and culture make this a more than simple task, but in an environment of greater linkage and confederal linkage at that, the Jewish communities at the very least have a hospitable climate for doing what they need to do. These are no longer the days of the nineteenth century when the European powers discouraged "their" Jews from affiliating with the Alliance Israelite Universelle on the grounds that such ties made the Jews susceptible to foreign influences, and encouraged them instead to set up their own separate countrywide organizations even for international Jewish relief. Now the Jews are free to pursue their own interests in the matter.
Those interests must be to aggregate their strength so as to bring as much of it to bear on their needs as possible. Moreover, this linkage can now be based on federal principles rather than on unification. The old statist Europe had little or no room for federalism in any form since all but a handful of its states strove to become homogeneous, centralized, and self-sufficient. Now, however, led by the EU and supported by the other European multi-national organizations, federalism in its confederal mode has not only become acceptable but even desirable. European Jewish communities as well as others now have the option of developing unity on the basis of confederal links that recognize the differences of habit, language, and culture in each country on the continent.
4. European Jewry in World Jewish Affairs
Nor is this need for linkage only for purposes of strengthening internal European Jewish life, important as that is. For fifty years or more the Jewish world has been a bipolar world with Israel and the United States its two pillars. All other Jewries have had to stand far behind the Jewish communities of those two countries in world Jewish affairs. This is not healthy for them, nor is it healthy for world Jewry. It is not even good for the two pillars. Not only is it very important to re-integrate the non-English-speaking Jewries into the world Jewish polity, but this integration will also be a means to strengthen to them.
The Jewish world needs a strong European Jewry that is backed by its millions to at least the same degree that American and Israeli Jewries are. Moreover, by assuming its proper world role, European Jewry will strengthen itself internally. It will gain a new sense of itself. It will develop a continent-wide leadership because it will have a field of sufficient scope to attract the people it needs. Moreover, those of its needs which can no longer be handled locally, community by community in Europe, will gain in attention and support on an all-European basis. The fact is that not even American Jewry or the Jewish dimensions of Israel can be served in isolation. The world has grown together at such a rapid pace and the needs have become so great that only concerted action on the part of world Jewry as a whole, with each of its segments pulling its weight, can make possible Jewish continuity or even survival.
5. The European Jewish Agenda
Two strategic variables need to be considered when establishing the European Jewish agenda: the global situation of world Jewry and the actual (rather than formal) sources of legitimacy for Jewish life.
One is an internal variable: the future of the Zionist "civil religion."
At least since the 1970s, authority in European Jewish communities has stemmed from support of the State of Israel. The communities were strengthened, their institutions gained legitimacy and raised funds, Jews transcended their divisions and conflicting allegiances, in order to help the State of Israel. It has been a paradoxical situation because European Jews strengthened their collective existence in Europe by investing their efforts for the benefit of Israel and without a real interest in their own situation.
So a sort of "civil religion" developed around Israel and Zionism. Conversely there has been very little thinking about the intrinsic reality of Jewish existence in Europe. Today, as a result of the Intifada and of the internal divisions in the Israeli society and polity, this Zionist civil religion is no longer effective. The communities are finding themselves deprived of the legitimate basis which could federate the main sectors of the Jewish population within the scope of the existing institutions. Consequently, a process of division is under way.
The second is an external variable: the ambivalent process of European unification.
Logically, the process of unifying Europe should produce integration and unity. That does indeed occur in the administrative and institutional spheres, but not in the ideological and emotional ones. The European peoples in Western Europe, and all the more so in Eastern Europe, are today the prey of regressive feelings, of a turning in on themselves (which could be expressed by nationalism, xenophobia or, more commonly, anguish and fear) in facing a united Europe. The Jews are themselves concerned by this evolution, not only in their internal reality (see the developing sectarianism and fundamentalism among them), but also as a group in the global system. These conflicting expectations, expressed in the continuing debate about the issues of multiculturalism, pluralism, ethnicity vs. the issues of statism, republicanism and universalism in Europe, could have a direct influence upon the political and constitutional definitions of the Jewish communities. This situation could generate conflicting visions of the Jews: they could be viewed as the symbol of a transnational Europe which stands above separate nations (and Jewish intellectuals are prominent in celebrating the European ideal) or viewed as the symbol of particularism and ghettoism.
