JBD

 

Aug 2002 Journal

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A short discourse on demography

At present, Israelis make up 37 per cent of world Jewry, but by the year 2030 it is estimated that just over half of all Jews will be living in Israel. This shift will occur because Diaspora Jewry is constantly crumbling around the edges - due to intermarriage, conversion, etc - while the Israeli community cannot but stay intact.
But though intact, it will - with the exception of the Orthodox segment - show no sizable future increase in numbers. This is in stark contrast to the steep curve of Palestinian population growth, exemplified by one of the major stumbling blocks at Oslo. The number of Palestinians uprooted by the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 had been around three quarters of a million. Yet, just over half a century later, Yasser Arafat claimed a 'Right of Return' for 4 million - a claim undoubtedly based on solid fact.

Given the huge disparity of the opposing sides lined up in the 'battle of the wombs', it redounds greatly to Israel's credit that annual 'gay pride' marches are now a part of the urban landscape. The latest city to stage such an event is Jerusalem, whose Orthodox-dominated municipality refused to give it financial support - but grudgingly obeyed a Supreme Court instruction to hang multicoloured flags and banners symbolising the gay and lesbian movement from the lamp posts. (It needs to be pointed out that the parade took place in West Jerusalem: Muslim inhabitants of East Jerusalem would have given participants short shrift.)

However, while one takes pride in Israel's bedrock commitment to democracy, even in a virtual war situation, things are, alas, never quite clear-cut. While quantitatively the influence of homosexuality on the birthrate may not be great, there are reasons for supposing that it does make a qualitative difference. From Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Tchaikovsky, some of the world's greatest creative spirits have been gay. (Jews of the same orientation include Proust, Rathenau and Wittgenstein.) Thus the freedom of gays to organise and proselytise, while earning Israel badly needed brownie points, may produce a less than salutary effect on the national gene pool.

If a percentage of the most creative people in a society fail to produce offspring, the average level of achievement of that society cannot but fall short of what it might potentially have been. A case in point is the Catholic Church, which over many centuries recruited a sizable segment of the ablest individuals in Christendom into the ranks of the clergy. As clerics, these possessors of above-average intelligence were prevented by the cast-iron rule of celibacy from passing on their gifts to succeeding generations.

In the sixteenth century Christianity split asunder, with a large part of Europe remaining Catholic, and a smaller, but still hugely important, part turning Protestant. The Protestant states - England, Holland, Scandinavia, parts of Germany - abolished monasticism altogether and allowed the clergy to marry. It has often been remarked how many talented people in Britain - from the Brontë sisters to Gordon Brown - are children of the manse.

Is it an exaggeration to say that the advantage relatively small England and Holland gained over their larger Catholic rivals France and Spain in all sorts of spheres - for example navigation, trade, industrialisation - owed a lot to the release of hitherto untapped creative talent? Probably not.

To which I would add my suspicion that the traditional shtetl custom, whereby the daughter of the local gevir, or richest man, tended to marry the rabbi - i.e. the most learned one - helped raise the average intelligence level of Jews above that of their peasant neighbours.
Richard Grunberger

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