It is an unfortunate fact that a large portion of the Jews who came to North America in the early 20th century were unable to live full Jewish lives. There was little Jewish education (indeed, almost none at all for girls) and, until the late 1960s, a constant (but, thank God, non-violent) anti-Semitism that drove Jews to assimilate.

In the late 1960s, however, perhaps due to the general societal upheaval, the Jewish community started noticing that a significant number of young Jews were moving toward a more traditional life style, a trend that came to be known as the Baal Teshuva movement.

The movement of Jewish return has continued until today, and there are many organizations dedicated to helping Jews return to their traditions (Chabad, Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, and, of course, National Jewish Outreach Program–to name just a few). The goal of these organizations is, in truth, to foster an ingathering of “spiritual exiles.” Jewish outreach organizations strive to help Jews discover the beauty of their own heritage.

And yet, it is a goal that is often elusive. More and more Jews are leaving Jewish life only because they lack basic knowledge about Judaism. Once upon a time, a Jew raised with little knowledge of his/her heritage was the exception. In fact, the sages refer to such a Jew as a tinok sheh’nishbah. “Rav Pappa said to Abaye…Is there any [case of a Jew] who does not have a basic awareness [of Jewish law]?…Yes, you find it in a child taken captive [and raised] among non-Jews (Talmud Shavuot 5a).”

One raised without knowledge of Jewish law cannot be held responsible for Jewish law. But, sadly, one raised without this knowledge can also never know of the depth, ethics, intricacies and beauty of Jewish life.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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