Beyond Gee-Whiz Figures in Population Study

Reform and Conservative Still Split on Intermarriage, Ritual

Reform Bridge: A recent study of New York Jewry found an enduring gap between Reform and Conservative Jews on matters like intermarriage and adherence to ritual.
Reform Bridge: A recent study of New York Jewry found an enduring gap between Reform and Conservative Jews on matters like intermarriage and adherence to ritual.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published June 24, 2012, issue of June 29, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Most of the conversation surrounding that new survey of New York’s Jewish population, released in early June by UJA-Federation of New York, has been focused on its two big, gee-whiz numbers: the one-third of Jews in the region (40% in New York City proper) who are Orthodox and the 20% who are poor. It’s understandable that those findings would capture our imagination, since they fly in the face of our usual image of the affluent, urbane, freethinking New York Jew. But that’s only part of the story.

The Orthodox numbers are hard to ignore, of course, because they’re rising fast and reshaping the face of New York Jewry. Among children under 18 in area Jewish households, 61% are Orthodox. In turn, 61% of those Orthodox children are Hasidic; their families tend to be huge, poor and relatively uneducated in secular terms. In contrast, declining numbers of Jews in the region call themselves Reform or Conservative, while a growing proportion don’t identify with any denomination — in most cases because they’re not interested. Around 40% of non-Orthodox Jewish households are of mixed faith, and fewer than one-third of intermarrieds report that their children are being raised Jewish.

What emerges from all this is a picture of a Jewish future that is not only more pious and observant, but also poorer, less educated in secular terms and less engaged in the public life of the larger society. If you’re of an apocalyptic frame of mind, you might be tempted to conclude that a certain era in Jewish life, what we call the modern Enlightenment, is passing from the stage of history — not today or tomorrow, certainly, but gradually over the next few generations.

In fact, the picture is much more complicated. Between the two extremes of insular Hasidism and disengaged intermarriage, there’s a broad range of Jewish lifestyles of varying degrees of vitality. Much of what’s vibrant in American Jewish life is strongest outside New York, something that doesn’t show up in this survey. Nationwide, non-Orthodox Jews still make up the overwhelming majority of the community. Whether they thrive or decline in the coming decades will depend in large measure on how they address the growing numbers of intermarrieds and their children.

Moreover, not all Orthodox Jews are Hasidim. Other forms of Orthodoxy are less insular, more engaged with the broader Jewish community and with society at large. They include not just the Modern Orthodox, who are by definition closely enmeshed in the general Jewish community, but also the so-called Yeshivish, non-Hasidic wing of ultra-Orthodoxy. Both groups resemble non-Orthodox Jews — and differ from Hasidim — in their socioeconomic profile, secular education and levels of political activism. In theory, then, there’s a broad middle of the Jewish community that shares a wide range of common interests, not to mention a religious heritage. In theory, that is.

In practice, political activism divides Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews more than it unites them. There’s an irony here; both sides try to combine a commitment to Jewish group interests with an understanding of the Torah’s values in their activism.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.