I used some statements by Orthodox Jewish leaders to speculate in "The Future of Judaism" that Orthodoxy will become dominant again.
it is conceivable that the ratio will return to roughly where it was two centuries ago, with the Orthodox again constituting the great majority of Jews. Were that to happen, the non-Orthodox phenomenon could seem in retrospect merely an episode, an interesting, eventful, consequential, and yet doomed search for alternatives, suggesting that living by the law may be essential for maintaining a Jewish identity over the long term
A new study, "Young Jewish Adults in the United States Today: Harbingers of the American Jewish Community of Tomorrow?" released by the American Jewish Committee, confirms this trend. Looking at the 1.5 million American Jews ages 18-39, it found that Orthodox Jews comprise some 11 percent of the Jewish population; among 18-29 year-olds, that goes up to 16 percent. Among Jewish children, the percentage of Orthodox is probably even higher. Put differently, the percentage of Orthodox Jews aged 18-29 is nearly double that in the 30-39 age group.
The study is based on surveys by Ukeles Associates, the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01, and AJC's own surveys since 2000.
Steven Bayme, director of contemporary Jewish life at the AJC, which commissioned the study, commented that "Younger Orthodox adults are likely to play increasingly important roles in organized Jewish life given their commitments, numbers and fertility patterns." (April 27, 2006)
Dec. 27, 2006 update: Hillel Halkin confirms these points in "Trending Toward Orthodoxy," where he begins by discussing the loosening affiliation of American Jews. But shrinkage, he adds,
is only half of the story. The other half is the remarkable strengthening of Jewish education, religious observance, and creativity in that part of the American Jewish community that has chosen to remain strongly Jewish. Nor are these two seemingly opposed processes unrelated. On the contrary: As assimilation has claimed more and more American Jews, American Jews who wish to resist it have increasingly come to understand that the only way to do so is by putting more of an effort into being Jewish.
Assimilation and cultural renaissance are thus two sides of the same coin of American Jewish life, and all of the wordy arguments about what direction American Jewry is going in are largely a matter of which side of the coin one is looking at. The American Jewish community is rapidly polarizing into more and more assimilated Jews, on the one hand, and more and more Jewish Jews, on the other. The broad ethnic middle has fallen out of it.
This community has also become more Orthodox, both because Orthodox families have by far the highest Jewish birth rate — they are the only American Jews who are reproducing above replacement level — and because they have, again by far and away, the greatest success in retaining their children and preventing defections from the Jewish fold. Although they constitute today an estimated 10% of American Jewry, they comprise a third of its regular synagogue goers, 20% of its under-18 population, and barely 1% of its Jews who intermarry.
Moreover, as bitter as the divide between them and Reform and Conservative Jews may be over cultural issues, the intense allegiance of Orthodox Jews to a Jewish way of life is a model that Reform and Conservatism will increasingly have to follow if they are to survive. The real demographic story of American Jewish life may turn out to be its steady "Orthodoxization" in the years to come. Although this is something whose implications few American Jewish leaders or institutions have given much thought to, it is too clear a trend to ignore.
Aug. 1, 2007 update: "Three of four Jewish births in UK are haredi" finds University of Manchester historian Dr. Yaakov Wise. Jonny Paul writes in the Jerusalem Post that
Europe's haredi population is growing more rapidly than at any time since before WWII. Almost three out of every four British Jewish births, he says, are ultra-Orthodox, and the community now accounts for around 45,500, or 17 percent, of a total UK Jewish population of around 275,000. … In Greater Manchester, approximately half of all Jewish children under five years old are haredi. The numbers are also growing in Greater London, where the ultra-Orthodox community now accounts for 18% of Jews, up from less than 10% in the early 1990s.
The same pattern holds for the US, Wise says. "In America, too, where the Jewish population is stable or declining, ultra-Orthodox Jewish numbers are growing rapidly. Prof. Joshua Comenetz at the University of Florida says the ultra-Orthodox population doubles every 20 years, which he says may make the Jewish community not only more religiously observant but more politically conservative."
Wise concludes from these statistics:
If current trends continue there is going to be a profound cultural and political change among British and American Jews, and it's already well on the way. This is in spite of demographic studies which show that the non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is flat or falling. My work, and that of Prof. Sergio Della Pergola [of the Hebrew University], reveal a similar picture in Israel. By the year 2020, the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel will double to one million and make up 17% of the total population. A recent Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics report also found that a third of all Jewish students will be studying at haredi schools by 2012, prompting emergency meetings at the Education Ministry.
May 10, 2009 update: The chancellor of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm, predicts the demise of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, reports Matthew Wagner for the Jerusalem Post. "With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements. The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism. They are closing schools and in general shrinking. The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK," a reference to Reform's policy, since 1983, of recognizing patrilineal descent. "Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture. The future of American Jewry is in the hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox. We have to find ways of working together." He seeks outreach to Reform and Conservative Jews, "but not by watering down what we believe and not by demonizing them either."
Norman Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University in New York.
June 19, 2012 update: Daniel Greenfield looks at "The Death of Jewish Liberalism" today, i.e., the growth of the Orthodox population. One excerpt:
74 percent of all Jewish children in the city are Orthodox, a baby boom that will completely transform the city's Jewish population. And that means the transformation of the Jewish vote. Within another decade, New York City will have an Orthodox majority; within a generation that majority will be so decisive as to define its political orientation. The end of the New York Jewish liberal is here.
Nov. 25, 2013 update: The Middle East Forum's Alexander Joffe contemplates what the changing demographics will mean for pro-Israel lobbying:
in a few decades younger non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox American Jews devoted to Israel will be greatly outnumbered by Haredi and Chassidic Jews. With a rapidly aging Jewish community and an already enormous communal infrastructure of social service organizations, schools, and cultural institutions, where will the money go? Given the low levels of secular education and work participation of Haredi and Chassidic Jews in America (and Israel), their charitable potential is suspect. Indeed, based on their current socio-economic status, who will continue to support them? Where will American Jewish financial support for Israel come from when the overall pie is shrinking and has many more demands placed on it? This is unknown.
Related Topics: Jews and Judaism
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