Gidi Grinstein on the “Secret Sauce,” Behind the Success of Jewish Continuity

By JD Krebs


For millennia, one question has perplexed scholars of Jewish history. Despite thousands of years exiled from their homeland, remaining a minority wherever they lived and facing constant persecution, how have the Jewish People continued to endure and thrive?


Gidi Grinstein thinks he has the answer.


The author of Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability, Grinstein spoke with Jewish National Fund-USA’s IsraelCast host Steven Shalowitz on how Judaism has survived all these years.


Gidi Grinstein


“The amazing resilience of the Jewish People, the recurring prosperity, and our permanent leadership in humanity emanate from the very unique way in which we combine old and new, innovation and tradition, flexibilities and rigidities,” he said, the final dichotomy combining to form the title of his book.


Like any group of people, Judaism has always had a mix of traditionalists and reformists. According to Grinstein, what makes us unique is our ability to strike the right balance between both groups.


“For over two and a half millennia, the Jewish People have been able to optimize the base of adaptation through the interaction between very conservative and orthodox groups on one hand and very progressive and reforming groups on the other hand,” he told Shalowitz. “The point I’m making in my book is that the progressive elements and the orthodox elements in our community are interconnected and interdependent in ways that many of them would never appreciate and acknowledge, but from my perspective, that link is the key to our survival.”


Grinstein notes that as separate and disparate as the groups are, they are still in constant communication. “On the personal level, very few ultra-orthodox people may actually have non-religious, secular close friends, but through the mechanisms of our society, these groups are interacting all the time,” he said.


As an example, Grinstein cites modern Zionism, which originated as a secular movement rejected by Jewish orthodoxy. “Initially, many of the orthodox groups were very hesitant about Zionism; they rejected the Zionist movement. But over time, we know today that the biggest and most thriving Charedi community in history exists in the State of Israel.”


With Israel’s existence, Jews finally have a country of their own. But Grinstein has concerns, noting that the “vertical” structure of the Israeli government is very different from the “horizontal” leadership of the Diaspora.


“Because we have so much power concentrated in the hands of the government, and half the Jews of the world live in Israel, we’re actually vulnerable,” he said. “Because if our government underperforms, Israel underperforms, and then half the Jews in the world are in a compromised condition.”


However, even with those apprehensions, Grinstein is still optimistic about the future of the Jewish People, pointing out how the entire Diaspora community stepped up to support Israel in their time of crisis.


“Diaspora Jews, through organizations like Jewish National Fund-USA, have raised billions of dollars for Israel,” he said. “They are standing with their Israeli brothers and sisters, irrespective of how they feel about the government’s performance. We’ll talk about that later; right now, we have to take care of each other.”


Of course, there are some Jews who don’t support Israel, even going to the other end of the spectrum to take pro-Hamas stances. Still, Grinstein isn’t fazed.


“In every generation for thousands of years in our society, there is this phenomenon of anti-Jewish Jews,” he told Shalowitz, noting that while the nature of Judaism lends itself to internal criticism and diversity of opinions, there are those who take it too far.


“Our people encourage questioning,” Grinstein says. “Questioning leads to doubt, but some people take their doubt to a state beyond the pale. I have very significant tolerance for criticism of Israel. In my book, I say that anti-Zionism, when it comes from the right reasons, is just as Jewish as Zionism. But there is a line, and when it has been crossed, these people, these Jews, are enemies of the Jewish people.”


In the meantime, Grinstein feels that Jewish society should continue its efforts to make the world a better place, something even easier to know with the increased reach of both Israel and the Diaspora.


“The combination between Tikkun olam, technology, and the spread of the Jewish world is allowing us to move into a new era of Jewish history,” he said. “We are able to move the needle for societies that are all over the world, and to me, this is a huge story, the chapters of which are being written right now.


JNF-USA’s IsraelCast comes out every other Wednesday at and is available wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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