Jewish Education Is the Key

There are new statistics being gleaned from that now famous (infamous?) 2013 Pew survey of US Jewry. This time pertaining specifically to Orthodox Jewry. To the best of my knowledge there has thus far been only 2 quick reactions to it. One by Rabbi Avorohom Gordimer and the other by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. Both of which I feel are right on target.

Here is my own quick take on it. I’m sure there will be many others forthcoming. Some quick. And some more in depth.

This study reveals that about 2/3 of all Orthodox Jewry in America are Charedi. About 1/3 are Modern Orthodox. This should be no surprise to anyone that reads this blog. The internal growth rate of Charedim in America since the Holocaust is geometric with each successive generation — with 10 or more children per family not all that uncommon. Multiplying exponentially with each generation. Modern Orthodox Jews — while having a far greater internal growth rate than secular Jews and non Jews — do not on average come anywhere near that number. While there is attrition in both segments, even assuming those leaving the fold are equal in both segments, it isn’t to hard to see which growth rate will better compensate for that loss. As time passes on, the percentages of Charedim will grow even higher.

(Rabbi Adlerstein correctly worries about the 17% of Jews that were raised Orthodox Jews leaving the fold. Those are indeed tragic numbers. This phenomenon has been discussed here before and is beyond the scope of this post.)

One startling statistic was the lack of certainty about God’s existence. One would think the number of Charedim that have these kinds of doubts is statistically insignificant. Well that’s not true. The percentage is low at 4%. Looking at the sheer numbers, however — if there are, say, 100,000 Charedi Jews in America (a random number based on my own conservative guess — no clue what the numbers actually are) that would mean that there are thousands of Charedi Jews in America that question the existence of God.

The percentages increase dramatically in Modern Orthodoxy. Fully 23% of Modern Orthodox Jews question God’s existence! (In terms of numbers — the difference is not as dramatic since there are only about half the amount of Modern Orthodox Jews as there are Charedim. But still — shocking numbers in both cases as far as I am concerned.
That there are more Modern Orthodox Jews than Charedim that skip rituals is not a surprise either. That’s because of the large ‘MO-Lite’ segment I often talk about. They are observant more for social reasons than ideological ones. (Not to mention those who are Orthoprax non believers that no doubt do not practice any rituals at all when no one is looking. Why would they?). While there are Charedi-Lites as well, my guess is that the percentage of MO Jews that are Lite is greater than the percentage of Charedim that are Lite.

Not surprising is the fact that the traditional affiliation or support of Jews for the Democratic Party has virtually evaporated in Orthodox circles even while remaining relatively stable in non Orthodox ones. Most Orthodox Jews tend to be far more in line with the values espoused by the Republican Party. This can be seen in issues like gay marriage. Most Democrats and non Orthodox Jews support it. Most Republicans and Orthodox Jews don’t.

Another surprising statistic is the comparative educational levels among Jews of all denominations or unaffiliated. The winner? Modern Orthodox Jews are the most educated demographic of all of Jewry. 65% of all MO Jews have a Bachelors degree or higher. That compares with 60% of non Orthodox Jews and 38% of Charedim. That is matched by similarly surprising differences in high income. Again, the winner is MO. 37% earn $150,000 or more, compared with 29% of Reform, 23% of Conservative, and 22% unaffiliated.

These are the numbers. Why this is the case is something many of us can debate. Although it isn’t too hard to see a correlation between educational levels and income. Or religious values and politically conservative ones.

But there is one thing that does stand out. It is something Rabbi Adlerstein pointed out in his review of these numbers. It is that Jewish education works. It is in my view the single biggest factor if keeping people Jewish and observant from one generation to the next. Here is the money quote from JTA:

Four out of five Orthodox Jewish parents with kids at home have at least one child in yeshiva or Jewish day school, and about three-quarters of Orthodox Jewish adults (73 percent) attended a Jewish day school or yeshiva as children (81 percent among haredim, 57 percent among the modern Orthodox). By contrast, only 17 percent of other Jews went to yeshiva or Jewish day school growing up.

One might be tempted to say that correlation does not equal cause. That’s true. But is anyone ready to tell me that smoking does not cause lung cancer? To the best of my knowledge there has been no direct causal link between smoking and lung cancer. Only a statistical one.

If you want your children and grandchildren to remain Jewish, send them to a religious day school and high school. There are no guarantees of course. But there is not a doubt in my mind that the chances of success increase dramatically when you do.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.