Last spring the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture asked me to author a paper addressing intra-Jewish tensions. Dr. Mandell Ganchrow’s column [“Orthodoxy Looking Inward”] in [the Fall issue of] Jewish Action was based upon the paper. However, Dr. Ganchrow should have cited the paper fully (author, title, etc.) so as to enable readers to judge it on its merits.
More substantively, one would think from reading Dr. Ganchrow’s column that the Memorial Foundation had commissioned a one-sided attack upon Orthodoxy. The entire thrust of my paper is that “the root causes of polarization lie both in the rise of a triumphalist Orthodoxy and the increased radicalization of the liberal movements.” The paper did attempt to challenge the entire Jewish community on what all sectors are doing that increase polarization.
To be more explicit, of the five charges Dr. Ganchrow alleges were made against Orthodoxy, only two actually appear in the paper. I never said that Orthodox Jews are ghettoized, or that Orthodoxy is rigid or anti-female. I assume these were comments made by discussants. The reason they do not appear in the paper is I do not believe they are true. However, by not distinguishing between the paper and the discussion, Dr. Ganchrow leaves the impression that each of these charges was made by the anonymous author of the paper, who must be, in the reader’s mind, an irresponsible pseudo-scholar.
What surprises me most, however, given the spirit of the column, which is that of taking criticisms seriously, is that it cites the paper only in the most selective sense, ignoring some of its most compelling arguments. Dr. Ganchrow says nothing about Kahanism, Lubavitch messianism, the demise of the Synagogue Council of America, or the OU’s comments on “turn Friday night into Shabbat.” These areas reflect serious concerns about Orthodoxy’s ideological direction. Some relate to the OU specifically, e.g. Rabbi Stolper’s now-infamous recitation of the Shehechiyanu blessing at the demise of the Synagogue Council of America, or Rabbi Butler’s inability to endorse the “turn Friday night into Shabbat” program on the grounds it was tantamount to encouraging Jews to attend a Reform temple. Admirably, the column suggests a willingness to entertain criticisms. But the most substantive criticisms are ignored in favor of concern with style and public relations.
Lastly, I do find it striking that the president of the OU, the leading centrist Orthodox organization, failed to resonate to my programmatic plea to “strengthen Modern Orthodoxy.” Of course, that is his privilege and right. However, it does suggest a repositioning of the OU in ways that its constituents could well find of concern.
The full paper is entitled, “Internal Jewish Cohesion: Problems and Prospects.” I would be very pleased to share a copy with any of your readers upon request.
Steven Bayme, Director
Jewish Communal Affairs
The American Jewish Committee
New York City, New York
Dr. Ganchrow responds:
Dr. Steven Bayme has chosen to criticize my Jewish Action article regarding the need for self-examination by the Orthodox community. One cannot escape the impression that he has set up a straw man and then proceeded to knock him down. Thus, he writes:
“One would think from reading Dr. Ganchrow’s column that the Memorial Foundation had commissioned a one-sided attack upon Orthodoxy.” I actually wrote:
“In preparation for a group discussion, the Foundation, which has always been supportive of all expressions of Judaism, distributed a paper designed to present an overview of American Jewry. Among other things, the paper listed “charges” brought against Orthodoxy by the non-Orthodox streams.” (Emphasis added.)
There was no indication in my statement that only Orthodoxy was being criticized; merely that as president of the Union those were the criticisms that I would naturally respond to.
Dr. Bayme charges that I ignored “the most substantive criticisms in favor of concern with style and public relations.”
To characterize “Orthodox Triumphalism” and “Ghettoization” as “concern with style and PR” is baffling, to say the least. It would seem that these two issues are surely as substantive as the demise of the Synagogue Council, which Dr. Bayme deems so significant.
I should like to respond to the points that he raised in his letter:
1) The article I wrote is not and was not intended to be a critique of Dr. Bayme’s paper. Rather, it was a pre-Rosh Hashanah article whose theme was cheshbon hanefesh and therefore I used a number of charges that had been raised in a paper circulated at the Memorial Foundation as well as the subsequent small group discussions. I did not believe that it was necessary for me to use Dr. Bayme’s name or the paper, etc., since I was speaking generically about the types of accusations the Orthodox community routinely faces. It was clearly stated that I was using both the paper and subsequent discussions as the basis for my topic of “looking inward.” Had I undertaken to critique the article, which was broader in scope, I certainly would have attributed authorship to Dr. Bayme.
