How Many American Jews Are There?

New Jewish Yearbook Takes Stab at Dueling Population Figures

thinkstock

By J.J. Goldberg

Published February 18, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

The first total, 6 to 6.7 million, appears in an article titled “Jewish Population in the United States, 2012,” written by the book’s editors, Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami and Arnold Dashefsky of the University of Connecticut. They reached their figures, they explain, through a mixture of methods, mainly combining local surveys from scores of communities around the country, along with informed estimates by local leaders in hundreds of other communities, plus some U.S. Census information. Their article includes charts and maps showing Jewish population by state, region and in each of some 900 communities around the country.

They note that their total is much higher — by 1.5 million — than the widely publicized 5.2 million total published in the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, conducted by what’s now called the Jewish Federations of North America. To understand the gap, they refer readers to an article in the 2006 American Jewish Year Book by the respected Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola.

The second figure, 5.425 million, appears in the new book’s next article, “World Jewish Population, 2012,” by the same Sergio DellaPergola. He explains that his total for the United States, part of a worldwide total of 13.7 million, is based on that 5.2 million figure from 2001, corrected for known errors and then adjusted for a decade of births, intermarriages and more.

He notes that the 2001 total was lower than the 5.5 million found in a 1990 population survey. That means Jewish numbers are declining. He cites several other national surveys with similar results. Studies with higher estimates, including Sheskin-Dashefsky and an innovative Brandeis University study, are “implausible,” “unreliable” and “not tenable.”

Here’s what neither article tells you. First, the 2001 population survey was a fiasco. It was conducted in 2000 but not released until 2002, following a series of inside and outside investigations into its known problems. These included lost data and flawed questionnaires.

The outside investigation, by the head of the prestigious American Association for Public Opinion Research, found at least two dozen serious methodological errors, most of them pointing toward an undercount. The published survey said the actual total was probably closer to 5.8 million. It also noted that its methods were different from those used in 1990, and therefore no comparison was possible — meaning no decline should be read into it.

The headlines, of course, all talked about 5.2 million Jews, down from 5.5 million a decade earlier. Nobody read the fine print.


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!
  • 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?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • 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.