Who's Keeping Count?
In the coming month, the U.N. Security Council is due to vote on proposed sanctions against Iran for its pursuit of nuclear-weapons technology. The result of negotiations between the United States and the other members of the Council can be roughly characterized as something in between a complete failure and a joke. There's little doubt that Iran is, once again, about to be let off the hook.
Why? Because America's friends and allies appear to be unable to concentrate their attention on the danger a nuclear Iran presents. But even on those days when the countries of Western Europe appear ready to abandon their commercial interests in Iran and take the issue seriously, Tehran still has the backing of Russia.
Given the Islamist threat it faces within its own borders, Russia and its authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin, should be as scared of Iranian nukes as the United States or Israel. But Russia's ambitions to reclaim its former role of dominant world power have led it to dabble in the dangerous diplomatic waters of the Middle East. Thwarting American interests and reasserting itself into the mix outweigh its responsibilities to stop Iran, which itself is trying to reassert its own global hegemony.
Though many critics of the Bush administration have urged more conciliation, Washington has done nothing but talk about Iran, and let its allies take the lead on this issue for years. The time has come for both America and Europe to stop talking and start acting. Though Iran's lethal nuclear threats are mostly aimed at Israel, they also pose a danger to the rest of the world.
Iran Off the Hook
Years after the long-delayed release of its controversial 2001 National Jewish Population Study, the United Jewish Communities is talking about ditching an attempt to count Jews in 2010. And given the acrimonious debate over what the last survey did or did not count, we cannot blame them.
Both the 1990 survey — whose numbers on intermarriage were so high that they kicked off a generation of discussions about "continuity" — and its less widely accepted 2001 successor yielded interesting results. But statisticians are still deeply divided over how to count the number of Jews in this country.
In a free nation where such an identity is not imposed from the outside — and where Jews are free to flee or to embrace their own internal community — it's hard to know who's being counted whenever such a survey is conducted.
Some believe that a more loose definition of identity, in which just about anyone with ties to the community of some sort, including those merely living with a Jewish individual, fits the spirit of our times.
Other scholars believe that such optimistic surveys are a measure more of our wish for inclusiveness than any meaningful count of the community.
But flawed survey models cut both ways. One method might eliminate many who truly deserve to be counted, while another might inflate it unreasonably.
Consider us fascinated by the debate, but ultimately disinterested in the statistical dust-up. The point is, no matter how you figure the numbers, the real question remains not how large we are (though to be sure, a predicted demographic decline would have political as well as social consequences), but whether we are pursuing and seeking to perpetuate authentically Jewish values, such as educating our children in our heritage and faith, caring for the Jewish poor and building solidarity with the State of Israel.
If we fulfill those tasks, then we will be building a community that's sure to thrive, and the statistics will take of themselves.