2) In my article I clearly stated that charges originated from a small group discussion as well as the paper. I took notes of the discussion. Therefore, Dr. Bayme’s annoyance at my additional “charges” to his written statement is without basis. Had Dr. Bayme not written the above letter to the editor, no one would have known that he was the author of the article. The article was not meant as a criticism of him.
3) I chose the most poignant arguments that were raised, both in the paper and in the discussion, which I felt required the most introspection. However, in regard to some of the issues which Dr. Bayme raises, I would like to note the following:
- a) “Kahanism,” whatever that alludes to, is not a major problem, as I see it, in our community. We are the voice of political moderation, as stated in our convention resolutions and our votes in umbrella groups. Radical political voices can be found, not only in the Orthodox, but in the non-Orthodox and secular streams as well. We have always disassociated ourselves from radical elements. The issues affecting Israel are extremely sensitive to our community, which is often evident by the depths of our reactions.
- b) I did not discuss “Messianism” for two reasons. Firstly, Jewish Action had a major article on this topic within the last few years, by Dr. David Berger. And secondly, we believe our community is adequately educated on the dangers of false messianism.
- c) The Synagogue Council is truly a dead issue, except when editorial writers use it to attack Modern Orthodoxy from time to time. On that subject, I would like to point out that the Synagogue Council expired for lack of financial resources, not because of any action by the Orthodox community. The Council had lived long past its practical necessity. In fact, a broad range of umbrella groups had already taken its place, including NJRAC, AIPAC, Presidents Conference, Memorial Foundation, the Conference for Soviet Jewry as well as the Jewish Agency. In all of these umbrella groups there is sufficient interplay between Jews of all stripes to raise any issue that is necessary. Rabbi Stolper’s blessing was a personal thought which did not represent Union policy.
4) As to Rabbi Buchwald’s excellent program regarding Friday night synagogue attendance: The Jewish outreach organization did not specifically ask for our endorsement. In fact, the majority of Orthodox synagogues that were partners in this effort were Orthodox Union affiliated. Rabbi Buchwald’s subsequent letter to The Forward clearly enunciates our assistance in making this and other programs possible.
Finally, Dr. Bayme faults me and the Union for failing to bolster Modern Orthodoxy. It should be clear to anyone reading my columns in this magazine, my three inauguration speeches, as well as many public pronouncements, that we are dedicated to the goal of strengthening Modern Orthodoxy. An examination of our programs, positions and papers will clearly convince any objective examiner that this is the case. I do not believe that the Union, in the 16 years that I have been associated with it, including the four years that I have had the honor to serve as president, has in any way repositioned itself. We have moved neither left nor right, but rather have dedicated ourselves to greater intensity and greater passion in our dedication to bringing Torah to the masses and enhanced respect for prayer and mitzvot to our members. The commitment of our leadership, and the records of NCSY, Yachad, Our Way, IPA, our Joseph K. Miller Torah Center in Kharkov, NCSY/Israel Center in Jerusalem, our web site and publications are unyielding in this regard.
Jewish Demography Causes Stir
I read with great interest the article about Jewish demography [“American Orthodox Jews: Demographic Trends and Scenarios,” by Drs. Sergio DellaPergola and Uzi Rebhun, Fall 1998] and the projections therefrom as to the makeup and numbers of the Jewish people over the next century. I will agree with the authors that predictions about the future of the Jewish people is a very inexact science. Therefore, the statistics used in formulating the prognosis of the size and makeup of the Jewish people in the future are perhaps irrelevant and, in fact, may even be misleading. An example of this problematic use of statistics is the rate of defection from Orthodoxy by those purportedly raised in Orthodox homes. The article states: “…comparing the denominational distributions of American Jewish adults currently and when they were born or raised shows that the Orthodox suffered the strongest losses. The share raised as Orthodox in 1990 was 44% among Jews aged 60 and over, 19% among those aged 40-59, and 12% among those aged 20-39, pointing to a narrowing preferential basis over time.” Belonging to the older generation mentioned in the above sentences, and therefore based on my own personal non-scientific observation, I believe that there is a fundamental error in the description of this retention rate, and hence in any projections that are to be made from it for the future: the error lies in the identification of those “raised as Orthodox.” When I was a child growing up in Chicago there were over one hundred Jewish boys on the block with me. They were all “raised as Orthodox,” in the sense that their parents had a nominally kosher kitchen and the three days a year that they attended synagogue services were in an Orthodox synagogue. But these friends of mine had no meaningful Jewish education, never observed the Sabbath, attended non-Jewish public school (as I did) but did not have Jewish enrichment and education after school (as I did) except for the dreaded afternoon Hebrew schools of the time. A few of these friends of mine whom I kept track of, later joined Conservative and Reform congregations. Most became unaffiliated Jews. Many have non-Jewish grandchildren. But even though they may have answered the study’s criterion of being “raised as Orthodox,” it is ludicrous to make any projections from such statistics. The true number of Jews over 60 – my generation – raised in a truly Orthodox, Torah environment is much closer to 4% than 44%, and I would hazard to say that the same fallacy of statistics exists in the measure of the other generations covered in the study.
Another problem with a statistical census as far as the Orthodox community is concerned is that a large section of this community is notoriously unresponsive to polls and census counts. All of the Israeli pollsters agree that their polls are always skewed because of the non-participation and non-cooperation of the Chareidi community. (In fact, there is strong evidence that those Chareidim who do participate in these polls purposely mislead the pollsters as a form of protest against the secular bodies that sponsor those polls!) I believe that this problem is reflected in the 1990 Federation census of American Jewry and in its statistics as well. Though I cannot prove it scientifically, I have been witness many times to the purposeful avoidance of the Chareidi community to census takers or pollsters. Therefore, it is possible that there is a significant “undercount” of the Orthodox in the Federation census and that would affect all projections and indeed even the birthrate count which appears to be significantly lower than what our personal knowledge of the Orthodox community tells us.
Nevertheless, the article was a valuable contribution to the view of the Jewish future. But even if all of the statistics in the article were to be accurate, projections regarding the future of the Jewish people are always chancy at best. The future of Israel is always tied to the Destiny and Eternal One of Israel Who never proves false or weak. And He will preserve us in numbers great as He has promised us.
Rabbi Berel Wein
…In their “Concluding Observation” the authors, Professors Sergio DellaPergola and Uzi Rebhun, affirm the security of the future of Orthodoxy beyond doubt but caution that, “One decisive factor for the future of Orthodoxy…will be its retention grip over the respective generations.” This leads to the statement that “Overall, the size of Orthodoxy does not seem bound to dramatic growth…” (italics mine). It is important to remember that as a valid national study, on which the article was based, the NJPS had to consider all Jewish communities from Peoria, to Oshkosh, to New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. What might very well be true for a national spread, may be quite skewed if one thinks of the centers of concentration of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. that have rapidly expanded in the past decades. Obviously, the authors are not considering the thriving centers of Orthodoxy in this country after the Holocaust on the very soil once known as the treife medinah, the sterile soil that would never bear the rise of a strong Orthodox Torah life, as a near-miraculous dramatic breakthrough.
Yet it is all the more impressive and demographically significant after this greatest tragedy in Jewish history that had wiped out not only the largest concentration of Jews in the modern world, but the cradles and centers of Orthodox Jewish life in the vast networks of Chassidic and non-Chassidic yeshivot, chadorim and shtetlach of Eastern Europe. The prospects for a strong renaissance of Orthodox Jewish life in this country and elsewhere in the second half of this century were indeed rather limited, it seemed then. But here, as so often in the past history of 2,000 years of galut, metahistory, as Dr. Yitzchak Breuer, z”l, would put it, has taken over and a major explosion of Torah study and intensive Orthodox life has evolved which even the early founders of yeshivot and other networks of intensive Jewish education could never have expected. Torah Umesorah alone has now about 600 institutions and almost 160,000 students ranging from nurseries to kollelim. And this does not include the many hundreds of students in the large and constantly expanding schools of the old and new Chassidic and non-Chassidic, as well as the large Centrist Orthodox towns whose children, young men and women, are getting a superior chinuch, including years of advanced study in Israel. Most of them are achieving higher levels as bnei and bnot Torah, shomrei Shabbat and shomrei mitzvot, than any generation the American Jewish world has ever known. Admittedly, there will always be a small number of deviants here and there. But this new Orthodox youth is solid and staunch in its emunah and shmirat mitzvot. Hardly the kind of situation that justifies questioning their retention now or in the future.
The overall NJPS figures hardly do justice to Manhattan’s new West Side and the East Side, as well as the Orthodox communities in suburbs, such as Monsey, Teaneck or Riverdale, whose schools are packed to capacity. And surely their figures do not reflect the constantly growing yeshivah towns, such as Lakewood, Baltimore and Cleveland, which have literally thousands of former or present young kollel couples with an average birthrate of over five children per household, instead of the below zero population growth of l.6 of the average American Jewish family. No doubt, the NJPS has sampled these communities, not only the other new suburbs that have been founded by the recent generations of good middle-class Jews who wanted to get away from the old lifestyle and restraints of their Orthodox parents and spread to the greener pastures of suburbia and exurbia. Not surprisingly it is they whose families have become the proverbial Jewish middle-class “society.” And it is their progeny to whom the projections of intermarriage up to 60% and the 60% of their children who grow up without any, even the most superficial Sunday school education, apply that loom so threateningly in the gloomy forecasts of the professional and amateur perusers of the NJPS findings.
One cannot fault the statistics and the projections of the authors if one looks at the “overall” findings or their sources from the outside. But a closer look at the reality of the thriving centers of Orthodox life in the U.S. at the end of the century presents a dynamics of growth and future developments that casts serious doubt on the validity of the carefully hedged figures of the conclusions. For example, the day schools and both the Chassidic- and Lithuanian-type yeshivot are growing by leaps and bounds. The lower grades of both the boys and girls schools are crowded to capacity and only a small percent come from non-committed homes in locations far from the centers. But there are so many more institutions of intensive Torah study, such as the numerous Chassidic smaller and larger chadorim, yeshivot, maxi- and mini-kollelim, that are not affiliated with the day school movement. Satmar, in Williamsburg alone, for example, has to open new buildings almost every year and new classes every three months for the offspring of the 300 couples that marry every year and that eventually will have an average of 7.5 children (as shown in my recent study of a sample of l75 mostly American-born Chassidic women in Williamsburg ). Similar situations exist in the exploding yeshivah towns of Chassidic and non-Chassidic Monsey or in Lakewood, which alone has over 2,000 kollel couples and hundreds of former kollelniks who have remained near their yeshivah and made Lakewood the kind of major American Orthodox community unlike any other in Jewish history.
This pace of growth also exists in the somewhat more moderate suburban New York or New Jersey Centrist Orthodox towns that sprout new schools for boys and girls and whose parents are prime examples of Torah im Derech Eretz at its best. These dramatic developments of the past few decades contradict the projections based on the overall trends presented in both scenarios of the article. Their youngsters continue their intensive Jewish education in years of advanced Jewish studies at institutions such as Yeshiva University, Touro College and Stern College, and it is unlikely that they will not remain loyal to their intensive rearing and inspired lifestyle as implied in the article.
Generally the article does not pay attention to the constantly expanding and deepening impact of Israeli institutions that further assure the Jewishness of the thousands of American Orthodox young men and women who spend a crucial part of their growth in the yeshivot, seminaries and institutes of advanced learning in the Holy Land. There are over a thousand couples in the kollel of the Mir Yeshiva alone, and many hundreds of young American women attend the various seminaries that are sprouting each year. Their parents are willing to spend a minimum of $6,000 per year for their intensive education and overall molding into a generation of highly knowledgeable parents of the future American Orthodoxy. Their impact will range far beyond the year 2050, when Orthodoxy supposedly will be limited by their interdependence on the wider Jewish community. Many of them are already among the cream of America’s foremost academic, scientific and sociopolitical elite and are prominent in national and international commerce. Most of them should not have serious problems in meeting the community’s “needs.”
