Chief Rabbi Lau: America a 'disaster' for Jews
The Jerusalem Post

April 1, 2003

Assimilation, lack of leadership and intermarriage are causing a "disaster" for American Jews, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said Tuesday in one of his final appearances before completing his 10-year term.

Lau, who leaves the post Wednesday, told editors and reporters at The Jerusalem Post America would have had 36 million Jews today, not the current five to six million, if they had stayed closer to traditions.

"We started in 1945 with 6 million Jews in the United States," he said. "How many came there from all over the world, including, I am ashamed to say, Israel? Hundreds of thousands. From 6 million in 1945, there should be 36 million Jews in the United States today. But how many do you have identified as Jewish in America? There are 30 million lost in 50 years, because of assimilation, lack of education, lack of leadership and intermarriages."

Lau, who has been a rabbi for 43 years, said Jews outlasted all the other civilizations of ancient times, including Rome, Greece, Assyria and Babylon, because the Jews clung to their traditions. He said Jews around the world, whether or not they are observant in a traditional sense, would sit down in two weeks to eat matzo at the Pessah seder.

"We are the only nation with most of its history in Diaspora, in exile, not in its homeland," he said. "I have had a very serious and important task as chief rabbi to preserve the Jewish tradition. Without it we are not one. Without it we are not. Nekudot. (Period.) Without it we wouldn't exist."

Lau leaves behind a rabbinical bureaucracy that is often criticized for failing to serve the public well and for employing unnecessary people. But he pointed out his warm relations with his counterpart, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliezer Bakshi-Doron, over the last 10 years. Lau urged the unification of the two posts into one.