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!
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • 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.