ASSIMILATION. In general the sociocultural process in which the sense and consciousness of association with one national and cultural group changes to identification with another such group, so that the merged individual or group may partially or totally lose its original national identity. Assimilation can occur and not only on the unconscious level in primitive societies. It has been shown that even these societies have sometimes developed specific mechanisms to facilitate assimilation, e.g., adoption; mobilization, and absorption into the tribal fighting force; exogamic marriage; the client relationship between the tribal protector and members of another tribe. In more developed societies, where a stronger sense of cultural and historical identification has evolved, the mechanisms, as well as the automatic media of assimilation, become more complicated. The reaction of the assimilator group to the penetration of the assimilated increasingly enters the picture.
Various factors may combine to advance or hinder the assimilation process. Those actively contributing include the position of economic strength held by a group; the political advantages to be gained from adhesion or separation; acknowledged cultural superiority; changes in religious outlook and customs; the disintegration of one group living within another more cohesive group; the development of an "open society" by either group. Added to these are external factors, such as changes in the demographic pattern (mainly migration) or those wrought by revolution and revolutionary attitudes. Sociologists have described the man in process of assimilation as "the marginal man," both attracted and repelled by the social and cultural spheres in which he lives in a state of transition.
Antiquity and Middle Ages
Within its environment in antiquity, as far as known, the Jewish national and social group mainly operated as the assimilator, aided by the attraction of monotheism and exerting the power of its social cohesion and state mechanism. During the period of the conquest of Ereẓ Israel, Jewish society gradually absorbed many of the ethnic elements living there. The process continued well into the reigns of David and Solomon. While the prophets of the time deplored the cultural influence exerted by the assimilated group, they did not reject the end results of the process. The isolated yet striking instance
of Naaman the Syrian demonstrates the element of partial assimilation into
. In Judaism the very concept of *proselytism involves readiness on the part of the Jews to accept and assimilate a group or an individual prepared to adopt the religion and become assimilated. The attitude of
, who opposed the assimilation of other ethnic elements, did not prevail. Some of the
– adopted a clear-cut policy of forcible proselytization; the assimilation of the Idumeans was so complete that the last dynasty to rule the Jewish commonwealth in the Second Temple period was the Idumean house of
, and some of the most devoted fighters in the war against Rome were Idumeans. Both Jewish and external sources yield plentiful information about groups and individuals living within the Roman Empire that had totally or partially adopted Judaism and assimilated the Jewish way of life. According to some scholars, the large number of Jews in the later period of the Roman Empire was the result of the assimilation of the Phoenician diaspora into the Jewish communities. On the other hand, sources dating from as early as the reign of
Epiphanes (175–164 B.C.E.) mention the Hellenizers, a group wishing to accept the mode of life and culture of
, the nephew of Philo of
, exemplifies assimilation by Jewish individuals of Hellenistic-Roman culture, particularly in the
. To some degree the path of early Pauline
is viewed from the Jewish standpoint as a process of assimilation of the early Jewish Christian apostles and groups into the gentile ethnic identity and way of life.
In the course of Jewish history, processes that began as quasi-assimilatory were later transmuted to become hallmarks of continuing Jewish consciousness and identity. This applied to the adoption of the Greek language in the ancient period and of German and Spanish in the Middle Ages. As the alien language gained acceptance, it became not only a vehicle of Jewish cultural and religious creativity, but also gradually became converted into a specifically Jewish idiom and mark of Jewish identity that even formed barriers to later assimilation.
became the idiom of East European Jewry amid a Slavic linguistic environment, and hence of Jewish emigrants from this area in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Similarly the Spanish Jews carried their language of Castile with them after the expulsion from Spain, developing it into
. During the Middle Ages the strength of Jewish cohesiveness was so powerful that only
from Judaism became assimilated into the adopted environment, and not always even then (see
From the Period of Enlightenment
Assimilation has been a major centrifugal force in Jewish life since the second half of the 18th century. It became an element of increasing magnitude in Jewish thought and society and helped to mold a new image of the Jew in literature and art, in which the problems it posed were reflected. Various factors combined to create this situation. The
, their families, and social circle gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, assimilated the mores of the Christian court. The Enlightenment (
) movement was accompanied by a certain readiness on the part of groups of Christian and Jewish intellectuals to create an "open society." The grant of civic
apparently premised that Jews could enter the emancipating society as equals if they relinquished their Jewish national cohesion. In rejecting the medieval system of corporation, the attitude of early capitalistic society militated against a continuance of Jewish
and its institutions. Similarly, the dictates of the modern state, postulating observance of a single legal code and an undifferentiated legal status for its citizens, militated against Jewish judicial autonomy while assisting Jewish emancipation. All these elements hastened the assimilatory process. As members of the upper strata of Jewish society in Central and Western Europe became assimilated, they left their positions of leadership in the autonomous Jewish body, thereby weakening it further. Other Jews in less influential positions followed their example. Jewish intellectuals who accepted the values and criteria of the Enlightenment and Christian culture and society tended to regard the Jewish counterpart as barren and primitive. Their attitude became devastatingly critical. They measured the Jewish past and culture by alien and historically inimical standards.
The first wave of assimilation carried Jews toward the ahistoric society envisioned by the 18th-century Enlightenment, a society that would not insist on national or religious definitions. For some Jews, assimilation served as a shortcut to attaining individual emancipation and advancement, hence there were many nominal apostates like
. Later, their admiration for the modern national state, a growing appreciation of the mores and social structure of the dominant nations, and the idea of progress combined to create the conception that the perpetuation of a Jewish national existence was obsolete. Such Jews also felt that they were guilty of intellectual and emotional dishonesty in cherishing Jewish messianic hopes. The evaluations, way of life, writings – both in German and in Hebrew – and influence of intellectuals like
and David Friedlaender, although formulating no clear-cut theory of assimilation, furthered the tendency. Socialite assimilation in the salons of Berlin and Vienna, fostering freedom in thought and with their romantic attractions, drew both the gifted and the wealthy away from the Jewish fold to a humanistic, cosmopolitan, and Christian allegiance. Rachel
saw her life vitiated by the blemish of her Jewish descent. Moses Mendelssohn's daughter,
, not only left her faith but also developed the feeling of self-hatred typical of many modern assimilated Jews. In 1802 she wrote to Friedrich Schleiermacher:
… according to my own feeling, Protestant Christianity [is] much purer and to be preferred to the Catholic one. Catholicism has for me too much similarity to the old Judaism, which I greatly despise. Protestantism, though, seems to me to be the total religion of Jesus and the religion of civilization. In
my heart I am completely, as far as I can understand from the Bible, a Protestant.
The ideology of assimilation gained momentum in the first half of the 19th century as it developed an eschatological message. This trend was part of the new direction which assimilation took when projected on the intense nationalistic society and state that prevailed in Europe with the romantic movement. The former nexus between the Jewish people and its religion and law was rejected; attempts were made to purge the Jewish religion of its nationalistic elements in order to relieve individual Jews in dispersion of the sense of being an alien and an exile. Instead of looking to Ereẓ Israel for redemption, the assimilationists stressed their attachment was to the land in which they and their forefathers had lived for generations. Nevertheless Jewish identity would be preserved in a redefinition as "Germans of Mosaic faith" or "Frenchmen of Mosaic faith," and so on.
The desire for emancipation blended with the will for religious reform and with revolutionary fervor for change at first in the liberal, and later in the socialist sense. The "messiah" envisaged by
was civic and political revolution in Germany and Europe, bearing on its wings freedom for mankind and equality for Jews. Derision of the former Jewish messianic hopes was intrinsic to burning faith in the new assimilationist form of existence. Thus in 1848, the year of the "Spring of Nations," Jews of the ancient community of Worms formulated the following program for religious reform, motivated by the ideal of assimilation:
…We have to aspire to truth and dignity in Divine worship, coordination between faith and life, to put away empty concepts and shape new institutions for the spirit of Judaism. We must no longer utter prayers for the return to Palestine while we are wholeheartedly attached to the German fatherland whose fate is indissolubly our fate; all that is beloved and dear to us is contained in this fatherland. We must not mourn in sackcloth and ashes the destruction of the Temple when we long ago came into the possession of a fatherland that has become so dear to us. We may commemorate yearly the destruction of the Temple, but why be in heavy mourning, which no longer comes from feelings of the heart, and sing songs of mourning about an historical fact, for which we praise the loving hand of God? We should not try to enlighten our children in the religious schools with facts that the living Jewish spirit looks upon as dead ballast, to be thrown overboard; no longer teach them to pray in a language that is dead, while the word and sound of our German mother tongue is understandable and dear to us and therefore is the only one fit to be raised in praise to our Creator. It is time to put a stop to this conflict, this sin of dishonesty in our midst.
Attachment to German soil, language, culture, and statehood was the compelling reason for effecting the change in prayer and its language, and for eradicating the hope for redemption in Ereẓ Israel. This attitude continued to persist in some circles; it led the British Liberal rabbi Israel Mattuck in 1939 to the conclusion that "the position which the Jews should seek and the world should give is one which combines separatism in religion with assimilation in all the other elements of national life, political, social, and cultural" (What are the Jews? (1939) 239).
The Late 19th and the 20th Century
Assimilation through the 19th and 20th centuries was not a unified process and was beset with a host of problems and complications. The position taken by assimilationists oscillated between the cosmopolitan and nationalist aspects of assimilation. Their theories clashed with the national spirit of exclusiveness of the assimilator group: Germans, Frenchmen, and others, resented the pollution of their race and culture by alien elements. Jews wishing to assimilate became involved in the array of conflicting assimilating nationalities and cultures within the same territorial arena. With the national awakening of the Czechs, the Jews of Prague, for instance, were confronted simultaneously by German and Czech demands for assimilation into one or the other national camp. The same conflict occurred between the demands of the Magyar and German cultures in Hungary; the Polish, German, and Russian cultures in Polish lands; the German, Polish, and Ukrainian cultures in East Galicia. In many countries the process of assimilation was deliberately assisted by social and educational measures. In Russia,
I tried to promote assimilation of the Jewish youth through the mechanism of army mobilization (see
). On the other hand the complications of the assimilation process itself necessarily acted to spur Jewish nationalism, and offered it a springboard. At the same time a school of historical thought that viewed each epoch and culture as a distinct phenomenon to be judged by its own system of values was gaining ascendancy. Thus, appreciation of the Jewish culture and history, achievements, values, and criteria strengthened, while the arrogance and ridicule on which the assimilationists based their arguments lost ground.
Assimilation into modern nationalities was described by
in 1901 upon viewing the disappointment that was felt when the concept of assimilation intrinsic to the hopes for a humanist, non-nationalistic society was definitively superseded by assimilation into different militarist, nationalist states. Schechter saw "… the ancient chosen people of God going about begging for a nationality – clamoring everywhere 'We are you!'… Using the last crumbs of the sacred language, in which God-Shalom addressed His children, to invoke His blessing upon the 'Mitrailleuse,' the 'Krupp gun,' 'dum-dum' and 'Long Tom,' and other anti-messianic contrivances" ("Epistles to the Jews of England," in Jewish Chronicle, 1901). The disappointment at these developments in European society and the reaction that Jewish assimilation had provoked did not deter assimilationists from their beliefs. Even after World War II and the experience of the
, and after his disillusionment with the Communist revolution,
clung to the Christian Orthodox faith and his Russian cultural identity. He dared to call upon Jews to assimilate as salvation from the fate which their nationality imposes. In the wake of the martyred Jews, he denied that there could be
any sense in retaining a separate Jewish identity: "In whose interests is this voluntary martyrdom?… Dismiss this army which is forever fighting and being massacred, nobody knows for what?… Say to them: 'That's enough. Stop now. Don't hold on to your identity. Don't all get together in a crowd. Disperse. Be with all the rest.'" (Dr. Zhivago (1958) 117–8).
When this call for assimilation was pronounced, several years had elapsed since the suicide of a man who wrote at the beginning of Nazi rule and the end of the liberal German society of the early 20th century:
I thought of my terrible joy when I realized that nobody would recognize me for a Jew; of the first day of the war and my passionate longing to prove that I was a real German by offering my life to my country; of my writing from the front to the authorities to say that they could strike my name from the list of the Jewish community. Had it all been for nothing? Had it all been wrong? Didn't I love Germany with all my heart? Had I not stood in the rich beauty of the Mediterranean landscape and longed for the austere pine woods, for the beauty of the still, secret lakes of north Germany? And wasn't the German language my language, the language in which I felt and thought and spoke, a part of my very being? But wasn't I also a Jew? A member of that great race that for centuries had been persecuted, harried, martyred and slain; whose prophets had called the world to righteousness, had exalted the wretched and the oppressed, then and for all time. A race who had never bowed their heads to their persecutors, who had preferred death to dishonor. I had denied my own mother, and I was ashamed. It is an indictment of society at large that a child should have thus been driven to deception. How much of me was German, how much Jewish? Must I then join the ranks of the bigoted and glorify my Jewish blood now, not my German? Pride and love are not the same thing, and if I were asked where I belonged I should answer that a Jewish mother had borne me, that Germany nourished me, that Europe had formed me, that my home was the earth and the world my fatherland (Ernst Toller, I Was a German, London, 1934, 280–2).
This anguished cry powerfully expresses the dynamics and problems that persisted after the doctrine of assimilation had been tested for over a century and a half. The assimilationist remained torn between his ideals and rejection by the assimilator society, between the allegiance he was seeking and the pride awakened by Jewish nationalism; he oscillated between the choice of assimilation into one nation and internationalist assimilation.
More recently the ideals of assimilation have assumed a different form. This has been determined by the combined impact of the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel and its struggle for survival, and the emergence of a monistic nationalism in Eastern and Central Europe. But if the advocates of assimilation have sometimes changed their formula, the substance of their arguments remains. This viewpoint clearly emerges in the evaluation of Jewish assimilation made by a philosopher of history hostile to Jewish nationalism, Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee regards assimilation and
as beneficial and a natural process. By assimilating, a Jew is "deserting the Diaspora individually in order to lose himself in the ranks of a modern, Western, gentile, urban bourgeoisie. The liberal Jew [is]… assimilating himself to a gentile social milieu that had previously gone far, on its side, to assimilate itself socially and psychologically to the Jewish Disapora" (Study of History, 8 (1954), 310). Nevertheless, in volume 12 of the same study, published in 1961, Toynbee describes the solution he proposed for the Jews in 1954 as the fate of the Ten Tribes, who "lost their national identity through being assimilated. The Ten Tribes' way is passive, involuntary, and inglorious, and it is natural that the Jews should be on their guard against meeting the fate of their lost kinsmen." What he proposed in 1961 was that the Jews become "denationalized" without becoming totally assimilated. As an alternative to emigration to Israel he proposes that they "incorporate Gentiles in a Jewish religious community by converting them to the religion of Deutero-Isaiah" (p. 517). Thus, ideationally, the process has turned full circle. An opponent of
and the creation of the State of Israel, Toynbee proposed to the Jews of the Diaspora in 1961 that they undertake the conversion of the peoples in their environment to a non-national Jewish religion. For all practical purposes, however, the goal is the same: the abolition of Jewish national identity.
The term "assimilation" or "identification assimilation" is usually taken to mean the process by which members of an ethnic, religious, or national immigrant group takes on the identity of their host country or society, and simultaneously shed the identity of their "home" society. (Other forms of assimilation include "structural assimilation," which is the process by which immigrants enter into the structures – education, employment, political – of the host society; and "marital assimilation," which is intermarriage.) "Assimilation," which is about identity, is often confused with "acculturation" (or "cultural assimilation"), which is the process by which members of an immigrant group adopts aspects of the culture of the host society – modes of dress, language, cuisine, and so on – while retaining their ethnic, religious, or national identity.
The American Jewish community was created by three waves of immigration: the Sephardi-dominated handful of colonial times, several tens of thousands from Central Europe who arrived in the middle of the 19th century, and the mass of almost three million, mostly from Eastern Europe, who came between 1882 and 1914. The later and much smaller immigrations after both world wars and during the Hitler era have added certain colorations to the American Jewish scene, but the history of American Jewry and the changes in its modes of acculturation to the fluctuating composition of American society largely are the tale of these three immigration impulses.
There were so few Jews in the United States during colonial times (perhaps 2,000 at the time of the American Revolution) that they were regarded as exotics. Their acculturation was deep and broad, and their assimilation into the largely
English majority population was the result of neither conscious assimilationist pressure nor ideological choice. So small a Jewish population, with fewer women than men among it, inevitably had a considerable rate of intermarriage. A recent study of Jewish marriage before 1840 has shown that at least one in seven colonial Jews and their immediate descendants married unconverted Christians; after that year, in the fourth and fifth generations of colonial Jewish families, intermarriage was so dominant that most of these families disappeared from the Jewish community. Ideological factors were clearly secondary in this situation, for what increased assimilation was the family's length of the residence in a society almost totally open, at that point, to its handful of Jews. Isaac Harby, who led in the creation of a reformed synagogue in Charleston in 1824, wrote two years later that not all who agreed with him had joined his group, but that "the Jews born in Carolina are mostly of our way of thinking" and that the only consideration that kept them in the Orthodox synagogue was "a tender regard for the opinions and feelings of their parents."
The situation of the second major wave of Jewish immigration to the United States, which arrived in the middle of the 19th century, was significantly different. The American majority had crystallized as an assimilating force. Some of the rabbis among the Central European Jews who were then arriving in the United States had participated in the early stirrings of Reform Judaism in Europe; they believed in acculturation, even in religious practices, as a desirable value. Their efforts went unchecked by an entrenched Orthodox establishment. In the first generation after their arrival, many of these new immigrants lived out their secular lives not among the American majority, but in the more accessible environment of the gentile German immigrants; but this soon passed. Their American-born children looked to the world of their economic peers in American business for their social environment. The choice of life styles was not a problem until the 1870s, when the first signs of social antisemitism appeared. The Gentile nouveau riche were establishing their prestige on other than economic grounds, and they began by excluding the quite visible, even more recently enriched German Jews. In 1876 the first known advertisement by a resort hotel that it was barring Jews was printed in the New York Tribune, and in the next year the prominent banker Joseph Seligman was excluded as a Jew from the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga. This kind of discrimination increased in the next several decades. Those Jews who remained identifiable as such turned to creating a network of social and philanthropic institutions within which they could live a life that largely paralleled that of their gentile peers. Their isolation, therefore, was partly willed and partly forced. This social ghetto was dominated by the ideals of middle class liberalism and by a special concern for the latest Jewish arrivals – those from Eastern Europe. The German-Jewish elite continued to dominate and to provide most of the social services for the American Jewish community during the period between 1881 and World War I, when almost three million Jews came to the United States from Eastern Europe. By the 1920s, however, the German group was clearly losing its hold for at least two reasons. The new immigrants and their children were losing their "strangeness," beginning to achieve some power in their own right, and growing ever less willing to accept the tutelage of the German-Jewish "Uptown." Some of the German-Jewish leadership associated itself within the new Jewish masses; larger numbers, however, were following after the pattern of the colonial Jews, so that by the third generation the rate of intermarriage was large enough as to bring into question the continued existence of many of these families as Jews. By the end of the 19th century, a new form of acculturation, leading to secular apostasy, had come into view. Thus it had become possible to vanish as a Jew without accepting any other religious identity.
The Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought with them the identity of a deprived national minority, sustained by great forces of religious, cultural, and communal cohesion. Political action in the name of Jewish interests, Jewish efforts toward social reform, pressure on society at large to regard the Jewish community as by right equal to all other communities, including the majority itself – in short, the total stance of a group fighting to express itself in all its peculiarities and to be accepted by society as such – all this became the new mode of American Jewish life among the immigrants and most of their children in the 20th century. The Yiddish language, socialism, union activities, Zionism, and orthodoxy in religion (locked in combat with other ideologies such as Marxism or atheism) composed the cultural temper of this mass community, which existed in large numbers in specific neighborhoods not only in New York, but also in most major American cities.
There were two contesting views on how to bring this community into the larger American society. Such thinkers as
Mordecai M. *Kaplan
envisaged the American society of the future as one of cultural pluralism, in which the descendants of various European national traditions would retain their distinctiveness but have the ability to participate in an American society that is informed by many ethnic and religious groups. As such, they would retain and nurture substantial knowledge of their past and loyalty to it. This meant that American Jews would be able to exist as a separate community, as they would not be unique in this aspect; and that any group membership and association would be purely voluntary.
The counter theory was held by the dominant American Protestant cultural and political establishment; their vision was the model of the "melting pot," the notion that the ideal condition was one of complete assimilation in which all ethnic and religious differences would disappear. Upon arrival in the United States the new immigrant was to undergo the process of Americanization as rapidly as possible and surrender his foreignness, that is, he was to learn to behave and live in imitation of the dominant modes. The older American Jewish community was overwhelmingly committed to the second idea, and the institutions that it created to help the Jewish newcomers, such as the Educational Alliance on the lower
East Side of New York and the Yiddish newspaper Forverts (Forward), had as their primary purpose the Americanization of the immigrants. In the second generation, some younger Jewish intellectuals tried to live in both American and Jewish cultures with very complicated and often painful results. Because Jews remained in the position of a minority suffering from substantial disabilities until after World War II, some became an important part of reform and left-wing political movements. The overwhelming bulk of this generation, as was the case with its predecessors in the earlier migrations, simply tried to make their individual way in the American economy and society. In actual fact they had no choice but to adopt the way of life demanded by the "melting pot," while harboring very substantial Jewish emotions and commitments on a more personal level.
The ideal of bicultural existence in America was attacked by some of the American-born children of East European-Jewish immigrants as a form of schizophrenia. Jessie Bernard, writing as late as 1942, said that a child of immigrant parents "can never achieve complete oneness save he deliberately turn his back on one or the other [culture]." Kurt Lewin, a social theorist who arrived in the United States in those very years as a refugee from Hitler, had expressed the same insight in coining the phrase "marginal man" (see above). Both of them, however, offered different prescriptions for this discomfort: Bernard suggested conscious and total assimilation, and Lewin became a passionate believer in Zionism. The American Jewish community of the next generation did not follow either prescription. In the generation that followed after World War II, there was very little sign of any conscious assimilation. American society became more open to Jews than any country has ever been throughout the whole history of the Diaspora, and this acted to remove the need for any willed assimilation. The creation of the State of Israel and (after 1967) the Holocaust informed a reaffirmation on the part of many American Jews of their Jewish identity. The rapid economic rise of the bulk of the American Jewish community into the middle and upper-middle classes during the postwar period remade the lifestyle of American Jews, so that in many aspects Jews became part of the American establishment. This was particularly true in the realms of academic and artistic endeavor, where Jews became a dominant force during this era. It was thus no longer necessary to play down the fact of one's Jewishness or to make the defensive choice of highlighting it, because the open society, within which older traditions – including the dominant Christian one – were clearly under attrition, was then making no assimilatory demands in the name of an American ideology.
The behavior pattern of this post-World War II generation has been described in innumerable sociological studies. Jews associate socially overwhelmingly with other Jews, and the great majority of their children, in towns outside New York, receive some minimal amount of Jewish education. On the other hand, the rate of intermarriage has risen steadily, to the point at which it is between 40 and 50 percent for marriages started between 1985 and 2001, especially among the most highly educated. While Yiddish as a spoken language has experienced some measure of renaissance amongst academics, there has not been a revival of the language, and its use as a spoken language is limited to some sectarian Orthodox groups. In point of fact, English (and not Hebrew) has become the lingua franca of the Jewish people. The countertendencies to this pattern of nonideological attrition are to be found in one or two social groups within American Jewry and in some of the work of the organized community as a whole. Jewish parochial schools have become the dominant form of education among the Orthodox and some of the Conservative Jews; such schools now contain a very large number of students. The postwar immigration from Europe reinforced pockets of Hasidic ghetto existence and created a number of new ethnic neighborhoods and enclaves, chiefly in New York. American Zionism had never had the fostering of aliyah to Israel as one of its prime purposes, and the increase in numbers who have chosen to immigrate to Israel from almost nothing in the early 1950s to more than 5,000 in 1969 was nonetheless relatively small. Yet there have been increased efforts on the part of almost every American Jewish body aimed at intensifying Jewish education and increasing the connection between American Jews and Israel.
The worsening of race relations in America in the 1960s and the concomitant tensions between Jews and blacks again posed the question of assimilation in an ideological way. Black emphasis on black identity has evoked much more identification with blacks among some younger Jews than with their own Jewish identity. In the 1960s and early 1970s the New Left tended to align itself with the "Third World," and thus sided with the Arabs against Israel. Many young Jews, heavily represented in these causes, tended to see their inherited Jewish identity as bourgeois and belonging to the camp of the oppressors, and thus need to be exorcised. During the
, however, the overwhelming majority of American Jewish youth were as involved as were their parents. Yet the emphasis on black identity also had a paradoxically important affect on American Jews, who felt free to emphasize their own Jewish experience in public and to proclaim it explicitly. Young Jews felt free to wear a "yarmulke" in public and Jewish stars as jewelry, an explicit affirmation of identity. On the university campuses, the introduction of Black (later Afro-American) Studies paved the way for the explosion of Jewish Studies, which soon became mainstream.
From the perspective of the history of Jewish assimilation in the United States, these ideological issues are quite secondary. The basic undertow continues to be the family's length of residence in the United States in a non-ghetto, middle class, Western educated milieu within a relatively open society. It is far from certain, even with the revived energy for Jewish particularists living in the United States that has recently been evoked, that the process of unreflective assimilation can be seriously checked. The minority of American Jews that is sectarian appears to be successful in surviving; so do those moving toward aliyah to Israel. Some sectarian Jews show remarkable
degrees of acculturation. Chabad has mastered the American media and uses a telethon as an important means of fundraising. It also engages in two very American means of organizational management: charismatic leadership was replaced by management and marketing based on the charisma of the founder and local Chabad rabbis are franchises with assigned territories for their work. ArtScroll Publications with its contemporary designs and the emergence of a significant English-language ultra-Orthodox literature also indicates the emergence of English, not Yiddish and Hebrew, as a dominant language even among sectarian Jews.
Substantial numbers of American Jews, however, however, have not yet found an answer to the problem of how to continue to live permanently both within the mainstream of American life and within a Jewish community of their own.
[Arthur Hertzberg /
Jerome A. Chanes (2nd ed.)]
In Other Western Countries
The major Jewish communities in this area, those in England and France, seemed on the surface to be going in different directions. In England an increasing rate of intermarriage, a birth rate so small that it was not adequate to maintain the size of the community, and substantial intellectual defection by the young were the marks of ongoing assimilation. On the other hand, Zionist consciousness remained high and the official establishment of Anglo-Jewry has consistently moved in more Orthodox directions (in the religious sense) for the last generation. In addition, Reform and Liberal judaism increasingly provided a set of Jewish religious institutions for non-Orthodox Jews and those not regarded as halakhichally Jewish by the Orthodox.
The so-called "remote" Jewish communities in the English-speaking world – Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand – all reflect a welcome departure from the picture of increased assimilation in the larger English-speaking communities. In Australia, Jewish numbers have steadily risen since World War II, and a range of Jewish institutions, especially a large day school system, has grown up since the late 1940s. More than one-half of school age Jews in Australia attend one or another of Australia's 19 Jewish day school, according to most estimates. Support for Israel and Zionism probably remain stronger and more central to Jewish identity among Australian Jewry than among American or British Jews. Intermarriage rates, too, are remarkably low by normal Diaspora standards and show little signs of rising. After many decades of decline, New Zealand Jewry also appears to be increasing in both size and Jewish identity, with the establishment in the recent past of two Jewish day schools. South African Jewry was long a by-word for an intensely committed, Zionistic Diaspora community, with a long-established range of institutions, including a major day school system in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and elsewhere. The traumas associated with the decline phase of the apartheid system and the institutionalization of a black majority government in the early 1990s of course shook South African Jewry to its core, and the community has declined in size by perhaps one-third, thanks to heavy emigration elsewhere, in the post-apartheid period. Nevertheless, the long-established core institutions of the South African Jewish community have remained intact.
In France, assimilation seemed even more advanced in the immediate aftermath of World War II, for organized Jewish life had been weak even before the Nazi occupation as the assimilating power of French culture had been, and remained, strong. With the end of the Algerian war, Jews were a significant element among the many hundreds of thousands of French citizens who chose to come to France rather than remain in Algeria. This element was far more religious and more consciously identified as Jews than was usual in France at the time. A number of moribund Jewish communities, especially in the south of France, were revived by their presence. The intensified connection with Israel however, was the factor that made the crucial difference in France. For more than a decade, from before the
Campaign of 1956 until the Six-Day War of 1967, France was Israel's major political and military ally. This relationship served to encourage the involvement of French Jews in affairs concerning Israel. De Gaulle's 1967 turnabout to the policy of arms embargo, followed soon thereafter by his remarks about the particularistic character of the Jews and his anger at their continued involvement with Israel after his policy had changed, acted, contrary to his will, to reinforce that very involvement. Among significant numbers of formerly alienated young people there arose a very visible tendency to study Hebrew, to reassert Jewish identity, and to settle in Israel.
In the ensuing years, the percentage of Jews identifying themselves as Sephardim (70 percent in 2002) continued to increase, indicating a decline through assimilation of the old Ashkenazi population. Though most of these French Jews were now French-born, they still had a strong sense of their Jewishness. According to a survey commissioned by the Fonds Social Juif Unifié and published in 2002, 80 percent of the Jews surveyed would choose to be born Jews, 70 percent had Jewish spouses (60 percent in the under-30 group), 86 percent considered Jewish education important, and 86 percent felt close to Israel. Half lit Sabbath candles and only 30 percent defined themselves as non-practicing Jews.
[Arthur Hertzberg /
William D. Rubenstein and
Fred Skolnik (2nd ed.)]
In the Soviet Union
After the October Revolution (1917), the Soviet government, under the leadership of
, was faced with a complicated Jewish problem. On the one hand, Bolshevik doctrine regarded the total assimilation of Jews as an essential feature of social progress and an indispensable prerequisite of the socialist order. On the other hand, the revolutionary regime found millions of Jews living in territorial concentration – mainly in the former
of Settlement – with their own language, culture, and, for the most part, a strong sense of Jewish identity, either in its original religious form or in its national, or even
"Bundist" variation. Even Jews in the metropolitan centers and the large cities, who had embraced the Russian language and culture, were, in large measure, "Russians outside and Jews in their tents" (to adapt the famous phrase of J.L. Gordon). The new Soviet regime was therefore forced to regard the Jews as a "nationality" with its own linguistic and cultural character, similar to all the other ethnic groups ("nationalities") that the Revolution had promised to liberate from the forced Russification practiced under Czarist rule. Thus, a special Soviet system of Jewish education, press, literature, and theater – almost all in Yiddish – came into being, an "official" Soviet-Jewish culture which sought to dissociate itself from the prerevolutionary sources of the Hebrew language, Jewish culture, and historical consciousness. In spite of its official character, this Soviet-sponsored culture served hundreds of thousands of Jews and their children in the 1920s and early 1930s as the means of preserving their Jewish identity, while in their hearts many of them remained true to Hebrew language and the genuine Jewish culture.
Side by side with these efforts to retain some Jewish identity, many Soviet Jews streamed to the centers of government and constructive action and also sought to enter professions from which they had been barred in the Czarist past. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged upon Moscow, Leningrad, and other urban centers, and a great many were absorbed in the government administration, the party apparatus, and in the economic, legal, and military professions. Although most of them made no attempt to hide their Jewish origin, they and their families quickly adopted the Russian culture and language, and their Jewish identity soon became devoid of any cultural content. Nevertheless, even these "assimilationists" could not call themselves "Russians," "Ukrainians," etc., for these terms define a person's ethnic origin. The Soviet Union does not use the word "Soviet" as a general term denoting national belonging, (the way "American" is used in the United States). Thus there were two parallel and seemingly contradictory processes at work; one being the development of an official Yiddish culture, and the other a drive toward rapid acculturation, especially among the masses of Jews who had left the Jewish towns for the metropolitan centers. Most of the latter regarded their Jewish "nationality" as a marginal detail, which in the course of time would be superseded by the emerging "supra-national" socialist society. Those who continued to adhere to Yiddish were able to express themselves as Jews, though only within the confines of official Yiddish culture. There was, however, a third kind of Jew, who, by semi-legal or illegal means, gave his children a Jewish religious education (especially among the Ḥasidim in Western Russia and the non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities in the Caucasus and in the Asian republics). Some even made efforts to foster Hebrew language and literature. The number of these Jews, however, was pitifully small, and they had little contact with one another.
The territorialist experiment of
was too small and of too short a duration to have any effect upon these developments, for the entire project came to an abrupt end when the Jewish leadership of the "Autonomous Region" was liquidated in the great purges. The purges of the late 1930s also brought about the almost-complete liquidation of the institutions and machinery of Soviet Yiddish culture and deprived the great mass of nonassimilated Jews even of this tenuous official framework of Jewish life. Thus a new period was ushered in before World War II, in which the Jewish population was practically deprived of the last shreds of a legitimate Jewish culture and forced to assimilate to the majority i.e., Russian culture. Jews were, however, denied the possibility of a complete social assimilation and disappearance into the majority population for they continued to be identified as Jews "by nationality," in accordance with the traditional ethnic structure of East European society. The reintroduction at the end of 1932 of the czarist-style "passports" system, under which every Soviet citizen was obliged to have an identity card on his person, meant that every Jew, both of whose parents were Jewish, was marked in his personal documents as a Jew "by nationality." This greatly facilitated the various subtle methods of anti-Jewish discrimination employed by the Soviet authorites since the days of
; but it also served as a significant factor for the retention of Jewish consciousness by the Jews themselves, notwithstanding their deracination from all roots of Jewish religion and culture. During and after World War II Soviet Jews had twice a traumatic experience which shattered their belief in genuine equality and security under the Soviet regime, thus renewing and reinforcing their feelings of Jewish solidarity and identity: first, the fact that large segments of the Soviet population, including young people, actively helped the German occupants to exterminate their Jewish fellow citizens and that even army men and anti-German partisans often displayed hostile anti-Jewish attitudes; and later, Stalin's undisguised antisemitic policy in 1948–53, during the "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign and the "
' Plot" But even in normal times, the paradox between forced deracination and cultural assimilation, on one hand and official identification of Jews "by nationality," on the other, created a peculiar "Marrano" atmosphere among much of Soviet Jewry. This applied in particular to many of the young people who, unlike their parents in their youth, had no faith in any "supra-national" future socialist society. The increasing rebellion of Soviet Jewish youth against the humiliating discrimination contained in this paradox drew more and more upon a positive Jewish consciousness. This in turn, was based upon a profound emotional attachment to the State of Israel, which, for them, represented the "normal" and proud Jewish people. The rebellion expressed itself in a widespread search for the sources of genuine Jewish culture, in attempts to study the Hebrew language, and to acquire knowledge of Jewish history. The mass gatherings of Jewish youth around the synagogues, especially on Simḥat Torah in Moscow and Leningrad, became, in the late Soviet period, a demonstration of their identification with the Jewish people and with Israel and of their protest against the forced assimilation which singled out the Soviet Jew alone
among more than 100 Soviet nationalites, to be deprived of his dignity as the son of a historical nation.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even before under Gorbachev's liberalization policies, a great exodus of Soviet Jews commenced, paralleled in the former Soviet Union itself by a revival of communal Jewish life. Thus, in the 1990s, around a million immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union. Large numbers also arrived in the United States, Germany (90,000), and Canada. In 2004, just 395,000 "core" Jews (identifying themselves as Jews in official questionnaires) remained in the former Soviet Union, of whom 243,000 lived in the Russian Federation and 89,000 in Ukraine.
In Israel a process of Israelification has definitely set in, most markedly, as was to be expected, among the young and those born to immigrant parents. Ironically, then, the same processes that have historically worked toward assimilation in other host countries, drawing the second generation of Jews away from its ethnic roots, serve to fortify the sense of Jewishness when the assimilation occurs in a Jewish state. To the extent that Russian immigrants cling to something in their past, it is to Russian culture and the Russian language.
In the former Soviet Union, a full range of community services under the auspices of the Federation of Jewish Communities, including an extensive educational system, has also fortified Jewish identity. In Germany too, active Jewish community life has been revived by the newcomers.
In the modern era, acculturation of Jews to the dominant society has occurred quite rapidly whenever educational and economic opportunities have been even partially opened. Any prolonged period of such openness has universally produced substantial numbers of almost completely assimilated Jews. The forces which have fostered Jewish identity throughout this period have been the power of the religious tradition, especially of Jewish education; the repeated reappearances of antisemitism, with its climax in the Nazi era; the assertion of a Jewish national identity, through Zionism and its realization in the establishment of Israel in the last generation; and a growing weariness among some younger people at remaining Jews, marginal even under the best of circumstances, to the majority society. The ultimate result of these forces is an increasing polarization, in which part of world Jewry is quietly disappearing into various forms of secular apostasy and another part is evermore consciously affirming its Jewish character in increasing association with Israel. Each of these elements is presently growing at the expense of a rather tepid middle group, which remains very Jewish, especially in times of crisis, but is slowly evaporating. This middle group is still the majority of world Jewry.
E. Muehlmann, in: Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Sociology, 2 (1951), 828–74 (Ger.); J. Frankel and S.J. Zipperstein (eds.), Assimilation and Community: the Jews in Nineteenth Century Europe (1991); E.V. Stonequist, The Marginal Man (1937); G. Rosen, Juden und Phoenizier (1929); Th. Lessing, Der juedische Selbsthass (1930); Y. Kaufman, Golah ve-Nekhar, 1 (1929), 171–207; 2 (1930), 5–102; M. Davis, in: JJSO, 10 no. 2 (1968), 177–220. IN U.S.A.: M.H. Stern, Americans of Jewish Descent (1960); Ch. Reznikoff and U.Z. Engelman, The Jews of Charleston (1950); I. Graeber and S.H. Britt (eds.), Jews in a Gentile World (1942); M. Sklare (ed.), The Jews: Social Patterns of an American Group (1958); C.B. Sherman, The Jew within American Society (1960); N. Glazer and D.P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (1963); S. Esh (ed.), Am Yisrael be-Dorenu (1964); E. Rosenthal, in: AJYB, 64 (1963), 3–53; O. Janowsky (ed.), The American Jew: a Reappraisal (1964); M. Sklare, Jewish Identity on the Suburban Frontier (1967). IN U.S.S.R.: S.W. Baron, Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets (1964); Benami (A. Eliav), Between Hammer and Sickle (1967); E. Wiesel, Jews of Silence (1966). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Tolts, "The Post-Soviet Jewish Population in Russia and the World," in: Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe, no. 1 (2004), 37–63. See also the ongoing annual accounts of all the Jewish communities in the world in the American Jewish Year Book.
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved.