Click to search by Category

Studies in Renewal (1) – From Integration to Survival to Continuity

Categories

This is the first of five pamphlets written by Rabbi Sacks in 1993. The series is entitled “Studies in Renewal”.

Introduction

In my installation address, on September 1st, 1991, I called on Anglo­ Jewry to join with me in creating a Decade of Jewish Renewal. A year and a half have passed, and the first stage of renewal has been completed. The time has come to move on to stage two.

Stage one had three dimensions. The first was to visit communities throughout Anglo-Jewry, to get to know them, to become known by them, and to present to them the challenge of renewal. By the end of this year I will have visited most of the large and many of the small communities in London and the provinces. Meeting them has been for me an energising experience and I hope they have felt energised in return. Anglo-Jewry can feel justly proud of the centres of excellence it contains, and the warmth and commitment of our communal life.

The second dimension was more challenging. I wanted to establish the Chief Rabbinate as a proactive force in the community, not merely encouraging others to create projects of renewal but leading by example. Beyond the parameters of synagogue and school life, the Chief Rabbinate has in the past led by influence and exhortation. These are no small things. Through them over the past two centuries my predecessors have helped shape the direction of the community as it met the challenges of changing times.

As I read the mood of the age, however, I doubted whether influence and encouragement alone were enough. I suspected – and that suspicion has since hardened to certainty- that we were living at a time unprecedentedly sceptical of authority. Few people today in secular democratic societies can exercise influence in virtue of position. That applies not only to religious leaders but to politicians and heads of other institutions also. We respect not the position but the person, and we judge the person less by what he says than by what he does. Therefore I had to create a doing Chief Rabbinate. And since the battle for Je wish commitment today extends beyond the synagogue and Jewish school, I had to extend the field of doing as well.

In these past eighteen months, therefore, the Chief Rabbinate has initiated a series of projects to create movement in the key fields of leadership, education, spirituality and community. There was the novel attempt to express community, the Walkabout. There were the Chief Rabbinate Awards, designed as an antidote to one of Anglo­ Jewry’s most incapacitating sins, self-denigration. There was Integrity in Action, our programme of seminars on Jewish business ethics, which took Jewish values into the marketplace.

There was our Bursary scheme to help school-leavers to spend a year of study in Israel. There is IDEA, our programme to encourage adult education and train adult educators. There is our ongoing programme of rabbinic development which recently took twelve leading rabbis from London and the provinces for an extended visit to Israel to study the latest outreach techniques. And there is our forthcoming seminar on relationships and the Jewish family.

Each of these projects was chosen to advance the stated priorities of renewal: leadership, education, spirituality and community. They had to create new leadership teams, or innovate in the field of education, or enhance our appreciation of Jewish values or bring together in novel ways different groups within the community. Most importantly they had cumulatively to signal that Anglo-Jewry was capable of action and innovation, without which renewal is impossible.

The third dimension was the most fundamental. I believed and still believe that as an established community we are out of touch with the realities of contemporary Jewish life. We have the priceless benefit of relatively long-established institutions. The great centres of world Jewry, Israel and America, do not. Israel is a young country, if also our most ancient home. American Jewry, though it is almost as old as Anglo Jewry, has always thrived on the absence of establishments. Anglo-Jewry had great institution-builders, most notably Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler and Sir Moses Montefiore, who created in the Victorian age many of the communal structures we still inherit today.

There is, however, a danger that what is old can become aged. And that I believed, is what had begun to happen to at least some of our institutions. I therefore encouraged a process of self-examination which has yielded, thus far, an unexpectedly rich harvest. There have been the Kalms Report on the United Synagogue, the JEDT Think Tank (the Worms Report) on Jewish education, the proposed reforms at the Board of Deputies and the enquiry, led by Rosalind Preston, which I commissioned into the situation of women in the community. Individually these have brought gusts of fresh air into our communal thinking, even if they have created occasional squalls and storms. Taken together they have prepared us for what we most now need: a massive community-wide effort to renew Jewish commitment and identity at a time of drift and disaffiliation.

So the first stage is complete. But the second stage is altogether larger and more demanding. Having prepared the ground for renewal, we must now plant it. And before we can do so, we must know what it is we are planting for.

