Why must I put “Jewish” on my census form?

August 5, 2021 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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Two questions from those not keen to put their Jewish religious affiliation on their census forms.  And the answers to why they should.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Why is it relevant for the Australian government to know who is Jewish? Didn’t records like the census help the Nazis hunt down Jews?

My brother-in-law refuses to write “Jewish” for the religion question on the census form as he says he is a cultural Jew only, and agnostic.  He says he may write “Jewish” under ancestry instead. How can I help change his mind?

Two very relevant and no doubt prevalent questions at the present time!

With our Diaspora history, and with anti-Semitism arguably on the rise globally, D.S’s concerns are understandable, although I believe that it is unhealthy and obsessive to imagine future nightmare scenarios that are far distant from present realities

But the fact is that with the ubiquity of social media, information-gathering and algorithms, much of our personal data is out there already. Few among us have not been victims of targeted online advertising.  Most (I am a rare exception) have an online profile on Facebook, Instagram or the like.  We do online shopping and if we buy kosher the data is there. For a malevolent regime of the future to get hold of information which would give away the fact that you are Jewish would be very easy.

We really have nothing to lose by writing JEWISH on the census form and everything to gain as it will give our community more weight and therefore more resources. Not to mention that it is a statement of Jewish pride and identity. Even though he was attempting to run away from G-D, Jonah didn’t run away from his Jewishness.  He had to face the interrogation of a motley bunch of strong-armed sailors who had just divined by lot that he was the cause of the storm at sea.  Yet he unhesitatingly declared Ivri Anokhi, “I am a Jew!”  We should all follow Jonah’s example.

As for Joel’s question, it highlights the uniqueness of the Jew. What does it mean to be Jewish?  Are we members of a religion or are we peoplehood?  If you are Muslim or Christian, you are a member of a religion. If you are Chinese or Italian, you are members of a nation.  We are both and more besides!

I actually wrote JEWISH for the ancestry question and JUDAISM for the religion question. But inserting JEWISH under ancestry as an alternative to religion doesn’t cut it.   Because your great-grandfather was Jewish doesn’t necessarily make you Jewish. And while a JEWISH entry under the ancestry question is nice and appropriate, it won’t count for demographics.

Tell your brother-in-law that the only way he will be identifying culturally as Jewish is to write JEWISH for the religion question. Tell him that what we mean by religion isn’t what others mean by religion. A person born to Christian parents who stops believing in Jesus is no longer a Christian.  A person born to Jewish parents who declares he doesn’t believe in G-D remains a Jew.  And if he denies it, others will be on hand to remind him!

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