Monday, April 03, 2006

We aren't as successful as we think

Dr. Marvin Schick has an insightful article about Jewish education on his site:

The article appears in this weeks Jewish Press.

Rabbi Harry Maryles responds on his blog:

I'd like to comment on somehthing both Dr. Schick and Rabbi Maryles noted. First, Dr. Schick:

“Is it any wonder that today there are more defections from Orthodoxy than there are those whom we are attracting through kiruv?”

Rabbi Maryles responds:

'If this is true, it is an astonishing fact. With all the Kiruv that goes on in the Jewish world, to say that more people are opting “out” then are opting “in” is frightening. '

My response:

If you believe the National Jewish Population Survey, that fact is not just true, but it is overwhelmingly true:

In both the 1971 and 2001 National Jewish Population Surveys, the fraction of Jews who self-identified as Orthodox was 11% -- and the population of Jews declined during that time. The 2001 survey reported a total of 529,000 (205,000 children). The latter figure is close to Dr. Schick's estimate from his survey of enrollment in Jewish schools. And consider these statistics of adult Jews taken from the 2001 survey:

Raised Orthodox and currently Jewish: 587,000
Currently Orthodox: 240,000
Currently non-Orthodox: 347,000

Raised Jewish and currently Orthodox: 297,000
Raised Orthodox: 240,000
Raised non-Orthodox: 57,000

You will note that the number of "Raised Jewish and currently Orthodox" does not equal the total number of Orthodox adults; my guess is that the missing 27,000 might be people not raised Jewish (halachic converts?). But in any case, the survey shows that about six times as many formerly Orthodox Jews have gone "off the derech" than the number Jews who have become Orthodox. Even worse, the large majority of adult Jews raised Orthodox are no longer Orthodox today. Perhaps we Orthodox should not be so smug about how successful we are.

It is possible that the study is flawed, but it is unlikely that its conclusions would be so far off that we don't have to worry. I would suggest that our Orthodox leadership might want to invest some resources into determining what is causing this huge loss.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

no question there's a big problem, but let's not forget that many of those who left Orthodoxy did so 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. So to bring in al those statistics from yesteryear, doesn't really prove anything. A survey showing the rate of defection year to year over the last 15 years would be more what we'd need to prove the point.

Sadly though, academics aside, I think we all know it's not a good situation.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Harry Maryles said...

If you believe the National Jewish Population Survey, that fact is not just true, but it is overwhelmingly true:

And RW Torah leadership seems to be almost oblivious to these statistics. What's worse is the fact that the Israeli mentality is seeping into the American RW mindset as well. There are some new smaller Yeshivas that have already dispensed with a secular studies program... and you have Ner Yisroel RY Rav Aharon Feldman making similar noises about the need for such institutions (of Torah only w/o secular studies).

What's wrong with these people?

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this includes such a wide age range, and no definition of orthodoxy and so is basically meaningless

3:37 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

To the two anonymous posters: Disagregation by age and calendar time would indeed be worthwhile. I think the raw data are publically available; if I ever get some time I might just re-analyze the data, to see if the "going off the derech" trend has changed over the past 35 years. I do have a PhD in biostatistics so I actually could figure out how to do this. It would actually be a tricky analysis because the methodology for the 1971 and 1990 surveys were a little different.

The definition they used was a self-identification which is probabaly as good as any.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


8:59 AM  
Anonymous malachai said...

The jewish population survey has been known to bias their findings to reflect the goals of the orginazations that comissioned the study, they did not want to recognize the growth of american orthodox judaism. It is clear from the facts on the ground that their has been huge growth in the orthodox jewish population, there is simply no way large communities like those in brooklyn, lakewood, rockland county, kiryas joel, and the proliferation of suburban communities in new jersey, long island, and even connecticut can occur without a huge gain in the overall orthodox population, and this is true nation wide. I believe jps probably intentionally misses or undercounts the chasidim. Also, the large number of non-religious jews who were born orthodox is from a past generation, as a poster above said, many older people were raised orthodox and lost it, including my mother and most of her neighborhood in brownsvile. Among people of the current generation the trend is clearly tword becomming religious, we should in fact be proud of what we have accomplished, but also double our efforts because most jews are still not religious. While you critisize the israeli style of orthodoxy (in the chariedi world), remember that they are extremely successful, they are taking over the israeli school system, in many large cities more than half the students are chariedi, including jerusalem. Also important to note is that without the growth of jerusalem's chariedi community, jeruselem would be an arab city today.

