Spiritual Extinction Threatens Jewish Communities in Far East
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Spiritual Extinction Threatens Jewish Communities in Far East

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Jewish communities in the Far East may become spiritually extinct within the next few decades unless drastic measures are taken now to ward off this danger, it was reported today by Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, general secretary of the New York Board of Rabbis.

Rabbi Gordon made a six-week survey of Jewish communities in Turkey, Pakistan, India, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan and Hawaii. During his tour in behalf of the New York Board of Rabbis, which represents 700 Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis in New York and vicinity, Rabbi Gordon met with the religious and communal leaders of the Jewish communities in the Near and Far East, whose members number about 87,000.

“The ravages of World War II, plus large scale emigration have weakened the spiritual fabric of many communities,” Rabbi Gordon reports. “If they are to survive and flourish spiritually, they must have the spiritual aid of Western–particularly American–Jewry. What is needed most is the reorganization of the religious life of the community: modernization of the synagogue, the establishment of a functioning religious school system, sufficient textbooks, competent teachers and dedicated rabbis.”

Rabbi Gordon emphasizes the need to stimulate a program for providing adequate support from existing American Jewish agencies to those communities where Jewish religious life needs quickening. He also recommends that an immediate appeal be issued to American rabbinical seminaries to urge their newly ordained graduates to devote at least the first two years of their ministry to Far Eastern Jewish communities. At the same time, seminaries are to be urged to make available scholarships for the training of gifted young men from Asia in American seminaries for a career in the Jewish ministry in their own native lands.


TURKEY has a Jewish population of about 58,000, community life is relatively healthy, with activity centered in Istanbul where the Jewish population is about 50, 000, and with its Jewish religious affairs governed by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate. More than 50 percent of the children receive some form of religious education and a concerted effort is being made with local teachers and with the assistance of teachers from Israel to educate a maximum of the youth.

INDIA has a Jewish population of about 24,000 centered in the states of Bombay, West Bengal and Cochin, Rabbi Gordon says in his report. There is only one ordained rabbi in all India, a native of Calcutta, ordained in New York and now serving his native city. The other Jewish communities eagerly urge the American rabbinical seminaries to send them rabbis in order to help maintain their Jewish life which has existed in India for many centuries.

PAKISTAN, following the mass exodus of Jews mainly to Israel after the partition of India, is left with a Jewish community of less than 500, living mainly in Karachi. The political turmoil of that part of Asia, plus the absence of a rabbi or teacher in this community, bode ill for its survival.

BURMA has a Jewish population of about 200, whose future as a community is considerably in doubt. Added to the general political turbulence, the Jewish community is very gravely threatened by inner spiritual extinction through a lack of adequate religious leadership and youth organizations. The only religious instruction to be had at present is offered by the wife of the Israeli Consul who teaches one Hebrew class.

SINGAPORE, with about 600 Jews, has good facilities in two large synagogues with active youth groups and a cantor from Israel, but it is in need of a community center, modern teachers to reopen its closed Talmud Torah, and a Western rabbi who will provide leadership for all elements of the community.

HONG KONG’S Jewish community of about 200, which serves as an important aid for immigrants in transit to Israel from the Far East, has a fine synagogue building, a cantor and a Jewish recreation club. However, they have no rabbi, no religious school and no religious instruction.

The PHILIPPINES’ 210 Jews are concentrated mostly in Manila and have good religiously-oriented lay leaders. A Jewish teacher from Israel conducts well-organized classes and performs all religious functions. In addition, Philippine Jewry is making efforts to obtain an American rabbi who will be its spiritual mentor and youth leader.

JAPAN has approximately 400 Jews who are concentrated in Tokyo and Kobe. They are weak as a religious group, and have little cultural life. American Jewish military chaplains and Jewish servicemen are responsible for Sabbath and holiday services as well as religious instruction for the children.

HAWAII, with about 1,000 Jews living mainly in Honolulu and with an American rabbi, has a religious school, excellent leadership, an active Jewish community and a projected new synagogue. This outpost of Judaism is one of the most promising in the Pacific, Rabbi Gordon says.

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