This situation leads us to define two targets for the future Jewish agenda:
* To keep the Jews together and save the ideal and reality of a unified Jewish community in every European state so that Jewish life could be organized, productive and meaningful.
* To keep the Jewish communities capable of responding to the strategic demands of European evolution; that is to say, to avoid the danger of letting themselves be enclosed in a limited particularism or identifying too much with a still vague universality. In other words, the European Jewish communities will have to build a genuine structure of their own in the European arena in order to "exist" in it and to find, in each country, a middle way between local identity and universality with regard to the nature and the aims of the Jewish people in the global arena.
Step One: Clarifying the strategies of Jewish identity facing Europe.
This is a very important question because action will depend on such a strategic choice. The pro-Zionist expression of the 1970s is finished today and the situation is now confused. We cannot say that there is no possibility of choice strategies. In the present confusion we can distinguish three competing de facto strategies of Jewish expression and identity in the overall European choir:
a) The Strategy of "Memory"
This statement promotes (often unconsciously) an identity nurtured by the memory of the Shoah. This memory helps keep large assimilated sectors of the Jewish communities inside "Judaism," or, more precisely, inside the Jewish ethnic group. It can even encourage a religious (in the secular sense) attitude to the Shoah which sacralizes it and defines it as an unfathomable mystery.
b) The "Human-Rightest" Strategy
This strategy is less passive than the first one. It tries to draw "active" inferences from the cult of "memory." It assumes that there is a special Jewish claim to morality because of the "inheritance" of Auschwitz, which authorizes and even "forces" Jews to intervene in European and world affairs (such as in Yugoslavia) in order to advocate moral causes.
c) The New-Judaic Strategy
This is the strategy of the "return to roots" (hazara b'tshuva), a 1980s phenomenon inspired by ultra-Orthodoxy, very different intellectually and concretely from the creative rediscovery of Judaism after World War II. This phenomenon introduces sectarianism and disengagement from the larger community. It does not show any positive interest in the existence of a global Jewish people in history other than the local and limited community of the faithful, of the members of their religious trend, and all the more so regarding Europe.
Generally speaking, this last strategy encourages neglecting the external realities. The second strategy is activist but with no productive and concrete results on Jewish fate and interests. The first one is exclusively passive and proclamative.
It is urgent for European Jewry to evaluate these three current de facto strategies and judge if, as strategies, they serve European Jewish interests or are counter-productive. That must be the only criterion by which the strategies are judged. Each of these strategies presents a potential danger. The memory strategy appears to be a protest strategy, which aims at European recognition of Jewish suffering, but for what? This strategy has no vision of the Jewish future and no will to transmit a living Judaism.
The human-rightest strategy might prompt the enmity of large sectors of non-Jewish public opinion because its claim that Jews play a universal moral role (as an actual privilege and not as a result of a moral and spiritual effort) is excessive. Moveover, it is not always in accord with the real morality of actual Jews. The third strategy is not a strategy for facing Europe and will lead the Jews to enclosure in a new ghetto. Hence, it is evident that today there is no positive and constructive strategy for facing the Jewish future in Europe, if there will be such a future. Such a strategy is nevertheless an absolute need because any Jewish policy will depend on it and without it all the political and international moves of the Jews will be in vain.
There is a common element to these three strategies: ethnicity as an axis of Jewish identity. This ethnic principle is perhaps appropriate to the actual and dialectical process of social fragmentation in Europe (parallel to its formal unification), but it soon will be revealed as politically and culturally unproductive because it is exclusively Jewish-centered (paradoxically for the human-rightest strategy), while the Jews are living in larger social surroundings. Little by little, they might lose a medium of communication with European society. Regarding this question, it seems to us that the development of a Jewish culture based on the symbols of Judaism understood with openness and in a non-dogmatic way could constitute a good symbolic basis with which to face the European universalism and not let the Jews be reduced to a provincial ethnic group because these symbols are already part of the European culture and are perhaps more actual (from a strategic viewpoint) than the political ideals of modernity which are in crisis. If one remembers that European political modernity saw the use of the nation-state and of periodic wars, one understands better how much the process of European unification indicates the beginnings of a political "post-modernity" for Europe. Today two positive cultural models have emerged to give a basis to European unification: imperial cosmopolitanism (ŕ la mode of the Habsbourg Empire) and a new catholicism, as Pope Joan Paul II devised it with his new evangelization of Europe (do not forget, the etymological sense of "catholic" is "universal").