The answer consists of two words: Jewish Continuity. Jewish continuity is a challenge, an idea and a project, the most ambitious but the most urgently necessary project Anglo-Jewry has been called on to create in the last twenty years. Everything I have done in the Chief Rabbinate thus far has been mere preparation for this, the structural and spiritual heart of renewal.

The project called Jewish Continuity is at the stage of planning and consultation. But the idea behind it consists of a simple question and a far from simple answer. The question is: will we have Jewish grandchildren? The answer is: yes, if.

To initiate the process leading to Jewish continuity, I want to invite you to a debate, one that is bound to be controversial and passionately argued. It begins with this paper, which will be followed by several others presenting the issue of continuity in both intellectual and practical terms.

The question they ask is: what is the ‘if’ of continuity? What do we need to do now as a Jewish community if there is to be a Jewish community in the future?


Counting Time

The counting of the Omer – the command to enumerate the days between Pesach and Shavuot – alerts us to a fundamental aspect of Judaism and one we sometimes ignore.

Much of Judaism is timeless – our beliefs, our values, our way of life. One of our most potent symbols is the ner tamid, the everlasting light that ‘burns and is not consumed’. That has been an essential part of our story and self-understanding as an eternal people bound in an unbreakable relationship to the e ternal God. The days, the years, the centuries pass, but Judaism and the Jewish people remain.

But there is something else in Jewish existence that renders us acutely sensitive to time. In one of the classics of modern Jewish scholarship, Zakhor, Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi writes:

” It was ancient Israel that first assigned a decisive significance to history and thus forged a new world-view … ‘The heavens,’  in the words of the psalmist , might still declare the glory of the Lord ‘ but it was human history that revealed His will and purpose … Far from attempting a flight from history, biblical religion allows itself to be saturated by it and is inconceivable apart from it.”

As Jews we are aware of the shifting sands of time. Indeed sensitivity to history yielded an entirely new type of religious personality, the prophet. Unlike Moses, who transmitted laws which were ‘everlasting statutes,’ the other prophets spoke specifically to their generation and its challenges. For some, like Jeremiah, the challenge was exile. For others, like Ezekiel, it was return. ‘Each generation,’ said the sages, ‘produces its own search and its own leaders.’

If the symbol of Jewish timeless ness is the everlasting light, the symbol of Jewish time is the counting of the Omer. ‘Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ Between Pesach and Shavuot we enumerate the days and pronounce a blessing over each, as if to say that each division of time contains unique problems and opportunities. Each- to put it spiritually – contains a new disclosure of God’s will and purpose.

There is more than one command to count time. The Omer lead s us to count days. The institution of the Jubilee instructs us to count years. And there is a third, if necessarily less precise, mandate which might be called the prophetic imperative. This tells us to count eras, periods. The prophetic challenge is to identify an age and its problems. In fact the inner history of Israel could be written solely in terms of what each era saw as its particular challenge and opportunity.

I believe that we are entering a new era in modern Jewish life, one which presents quite different problems from those which have dominated the Jewish agenda hitherto. If we fail to see this, we will miss the moment and the opportunity. We will find ourselves fighting yesterday’ s battles instead of today ‘s.

What were yesterday’s battles? They can be summarised in two words: integration and survival.

From the nineteenth century until 1967 the keyword of Euro pean and American Je wish life was integration. The secularisation of the Wes t and the rise of the nation state offered Jews the possibility of becoming full participants in the majority society and its culture, something that had been impossible since the age of Constantine in the third century.

Emancipation bestowed on Jews the full range of civic rights. But it carried a price, namely that Jews passed through what John Murray Cuddihy has called the ‘ordeal of civility’ and adapted to the manners and mores of Europe. It meant the end of a certain kind of Jewish apartness and the beginning of a journey ‘out of the ghetto.’

Most Jews welcomed the new age, but it quickly proved to be the start of a prolonged crisis of identity which has haunted Western Jewry to this day. I have told the story in several of my books, and we still live with its consequences. For some Jews the inner conflict between being an heir to the covenant at Sinai and a citizen of the modern state was simply too great. Some chose modernity and assimilated out of Judaism. Others adapted Judaism until, instead of being the way of life of a particular people, it became the ‘religion of ethical universalism.’ At the other end of the spectrum, there were those who rejected modern culture and decided that if Jews were to remain Jews they would have to choose not integration but segregation.

In Britain, however, Jews found a society that was both more tolerant and less ideologically driven than elsewhere in Europe. The result was that most found themselves able to reconcile their twin identities. The traditionalism of English life harmonised with the traditionalism of Jewish sentiment and produced, by and large, a happy marriage . Nineteenth century Anglo-Jews could point to such role models as Sir Moses Montefiore who could move with equal ease from the City to the royal family to the synagogue and the Jewish house of study. In Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler they had a religious leader who combined unbending Orthodoxy with Vic to ria n decorousness. Even Benjamin Disraeli, who had been converted to Christianity as a child, could refer to his Jewish origins with pride. All this was in marked contrast to the tormented inner struggles of Central and Eastern European Jewry and the reckless abandonment of tradition by the Jews of the United States.

The pursuit of integration had a marked effect on Jewish education. Victorian England had Jewish schools. But their primary purpose was to protect Jewish children from the then active efforts of Christian missionaries. Beyond this, as Israel Finestein puts it, Jewish schools were seen as ‘valuable instruments for anglicisation.’ They were set up largely to assist the Jewish working class – above all, the new immigrants to become vocationally trained and to adjust to English society. In a sermon delivered in the New West End Synagogue in 1887, Hermann Adler spelled out the philosophy of the prevailing Jewish establishment. Their task, he declared, was ‘to Anglicise, humanise and civilise’ the new East European immigrants, and ‘to enable the m to become absorbed in the intelligent, industrious, independent wage­ earning classes of the country.’

Within the terms set for it, the policy worked remarkably well. The story of successive generations of Anglo -Jewish immigrants has been chapter after chapter of rapid transition from the ghetto to public prominence in the arts and sciences, business and industry, academic and political life. Jews acculturated with astonishing speed and became paradigms of upward mobility. By and large, too, the innate conservatism and tolerance of British society worked to the benefit of Jewish identity. There were moments of awkwardness and occasional outbreaks of antisemitism . But for the most part Jews were content to remain Jews and join and occasionally attend synagogues. Integration was possible, and few other Jewries achieved it with so little pain and drama.


Survival

The turning point, in world Jewish terms, came in 1967. Looking back at that moment some eighteen years later, two American scholars, Steven Cohen and Leonard Fein, described it as the time when the dominant theme of Diaspora Jewish life turned ‘from integration to survival.’

The cause of this change was Israel, specifically the threat to its existence in the weeks leading up to the Six Day War. But its effect was felt no less in American Jewry. It was one of those rare moments- like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – which can fairly be said to have changed Jewish consciousness and left their permanent mark on our collective personality. ironically it was in 1967 that Diaspora Jewry finally discovered the Holocaust, which had taken place more than twenty years before. It was as if it took the threat of a second devastation to unlock the floodgates of feeling about the first.

There is a difference between history and memory, especially group memory: between what happened and the way we frame our perceptions of what happened and turn it into a story that explains us to ourselves. Israel’s battle for survival in 1967 came to be seen by a whole generation of American Jews as something more than a remarkable military victory, and as something other than a miracle in the traditional sense. It became a symbol, an emblem of a new Jewish identity. Jews had been sentenced to annihilation in the Shoah. Israel had come face to face with the spectre of a second holocaust at the hands of its hostile neighbours. But the Jewish people had survived. Indeed that was its fate and destiny. Jews are the people who are threatened but who survive.

The new survivalism was significantly different in mood and attitude from the old integrationism. Israel became far more prominent in Diaspora Jewish life. Several commentators were moved to say that Israel had become the religion of American Jews. A new activism began to permeate world Jewry. Jews were to be found less often praying to God than raising funds, mobilising support and engaged in political lobbying on behalf of Israel or Soviet Jewry or the fight against antisemitism.

Integrationism had been based on a fundamentally optimistic view of human nature. American Reform rabbis had solemnly declared in 1885: ‘We recognise in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approach of Israel’ s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men.’ Reason and tolerance would prevail. Prejudice would die. Less than a century later, those hopes were dashed. Accordingly, survivalism took a darker view. The Holocaust had revealed man’s persisting capacity for evil in the midst of high civilisation. Israel’s continuing isolation showed the sheer tenacity of antisemitism, now transmuted into anti­ Zionism. For Jews, the modern world had proved to be a dangerous place indeed.

