web analytics
September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The State of the Jew According to Pew

Very few middle aged and older people consider themselves ultra-orthodox. It’s a youth movement.
boro park

Pew conducted a study of Jews in America and has released a comprehensive report based on its findings. Nearly 2800 religious Jewish people were interviewed and the results of those interviews make up the model for the results of the study. It’s difficult conduct a study like this and achieve meaningful results. I am not a statistician nor can I compare the sample sizes used in this study with others. To my untrained eye, it seems small.

There are many very interesting findings to discuss. I have three things I want to say about the study.

First, people will point to the staggering number of orthodox Jews who are no longer orthodox. That number is 52%. It seems impossible to believe. That means that over half of people raised orthodox are no longer orthodox. Think about the orthodox Jewish friends and family you know. Does it make sense to say that over half of them are no longer orthodox? I don’t think so.

If you drill down a bit you notice a couple of things. For starters, I know many people who say they were raised orthodox because they went to a yeshiva or modern orthodox school even if they weren’t frum at home. I went to school with several people like that. Those people certainly skew the numbers. After all, the study relied on self identification. There was no process to classify people into categories other than to ask them.

But the real key here what the numbers are for young people being raised in contemporary orthodoxy. Those numbers are impressive. 83% of people raised as orthodox Jews under the age of 30 stay. This is a huge success. It’s also a number that correlates with anecdotal evidence. So the people who were raised orthodox and no longer are orthodox are mostly older people. What does this mean?

It means one of two things or perhaps a hybrid of two. [It doesn't mean that orthodox Jews leave the fold in their 30's and 40's at alarmingly high rates.] It could either mean that orthodoxy is much stronger today than it was 20 and 30 years ago. People get a better Jewish education, there is more insularity, and the shift to ultra orthodoxy which outnumbers modern orthodoxy by nearly 10:1 in this demographic is working to keep more orthodox Jews orthodox. Alternatively, it signifies a shift in who attends orthodox schools. In other words, 20-30 years ago it was far more likely for a family to send a child to an orthodox school and identify as orthodox even if they were not totally observant of halacha. There was more cross-pollination and there were fewer non-orthodox options. So you wind up with more people from previous generations identifying as being raised orthodox even though they weren’t truly orthodox through and through. This is rarer today because we are more insular and non-orthodox or unaffiliated Jews feel less comfortable in orthodox institutions. The truth is likely a combination of the two but the latter does concern me.

Also, very few middle aged and older people consider themselves ultra-orthodox. It’s a youth movement. Sure, some mellow out and switch affiliation. But it’s also a recent phenomena that is sweeping orthodoxy. It’s pretty compelling evidence that what is happening now for the under 40 orthodox Jew is different from what their parents and grandparents experienced. It’s a different kind of Judaism. The numbers bear it out.

Next, the non-orthodox denominations are falling apart. The numbers support the rumblings and rumors regarding the demise of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism is dwindling as well. Some orthodox Jews like to cheer while these two denominations begin to disappear. Others view it as a sign that those Jews must be saved and brought into orthodox Judaism.

I think that it is important for Judaism that non-orthodox denominations are strong and vibrant. I think that orthodox Jews should be concerned and make efforts to help revive non-orthodox Judaism. This sounds controversial and heretical but it’s really not. Orthodox Judaism is not going to magically become the Judaism for the 89% of non-orthodox Jews. We can either wish them well and watch them disappear or we can try to keep them connected to their Jewish heritage. I think the latter choice is preferable. Now we can either keep them connected by “making them orthodox” as if that is even possible, or we can rely on strong non-orthodox denominations to keep them in the fold. I think the latter choice is preferable here too. It’s certainly the more likely option to achieve widespread success. While resources are precious in the orthodox community, I think strengthening the non-orthodox denominations is a worthy endeavor. They are also our brothers and sisters. If we value what we have, we should do whatever we can to help them stay somewhat connected to their Judaism. A little bit of a good thing is a whole lot better than nothing.

The last thing for now are the numbers on belief in God. 96% of ultra-orthodox Jews are certain that there is a God. Certain. That’s a very high number. I also wonder how they can all be so certain. The modern orthodox number is 77%. Also a very high number for certainty. 8% of ultra-orthodox Jews believe but are less certain and 19% of modern orthodox Jews fit that description. I think that both of those numbers are really higher. Most people don’t think about belief in God. They just do it. But the question wasn’t simply about belief. The question measured the certainty of the believer. I am skeptical that someone can be certain of something without being able to make a compelling argument in favor of that certainty. How many of us can make that argument? If we can’t, can we be certain? (Stay tuned for an essay on this issue sometime soon.)

