web analytics
April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Do Statistics Tell The Real Story? Reflections on U.S. Jewry

Front-Page-012414

Share Button

Similarly, a Jew who drives to an Orthodox synagogue on Shabbat might very well describe himself as Modern Orthodox, but so might a Jew who attends synagogue morning and evening daily and studies Daf Yomi but who considers himself a religious Zionist and attended a secular university.

This confusion of categories can vitiate, or at least call into question, many if not most of the conclusions of the survey.

I can report from my own experience that at a conference in which one of the principal researchers explained the results of the survey, I was seated next to another senior Orthodox Union professional. At one point, we found ourselves asking each other how we would identify ourselves if asked to which category we belonged. Both of us wear dark suits, white shirts, and black hats. Both of us devote many hours a day to serious Torah study and are very stringent about the meat we eat and the milk we drink. But we both believe in the religious significance of the state of Israel, we both have advanced secular degrees, and he, at least, is clean-shaven. Are we Modern or are we Ultra?

He laughed when I told him a reporter once asked me this very question, and when I did not answer, decided to describe me in the article she wrote as “Modern Ultra-Orthodox.”

* * * * *

I also find the survey objectionable on theological grounds and questionable as a tool to better understand human behavior in all of its complexity.

My theological objections first became clear to me when I read an article on the Torah Musings blog written by my dear friend and respected colleague Rabbi Basil Herring.

The article, “The Pew, the Few, and the Many: Rav Soloveitchik on Jewish Numbers,” begins with Rabbi Herring’s translation of a lecture delivered in Yiddish by the Rav in the 1950s. The Rav’s theme can be summarized with these two quotations from his lecture: “God chose us precisely because we were the smallest nation” and “The more there is a numerical strength, the more there is a danger of distortion and falsehood.”

The success of our people depends upon its spirituality, not upon measures of quantity. As Rabbi Herring puts it, “the very emphasis on numbers and size is fundamentally un-Jewish, fully reflect[ing] the Bible’s own antipathy toward census taking.”

We Orthodox Jews dare not take our growth in numbers as evidence of the correctness of our cause or as an excuse for avoiding self-criticism and constructive introspection.

* * * * *

Finally, the survey did not sit well with me because of a perspective on social-science research I learned when I was a graduate student in psychology many years ago. Gordon Allport, a psychological theorist who was popular then, distinguished between two approaches in researching human behavior: nomothetic versus idiographic. Simply put, the former approach studies human beings in terms of statistics. The latter approach attempts to study human beings in terms of their unique individuality.

When we lump Jews into categories, whether those categories are denomination, age, cultural background, or geographic locale, we lose the opportunity to understand the humanity of each and every Jew. We become blind to the uniqueness, complexity, and paradoxes of his or her life.

To illustrate this, I point to some of the findings of the survey that are nothing less than bizarre. For example, the study found that 1 percent of Ultra-Orthodox Jews had a Christmas tree last year and that 4 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews had one. Even more puzzling is the finding that 15 percent of each Orthodox group attends non-Jewish religious services at least a few times a year. I am sure we all find these statistics hard to believe.

Share Button

About the Author:


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.

Leave a comment (Select your commenting platform)

One Response to “Do Statistics Tell The Real Story? Reflections on U.S. Jewry”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Current Top Story
Abbas and Hanieyh on poster, next to a picture of Arafat.
Kerry’s Talks Achieve Peace Between Hamas and Fatah
Latest Indepth Stories
Al-Aksa Mosque was claimed to be the site from which Mohammed ascended to Heaven, but it was built nearly 50 years after Mohammed died.

Jerusalem only seems important in the Islamic world when non-Muslims control or capture the city.

Israeli police enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City to disperse stone-throwing Palestinian protesters.

Jordan’s king is adding fuel to the fire on the Temple Mount, blaming Israel for violence by Muslim Arab rioters.

Imam Suhail Webb who boasted his Muslim community persuaded Brandeis President Fred Lawrence to withdraw an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

At Brandeis, much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with Hirsi Ali.

Text of anti-Semitic flyer distributed to Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine on Passover 2014.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light.

As support of their messianic dream, Halevi and Antepli approve dishonoring Hirsi Ali as a ‘renegade.’

If itis a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, then why is there no berakha attached to it?

When we are united with unconditional love, no stone will be raised against us by our enemies.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

More Articles from Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Front-Page-012414

This past autumn the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project released the findings of its survey of American Jews. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” immediately won the attention of a good number of American Jews and became the focus of considerable media coverage.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Several weeks ago my wife, Chavi, and I attended the sad funeral of Mrs. Martha Melohn a”h. Besides being a dear friend of Chavi’s, Mrs. Melohn was the matriarch of a very well-known philanthropic family. This is not the place for a full-fledged eulogy of this remarkable woman, but I begin this article with reflections on a conversation I had with her just several months before her unfortunate demise.

There certainly are many reasons to look forward to Purim. It is a time of feasting, joy, and merriment. We celebrate an important victory over our enemies, which was a precedent for many other such victories over the course of our history. We read one of the most moving stories in our entire tradition, and we have good fun while we’re doing it.

It never used to bother me; that is, until recently.

Somehow, over the years, Chanukah has come to be celebrated as a children’s holiday.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/do-statistics-tell-the-real-story-reflections-on-u-s-jewry/2014/01/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: