Jewish identity and behavior exist on a continuum, with non-Jews becoming Jews and others abandoning the Judaism into which they were born. This is another way to think about the population—those on the way in and those on the way out. It is much more fluid and dynamic than a simple binary approach of who is in or out as a permanent state of being. At what point in space and time is someone included or excluded as a Jew as they move back and forth on this Jewish continuum?
Preservation Versus Expansion
Fluid definitions raise important policy questions of defining who and what is a Jew. The continuum finds born Jews who are no longer Jewish in identity and/or behavior and people not born Jewish who are Jewish in both. The specter of loss and decline, the promise of gain and growth are both presented. Trying to keep born Jews to be Jewish is one mind-set, helping non-Jews to be Jewish is another. One is a preservation strategy—the other is an expansion strategy. One considers biology paramount—the other focuses on belief and behavior. Creating hard, narrow definitions of who is in and out may be more comforting. The other strategy is more fuzzy, elusive and uncertain—but holds greater promise for growth and ultimately, vitality.
People who choose to be Jews are likely to be members and participants—it is a way that they express their commitment and involvement to their chosen religion and community. Some who were born Jewish may take their participation or membership as a given: they may select to belong to a synagogue or a Jewish community center or opt out. Those who choose to be part of the community tend not to take institutional affiliation for granted. Indeed, they are looking for outlets to express their Judaism and to find ways to have a sense of belonging.
The Potential to Grow the Jewish People
If the Jewish community is to remain vibrant, it must find ways to proactively build diverse Jewish communities around the world. Diversity provides strength—a base of different kinds of people brings energy and ideas. The potential for Jewish population growth around the world is vast. We estimate millions of people who 1) have Jewish heritage; 2) have formally converted to Judaism; or 3) are on the path to Judaism. Such individuals exist in Latin America, Africa, India, and around the globe.
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