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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘jewish population’

Who’s a Pew

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The views in this article are not at all those of the Jewish Press, but we decided to publish the article as an opportunity to expand the public debate. So comment away…

There have been three reports released in the past few days regarding Jewish Population. Two, the Pew Research Study, and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute Study, are concerned with Jewish population numbers. The third, by the University of Huddersfield in England concerns itself with the genetic history of Askenazi Jews. But in fact, all three studies are really about Jewish identity.

The Pew and Steinhart studies have come up with vastly different numbers concerning the size of the Jewish population in the US. This disparity is due to their diverse definition of who is a Jew.

This is not a new problem. Jewish identity has been an issue in the Jewish community at least since the beginning of the Common Era, and perhaps even before. At the start of the Common Era Jews in Rome were proselytizing so successfully that the rabbis felt that they had to erect barriers to conversion for fear that the Jewish community would become too diluted. In essence, they revised the standards for Jewish identification and as Judaism became more rabbinical, whole segments of the Jewish population who were not considered religious enough by the rabbis became disenfranchised and were left out in the cold.

In great part, due to this exclusionary policy, the world Jewish population declined sharply over the next thousand years. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the world Jewish population dropped from about five million at the start of the Common Era, to about one million by the end of the first millennium CE. It remained at about one million until the middle of the eighteenth century when it suddenly skyrocketed to seven million in less than a hundred years.

Both the precipitous population decline and the even more remarkable population increase resulted from the different policies of defining Jewish identity. In the early years of the Common Era, before the rise of rabbinic Judaism, Jews were defined through self description; for example, you could describe yourself as a Roman Jew or as a Greek Jew. There was no other requirement than that. You didn’t have to belong to a synagogue or observe holidays, or keep kosher, or any of the other criteria that are currently applied in population surveys. After the rabbis gained power the nature of Judaism and Jewish identification changed. A Jew could no longer self select. He had to be listed as a Jew by the rabbi. Thus, if a Jew was not affiliated with a rabbinic religious community, he was not counted as a Jew.

This situation continued for the next thousand years until Napoleon granted the Jews citizenship, and pioneers and visionaries like the Bal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and Rabbi Abraham Geiger, the founder of the Reform Movement, declared that it was not necessary for a person to be affiliated with a synagogue or even know how to pray in order for him to consider himself Jewish. (It should be remembered that the Bal Shem Tov was excommunicated by the Vilna Gaon because of this heretical idea.)

These great visionaries said that if you consider yourself Jewish, then you’re Jewish! As a result of this earth shattering declaration the world Jewish population soared so that by 1935, through the measure of self identification, there were fifteen million Jews in the world. (Hitler did not ask “how Jewish” his victims were)

Today, we are facing a similar problem that confronted the Jews in the first centuries of the Common Era. We have once again set up barriers to Jewish identification and we now have standards to determine if you are a “True Jew:” Was your mother Jewish? Did you have a bar mitzvah? How often do you attend services? Do you belong to a JCC? Contribute to Jewish charities? Been to Israel? Speak and/or read Hebrew? Light Shabbat candles? Have a Christmas Tree? And on and on.

These questions only serve to narrow the field in a time when we should be widening our tent. We can no longer afford to be an exclusive and exclusionary club. We need to find new ways to welcome not only the disenchanted and disenfranchised Jews but also the intermarried, and their non-Jewish partners.

In the same way that Jews of the twenty first century are different from their first century ancestors, so too must the definition of who is a True Jew be different. Until we can settle on a new definition we will be unable to accurately measure the Jewish population.

Bernard Beck is the author of True Jew…Challenging the Stereotype, published by Algora Publishing, 186 pages, $22.95

Israel’s 6 Million Jews Makes It Largest Jewish Center

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Israel’s Jewish population crossed the 6 million mark during Passover, a symbolic sign of peaceful vengeance for the approximately same number of Jews who were exterminated by the Nazi regime.

The Israel Jewish community, which compromises approximately 75 percent of the total population outside of Judea and Samaria, now is the largest in the world, depending on one’s definition of “Who is a Jew?”

The American Jewish population is estimated by most sources as being 5.5 million, while it is up to 2 million larger if one includes as Jewish those who were born to Jewish fathers but not to Jewish fathers and those who were not converted according to Jewish tradition.

The largest American Jewish population center is in New York City, with approximately 2 million. followed by nearly half a million in Paris.

There are approximately 380,000 Jews in Canada, with most of them living in metropolitan Toronto. Next in Line is Britain’s 290,000 Jews.

“In the world today there are 13,800,000 Jews,” Hebrew University Professor Sergio Della Pergola told the Yediot Acharonot newspaper.

“Israel has indeed experienced a growth in the number of Jews last year, but world Jewry outside Israel did not fare so well. On the contrary, world Jewry has experienced negative growth,” reflecting assimilation.

Although most of the world’s Jews live outside Israel, Israeli historian and author Tom Segev told the London Daily Telegraph, “Within five, seven or 10 years, you might be able to say that most Jews in the world live inside Israel, and it will be legitimate to use the cliché that for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jews are in Israel. Then the question will be, what do you do with the Zionist ideology?”

Israelis are attracted to metropolitan Tel Aviv, but massive government programs, including new highways and rail links, are trying to reverse the trend and encourage Jews to settle in the Negev and the Galilee.

Jews Less than 0.2% of World Population

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

According to a study by Hebrew University’s Professor Sergio DellaPergola, the global Jewish population reached 13.75 million in the past year, with an increase of 88,000 people. Israel’s Maariv newspaper published excerpts of the study last week, reporting that one out of every 514 people in the world is Jewish, less than 0.2 percent of mankind.

About 43% of the world’s Jewish community lives in Israel, making Israel the country with the largest Jewish population. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 5773, that the total population of Israel in 2012 grew to nearly 8 million. About 73% of the population is native born.

The Israeli Jewish population stands at 5,978,600, up 1.8%; the Arab population numbers at 1,636,600, up 2.4%; and the rest of the population including Christians and non-Jews reached 318,000 people, up 1.3%. Israel’s Jewish population makes up 75% of the state’s total people.

In all, the Jewish state’s population increased by 96,300 people in 2012, a growth rate that did not diverge from the average rate in the past eight years.

Part of Israel’s population increase comes in part of the new immigrants that have arrived to the country. In 2011, Israel welcomed 16,892 new immigrants as citizens, with the largest populations coming from Russia (3,678), followed by Ethiopia (2,666), United States (2,363), Ukraine (2,051) and France (1,775).

Israel’s population is relatively young compared to populations in other western countries, with 28% of the population aged 0-14. Israel’s life expectancy is one of the highest of the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 34 member states, with Jewish males’ life expectancy 4.2 years higher than their Arab counterparts.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics also found that 40% of Israel’s population lives in the center of the country, with Tel Aviv as Israel’s densest region, while 17 % lives in the north, 14% in the south, 12% in Jerusalem and Haifa, and 4% in Judea and Samaria.

Over 47,885 couples married in Israel in the past year, of which 75% were Jewish and 21% Muslim. In 2011, there were 166, 296 babies born in Israel.

The world’s principal religious populations divide as follows according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2012: Christians at 33% or 2.1 billion, Muslims at 24% or 1.65 billion, Hindus at 14% or 900 million, and Buddhists at 6% or 350 million. At least one billion people in the world do not ascribe to any religion at all.

New York City Jewish Population Over 1 Million Again

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Jewish population of New York City is on the upswing, with a recent study by the UJA-Federation of New York placing it at almost 1.1 million.

The study, commissioned once every decade, focuses on the eight-county New York area – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester – that is “the world’s largest and most diverse Jewish community outside Israel.” The researchers interviewed 5,993 adults, asking them a range of questions about their Jewish identity, affiliation, engagement, and their financial status. The study’s margin of error is +/- two percent.

The study found that the Jewish population in the eight counties has grown to 1.54 million, representing a 10% increase since the last study in 2002. The rise in New York City’s Jewish population also reversed a trend registered in the 2002 study, which found that the city’s Jewish population had dropped below a million for the first time in a century.

The study identified three main reasons for the population growth: “high birthrates among the Orthodox, increased longevity, and an increase in the number of people who consider themselves partially Jewish.”

Breaking down the statistics further, 493,000 Jews residing in the eight counties “live in Orthodox households.” These households are marked by “significantly higher levels of Jewish engagement than others, much larger households, and somewhat lower incomes.” Another 216,000 Jews live in Russian-speaking households, and consider themselves “Jews by culture.”

In New York City itself, 40% of Jews identify themselves as Orthodox, which represents a 7% increase since the last study. And in an indication of where New York City Jewry is headed, 74% of all Jewish children in the city are Orthodox.

At the same time, the study found that “Jewish engagement” has dropped since 2002. For example, fewer Jews believe that being Jewish is important (57% in 2011 vs. from 65% in 2002); a higher percentage of Jews never participate in a seder (14% vs. 8%) and never light Chanukkah candles (19% vs. 12%).

The intermarriage rate hovers at 22% for all Jewish couples, but is far higher for the non-Orthodox: over the past five years, half of the non-Orthodox couples that have wed are intermarried.

The clearest conclusion to be drawn from the seemingly disparate trends, according to the study, is that Jewish identity, practice, and engagement has become polarized – the Orthodox streams are growing rapidly, while non-denominational and non-practicing Jews continue to disengage, which in turn results in higher assimilation rates. Furthermore, the chasm between these two demographics only seems to be growing: the number of Conservative and Reform Jews continues to decline, with each movement losing approximately 40,000 members between 2002 and 2011.

In its executive summary, the study suggests that “three features of the…Haredim have significant implications for the future of New York Jewry. First, the high birthrate of Haredi Jews (at least three times that associated with non-Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers)…Second, the Haredim are known to be self-segregated and relatively disconnected from the rest of the Jewish community. Third, relatively high poverty combined with large and growing families suggests that their economic stress is likely to increase in the future.”

The study predicts strong and continuing growth for the Modern Orthodox community as well, but notes that birthrates aren’t as high as in Haredi communities. “Unlike most Haredim,” it adds, “Modern Orthodox Jews are more likely to be fully engaged with the larger Jewish community.”

 

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