Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5764 - December 31, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Mass Aliyah to Israel is Obsolete

by Mordecai Plaut

As we noted last week, the only long-term solution to the demographic threat that faces Israel is children and more children. Chazal said, "If there are no young kids, there are no adult goats" (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2). If we want to have people in the future to perpetuate the Jewish people and the Jewish mission in the world, we must have children now.

In our times, there is no longer any shorter-term solution than this. Many Israeli pundits and politicians pin their hopes on aliyah. This has been part of the Zionist ideology for over a century.

From the chareidi perspective, there has never been an emphasis on aliyah in the way it was presented by the Zionists. Chareidim never lost the love for Eretz Yisroel that is so much a part of Torah, but the overall approach to making decisions about where to live has to be oriented towards one's best opportunity for avodas Hashem and, though Eretz Yisroel certainly has much to offer in this respect, it does not overwhelm all other considerations. (In any case our discussion here focuses on what we will call "immigration" meaning a movement of people to Israel, rather than "aliyah" which carries ideological overtones.)

Immigration has had impact in Israel in the past. When the British took over in 1917 there were about 57,000 Jews here (the majority chareidi; mostly in Yerushalayim), and in 1948 when the State was founded there were some 650,000 -- an almost twelvefold increase in just 30 years, driven mostly (71 percent) by immigration. In the next three years, immigrants doubled the population.

Since then immigration has been an increasingly smaller contributor to population growth, with the exception of a few years right after the fall of the Soviet Union. Even the million immigrants who came then from areas formerly under Soviet rule included at least a third non-Jews, according to their own declarations. Some experts estimate that the true proportion of non-Jews is close to half. The main source of the increase in Israel's Jewish population is our own children.

Not mentioned in most discussions of immigration is this fact that natural increase -- children -- is usually the dominant contributor to population growth. This is clearly true in the long run, and it was true in most shorter periods as well. Mass immigration is no longer a solution to Israeli problems -- if it ever was -- because there are no longer any masses who are potential immigrants.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has spoken of bringing 1,000,000 olim in the next decade. Although there are no signs of even progress towards that goal, he has taken some steps. However he does not realize that today there is no place from which to bring such a massive number of immigrants.

According to our interpretation of the data (see Jewish Observer, November 2002), most of the Hard Core Jewish people are already in Israel. Almost half of the 5.2 million people counted as Jewish by the National Jewish Population Study-2000 (NJPS2000) do not say they are Jewish when asked by a non-threatening interviewer. What are the chances that they can be induced to move to Israel? Probably no greater than the chances that an average non-Jewish American can be convinced to move to Israel.

Another overlooked but very important factor is the age of the American Jews. The average age of American Jewry in 2000 was over 49. At the rate they were aging, the average age now is over 51.

The Jewish population of the United States is thus not a group that will solve demographic threats in Israel. They are people who are established in America, at or past the peak of their careers -- probably the worst time for a radical move to a new country from their perspective. The many retirees are better prospects -- they may be able to live better on their pensions in Israel than in the US -- but they are not the type of people who provide much demographic balance to an Arab population that is young and, so far, growing younger.

The rest of the world combined has less than half the Jews that are in America, and their demographic profile is similar.

It bears saying again: If the secular politicians really cared about the future of Klal Yisroel, or even the future of the State of Israel, they would make having many children a matter of national priority, and those who have big families, such as the chareidim, should be national heroes.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.