Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5763 - June 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
New York Jewry is Changing Fast

A new study of New York City Jews released last week by the UJA-Federation of New York, and reported in our last issue, found that the number of Jews in the greater New York City area has remained constant from 1991 to the time the current study was made in 2002. Actually the press release says that the New York Jewish population is "stable," but the truth is that the similarity in the overall number that is emphasized conceals a tremendous amount of internal change. There may be 1.4 million Jews in the New York area but they are quite different from the 1.4 million Jews who were there just eleven years earlier. (The current study was performed in 2002 and the previous one in 1991.)

In 1991, New York Jewry was overwhelmingly Conservative and Reform: together 70 percent of all Jews in the metropolitan New York area identified themselves as one of these. In only 11 years this total has dropped to 54 percent -- a drop of over 25 percent.

On the other hand, in 1991 Orthodox Jewry made up only 13 percent of the Greater New York Jews according to the survey. By 2002 this rose to 19 percent, an explosive rise of almost 50 percent! The Orthodox now make up a quarter of all the Jews living within the boundaries of New York City.

If these trends continue, and we expect that they will, then in another decade the Orthodox community will be larger than either of the Conservative or Reform communities, and a decade after that the Orthodox may well be larger than both Conservative and Reform combined.

All over the world, the Orthodox Jewish community is young, dynamic and growing fast. Its members are involved in their Judaism 24/7, and are naturally interested and concerned about all Jews and all Jewish issues. Many are deeply rooted in Jewish tradition by virtue of the fact that the majority of their education is from Jewish sources and they continue to increase their Jewish knowledge significantly throughout their lives. They have strong and varied bonds to Jews and communities throughout the world through activities such as participation in daily prayer, study of the weekly portion of the Torah and projects such as daf yomi in which participants all over the world learn the same portion of gemora.

In contrast, Conservative and Reform Jews tend to be older and only loosely associated with Judaism. Some get involved weekly, many others only several times a year on major holidays. Their educational and cultural roots are Western and not Jewish. Even many of their ideas of religion come from the Christianity that dominates America rather than from Judaism, and they find their identities in university studies or what passes for culture, rather than in what Judaism has passed down. They are the tragic side of the American Jewish experience.

Nonetheless, Jewish observance is generally on the rise. In 2002, 72 percent fasted on Yom Kippur compared to 66 percent in 1991 who did at least "sometimes." Lighting Shabbos candles went up from 43 percent to 53 percent, and keeping kosher from 25 to 28 percent. The Pesach seder is the greatest common denominator, with 77 always attending one, 15 percent sometimes and only eight percent never. Hopefully, as the observant community becomes stronger, many of our wayward brethren will become swept up in the current.

Judaism will survive. Hashem has guaranteed this to us in the Torah. Yet there is hope that, despite the increasing decadence of general American society, our Jewish brethren will begin to really look like a mamleches Cohanim vegoy kodosh -- a holy community whose entire life proclaims their relationship to Hashem.

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