An Embrace of Social Justice Won’t Help Synagogues Retain Members

March 5 2019

As the liberal denominations of both Judaism and Christianity face rapid demographic decline, they have turned increasingly to promoting social justice—in the form both of actively supporting left-wing causes and of engaging in charitable works. But, argues Joel Kotkin, this approach has done little to reduce defections or bring in new members. He writes:

However satisfying to its practitioners, the emphasis on social justice is clearly not attracting more worshippers. Almost all of the religious institutions most committed to this course are also in the most serious decline, most notably mainstream Protestants but also Catholics and Reform and Conservative Jews. The rapidly declining Church of England, which is down to a 2-percent share among British youth, is burnishing its progressive image by adding the use of plastics to its list of Lenten sacrifices, but seems unable to serve the basic spiritual and family needs of their congregants. By contrast, more conservative faith organizations generally enjoy better growth and higher birthrates, particularly in the developing world. . . .

To survive, less traditionalist faiths need less “virtue signaling” and more emphasis on serving the needs of congregants. Marshall Toplansky, who advises Church World Services, a major Protestant aid group, suggested that groups like Mormons and evangelicals who focus on providing services for families and their local communities fare far better than those more tied to strictly a social gospel. . . . Without engaging the faithful and addressing their needs, he noted, “people stop identifying with their local institution and stop participating in the local activities that defined them to begin with.” . . .

Ultimately. . . religions, including Judaism, can hope to thrive only if they serve a purpose that is not met elsewhere in society. It is all well and good to perform good deeds, but if religions do not make themselves indispensable to families, their future could be bleak. As we already see in Europe, churches and synagogues could become ever more like pagan temples, vestiges of the past and attractions for the curious, profoundly clueless about the passion and commitment that created them.

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More about: American Religion, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Social Justice

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations