Taking a Census

“The Torah contains a remarkable perspective on demography. In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses: ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.’ In other words, it is hazardous to count Jews… At most times in our history we have been a tiny people… Nevertheless, Jews did more than survive. Throughout history we have been at the epicentre of world history… The Judaic heritage shaped and continues to shape Western civilisation… Why then is it hazardous to count Jews? Because when we take a census we are basing our strength on numbers. Jewish strength has never lain in numbers. When we count Jews there is a serious danger that we will be demoralised, realising that we are so few. When a people depends – as the Jewish people depends – on its spirit and sense of pride, demoralisation can be nothing short of catastrophic. It can lead to despair, and from despair to defeat.”

Will we have Jewish Grandchildren?, pp. 28-29