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!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • 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.