NEW YORK (May. 14)
World Jewry is faced with a crisis unparalleled in its history since the First Exile if its decline in numbers — which has now begun after centuries of increase — continues for four or five decades.
This is one of the conclusions of Prof. Salo W. Baron, Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University, in “A Social and Religious History of the Jews” published in three volumes on May 19 by the Columbia University Press.
The Jewish people “has become increasingly old in the biological sense,” he says. While it once led the world in numerical increase, it is now increasing at a slower rate than any other people. Prof. Baron attributes this to intermarriage and suicide.
“The great fecundity, which, together with the decreasing mortality rate, accounted for the astounding growth of Jewish population in the last three centuries, has been steadily declining during recent years, he asserts. “In many Western European countries, consisting largely of wealthy and thoroughly assimilated Jews, the birth rate has fallen below the level of reproduction.”
With the weakening of religious sanctions, suicide has become “a factor of biological significance in Jewish life,” the writer holds. He ascribes the increase in suicides to “the nerve-racking complexity of modern life and economic instability.”
There remains not even “the melancholy satisfaction” that with a stagnant population the Jews would need no further sources for emigration, Prof. Baron declares, for the German experience shows that a relative decrease does not remedy the Jews’ anomalous position.
As to immigration, he says that the present stoppage in many countries has “all the indications of permanency.”
“The pressure of Jewish metropolitanization shows no sign of abating,” Dr. Baron finds. “No organized attempt is being made to distribute the agglomerated Jewish masses of New York and other metropolitan centers over wider areas… At the same time, many thoughtful Jews and non-Jews have pointed out the economic, social and intellectual dangers of concentration.”
The Jewish economic crisis is no less acute than the biological, he asserts, and the national destiny during the next century or two will be determined by developments in the industrial and commercial fields. “With the gradual elimination of the petty trader, the Jewish merchant class has been gravely imperilled,” he says.
“The fact that the Jews and Judaism have so long survived against tremendous odds may help to reassure the present generation. Their vitality and persistence over more than three millennia have rooted them in the life of this globe with ever deeper permanence.”
The author attempts to lay the foundation for a sociological approach to Jewish history, to explain the formation of the fundamental social trends to Jewish life from the biblical age to the present and to describe their influence on the ancient Israelitic religion and on medieval and modern Judaism.