Is non-Orthodox American Jewry consigned to the dust bin of history, wandering aimlessly, without direction, purpose or identity?
That thought comes to mind as this week’s Torah portion is entitled Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness.” A summary of it is here Bamidbar Aliyah Summary
Bamidbar Aliyah Summary
The portion begins the fourth of the Five Books of Moses, or the Torah, which, in English, is also known as Numbers. It takes place one month after the completion of the Tabernacle, and several weeks before the departure from Mt. Sinai, beginning a 40-year journey to the Holy Land.
As the week’s Torah reading begins, Moses is commanded to conduct a census, first of men of fighting age, then of all members of each tribe. The idea of a census is particularly apt regarding contemporary American non-Orthodox Jewry as our numbers are shrinking quickly.
I belong to a Conservative synagogue with approximately 800 member families. Jews in our area are far more successful in becoming fruitful (affluent) than in multiplying.
In a story dated March 9, Dow Jones Market Watch pegged the total fertility rate in America at 1.87. This means that each 1,000 American women and their mates are having 1,870 children, of whom about half are boys, about half of whom are girls. The Market Watch piece is here https://www.marketwatch.com/story/do-we-need-to-worry-about-declining-fertility-rates-2018-01-23 (It takes a fertility rate of roughly 2.2 for populations to remain constant; that is one for each parent plus a small addition to make up for those who don’t reproduce.)
According to the American Jewish Yearbook, quoting the 2014 Pew Study, (link here)
“Jewish Adults aged 40-59 report having had an average of 1.9 children, compared with a rate of 2.2 per adult in the same age cohort of the general population….
“Even compared to other people who have college education, American Jews report having fewer children. Fertility for people with BA degrees are 1.65 for American Jews, compared to 1.81 for the general population… For the non-Orthodox, completed fertility is even lower; 1.52 for those with BA degrees and 1.61 for those with graduate or professional degrees.”
A 1.6 fertility rate means that each 1,000 women (and their mates) are having 1,600 children, about 800 of whom are male, and 800 female. At that rate, the 800 member families will be having about 640 boys and about 640 girls. With intermarriage rates running upwards of 50%, only about 320 boys and 320 girls, children of 800 families, will be raised in families in which both parents are Jewish.
Doing this for two or three generations means that the number of American non-Orthodox Jews will decline sharply.
One would think that today’s non-Orthodox Jewish American religious leaders would be leaders in efforts to staunch the losses. But they aren’t. Why?
Perhaps non-Orthodox Jewish American leaders have cast aside the mantle of religious leadership in favor of being leaders in bringing social change. Perhaps, their primary, or only, goal, is attaining their socially progressive goals.
Perhaps that is what Batya Unger-Sargon had in mind when, as opinion editor of The Jewish Daily Forward, or forward.com, she wrote: How the Obsession with Jewish Continuity Perverts Our Liberal Values. The piece is here: How The Obsession With Jewish Continuity Perverts Our Liberal Values
Time to conduct our own census.
Time to become obsessed with Jewish continuity.
(Thanks to Don Weisberg for his editing help.)