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 3 of 3)

The other big news that didn’t get reported from the 2001 survey was that it revisited the best-known factoid from the 1990 survey, that Jews were intermarrying at an annual rate of 52%, and concluded it was wrong. Scholars had begun questioning it soon after its initial release, and the noise from within the academic community eventually led to the 2001 reexamination. The combination of the two embarrassments — the repudiation of the 1990 survey’s best-known finding plus the utter mess of 2001, led to the federation body quietly dissolving its population research unit and quitting the survey business.

Yearbook 2012 also neglects to mention that the Sheskin-Dashefsky findings are matched by several other studies, all based on different basic methodologies. The city-by-city tally had appeared in the yearbook for years and kept showing increases from the year before, generally matching other surveys. Only after the 1990 intermarriage figure prompted predictions of decline did the city-by-city and national surveys start to diverge. By 2002 the gap was embarrassingly close to a million. In 2005 the yearbook dropped the city-by-city tally and went with DellaPergola’s world Jewish population charts. Shortly after, AJC quit the yearbook business.

Behind the confusion are certain new discoveries that are changing our understanding of how Jews view themselves but aren’t fully absorbed into survey methodology. For one, several studies have shown that a significant percentage of Jews — nearly 4% — deny they’re Jewish when strangers ask directly. New interview methods engage them in conversation before raising the J-word, resulting in sharply higher population figures.

Second, there’s a growing, still unmeasured tendency among children of intermarriage to identify as Jewish, perhaps because it’s fashionable in Washington and Hollywood.

Third, growing numbers identify strongly as cultural or secular Jews but non-believers. They won’t show up in a survey that asks their religion.

What difference does it all make? Plenty. Religious conservatives have a stake in proving that intermarriage threatens the Jewish future. Some political conservatives want to discredit the broader liberal agenda of full integration in an open society. For them, clinging to the old surveys is important.

DellaPergola is a different matter. He is Israel’s leading expert in Jewish demography, universally liked and respected by his peers, and is a central figure in virtually every major discussion or decision on relations with the Diaspora. Colleagues decribe his dead-end commitment to a discredited doctrine of American Jewish decline as an eccentricity, but some are beginning to express alarm over its impact. “Sergio,” Sheskin told me, “wants to be able to say that more Jews live in Israel than in America.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • 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.