Step Two: Community Rebuilding
Our aim must be to coin a new legitimacy and develop a respected and consensual authority, after the decline of the Zionist civil religion and its specific values.
Jewish leadership in Europe is very feeble today because its moral basis is very thin. In many countries, its authority is questioned. Both militant and non-militant Jews are no longer ready to accept being "represented" without a clear consensus as to the scope of this representation and the current policies of the Jewish communities. This situation can encourage a dismemberment of the Jewish community. Only on the basis of a renewed consensus will a strong leadership develop.
a) Consultation on Common Jewish Values
This new consensus could be attained by a debate, a negotiation process between the Jewish milieux and groupings about the common values the Jews are ready to share today. It will be useful to again define the basis of Jewish collective existence in the diaspora on this ideal of a "common minimum" (a modicum of common and shared values), around the idea that there are clear values on which Jews can agree. This idea developed in the French Jewish scout movement during World War II and has inspired quite a number of communal enterprises, in France.
b) The Adoption of Covenants
This debate could come off with the working out and adoption of communal covenants by all the milieux, groupings and institutions of the Jewish community in each European country. These covenants will detail the common values able to inspire Jewish policies and assemble the Jews in each community and also set out the process of power-sharing and administration, the sharing of responsibilities, and the division of roles between institutions and leaders.
Beyond that, what are the other items on the European Jewish community agenda? Those tasks include:
5.1 Improvement of Functioning of the Institutions
While every one of the communities has its organizational structure, in many cases they are structures that hang on problematically, and in every case, even in the most successful communities, in order to have continuity new leadership must be developed to take on their responsibilities when the time comes. There is today a current generational gap regarding leadership. In other respects, better formal links have to be established between the disparate ideological and religious groupings of a community, and the organized community has to form better links with the public it is designed to serve.
5.2 Federated Fundraising
This may necessitate a restructuring of the fundraising system. Historically, European Jewish communities relied upon communal taxation for funding. This was true even in the modern period when the governments levied or collected the taxes involved. With the increased separation between religion and state in Europe, fundraising, like other matters of affiliation and participation, has become primarily voluntary. In the past, the voluntary aspect was primarily directed to raising money for support of Israel through Keren Hayesod. For some time now, support of communal institutions and Jewish education has also come to be based on voluntary fundraising. Perhaps it is time to follow the North American model and combine fundraising for domestic and external Jewish causes into one federated campaign in each community, united, countrywide, and perhaps beyond that, in order to raise the maximum amount. This needs to be seriously explored. A renewed ideological and cultural basis for Jewish identify and the renewal of communal authority could encourage and motivate Jews to give money to the fundraising institutions.
5.3 Jewish Education
In Europe, as elsewhere, there is great weakness in Jewish education in contemporary Jewish communities. To use economic terminology, it is a combination of weaknesses in service delivery, among service providers, and with regard to consumer desires. Any of these weaknesses by themselves could defeat the enterprise. Together they represent a combination that no Jewish community in the world has yet been able to fully overcome. Here is where European Jewry needs to be involved with the rest of the world both to stimulate consumer interest and to secure better service providers, but the effort must be made in all arenas simultaneously.
It may be more possible to improve Jewish education as the school choice movement that arose in the United States and that is already influencing Israel as well comes to Europe. European statism in the past strongly opposed choice systems in education because the state educational system was seen as the way to induce loyalty to the state. Only where the dominant religion, Catholic or Protestant, was so strong that its educational needs had to be recognized did the state compromise. In some cases Jews benefited from that compromise, but in many cases what they could win in the political arena they lost as social forces pressed for high homogeneity, making Jewish exceptionalism in education less acceptable because those who went to Jewish schools could not easily secure integration into the larger society to the extent that they wished. That may begin to change now that statism itself has been seriously weakened.
