Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Rising Tide of Orthodoxy

This week’s Forward newspaper features a front page story on the changing demographics of the US Jewry. According to a closer parsing of the Pew survey of American Jews, 27% of Jews under 18 years of age live in Orthodox homes. According to sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Every year, the Orthodox population has been adding 5,000 Jews. The non–Orthodox population has been losing 10,000 Jews.” If this trend continues I suspect American Jewry will hit a tipping point where non–Orthodox Jews will simply cease to be Jews.
But hold on, why imagine that just because we liberals Jews will be in the minority we will stop being Jews? After all Orthodox Jews have been a tiny minority among American Jews for decades and they never abandoned Judaism. Can it be that our faith in our Judaism is less strong and compelling then that of Orthodox Jews?
Yes it can. Orthodox Jews believe that God literally chose the Jews as His (sic) people, and gave them His (sic) Torah, the only true revelation given by God to humanity, and promised them the Land of Israel as their home. Liberal Jews may give lip service to these ideas, but few actually believe them. After all, if we did believe these things, we would live by them, and if we did live by them we would be Orthodox Jews.
So the problem isn’t just that Orthodox Jews have more babies, but that Liberal Jews have less faith. Or, to be more specific, a different understanding of faith, but nevertheless one that I suspect will not cling to the label “Jew” if the Orthodox take control of the brand.

But I could be wrong. Indeed I want to be wrong. So, please share with me your thoughts. If the numbers reverse themselves and 90% of American Jews are Orthodox Jews and only 10% are Liberal Jews, would you, as a liberal Jew (assuming for sake of argument that you are) stay with Judaism or would you find a faith community more conducive to your beliefs?


Ty said...

Are not all labels misleading?

As a "liberal Baptist" minister in Lynchburg during Jerry Falwell's heyday, I found I had far more in common with a neighboring Catholic priest than with Jerry and other Baptist ministers.

Do liberals have less faith than conservatives? Or, as you put it, a different understanding of faith?

Having left my "Baptist" roots, I
have found it difficult to find a faith community more conducive to my beliefs. Perhaps some of the difficulty is the difference between faith and beliefs.

To me, beliefs(religion)are intellectual ("head") and can be articulated objectively, while faith (spirituality) is more experiential, ineffable ("heart")and subjective. That is why I consider myself to be SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious.)

Barry said...

There is a type of liberal Judaism that does offer the spirituality that people crave, and the sense of community that the Orthodox have. What I've seen in Reform Judaism is the embrace of women and gay men, which has changed the denomination, for the better,IMHO. The conservative politics of the leaders of Orthodoxy (if not most Orthodox people) will mean there will still be Jews in the other movements.I've pointed out before that I'm a man married to a male Reform rabbi.

Yogi35** said...

I will always consider myself a person of Jewish faith no matter the numbers. Right now I am unaffiliated with organized Judaism because I cannot find a community that is truly spiritual. I look and look but have been unsuccessful so far.