By Shmuel Rosner –
There’s a good chance that you’ve already read the report about the political affiliations of American clergy, Jews included. If you have, you were probably not surprised to learn that Jews are, well, Democrats, and that Jewish clergy tilts even more Democratic. “Leaders and congregants of Unitarian and African Methodist Episcopal churches are overwhelmingly Democratic, as are those of Reform and Conservative Jewish synagogues,” explains The Upshot. It is also interesting to see that Conservative clergy is relatively old, while Reform and Orthodox clergy is relatively young, and comforting to see that Jewish clergy, generally speaking, live comfortably. They live in neighborhoods of high-income, well-educated (and white) residents.
That is an interesting study, but hardly the most important you can read about Jews in America this week. The Jewish People Policy Institute (for which I work) released a much more significant study last week, on Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention. This is a study that ought to make anyone who cares about having a Jewish future in America pause. It’s a study that ought to make anyone who refuses to ignore the data that’s put before us at least somewhat anxious.
Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman, Prof. Steven M. Cohen, and Dr. Shlomo Fischer, are the main authors of this study (I made a small contribution to it, along with Rachel S. Bernstein and Dr. Dov Maimon). And what they found it this: half (50 percent) of non-Haredi American Jews ages 25 to 54 are currently not married; among non-Haredi American Jews age 25-54, just 21 percent are married to Jews, while well over twice as many (50 percent) are not married and 29 percent are intermarried; just under one-third – 31 percent – of non-Haredi American Jews 25-54 are raising children as Jews in some way. That is to say: “a solid majority (perhaps 60 percent) of American non-Haredi Jewish adults will never have the experience of raising children in Judaism.”
The tables presented in this study (I present one of them here, there are many more like these here) are illuminating, sobering. Non-Orthodox Jews in America do not have spouses, and if they do, then the spouses are not Jewish. They also do not have many children, and when they do, they do not raise them Jewishly. Like it or dislike it, criticize it or criticize those who criticize it, believe that it can change or believe that it is a fact Jews must learn to live with – whatever you think, ignoring it would be a mistake. This is a picture of a numerically declining Jewish community. That is, unless you believe that an infusion of non-Jews into the community could keep its numbers up.
Family configurations for all non-Haredi American Jews ages 25-54
Alas, the numbers do not support such a belief. Having a Jewish spouse means a much better chance for a demonstrably Jewish home. In fact, on most questions examined (are you a member of a synagogue, do you have Jewish friends, is being Jewish important, are you attached to Israel…), the hierarchy of intensity is similar: those with a non-Jewish spouse score low, those with no spouse score somewhat higher, but not high, those with a Jewish spouse score high. The authors of this study make it clear (in fact, they could have been even more blunt): “Marriage to Jews and the raising of Jewish-by-religion children are key to the current and future Jewish vitality of American Jewry, as well as to its transmissibility. The family first, and then community and friendships, create the conditions for formal and informal Jewish education to take place.”
Of course, there is a chicken and egg situation here. If one does not believe that being Jewish is of much importance, one is less likely to insist on having a Jewish spouse and a Jewish home. If one does not have many Jewish friends, one is also less likely to have a Jewish spouse, and hence less likely to have a Jewish home (even in cases where there is an initial desire to have such a home). If one does not have a spouse at all, one will not have children to which he or she can transmit the tradition. If one marries late, one might be inclined to be less picky about choosing a spouse of a certain tradition.
The bottom line is clear: if non-Orthodox Jews keep doing what they do, and if current trends do not change, the decline – my word, not the authors’ – is all but guaranteed. The authors see a remedy for that in bolstering and emphasizing “the revival of Jewish social capital for Jewishly ‘impoverished’ families through the establishment of new Jewish social circles.” I hope they are right, but for this to work there is a need for Jewish leaders to acknowledge the challenge; there is a need for them to define it as a problem for the Jewish people; there is a need for them to accept this remedy and its implications. Obviously, certain recent political developments have made a bad name for any call for parting with political correctness. But there’s clearly a need for that too.
And of course, this is not, nor should it be, about disparaging Jews who make life choices as they see fit. And it is not, nor should it be, about alienating the non-Jewish partners of Jews. And not about forcing young Jews into marrying partners they dislike. And not about telling Jews what they should do. And not about saying that Jews who decide not to stick with Jewishness are in some fashion lesser people than those who choose to remain Jewish. This is about looking at facts, acknowledging them, learning from them. It is about what we, those who want to see more Jews, and more engaged Jews, can do to improve our chances at having just that.
Source: Jewish Journal