Yesterday’s press carried the results of a Pew poll on “identity” issues among American Jews. The New York Times entitled its page A11 take, written by Laurie Goodstein, “Poll Shows Major Shift In Identity of U.S. Jews”—read it for yourself to get the full flavor of the story.
Now, those who have made their way through my 2009 book Jewcentricity: Why the Jews Are Praised, Blamed and Used to Explain Nearly Everything (Wiley) will have been prepared for the new numbers. In the book I explained why this sort of thing was happening, although at the time the only data available came from a 2000 polling effort (not done by Pew) whose sample was small and whose methodology came under a cloud of dispute.
The new numbers, assuming for the sake of discussion (I have not seen the actual Pew study yet) that they at least sort of capture reality, validate my argument. But I have to admit that even for a cold-blooded realist (on these if not all other topics) like me, some of the numbers are shocking.
The statistic that 71% of non-Orthodox American Jews now intermarry is one of them. (The numbers related to Christmas trees and to Jews who supposedly think they can believe Jesus is the Messiah and still be Jews are two other attention-grabbing items.) Assuming that this number means that Jews are marrying non-Jews who have not converted, it points to an irrefutable conclusion: Compound this number over just two generations, not to speak of three or four, and you see how fast the demographic bottom is dropping out from under non-Orthodox American Jewry. The result over time, as I discussed in the book, will be a significantly smaller but more Orthodox American Jewish community.
As it happens, a few months ago the editor of Tablet asked me to write something for him, and with his counsel I eventually chose a topic that contains but transcends this “identity” story. I wrote it before I saw yesterday’s paper or knew anything about the Pew project. The new numbers fit my argument like a glove. My guess is that the Tablet piece will run in one form or another sometime this month. If and when it does, I promise to post a link here, for what it’s worth.
In the meantime, for those who care about such things (and no one can be blamed for not caring), see what you think the reasons behind the numbers are. Help me do an informal poll of my own.