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The 52% Fraud

Twelve years after rocking the foundations of Jewish communal life with the revelation that more than half — 52%, to be precise — of American Jews who entered wedlock were marrying out of the faith, the sponsor of the original study has finally acknowledged that the number was, in fact, wrong.

In the bland, bureaucratic language of its newly published population survey, the sponsoring group, United Jewish Communities, states that the intermarriage rate in 1990 was actually 43%. The 1990 study reached its famous 52% figure, the sponsor now admits, by including some marriages of people “considered non-Jewish, including non-Jews who had been born to at least one Jewish parent and were raised in a non-Jewish religion.”

“Their rationale,” the new study says, “was to throw as wide a net as possible in calculating the intermarriage rate, in contrast to the narrower definition of Jews they employed for other analyses in their report.”

In plain English, the authors of the 1990 survey sexed up the intermarriage number to make it sound more dramatic. They threw in thousands of marriages between two Christians, inflating their actual finding by more than one-fifth. Hoping to arouse the Jewish public, they perpetrated a fraud.

The sponsors deserve credit for admitting the truth. Unfortunately, they’re at it again. The new survey reports a total American Jewish population of 5.2 million, seeming to indicate a decline from the 5.5 million found in 1990. The authors frankly acknowledge that they have no evidence of any decline. Their new number may well be an undercount, they say. The numbers are within the margin of error. But that hasn’t stopped them from publishing the new and old figures side by side, effectively inviting the press and public to sound a false alarm.

We’ve been here before. The 52% intermarriage figure fraudulently reported in 1990 rapidly became the best known and most quoted Jewish statistic in the world. It’s been repeated in countless sermons, editorials and jeremiads, inspired millions of dollars of emergency spending and soured discourse within the Jewish community.

It’s been cited endlessly by conservatives hoping to encourage Jewish separatism and to discredit the idea of integration into the open society. And it’s driven a wedge among Jews, alienating broad masses of ordinary folks who reject xenophobia and dislike the increasingly shrill tone of Jewish communal culture. In one of its most startling findings, the new study shows a deep division between the most observant Jews, who make up between one-quarter and one-third of the overall population, and the majority of less devout but still moderately attached Jews. We are at risk, the authors caution, of becoming two separate communities.

True, the new intermarriage figure, 43%, is still high by traditionalist standards. For those who view intermarriage as a threat to community stability — and there’s plenty in the new study to back that up — the new figure will still be alarming.

So why does it matter? Well, for one thing, there’s the simple matter of truth versus lies. The 52% figure was a lie.

The truth is that despite the vast openness of American society, most Jews still marry Jews. No less important, the new study shows, most Jews, whomever they marry, display a continuing attachment to Judaism. More than three-fourths celebrate Passover and Chanukah. Three-fifths fast on Yom Kippur. Four out of five Jewish children receive some Jewish schooling.

Given all that, it is to the credit of United Jewish Communities that it has shown the courage, after more than a decade of obfuscation, to admit the truth.

If only they weren’t starting the same thing all over again. But they have. They’ve chosen to headline their new study with their questionable population figure of 5.2 million. Worse, the study’s first chart, Figure 1, prints that figure alongside the 5.5 million total found in 1990. The obvious inference is that America’s Jewish population is shrinking.

The new study found no such thing. In its appendix it cautions readers no fewer than five times that its methodology may have led to an undercount of the total population. Questioned directly, the authors and sponsors state flatly that they have no evidence of a decline in population. They hasten to note that other recent studies have found Jewish population totals as high as 6.7 million, and that they’re not sure theirs is more accurate.

And yet, like lemmings running off a cliff, they have gone ahead and published those numbers — 5.2 million now, 5.5 million then — all but begging the public to think Jews are disappearing. Press accounts have already begun to report the new fraud.

The phony crisis is made to appear linked to a supposedly low fertility rate, which is illustrated in various ways in the new study. Communal guns are already gearing up to demonize working women as the newest enemy of Jewish survival.

The real bottom line is that the Jewish birthrate comes to 1.86 children per woman, virtually identical with the overall American rate of 1.9 and just a hair below the natural replacement level of 2.1. But that isn’t stopping the alarmists from trumpeting the new survey as confirmation of the old one: Jews are disappearing, the sky is falling and it’s our own fault.

Some folks never learn.

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