There Are Only 2,300,000 Hardcore American Jews

Part II

by Mordecai Plaut

Jews and Halachic Jews

The total of the Core Jewish Population that claims to be halachically Jewish, in the sense of claiming to have at least a Jewish mother, is only 4,041,000.

Based on the classifications in the Core Population, they divide up as follows: of the BJR Jews (of the Jewish religion), 84 percent say they meet the classic Jewish identity test of a Jewish mother (2,461,200), and of the JNR (no religion), 58 percent say they have Jewish mothers (649,600). These are the adults in the "Core" population, a total of 3.1 million. The rest are the children in the Core.

In addition, 34 percent of the JOR (having another religion -- not part of the Core) claimed a Jewish mother (499,800).

How Jewish is the Core Jewish Population?

The short answer to this question is "Not as Jewish as anyone would like." This means that, of the 3.1 million adults who claim to have Jewish mothers, many are quite distant from the Jewish people.

Even in the terms of the social scientists, the quality of the Jewish population has been declining very sharply. One interesting finding of the survey is that even according to their standards, the "Core Jewish Population" is rapidly becoming less overtly Jewish. In 1990, the total proportion of those in the Core who considered themselves Jewish (BJR+JBC, adults+children) was 80 percent. Only 11 years later, in 2001, the proportion was only 68 percent of a slightly smaller total. This means that the number of Jews with no religion has risen sharply and now about a third of the "Core Jewish Population" do not identify themselves as Jews.

Who are the Jews with no religion? The authors report: "This category consists of persons of Jewish parentage/upbringing who report they have `no religion,' or replied atheist, agnostic, secular or humanist. In addition, those qualified Jewish respondents who reported being of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing but replied `don't know' or refused the religion item, were included in this category since they, too, reported no current religious preference."

Obviously, this is a group of people who, for the most part, are not close to the Jewish people. They have a Jewish background, but no longer identify as Jewish. At least they do not identify as being part of a different religious group, like the JOR Jews, but they are still not willing to be counted as Jews.

Moreover, correlating these categories with parentage shows how loose they are. Even in the best category, almost 500,000 of those who consider themselves Jewish by religion (16%) do not even claim to have a Jewish mother. This does not include converts who are measured in a separate category and in any case the total number of converts is small.

Hardcore Jewish Population

The "Core Jewish Population" is thus much too loose a grouping for our purposes.

For one, we want to define within this population the subset that is simply the Jewish Population. Then we will want to narrow down the definition further to arrive at what we will call the "Hardcore Jewish Population."

The halachically Jewish Population is no more than about 4 million. We are not really excluding the extra 1.3 million people who are counted as part of the "Core Jewish Population," since those people were never really part of the Jewish people. This, it should be noted, is an upper bound, since there is no doubt that many of those claiming to have a Jewish mother do not have a mother who is halachically Jewish.

First of all in trying to arrive at the "Hardcore Jewish Population" we will exclude all those who do not identify as Jewish (JNR Jews, as explained above). Although for some purposes they may be included (kiruv organizations must evaluate if it is an efficient use of their resources to target them, for example), for most social and conceptual purposes this group would, as per its own selection, be left out of the "Hardcore Jewish." If they are not willing, for the purposes of a benign, noncommittal survey, to identify as Jews, they cannot be counted on for much and, simply using their own alienation, we leave them out.

According to "Exhibit 6" of the study, the BJR adults number 2,760,000. Of these, 84 percent are self-claimed to be Jewish, or 2,318,400. With half of the 170,000 JBC converts (a generous assumption), we get 2,403,400. Since one who is intermarried can hardly be called a Hardcore Jew we should exclude the intermarried from this category. According to "Exhibit 7," 23 percent of the JBR group are married to a non-Jewish spouse, and assuming the same proportion among the halachically Jewish, we are left with 1,850,618 (exactly!).

There are, according to the sampling of the survey, 700,000 children of parents in the combined BJR and JBC categories (called JBR). If we just assume that the children divide up in the same proportion as the parents, we are left with only 470,000 children who are part of the Hardcore Jews.

The grand total (estimated) of Hardcore Jews in the U.S.: 2,320,618. It should be stressed that this is a rough estimate based on the data of AJIS.

(By the way, assuming the same proportions on the NJIS- 1990 data we find that there were 2,830,238 Hardcore Jews -- 2,256,278 adults and 573,960 children -- in 1990. This is a decline of 18% in only 11 years. The real number was probably higher in 1990.)

Continues . . .

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Related essay: No More than 4 Million Halachic American Jews

Related essay: The Demography and the Reality of the Jewish People NJPS 2000-2001

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