There are alot of things in the orthodox community that turn me off, both chariedi and modern, but overall we are quite successful, we are growing fast, we should be proud and not be overly self-critical, remember that their is no alternative, today's secularism is not an option.

Btw, many of my nieghbors are bukharian russian jews who recently became religious and now have large families, it is not easy to get into a yeshiva here because the baby boom is straining current capacity.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...


You are correct that there has been huge Orthodox growth in a few areas, but remember that the near total destruction of the (largely Orthodox) Jewish community in the Bronx might well have been more than enough to offset all of those gains. At one point the Bronx had over 600,000 Jews; today it has maybe one tenth that many. Read and cry:

Something like three hundred buildings formerly used as shuls are featured on that site.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous malachai said...

Charliehall, this happened in much of brooklyn also, in areas like brownsville and bed sty, and surrounding areas, but central brooklyn, williamsburg, crown hieghts are more religious than they ever were, and in 30 years their decendents will more than double, although surely much of the growth will leave brooklyn. Here in queens, we also have many conservative synagogues that are shells of their former selves, they will not become churches only because they are becomming pre-schools. The queens jewish population has stabalized thanks to the growth of orthodox areas like kew gardens and surroundings, the far rockaway community, and the rise of the bukharian community in much of central queens, including kgh. While the bronx is mostely lost outside of riverdale, what about the 5 towns, which did not exist a generation ago, or passaic, or lakewood which was just a small yeshiva community, rockland county, remember that a generation ago orthodox jewry did not exist in significant numbers in the suburbs, today their are numerous suburban communities, including many small ones that number in the hundreds to a few thousand. Not enough to replace the loss in the bronx just yet, stick around for a few more decades and be stunned at what we will accomplish with the love of God.

The bukharian community of queens offers some insight on what many of us believe is the undercounting of certain jewish communities by the old mainstream jewish groups. The mainstream jewish orgs claime there are 30,000 bukharians in central queens, the bukharian community believes the number is 50,000. Many bukharians are religious or becoming, it is quite possible that the same mechinism that is leading to an undercount of the orthodox is also leading to an undercount of the bukharians.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

I don't know enough about the Bukharan community of Queens, but I decided to check to see how accurate the 2002 New York survey was regarding Riverdale. It said that there were 10,300 Jewish households in the 10463 and 10471 zip codes, and that 28% of respondents self-identified as "Orthodox". That would be just under 2,900 households. The two largest O shuls together have a membership of about 1,600 families. The combined membership of the other six O shuls might make up the other 1,300, but it might not as they are all much smaller and for one, half of its membership lives in Yonkers. So at least in this one case they aren't that far off.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Ellen Shnidman said...

It is absolutely true that official Jewish organization population surveys consistently, and I believe purposely, undercount the ultraorthodox. The haredim probably barely appear in these surveys at all, except when the survey is done only focusing on the greater NY area, where they make an effort to include obvious neighborhoods like Borough Park.

The precipitous dropoff in orthodoxy occurred before and after WWII, not since the 1960's, so these surveys are actually mainly focusing on the views of people who are old and secular, who tend to be overrepresented in all Jewish population surveys.

The fact that the Riverdale figures were reasonably accurate can be explained simply by the fact that the population there is all modern orthodox, not haredi. The phony 7% figure that the NJPS survey in 2001 came up with actually only represents Modern Orthodoxy. The true orthodox population was probably closer to 13%.

Secular Jewish Organizations are loath to admit that the backward and reactionary Orthodox are going to succeed in the survival and continuity race, while the supposedly progressive and sophisticated secular Jews will be lucky to survive more than 1-2 more generations. That's the point of publishing phony population statitstics - to cover up that very unpalatable conclusion.

The growth of Orthodoxy is so visible and obvious in greater NY, Baltimore and many other places - you don't need a population survey to tell you that.

7:37 AM  

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