In conclusion it must be stated that, though one cannot fault the statistics and projections derived from them in this article, there is something missing that is vital to Orthodoxy [to those] who look at Jewish history from the inside. Objective scientists will surely relegate it to the realm of faith. But our generation, which has been privileged to witness the miracle of the renaissance of intensive Torah study and shmirat hamitzvot in this country and elsewhere after the Holocaust, look forward to the 21st century and far beyond with confidence that the current trends will continue unabated until the coming of Mashiach soon, in our days.
Dr. Gershon Kranzler
In an article in the Fall edition of Jewish Action, Sergio DellaPergola and Uzi Rebhun (hereinafter referred to as “the authors”), enumerate two possible hypothetical demographic scenarios, both of which are based on an average family size of 3.7 children. One of the scenarios is based on a “51% resilience” (defined by the authors in their article as “the ratio between the numbers of those who currently identify with a denomination and those born/raised within that denomination”) hypothesis while the second scenario is based on a “100% resilience” hypothesis amongst the Orthodox. The authors seem to subscribe to the “51% resilience” hypothesis. However, we would argue that even the more optimistic “100% resilience” hypothesis understates the actual facts.
Some of the information that was generated during our analysis of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) and the 1991 New York Jewish Population Study (NYJPS) lead us to question some of the authors’ conclusions.
As a result of the steadily increasing education level as well as the number of non-observant Jews becoming observant, we respectfully suggest that it would be more appropriate to measure the resilience level of Orthodox Jews in the 18-29 age group, rather than the 18-40 age group utilized by the authors in their article because it has been found that an increase in education level is a major factor in increasing the percentage of resilience. Consequently, we submit that the following would be a more current depiction of the American Orthodox denomination as we move into the 21st century: 1) The Orthodox resilience within the 18-29 age group is in fact 92% rather than the 51% or 100% figures which the authors mentioned as possible hypothetical parameters in calculating the same time period; and 2) The average family size is actually 4.5 children rather than the 3.7 children indicated by the authors.
Recalculating the future percentage of the Orthodox population relative to the overall Jewish population would in fact reflect a far greater growth than the results based on a “51% resilience” scenario cited by the authors. It is even significantly greater than the “100% resilience” scenario.
In the authors’ scenario of no loss at all among the Orthodox Jews in America, and an average family size of 3.7 children, the result would be that 19% of American Jews would be Orthodox in the year 2050. Furthermore, in this scenario, 44% of American Jews below age 15 would be Orthodox in 2050.
Accordingly, it seems clear to us that if this scenario continued for another 50 years, 75% to 80% of American Jews below age 15 will be Orthodox by the year 2100. Furthermore, 50% to 60% of the entire American Jewish community will be Orthodox. The additional 40% to 50% of the American Jewish community will be a combination of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and secular Jews.
Antony Gordon and Richard M. Horowitz
Los Angeles, California
Professor DellaPergola and Dr. Rebhun respond:
Rabbi Wein and Dr. Kranzler raise in their letters several serious issues that can only be briefly addressed here because of space limitations. Let us agree, in the first place, that in no way should the social sciences be put to compete with faith, vision and hope. We are dealing here with two entirely different planes of discourse. By the former, the bare facts should be addressed in as neutral and objective a mode as possible, regardless of our ideal posture. According to the latter, empirical data are not necessary to accepting, conceiving and nurturing a superior design. If we do not pay attention to this distinction, we risk dismissing the social sciences as totally irrelevant, which clearly neither of our two learned readers intended to suggest.
Serious social scientific research obviously requires that all the facts be set straight and unbiased in front of the reader. Since our article was not intended to list the many accomplishments and encouraging trends among American Orthodox Jews, after briefly acknowledging those as a solid given, we moved forward to impartially analyze certain less visible implications of the recent past and present. Again, a significant point of method should be stressed here. The social patterns of a complex community, such as Jews in the United States, can be assessed from the inside — by closely scrutinizing the working of relevant institutions and of the people associated with them, or from the outside — by throwing a broader net inclusive of those more clearly identified situations and of the much broader context in which they belong. If we take the example of Jewish geography, the rapid growth of Jewish Monsey is extraordinary; but it is better interpreted also taking into account Jewish population movements in and out of Brooklyn. Or, looking at Jewish education, observation of a given school-class environment will usually provide an image of plenty of bright and learning Jewish children; study of the whole pertinent age-group will also give us a sense of how many Jewish children were not attending that same class at that point in time. Both approaches provide important, indeed complementary information, but we view the latter as definitely better if a broader assessment of trends has to be reached. This is what the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, our major source of data, attempted to do.