This gave impetus to a new Jewish particularism. Jews found themselves suddenly interested not in what made them the same as everyone else but in what made them different. A generation of young Jews began to search for their roots and lost religious heritage. They took the ‘ path of return.’ Across a wide spectrum of religious affiliation, Jews developed a new interest in ritual – the codes and actions of Jewish difference. They became far readier than any previous generation since emancipation to give public expression to their Jewishness. Israel had given them pride. Thoughts of the Holocaust had given them defiance.

There was one other factor in this transformation. It had nothing to do with Israel or indeed with Jewishness as such. The 1960s were also the time when a certain cultural model began to be challenged and overthrown: what was known in America as the ‘melting pot’ and in Britain as assimilation. This was the idea that a society possessed a single dominant culture into which all minorities must eventually merge. Instead anew model emerged – pluralism or multiculturalism – which held that society was a mosaic of different groups and their ways of life , none of which held primacy over any other. This change, along with the epic events in Israel, profoundly affected Jews.

To understand why, we must remember the deep effect of secularisation on the Jewish community, most notably in America. In the 1960s, Gerhard Lenski found Jews to be markedly less ‘religious’ in their attitudes than either Protestants or CathoIics – a finding which remained true in the mid -1980 s. Clearly this signalled a crisis for any traditional Jewish identity. To be Jewish, whether in the ancient or the modern world, was primarily to be a member of a people defined by its faith and religious code. But the constellation of forces in the 1960s now made possible a quite different definition. The drama of the Holocaust and the State of Israel could be seen less as a chapter in the history of Divine providence than as the secular story of a people asserting its will to survive. The pluralism of contemporary American life gave this people its mandate to continue to survive. Jews could now see themselves as something other than a religious community. They were, and increasingly saw themselves as, an ethnic group.

These changes took place most dramatically in America. But they had an effect on Anglo-Jewry as well. Here too the Shoah and Israel became touchstones of Jewish identity. Fund-raising and political activism took a new significance at the heart of Jewish life. At any time prior to 1967 there could be no doubt as to which were the most significant positions of lay leadership within the community. They were the President of the Board of Deputies and the President of the United Synagogue, the two positions which externally and internally epitomised Anglo -Jewry as a religious community. Today Anglo-Jewish leaders are as likely to be drawn to the secular fields of Israel, welfare and defence as to the synagogue and representation.

Britain is a less plausible home than America for the idea that Jews are simply an ethnic group. There are fewer Jews here, too few to sustain an viable ethnic subculture.   Besides which, pluralism and the associated separation of religion and state never belonged to British values as they did to America which saw itself as the home of ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ – Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Nonetheless significant numbers of young Jews do now see their identity in essentially ethnic terms. For them, Jewish belonging is a matter of mixing with other Jews, supporting Israel and fig h ting antisemitism and has no especially religious connotation.


The Passing of an Era

Just as integrationism resolved the problem of being Jewish in a modern secular society, so survivalism rallied Jewish energies at a time of flagging commitment. It emphasised the difference the State of Israel has made to Jews worldwide, allowing them to feel more secure and more capable of taking action when particular Diaspora communities are under threat of persecution. It played no small part in the worldwide Jewish response to the plight of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry. Equally importantly, it gave Jews a way of seeing themselves as part of a single people at a time when religious and cultural differences had gone so deep that perhaps nothing else was capable of uniting them. Not all Jews could relate to the idea of being members of the covenant at Sinai. But most could identify with the idea that, but for an accident of history, they might have been victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

The idea of survival energised Jews for a generation. But it can do so no longer. In retrospect we will probably see the publication of the results of the1990 North American National Jewish Population Survey as the turning point. This disclosed that the rate of outmarriage among young American Jews had reached 57%. In Britain, Board of Deputies figures have shown for some years that only a half of Jews of marriageable age are marrying in synagogue, and since the 1950s the Jewish population has declined by some 50%. This leads to a most disturbing conclusion. Jewish commitment to survival has not proved strong enough to ensure that Jews survive.

During the middle and late 1980s a school of American Jewish sociologists, known as transformationists, mounted the unprecedented argument that the Jewish community was not endangered by high rates of intermarriage. If the non-Jewish partner converted, or if at least half the children of mixed marriages were raised as Jews, there would be no net loss to the community and perhaps even a gain. Such was the argument of figures like Charles Silberman and Calvin Goldscheider. Their optimism has now proved dramatically unfounded. Few non-Jewish partners in mixed marriages convert, and equally few bring up their children as Jews. This is so despite the fact that the liberal denominations in America have virtually abandoned preconditions for conversion, and have chosen, through the controversial ‘patrilineal’ ruling of 1983, to recognise the children of Jewish fathers and non – Jewish mothers as Jews. In short, despite every liberal accommodation to mixed marriage, the American Jewish community is losing Jews at a prodigious rate.

Anglo-Jewry is different from America and we can draw no direct comparison. On the whole we are more traditional, more affiliated and better Jewishly educated. Nor have the issues been debated here with the clarity and vigour they have received there. Nonetheless the experience of American Jewry in the 1990s allows us to see the deep shortcomings of survivalism as a philosophy of Jewish life. Paradoxically, survivalism fails as a strategy for survival.

It makes sense when what is at stake is physical survival. When lives are at risk or freedoms are in danger we need no further justification for our concern. Physical survival has dominated modern Jewish concern, and that is why the Holocaust and the State of Israel have been central to our thought. The Holocaust stands as the symbol of the risk Jews face. Israel stands as the guarantor of Jewish lives and liberties worldwide.

But physical survival is not the problem confronting most Diaspora Jewries. It is not seriously endangered in either America or Britain. What is at risk is neither life nor liberty but identity. The question is not ‘Will we survive?’ but ‘How will we survive?’ As Jews? Or as something else, whose Jewish content will rapidly diffuse through the generations until nothing of it remains? We should not forget that physically, the lost ten tribes survived. They were merely lost to Jewish history. They chose to live as something other than as members of the people of Israel.

Survivalism answers no questions. It proposes no content for Jewish life other than life itself. In order to sustain even a minimally coherent view of why Jews should remain Jews rather than fade into anonymity it has to postulate the darkest possible view of the human condition, namely;

  1. that Jews are uniquely singled out for persecution,
  2. that they will remain so even if they marry out and merge into social anonymity, and
  3. that at times of danger they can rely on no other help than from themselves.

For a generation waking to the trauma of the Holocaust at a time when Israel stood embattled and alone, these propositions seemed luminous in their certainty. But it is doubtful in the extreme whether any people can sustain itself on so negative a self-definition.

Traditionally, on Pesach, Jews solemnly acknowledged that ‘It was not one alone who stood against us to destroy us; in every generation there have been those who stood against us to destroy us.’ Collective Jewish memory begins in the book of Exodus with slavery and the threat of genocide. But what follows is not survivalism but a declaration of faith. The story ends not with endurance but redemption. Liberation from Egypt leads on to holy living, not to merely being alive. The Psalmist begins by saying, ‘I will not die but live.’ But he continues: ‘and I will declare the works of God.’

What would Pesach be without its intimate connection with Shavuot? What would Israelite freedom be without the further festival of revelation? What would Jewish life have been without some content to inspire pride and purpose? Imagine the Bible as a narrative of mere survival. We would read about the Israelites becoming slaves in Egypt. We would thrill to the story of how they were led to freedom and a land of their own. And then we would read about how they mingled and married with the local population and became as dead to the pages of world history as the ancient Jebusites and Perizzites. Could that conceivably be a story to inspire identification or belonging?

Survivalism has had its day. At a certain point in the evolution of modern Jewish consciousness it played a vital part, rousing Jews throughout the world to a full awareness of the epic nature of the events through which they had lived and in which one third of our people died. As long as there is a Jewish people, future generations will look back on those days with awe and wonder, reflecting on how close the people of the covenant came to extinction and how­ hardened by      the fires   of hell on earth they fought back to affirm life.

That era, however, has now passed. It will live on eternally in Jewish memory. But it is not present Jewish reality. Israel is engaged in peace negotiations with its neighbours. The Jews of Eastern Europe arc on their way to Aliyah. Ethiopian Jewry has been rescued. Predictably there will be moments of crisis in the future. We are not yet living at that time of universal peace for which we daily pray. Bu t the period of high drama, in which the mere physical survival of the Jewish people hung in the balance, is over. Another challenge lies ahead. A new era has already begun. A third word must now enter and dominate the Jewish mind.


From Survival to Continuity

The word is continuity . The issue it signifies is this.  Having spent the last quarter-century devoting their energies to helping Jewries elsewhere to survive, British and American Jews have paused to take a look at their own health and discovered that something is going very badly wrong. Young Jews in large and increasing numbers are choosing not to marry other Jews and have Jewish children.

From a secular and sociological perspective there is nothing surprising about this. It happens to all minority ethnic groups in an open, plural and de­ religionised society. But from a Jewish perspective there is something very troubling indeed in such an outcome. For Jews, almost alone among peoples, have survived two thousand years of exile and dispersion , without land or power or any other physical or political basis of identity. Some defected to Christianity or Islam. But most remained Jews despite every blandishment or threat, seduction or persecution.  Only now, when for the first time in millennia Jews have their own land and freedom and equality, are we losing the will to live as Jews. Having passed every trial in a long and troubled history – including one, the Holocaust, that was perhaps as great as the binding of Isaac six million times repeated – we are in danger of failing the last: the trial that consists simply in this, that there are no trials.

An era is defined by what we cannot take for granted. The best indicator that times have changed comes when something that was simply not a problem for previous generations becomes urgent and problematic. The era of integration began when Jews who had hitherto led culturally enclosed lives were suddenly faced with the challenge of becoming part of another social order. The era of survival began when Jews, who had always known sporadic violence, were faced with the threat of cold, systematic annihilation. The era of continuity is about to begin with the realisation that the transmission of Jewish identity across the generations has become fragile and altogether fallible.

With this discovery there is no need for panic or despair.  If our recent history teaches us anything at all it tells us this, that once the Jewish people summons up its collective will, it can overcome any challenge. There were those who fervently believed that the open society spelled the end of Judaism. There were those who, in the shadow of Auschwitz, looked into the future and saw Jewry as a ghost, a corpse. Their fears were not irrational, but they were wrong, because they underestimated the astonishing – one might almost say miraculous – capacity of Jews to ‘renew their days as of old.’ Ezekiel’s vision of the Jewish people as a valley of dry bones that came to life again has stayed with us, and never before have we had such cause to marvel at the depth of that prophetic intuition.

However, nothing less than a massive effort of collective energy will now suffice. The same passion that drove first integration and then survival must now go into continuity.


New Priorities

The difference between the three great eras of modern Jewry can be summarised simply. In the first we were challenged to show that a Jew can live as an Englishman or American. In the second we were challenged to show that a Jew can live. In the third we are being challenged to show that a Jew can live as a Jew.

Continuity places firmly on the table the proposition that being Jewish has a content, a content so precious that, having been handed down from generation to generation, it must now be valued, restored and lovingly passed on to our children.

We know that the Jewish world today is culturally and religiously fragmented, and that that fragmentation consists precisely in an argument about what the content of Jewish life is. But that should not paralyse us any more than we have been paralysed by the dozen different interpretations of the meaning and significance of the State of Israel. Israel means different things to different Jews, but we are united in a total commitment to its welfare. Judaism and Jewishness mean different things to different Jews.  But that will not stop us affirming our shared commitment to their continuation.

The move from survival to continuity will mean a massive shift in communal priorities. It will mean that as well as devoting our energies to saving Jewries abroad we will have to take on board the huge task of saving Jewry at home. It will mean that instead of taking Jewish identity for granted we will have to take it as something to be created. It will mean, in short, a momentous decision to engage in education and outreach in all its many forms and contexts on a scale never before attempted. And this must be done in such a way as to enlist and reach every section of the community.

For the past six months my office has been planning such an initiative, and though we must begin now it will take several years before it can reach full flood. It will be called Jewish Continuity, and it will embrace every activity needed to ensure that we summon the will to have Jewish grandchildren.

There is much that needs urgently to be done by way of consultation, organisation, planning and fundraising. The process has begun and will gather momentum in the course of this year. But something else has to happen if it is to succeed, namely that we become conscious of the extraordinary challenge with which we are faced. We need a serious communal debate about continuity, one that shakes us from any possibility of complacency and focuses our minds on what we need to do as Jews for the sake of our children and their children. This paper is the start of that process and it will be followed by others setting out the issues in more detail. I hope the debate will be joined by every Jew who cares about the Jewish future.

The command of the Omer teaches us to count days. The command of the jubilee instructs us to count years. The prophetic imperative asks us to count eras. A new era has arrived, and we must meet it. The Jewish blessing over a new phase in the calendar is: “Blessed are You … who has kept us alive and helped us to endure and brought us to this time.” Jewish consciousness of time is marked by an awareness of Jewish continuity. Never more was this needed than now.