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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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Is Orthodoxy Winning?

With no one to lead a movement, how can Orthodoxy survive? Yes, we are growing. But do we have a future? Yes there is a core mainstream at least in America that includes moderate Charedim and right wing MOs (Centrists). But who will lead us?

American Orthodox Jews in Crown Heights, New York, June 6, 2013.

American Orthodox Jews in Crown Heights, New York, June 6, 2013.
Photo Credit: Serge Attal / Flash90**FILE**

It would seem that Orthodox Judaism has a lot to be happy about these days. In the recent much discussed Pew Research Center Survey it was only Orthodox Jewry that has enjoyed an increase in numbers. The other major denominations are experiencing decline. Should we be triumphalist? Some of us are. But let’s take a closer look at this.

Reform Judaism which was instituted in America by Issac Meyer Wise in the 19th century was at the time thought to be the wave of the future. Many Jews flocked to this form of Judaism that was created with compatibility and assimilation in mind. They were triumphalist about their movement and saw Orthodoxy on its last legs.

But Reform was quickly overtaken by a new movement created in the early 20th century. The Conservative movement which had more of a connection to Jewish tradition was more appealing to the mass of European immigrants that came to these shores in waves at that time. Many felt that they had to work on Shabbos to survive. The assimilated Reform Jews of that time did not really embrace these ‘greenhorns’.

Which was pretty much fine with the ‘greenhorns’. They wanted to retain as much of their Judaism as they could. Conservative Judaism spoke to that need. It allowed them a sense of observance while tolerating violations of Halacha – and in some cases encouraging it for a ‘higher purpose’. Driving to Shul was permitted. Since Jews were driving anyway they were told if you’re going to drive – drive to Shul.

For decades Conservative Judaism enjoyed immense popularity too. Surely enough to feel triumphalist about themselves. But as was the case with Reform a few generations – in our day, the Conservative movement is struggling to maintain it members. And as of now they seem to be losing the battle. The Pew report has given us some truly depressing figures. Non Orthodox Jews are intermarrying at a 70% rate. Even if (as many claim) those numbers are grossly exaggerated, it can certainly not be discounted that the intermarriage rate is extremely high.

Reform Judaism which does not consider Halacha binding has had some success in changing their numbers by changing the rules. They have redefined for themselves who is a Jew. Jewish lines had always followed the mother. Patralineal descent was never considered legitimate. That is basic Halacha. But now they accept patralineal descent. And they now define Jewish identity by how an individual defines himself. Halachic practice is unnecessary. Formal conversion is unnecessary.

Conservative Judaism has not resorted to that. Yet. But it is hemorrhaging Jews. Assimilation is winning.

As I said above, Orthodoxy is growing according to the Pew survey. But is it really? Should we be Triumphalist? There are many among us who might feel this way. And for good reason. We believe we are following in the Halalchic footsteps of our forefathers. That has kept us separate, identifiable, and therefore alive. We have the most children and we raise them to be Orthodox. We send them to religious schools and we live in religious neighborhoods. Our social groups are mostly Orthodox. Assimilation is not done at the expense of abandoning Halacha. Some of us discourage it completely and some of us assimilate where Halacha permits.

While there is some attrition away from Orthodoxy, that is counter-balanced by those who join us via successful outreach.There have been some statistics published that indicate that more Jews leave Orthodoxy than join it. I would dispute that. Those surveys do not define Orthodoxy properly. Self identifying as Orthodox or claiming to be raised Orthodox is not any way to define Orthodoxy. Just because your parents belonged to an Orthodox Shul – that does not make you Orthodox.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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9 Responses to “Is Orthodoxy Winning?”

  1. We here in Israel are!

  2. might help a bisstle to not compartmentalize ourselves, while still holding on to halacha. this is a very complicated issue. to those who have a confused identity let’s hope that they come to understand the ligcht of halacha. it is not about the transitory.

  3. Rose Cortes says:

    I think is better to be an orthodox than be a jewish that no care about it, don’t observes shabbat, pessach, yom kipur , marry no jewish woman and finishes five thousand year of history and fight.

  4. Sarah Williams says:

    Yes, all those are orthodox–just different levels and styles of observance in each.

  5. Ronny Mol says:

    You should of mentioned that we are in the END OF DAYS, that is why we do NOT have great leadership. Read the Gemora Sota and see that every sign the Gemora says will happen, happened already. Th orthodox Jews who think by living outside Israel will make it, I think they need to reconsider. There is NO reference that I see in the whole Jewish Bible that says Jews living outside of Israel will be okay, because it doesn't mention it at ALL. So pack your bags and start making aliyah before the goyim start stage 3. What is stage 3, the pogroms of yesterday. It doesn't matter what type of orthodox Jew you are because they kill everyone.

  6. Ch Hoffman says:

    maryles is given a platform
    and there are times he has nothing to hang on it but his own insecurities

  7. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Um, Lubuvitchers ARE chassidim. And most of those women's groups are not orthdox women on any level. There are very few fully observant women wearing teffilin and none who would lead men in prayer. Last time I checked not davening while a woman sings is in the shulchan aruch so anyone violating it intentionally is NOT orthodox.

  8. Judith Dowla says:

    All Jews must unite together be they Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Liberal. United you stand. Divided you fall. Get together as a team. It is called G-D and Man/Woman/Child working together. Same page. No more schisms. Time to stick together like a flock of birds.

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