Here, three important points raised by our readers call for clarification. First, surveys are not censuses, as they only include a carefully and randomly selected, representative sample of the given population. This implies a certain amount of built-in error whose extent is easily computed, provided there are no serious biases in data collection. If there are doubts (in our view, minor) about the NJPS coverage of the Orthodox public, one would hope that refusals to answer were not caused by indifference or even scorn on the part of some of the more Jewishly-committed toward their less committed fellows, and toward the Jewish collective as a whole. As we noted in our article, the better strategy is to be included in Jewish population surveys and to be fairly represented in any ensuing data analyses.
Second, the definition of “who is Orthodox” in NJPS was in no way pre-established but simply reflected the answers provided by respondents. Such reporting reflects the heterogeneous nature of an Orthodox population ranging from quite segregated Chassidic and “Chareidi” communities to a more scattered “Modern Orthodox” presence. The significant fact about people who reported they were born in an Orthodox home but currently identify otherwise, is that they believe the intensity of their Jewishness somewhat declined over time. To dismiss face-value reporting about denominational preferences, and to assume all eventual “deviants” were not “true Orthodox” in the first place, entails reducing even more the quantified size of the group. In 1990, 28% of the self-proclaimed Orthodox adults were not affiliated with a synagogue. Should these people be dismissed from our denominational accountancy? To establish for sure that a person was a lifelong coherent Orthodox, one should have to wait until that person passes away. Is this a reasonable mode of operation? That Orthodox life has intensified in the recent generations is not in question. But there also are contradictions. NJPS, after all, seems to have exposed a well-known and unique trait of U.S. society: while the role of religion is highly important and diffused, the amount of mobility of people across religions, denominations, communities and lifestyles is overwhelming in international comparison.
Third, the two scenarios suggested in our population projections provide in our view a reasonable range for future developments — given no major upheavals intervene to make our whole exercise irrelevant. In terms of resilience rates (the net balance between the number of people raised in a religious denomination and those currently identifying with it), our lower projected level of 51% resilience for the Orthodox reflected the self-declared identities and behaviors of young adults who were born or grew-up not in pre-historic America but during the years of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Reagan — highly relevant times to present-day American Jewry. On the other hand, our higher projected level of 100% resilience did conform with the more sanguine expectations, and will probably appear quite optimistic to some observers. Our projected range of 415,000 to 550,000 in the year 2020, and 430,000 to 900,000 in 2050, as against 380,000 self-declared Orthodox Jews in 1990, points to growth in the absolute figure and, more significantly, in the share of Orthodox Jewry out of total Jews in the United States — though perhaps not to the extent hoped for by the movement’s insiders.
As to the comments by Gordon and Horowitz, they do not add much to our own analysis. Their evaluation of a 92% resilience rate for the Orthodox younger adults does indeed fall neatly within the minimum-maximum range we suggested (51% to 100%). Their evaluation of an average family size of 4.5 is indeed higher that the 3.7 adopted in our scenarios, but it overlooks the fact that those younger adults who are still unmarried and will marry at a later age (if at all), will end up with smaller families. We purposely refrained from extending our projections to as distant a target as the year 2100, as we felt that the tremendous imponderables over such a span of time would devoid our exercise of much of its credible factual foundations.
In sum, the gist of our article was that in spite of its dynamics and recent accomplishments, the Orthodox movement should not rest on its laurels, and should give a harsh and realistic look at the complexities of its interaction with the broader Jewish community and with American society at large. All in all, we regret that a quotation we had included at the opening of our article was omitted in the final printed version, as the editor felt that it might appear to be an editorial slap at our credibility. It said: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘From the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children.’ — Bava Basra 12A
Letters may be edited for space and/or clarity.
The Winter 1998 “Jewish Wry” humor column featured “logos” of imaginary hashgachot. It has come to our attention that one of the cartoon logos, the encircled kaf, inadvertently resembled the actual hechsher of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Baltimore. There was no slight intended to the Association and we apologize for any confusion caused by use of the symbol.