Efforts need to be made to integrate the Jewish and general curricula in order that the Jewish schools will not produce maladjusted persons and to integrate all the aspects and dimensions of Jewish life in themselves with the general culture. Specific attention should be paid to history and Jewish thought, two disciplines which could integrate the life of the Jewish people in one continuum and synthesis.
The main problem of Jewish education is not a problem of budget but of program and content. A general theory of the basis, content, and purposes of Jewish education is needed.
5.4 Defining Who is a Jew
This is becoming an increasingly serious problem in Europe, compounded by the fact that European Jews, enjoying the new openness of European society and their acceptance within it, are very reluctant to even seem as if they are being exclusive. Nevertheless, every group that aspires to continuity must have rules of affiliation. One does not become a citizen of one's state of residence simply by crossing the border. One must either be born within it or naturalized, and in some cases (the gastarbeiter, for example), being born within the state is not sufficient to endow a person with citizenship. Every organization or community has its rules of membership.
No matter how much Jews desire to be open, they, too, must have some rules. They can be welcoming rather than restrictive rules, but some sort of solution must be found to the excessive fluidity of today which survives only because there is enough residual tribalism among European Jews that non-Jews who marry into the community can in some cases still be carried along by the tribal identification of their partners. Moreover, the rules that are arrived at must be acceptable to the great majority of Jews in Israel, North America, and the rest of the Jewish world as well if the Jews are to remain one people.
One way to do this might be to distinguish, from a formal and institutional viewpoint, between two levels of belonging to Jewish collective life: the domain of the community of the people (am) and the domain of the congregation or polity (edah). In principle, we assume that the congregation is the backbone of the community but we have to recognize that the community is larger and, for certain purposes, transcends it.
There are clear implications to be drawn from such a distinction: from the community viewpoint (and only at this level), the division in the edah (between the various Jewish denominations) must be transcended. The "community," in order to be administered has to be Jewishly "ecumenical" and accept as a condition of membership (and there must be such conditions) all the various conversion processes. This leads to the idea that, today, the civil authorities in the Jewish communities have to manage these problems and federate the divided Jews.
Membership of this kind in the community could entitle people in Chlenov's third category to the services of the Jewish community except those proscribed to non-Jews religiously. In this way a basis for bringing non-Jewish partners or those non-Jews interested in Judaism closer to the community would find expression while at the same time allowing for both more flexible membership and traditional membership criteria.
An arrangement such as this is more possible today as the world Jewish polity has returned to a situation in which the civil authorities are dominant in a way that they had not been for nearly two thousand years. The Jewish people and their polity was always based on the division of human authority within it into three domains the traditional Hebrew term used is ketarim (crowns) each of which, according to the Bible, receives its authority directly from God. The three are the keter malkhut (the crown of civil rule), the keter torah, and the keter kehunah (the crown of priesthood).
The first deals with the day-to-day problems of governance of the Jewish people and has been at different times in Jewish history in the hands of kings, patriarchs, judges, designated community elites, and elected representatives of the community. The second deals with the transmission to the people of the Divine message and its requirements. It has been variously in the hands of prophets, sages, scholarly heads of yeshivot and other religious academies, and leading scholars and thinkers. The third connects the people with the transcendent by enabling them to give public expression to their religious needs. It has variously been in the hands of priests, congregational rabbis, and other synagogue officiants.
During the period of the Second Commonwealth all three domains functioned and indeed competed with one another. With the destruction of the Second Temple, the keter kehunah was reduced to providing local services in Jewish congregations and the authority of the keter malkhut became drastically limited because the Jewish people was no longer politically independent. So the keter torah became the dominant domain. It held that position until the modern epoch when another reversal took place. As the authority of the traditional Torah broke down, the vacuum generated within the Jewish people came to be filled by those who advanced the civil and political causes in Jewish life emancipation and citizenship, Zionism, the fight against anti-Semitism, and the other political issues which have preoccupied modern Jews at least since the French Revolution.
Today, the differences of opinion within the keter torah and keter kehunah are so sharp that in many cases representatives of those ketarim will not sit with one another on the common agendas of their respective domains. Until now, however, all have managed to continue to sit together in matters pertaining to the keter malkhut. Moreover, the development of more comprehensive secular expressions of Jewish life have additionally strengthened that keter so that it may begin to take the kinds of steps needed in this arena.
The fact that the community may be a conglomerate for all sorts of Jews is vital to this model. Otherwise, it is today in danger from the growing sectarian divisions of the Jews.
The centrality of the keter malkhut urges us to develop the idea and the reality of a "Jewish public domain," of a Jewish common interest. Generally speaking, the different institutions and leaderships tend to think that the whole of Judaism/Jewry is theirs. This does not help to achieve a rational and efficacious relationship to reality and adds to the confusion in Jewish public life and to its, at times, over-passionate character. It is imperative that a large majority of Jews recognize the boundaries of a public good that is superior to their specific interests as individuals and groupings. There are many ways to achieve this purpose. Take the question of the status and the role of halakhah at the center of Jewish life. Today, a new phenomenon has occurred in modern Judaism: halakhah has political consequences for the community because of the State of Israel and larger numbers of Jews returning to Judaism. If halakhah is to be at the center of Jewish life, once again it must be a tolerant and flexible law that can keep all Jews together as it was in traditional times. For example, Rabbi Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, today viewed as a halakhic straight-jacket by many, actually wrote it when thinking about the halakhic rule of the community as broad and flexible. But we also have to emphasize the need for Jewish secularists to respect the central symbols of Judaism and to differentiate between those symbols, which are also theirs, and the specific policies of the various trends of institutional Judaism.
5.5 Jewish Religious Life
Still, the keter malkhut alone cannot hold together the Jewish people or its communities. It has long been proven that unless at least two out of the three ketarim are functioning well, the Jewish people is so truncated as to be in danger. This means that however strong and beneficial the keter malkhut may be in today's Europe, European Jewry tends to ignore the other two ketarim at its peril.
Unlike the Jews of the United States or even Israel, large sectors of European Jewry have no links with Jewish religious life. The leading circles of European Jewry are among those who as a group display the least religious commitment, viewing their Jewishness as a matter of ethnicity or in some cases disability. Only a minority see it as a matter of the blessings of Judaism and conduct their lives according to Jewish tradition. Indeed, European Jewish activists, with the exception of a small Orthodox minority, are presently riding the crest of a wave of secularism. Many of their intellectuals are working to develop a new secular Jewish identity, apparently unaware of the failure of such efforts in the rest of the Jewish world including Israel over the past two centuries whenever and wherever they have been tried. Moreover, they bristle when this latter point is raised by Jews from other communities.
While we are all thankful for the freedom to choose, it has now become increasingly clear that Jewishness cannot survive without Judaism, that no secular solution to the Jewish question, not even Zionism or Israel, has the power to sustain humans born Jews in their Jewishness. Yet the search for normality, which in today's world is a search to be part of the international (American) popular culture that pervades the world, is stronger than any but the most deeply grounded calls for exceptionalism.
Jews should not kid themselves; being Jewish is hard. It demands sacrifices, including a rejection of being "like all the nations," on behalf of Jewish affirmation, not to maintain exclusivity, because Judaism demands the best in people. Under these limitations, it should be open to everyone.
All serious Jews are always trying to be better Jews, however they define it. All those who care must share that aspiration, each in an appropriate way. This means that, without unnecessarily excluding anyone in our priorities, Jewish communities should be designed, first and foremost, for those who have chosen and are striving to continue to be Jews. While we should not seek to exclude anyone, it is easy to understand that, by its very "raison d'čtre," a Jewish community should not be designed to make it easier for those who simply seek to abandon Judaism, no matter which version. That is the real divide for contemporary Jews not between Israel and the diaspora or between particular diaspora communities, but between those who want to be Jews and those who seek "normalization" above all.
It is difficult to suggest exactly how this religious revival can be given form. We can state that it will be very important for the communal institutions to help develop an open, tolerant, spiritually and intellectually creative Judaism, perhaps by encouraging the opening of cultural, non-academic (but with a good intellectual level) learning institutions for adults, in order to teach the subject matter of Judaism in a thoughtful and creative way. It is important to develop Jewish learning especially in this way because it maintains Judaism as a global cultural phenomenon for all Jews inside the larger culture. It will help distant Jews to get closer to Judaism. It could be important to develop such an institution at the European level in order to concentrate or coordinate this effort or simply to link such institutions that exist, something so rare in Europe, and generate a pool of teachings, teachers, and cultural opportunities.
5.6 Jewish Culture and Civilization
This may prove to be a field more susceptible to community activity, possible to foster on limited budgets, available to all who seek it without having to make determinations of who is a Jew that are mired in controversy, and that will be accepted as the Jewish contribution to the local cultural scene, as well as to Jewish life. Indeed, in such a strongly secular Jewish community, Jewish culture and civilization may provide the best vehicles in the short run for maintaining Jewish unity, although it is hard to see how young European Jews who have grown up without either in their personal experiences will easily be able to attach themselves to either. This fostering of Jewish culture and civilization could lead to a dialogue between Judaism and modern culture as a whole and serve as a means of communication between the Jews and their social surroundings. It can express their thoughts and feelings through the global symbols shared by all of society so that it can play a role in the legitimation of Jewish identity. It can be done, but it requires serious effort, more of an effort than most young European Jews seem to be interested in exerting.
These then should be high priorities on the communal agenda. It is not only a problem of intellectual and cultural models but also a very concrete problem. Culture needs financial support in order to survive. A serious effort has to be made to encourage publications, translations, exhibitions, all the means to create and support the existence of continuing activity in the Jewish cultural sphere.
5.7 Political and Representational Activity
The conduct of foreign affairs is a perennial function and need of any community which seeks to maintain itself within a framework of good relations with its surroundings. Jews have rarely appreciated the fact that many of our political and representational activities, which tend to be couched in the most moralistic of terms, are actually exercises in foreign relations. For example, it is natural for Jews to fight anti-Semitism as a human scourge, especially after our most recent experiences with its manifestations; but it is wise to enter into coalitions with others to deal with common or similar problems as a matter of the need of any people or polity for allies, not for moralistic reasons alone. We must keep up our political and representational activities, but would be wise to do so in a judicious and sober manner, recognizing that these are not all or nothing fights that, once won, are won forever, but rather elements in an ongoing task of living peacefully and securely in the world where we are a highly visible minority and always will be. This requires a strategy rendered doubly difficult by the emotional responses of most Jews to the critical issues on the Jewish political and representational agenda.
Increasingly, the political and representational activities of European Jewry will need to be conducted in at least two arenas. One is the arena of individual states and the other, the European-wide arena. The external affairs issues that seem to most concern Jews, which rest so heavily on questions of human rights, have been foremost among those that have been moved to multi-national European arenas. The EU has taken the lead in making human rights a matter of EU business, with a constitutional court that has been quite active on that issue. But so, too, are most of the other less powerful European-wide bodies. Yet the Jews have been rather laggard in developing appropriate political and representational institutions for the new European-wide arenas. European Jewry is notably under-represented in Brussels even though, since the establishment of the European Community, Brussels has turned into a major center for lobbying by nongovernmental groups. A modest first step has been taken in this direction with the formation of CEJI. Located in Brussels, its task is to represent Jewish interests before the governing bodies of the European Union. As in the case of other postwar European institutions, it was stimulated and assisted by an American Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League. Indeed there is some question as to what extent it has developed roots in the various countrywide European Jewish communities. Nevertheless, it is there and has continued to function. Hopefully, European Jewry will decide to change this situation before long, especially since it could prove to be one of the most important vehicles for developing European Jewish unity in a feasible and non-interfering way. This should be a matter of real priority.
Jewish leaders will have to think carefully about their interventions on the public stage, and especially not to mix the struggle against anti-Semitism with the struggle for human rights causes, especially when there is no anti-Semitism really threatening the Jews. The propensity to struggle for human rights is honorable in a time of human tragedies, but it cannot be the only policy of the European Jewish community, especially when human rights becomes more and more a pseudo-moral tactic to gain legitimacy for declining political forces or celebrities without firm authority. The Jewish community cannot become a "Vatican" whose role would be to play such a moral role in international affairs. The Jews constitute a real socio-historical group which has its specific interests, and not only a metaphysical ideal and it would be a mistake to confuse the two. Here, a detailed agenda to define the basic Jewish interests in Europe is needed.
For the first time, European Jews must begin to learn to deal with the kind of open communities that early on became prevalent, even dominant, in the New World as distinct from the Old World, where historic anti-Semitism and a corporatism fostered by the state served to keep most Jews in the community most of the time. European Jewry rightly celebrates this new openness, but it must develop ways to deal with it for Jewish survival and continuity. In part, this consists of giving people what they want, of providing for diversity, provided that such diversity is limited to those things which are authentically Jewish. To give people what they want in such a way that is anti-Jewish or at cross purposes with Jewish survival and continuity is not the task of the Jewish community, especially since the people who want that can easily find it elsewhere. European Jewish institutes must stand for Jewishness first and foremost.
6. Arenas of Organization and Activity
In all of the foregoing, there must be communal activity in several arenas: local, European-wide, and worldwide. In part because of our historical tradition and in part because of our historical circumstances, the Jewish people has always had to function within three such arenas on a federal basis. There have been virtues and advantages in that, but inevitably the relationships among the arenas generate a certain amount of tension and require a certain amount of negotiated cooperation. However, where any of those arenas is lacking, communal function suffers. In the modern epoch, the local and countrywide arenas were well developed while the world arena was undergoing a great transition and those in it were feeling their way. With the establishment of Israel at the very beginning of the postmodern epoch and the mobilization of North American Jewry in its support, a worldwide arena of substance was initiated for the first time since the collapse of the Muslim empire in the eleventh century. European Jewry at that time was in the throes of reconstruction or reconquest by the Soviet Union and, accordingly, was naturally unable to participate in the arena's birth the way it might have wished at an earlier time.
The first generation of the postmodern epoch witnessed the consolidation of Israel and the Jewries of the New World and culminated in the reconstitution of the Jewish Agency which provided an active locus for a world Jewish politics which rapidly emerged. Because of its special situation, European Jewry has remained a laggard participant in this new world arena. The time has come to change that.
7. The Nature of the Community and
the Conditions of Its Political Representation
The idea of a Jewish community in a free and democratic world is a very problematic one for many and might encourage many misunderstandings for Jews and global society. First of all, it is a new phenomenon in the contemporary world because the Jews were emancipated as individuals and not as a collectivity. More than that, they had to renounce their membership in the Jewish community in order to be accepted as individuals. After the Second World War, the concept of "community" in democratic regimes appeared and was accepted de facto for many historical reasons, but never truly defined and understood. This ambiguous notion evokes the medieval corporatist kehillah, which is in no way embodied in the modern Jewish communities in the European democratic countries. European society might think that Jews are alien bodies in their midst while Jews might think they really constitute a "community" on the medieval model. It is easy to see how it will be important for the Jews to clarify for Europeans what a Jewish community is. That will be even more important for themselves in order not to have false expectations about its nature, especially when leaders or institutions act to represent it before the government and public opinion.
"Jewish community" could be defined as a house, the doors and windows of which are open to the surroundings, a house from which the Jews go in and out and which they enter voluntarily. This house has a symbolic reality. That is not to say it is less real or unreal. Jews make up a community not at the primary level of basic social bonds but at the peak of the system of social bonds. That is to say, Jews are members of all sorts of social networks, they are first of all citizens before they are members of the Jewish communal network, which is a network for mutual recognition, identification, transmission, and collective action for Jews, developed within the larger society.
On this basis, what is adequate representation for Jews? Is someone entitled to speak "in the name of the Jews" and to represent a whole community? The Jewish leaders' authority is not democratic (in the sense of being determined by universal suffrage), even if there is formally an electoral process in each organization. And in the best case, the election occurs in only one organization, no in all of them.
In a period of social quiescence, the collective representation of Jews vis-a-vis the government ought to be a minimal and modest one, in order to avoid a division between the different sectors in the community which are parts of different and opposite ideological and political trends. Only in periods of crisis and tension is there a basis for an active and decisive representation, when it can be supposed that there is an agreement about most of the questions of the time. This was the case during the period which began with the Six-Day War. That period is finished. Today, too dynamic representation might make the community burst apart.
8. Relations with Israel
After World War II, European Jewry survived and reconstituted itself through the very great assistance of American Jewish organizations and even greater commitment to Israel as the haven for the Jewish people and cornerstone of Jewish life. In a curious and ironic way, European Jews leaned heavily on the Zionist idea in order to reconstruct Jewish life in their diaspora. They saw Israel as the center of world Jewry in a far more profound way than did North American Jewry and leaned more heavily on the intellectual and cultural resources that Israel could provide, turning to the Jewish state for rabbis, teachers, communal service professionals, and even financial support for certain of their reconstruction efforts. As we and others have suggested, this attitude toward Israel and the relationships it fostered no longer function to mobilize European Jewry. Israel continues to be loved and cherished, but it is no longer viewed as the loadstone of Jewish life in so many ways. European Jewish activists now are more concerned about what is happening to the Jews of Europe than to those of Israel, seeing their future in Europe in ways that the previous generation did not, even though they had chosen to stay in Europe or resettle there rather than settling in Israel. Hence, a new relationship between Israel and European Jewry must be constructed.
This new relationship will have to be one based on two understandings: one, that European Jewry is now a more independent entity whose first connections will have to be among its various communities with one another; and the second is that in the Jewish world as a whole, the major division is no longer between Israel and the diaspora but between those Jews who wish to remain Jews and those who are interested in seeking normalization as fully integrated parts of the new worldwide culture that beckons to us all. This last reality suggests that the relationship with Israel may turn out to be a crosscutting issue since Israel itself is now undergoing the struggle between those who want to find the ways and means for being Jewish in a Jewish state and those who simply want to be members of an Israeli nation within the world family of nations. Indeed, the most closely connected relationships between European and Israeli Jewries today are among the Orthodox who have resolved the problem for themselves and worked out ways and means to express their Judaism and Jewishness with each other wherever they may find themselves. The resources of the vast majority of European Jewry are not nearly as well equipped for this task as they were for the previous task. Here, too, it is easier to identify the task than to prescribe ways and means to accomplish it. If European Jewry moves down the lines suggested in the foregoing pages, it will also find new ways to develop its relationship with Israel on the basis of a more equal standing within the world Jewish community and polity.
9. The Changing Jewish Situation in the 1990s
An assessment of the Jewish situation in various parts of the world is necessary for any serious agenda setting for European Jewry to take place, especially since there are both significant differences between different parts of the Jewish world and growing similarities. Both need to be identified.
By and large, Jewish communities throughout the diaspora are moving in the direction of the Jews in the United States or in the former Soviet Union; that is to say, toward assimilation as individuals within the larger society. The difference between the two is the degree of ethnic survival that keeps some Jewish identity alive. Here, too, the American model in which ethnic survival seems to be substantially diminishing is likely to be the most prevalent one because separate ethnic communities are not the norm in the United States while they remain the norm in the FSU, but those are two variations of the same pattern. To some degree, increases in open anti-Semitism may modify this trend, but that is a terrible "cure."
Because of the changing situation of Jews throughout the world, organized Jewish life has entered a period of change likely to be at least as great. Indeed, it can be said that there is a good chance that in many places older solutions and structures with which Jews had become comfortable during the modern epoch and which themselves are new enough for those involved to be considered modern, will not be able to respond to the changed Jewish situation.
For some, a return to older, more traditional forms will be even compelling. For others, still newer forms that can deal with the postmodern world will have to be found.
We now have the instrumentalities of a world Jewish polity more or less in position but also threatened by one problem or change or another. Institutionally, those instrumentalities include the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress, and the Joint Distribution Committee. Each of these bodies has its own regional and local networks, each with its own institutions and organizations. At present, collectively they either directly conduct the business of world Jewry or have within them the other institutions and organizations that conduct their parts of it. However, these institutions are not necessarily valued by the Jewish people according to the work they do but according to the image that they have come to present, which is not always favorable. Concerned Jews are asking how can those institutions and networks respond as a polity and how are they likely to? Concerned European Jews must ask how does European Jewry fit in and how can they better do so.