Jewish Assimilation

Figure 1.--Poland after World war I had thw world's largest population of unassimilated Jews. This photograh is unidentified, but it looks to have been taken about 1930 in a Polish shtetl--village community.

> One of the most amazing aspects of Jewish life has been the ability of the Jews to live in Gentile society and resist assimilation for two millenia. This occurred despite the most vicious instances of supression on the part of Christian Europeans and a somewhat more tolerant Muslim Middle-East and North Africa. At the begiining of the secind Milenium, European Christian intolerance turned deadly. One factor was that until the 19th century in Europe, was that it was virtually impossible to assimilate without converting to Christinity. The spread of democratic institutiions and secular law in Europe during the 19th century made assimilation increasingly popular in Europe, but not in the Muslim world because of Sharia Law. The largest number of unassimilated Jews in the 19tyh century were located in Eastern Europe, within the Russian Empire, primarily Poland and the Ukraine. They became the target of a vicious Tsarist pogroms as part of the late-19th century Russification effort. This sparked the massive emmigration to the United States and a smaller movement west to Germany and other European countries. After World war I in the early-20th century, much of this unassimilated population fell within the new Polish state. Jews in the Soviet Union were forced to assimilate as part of the atheist campaign. Ironically when viewed with what happened in Germany, the German Jews were among the most assimilated in Europe. Today Jews outside Isreal, especially in America, appear to be assimilating in record numbers. This is especially the case of secular Jews who are increasingly struggling with the question one American Jew asks himself, "What is left of the Jew when he has abandoned Judaism, its religion and language?" [Goodheart] Unfortunately it is a question he never really answers and is a question faced by many other secular Jews in America. He explains that a son and daughter have married a Catholic and Protestant, but he hopes that they will retain some minimal Jewish identity.


Goodheart, Eugene. Confessions of a Secular Jew: A Memoir (Overlook, 2001), 262p.


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Created: 9:18 AM 3/12/2011
Last updated: 9:18 AM 3/12/2011