The 'Unaffiliated' Danger Within

Editor's Notebook

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By Jane Eisner

Published May 29, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
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The New York survey found, for instance, that 55% of all Jewish households contributed to Jewish causes other than federations. Among the Haredim, it was 93%. Among wealthier, affiliated, non-Haredi households, it was 94%.

Among the unaffiliated: 27%.

If a large, growing segment of the Jewish population is totally disinterested in supporting Jewish institutions and causes — a central obligation whether you consider Jews a tribe or a faith — isn’t that an existential threat, too?

Then there is the touchy subject of marriage and children, as in: Haredim marry early and have large families, while the less affiliated marry later (if at all) and have fewer children. The survey found that non-Orthodox children amount to only 39% of all Jewish children in the New York area. And that was in 2011. The trend lines are unmistakeable, with the rate of replacement for the non-Orthodox estimated at 1.3, far below the 2.1 rate necessary for a population to remain at its current level. You don’t need a doctorate in sociology to decipher this code. The Haredi portion of the pie is growing in part because the rest is contracting on its own.

It’s true that more openness to converts can replenish those numbers, but not by a lot. It’s also true that New York is unique, but only in size and concentration of Jews. To excuse away the findings is to deny their importance.

For the hard truth is that many non-Orthodox Jews find it difficult and uncomfortable to persuade other Jews, even their own children, to care deeply about their faith and culture and to privilege its values and teachings with the dedication displayed by the Orthodox. The result is a larger-than-ever proportion of Jews who, by all accounts, don’t much care about being Jewish.

This apathy and alienation can be just as damaging as fundamentalism, creating a vacuum that the super-devout can easily, dangerously fill. Rather than weigh one threat against another, we’d do better to recognize that both extremes jeopardize the future.


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