Perhaps most interesting numbers in this section are the numbers of people who “do not believe.” Here the number for ultra-orthodox is 1% while it is 3% for modern orthodox. Practicing Judaism under a state of disbelief s not an easy proposition. If one doesn’t think the mitzvos and traditions have Divine meaning then they are bound to become a huge burden. However, orthopraxy – practicing Judaism despite disbelief is a growing trend. I wonder what these numbers will look like in a few years. It’s possible that more people who do not believe in God will feel comfortable in orthodox Judaism and they will grow as a public group. But it’s also possible that a rise in those numbers will inspire a thorough vetting of all orthodox Jews which would force all orthoprax Jews into a closet or out of orthodox Judaism altogether.

There are plenty of other interesting numbers to discuss. (97% of ultra-orthodox Jews have all or mostly Jewish friends. That’s insularity! How about only 57% of orthodox Jews are Republicans? And the support for Israel numbers need addressing as well.) Perhaps I will revisit the study and more of its social commentary in a future post. For now, these are the three things that jumped out at me.

Note: The orthodox people surveyed were all from Brooklyn, Monsey, and Lakewood. I think this might be significant.

Link: Pew Research

Visit Fink or Swim.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

4 Responses to “The State of the Jew According to Pew”

  1. Rabbi Fink
    I applaud your notion that Orthodox Jews must support non orthodox streams. It is rather pragmatic and unexpected from what I have come to expect from factions within our community. If we can encourage such support it would go a long way to bridge our communities. We are indeed one people and judging by the study’s result, we better start recognizing it quick.
    As to your point of Othopraxy – cute, by the way – you suggest that if that movement grows, orthodoxy may begin some kinds of witch hunt to identify them and “vet” people for true orthodoxy, and it would force orthopraxists into the closet. I would argue that they are already in closets. If they were not, they would not be counted among their Orthodox neighbors and community.
    That said, the study seems to have missed a segment of a population. You may define them as Orthopraxists, but indeed they are believers. There is a growing number of people who do not see Conservative Judaism or Reform (not reconstructionist, ethical cultural, etc,. either) as suitable to them. The people who grew up in religious homes, went to yeshiva, studied and understand, but do not have the ability or desire to practice every “restriction” for arguments sake. They daven in Orthodox shuls, keep kosher, send their kids to Jewish schools, and believe in God and Torah, but may not be so strict on the 39 malachot in the privacy of their homes.
    These people are Jewish, proud, Zionists, involved, but cut corners, not because they do not believe, but because they just don’t want to. It may be something simple as their wives wear “beg’ed Ish” (pants) and may not cover their hair. They may watch the ballgame after shul in their basements, or eat ice cream on a beach that may not have a certification label.
    I grew up in t he Bialystoker shul. My zaidy was the president in the sixties and seventies, and he set his shabbos clock to turn on the ballgame Saturday afternoons. My wife and I owned the bialy store on Grand Street until a month ago and we hired a rabbi and certified it kosher. Yet, growing up, “everyone” ate there (before we owned it) because it was flour, water, yeast, onions and salt. No one said it was treif – it just wasn’t “kosher”.
    In the fifties and sixties we ate Kraft cheese because rennet was considered a chemical by product and not a chunk of meat from an animal. And I have an actual letter that my wife’s grandfather wrote to Sholom Klass in the early seventies asking his advice on the new phenomenon of glatt kosher. Shalom Klass wrote back – and I have it – saying it was an unnecessary restriction and expense and “only a passing” phase for Judaism. How wrong he was. If we can embrace the harder and more expensive, we certainly did.
    These people today may feel religion has taken a sharp right turn to an uncomfortable and even unsettling point. The study should unsettle us all as it shows that those who stay Jewish longer are those more associated with it regularly – friends, neighborhood, school, etc.
    What does that mean? Being a practicing Jew has become expensive. Schools, kashrut, neighborhoods , etc. To pay for it all we had to be enlightened, find work and become business leaders. That enlightenment has in a way influenced today’s youth who never saw the struggle but now see a burden.
    Didn’t we do this to ourselves?

