Abandonment of Traditional Values and Opting for Middle Class Norms Leads to Breakdown of Classical
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Abandonment of Traditional Values and Opting for Middle Class Norms Leads to Breakdown of Classical

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The Jewish community is endangered by a “vicious circle” in which “the weakened Jewish family leads to a weakened Jewish identity which leads to a weakened Jewish family.” This warning, sounded by Dr. Mervin Verbit, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, emerged as the dominant concern this weekend at a B’nai B’rith conference on the Jewish family, the first national assembly of its kind.

The “breakdown” in the traditional close-knit unity of the classical Jewish family, creating problems of growing infidelity, divorce, intermarriage, drug addiction and sexual liberalism, were attributed by conference speakers to “middle-class’ Jews having opted for the “middle-class norms” of their environment, abandoning traditional Jewish norms–like that of the cohesive family unit–in the process.

The sociologists, theologians and educators who addressed the major conference sessions, held on the University of Maryland campus, agreed that restoring the behavior patterns of the classical Jewish family, which made it “the primary force for transmitting Judaism and Jewishness from one generation to the next,” was fundamental to the future of a viable Jewish community. A selected group of 200 persons from 26 states and Canada–teenagers and under-thirties among them–are participating in the conference.


In charting the decline of the American Jewish family, Dr. Verbit noted the “well motivated but ill advised” efforts of second generation Jews. The children of immigrants, they had tried to reshape the nature of their Jewishness to make it more acceptable to their children. But the blurring of Jewish distinctiveness had not proved attractive to many Jewish youth, he said.

The same emphasis on renewing the Jewish family as the vehicle of Jewish continuity was made by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Dr. Louis L. Kaplan, former president of the Baltimore Hebrew College. “Judaism is a home-grown commitment,” Dr. Heschel asserted. “The real sanctuary is the home, the synagogue is an auxiliary. The tendency in American Jewish life to localize Judaism in the synagogue threatens to destroy the vitality and unique relevance of Judaism.” Dr. Heschel said the widening gap between parents and children and the rise of the drug culture was partly the result of the sin of boredom.

Dr. Kaplan, who is chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland, warned against parents allowing themselves “to be cowed by the unwarranted denunciation of their children.” He said that parents “have been too ready to accept the charge of hypocrisy levelled against them by a generation of students with its own share of dishonesty.”

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