  2. Rabbi Fink
    I applaud your notion that Orthodox Jews must support non orthodox streams. It is rather pragmatic and unexpected from what I have come to expect from factions within our community. If we can encourage such support it would go a long way to bridge our communities. We are indeed one people and judging by the study’s result, we better start recognizing it quick.
    As to your point of Othopraxy – cute, by the way – you suggest that if that movement grows, orthodoxy may begin some kinds of witch hunt to identify them and “vet” people for true orthodoxy, and it would force orthopraxists into the closet. I would argue that they are already in closets. If they were not, they would not be counted among their Orthodox neighbors and community.
    That said, the study seems to have missed a segment of a population. You may define them as Orthopraxists, but indeed they are believers. There is a growing number of people who do not see Conservative Judaism or Reform (not reconstructionist, ethical cultural, etc,. either) as suitable to them. The people who grew up in religious homes, went to yeshiva, studied and understand, but do not have the ability or desire to practice every “restriction” for arguments sake. They daven in Orthodox shuls, keep kosher, send their kids to Jewish schools, and believe in God and Torah, but may not be so strict on the 39 malachot in the privacy of their homes.
    These people are Jewish, proud, Zionists, involved, but cut corners, not because they do not believe, but because they just don’t want to. It may be something simple as their wives wear “beg’ed Ish” (pants) and may not cover their hair. They may watch the ballgame after shul in their basements, or eat ice cream on a beach that may not have a certification label.
    I grew up in t he Bialystoker shul. My zaidy was the president in the sixties and seventies, and he set his shabbos clock to turn on the ballgame Saturday afternoons. My wife and I owned the bialy store on Grand Street until a month ago and we hired a rabbi and certified it kosher. Yet, growing up, “everyone” ate there (before we owned it) because it was flour, water, yeast, onions and salt. No one said it was treif – it just wasn’t “kosher”.
    In the fifties and sixties we ate Kraft cheese because rennet was considered a chemical by product and not a chunk of meat from an animal. And I have an actual letter that my wife’s grandfather wrote to Sholom Klass in the early seventies asking his advice on the new phenomenon of glatt kosher. Shalom Klass wrote back – and I have it – saying it was an unnecessary restriction and expense and “only a passing” phase for Judaism. How wrong he was. If we can embrace the harder and more expensive, we certainly did.
    These people today may feel religion has taken a sharp right turn to an uncomfortable and even unsettling point. The study should unsettle us all as it shows that those who stay Jewish longer are those more associated with it regularly – friends, neighborhood, school, etc.
    What does that mean? Being a practicing Jew has become expensive. Schools, kashrut, neighborhoods , etc. To pay for it all we had to be enlightened, find work and become business leaders. That enlightenment has in a way influenced today’s youth who never saw the struggle but now see a burden.
    Didn’t we do this to ourselves?

  3. Sadly for non orthodox streams it would appear that there is no Judaism without Jewish law and tradition. It is clear that as young kids are born furthet from the source of jewish light, the less they affiliate. Whether or not you consider kashrut or shabbat to be archaic is less important than the facts that shoq without them we lose what it means to be who we are.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Dozens of children were traumatized but escaped injury Sunday morning when Arabs in eastern Jerusalem attacked their bus.
Neglecting Terror Setting Up Eastern Jerusalem Jews for Expulsion
Latest Blogs Stories
Doug Goldstein

Why some countries are more economically successful than others? Tune in for the answer…

ethics

If not scared by God be scared by man; Hopefully ethics will integrate into lives for proper reasons

rgds

Smear campaigns by people with agendas other than justice do not faze him; He does what is right.

Even Muslims -- including a number of groups one might consider to be quite radical -- are distancing themselves from ISIS and declaring the group to be apostate.

Countries like Turkey, Europe and even the US have proven fertile ground for recruiting terrorists

How many times have you heard anti-semites spew words like Israel are Nazis, or what you are doing to the Arabs is worse that what the Nazis did to the Jews?!…

My blog, Israpundit, was hacked, and I had to move to a new domain…

There’s much confusion about the definition of Daas Torah; simply put it means the wisdom of Torah.

We’ll never be able to negotiate a true, lasting peace with the Arabs.Their aim is our destruction.

Now I live in a country where every shop in the food court is kosher! I can have anything I want!

Pashkevil: “Come out today and battle the Zionist Amalek and all the traitors in Nahal Haredi…”

Jordan: Only M.E. country with no historical basis and ruled by occupiers placed by European powers.

Why is an IRA a worthwhile account for retirement? And how can you use it to the best advantage?

Like the fighter pilot’s letter, I wonder if certain units are simply too sensitive to allow certain leftwingers to serve in, and to entrust in their hands the security of our country and our lives.

There is only one thing more tragic than experiencing a terror attack, and that is allowing those who attacked you to do it again!

Smuggling Gazans into Europe is cheaper than fighting with Gaza, and then rebuilding all the destruction.

This week’s parsha offers a new covenant; a covenant that speaks to national life unlike any other

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
QuestionsandAnswers-logo

People act not because they think it’s right; they do what they do because it’s what they want to do

Dusk in the early morning hours seen from Mt Meron, Northern Israel. March 26, 2014.

What do we do when we want to be mad at God but we also want God to make it all better? Indeed, what do we do?

Rambam would also allow charity from a mumar as long as the person maintains basic belief in God and Judaism.

There is no song that tells the story of freedom like Shir HaShirim.

It is unfair to judge a 52 year old man with the glasses of a person who lives in a different world.

Adegbile was not making a moral statement by representing a man convicted of killing a cop.

Women learning Torah is becoming increasingly permissive, but women wearing tefillin is becoming increasingly stringent.

When the “offensive” statements in our Talmud were stated, no one thought they were offensive.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/the-state-of-the-jew-according-to-pew/2013/10/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: