No More than Barely 4 Million Halachic American Jews

by Mordecai Plaut

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Appeared in "Yated Ne'eman," Pesach Edition.

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It should be noted that almost 500,000 of those who consider themselves Jewish by religion do not even claim to have a Jewish mother. This does not include converts who are measured in a separate category.

If we assume that the children of the Core are divided up the same way there are 588,000 such children who are JBR, and 342,200 children in JNR.

Thus the total of the Core Jewish Population that claims to be halachically Jewish is 4,041,000.

The authors use a figure of 3.6 million adult halachic Jews, which is the total of all three categories (JBR+JNR+JOR). It is not clear who they think is interested in that total. Religious as well as secular organizations do not consider those who identify with other religions (JOR) as their population of interest. The figure of 3.1 million in the Core who are halachically Jewish is more important, and perhaps the 2.5 million who are Jewish and are willing to identify as Jewish by religion are the most important, of the groups studied.

Correlation with Other Studies

According to a survey of all Jewish educational institutions performed by Dr. Marvin Schick, there are 138,000 students in the U.S. enrolled in Orthodox Jewish day schools. This compares to 47,000 enrolled in non-Orthodox Jewish day schools. These students attended a total of 676 different schools that were surveyed. Dr. Schick's survey was conducted as an actual census, not a statistical projection as was the AJIS.

Putting the two together, those enrolled in the Orthodox schools are almost a quarter of the total population of Jewish children (JBR) in the U.S. (23.5 percent)!

Relationship to Israel

The authors of the study were surprised, perhaps mystified is a better word, to find that there is a very close correlation between a Jewish person's feelings on Israel and his or her feelings towards religion. They write:

"Surprisingly, there is nearly a linear relationship between where American Jews locate themselves on the religious- secular spectrum with respect to their outlook and their attachment to Israel. Those who are more religious are more likely to have visited and are more emotionally attached to Israel; the more secular are less likely to have visited and are less emotionally attached to Israel. Twice as many of those who describe themselves as "religious" have visited Israel than those who describe themselves as "secular" (47% compared with 23%). Similarly, more than three times as many of those who describe themselves as "religious" say they are "very attached" to Israel as compared with those who describe themselves as "secular" (58% compared with 15%).

"The reason there appears to be such a consistent disconnection between secularism and Israel is obviously a lot more difficult to understand than the disconnection between secularism and affiliation with Jewish communal institutions. But, the facts are plain enough to warrant a serious search for the underlying mechanisms that appear to weaken the social bonds that link Jews to one another among those whose outlook is secular or somewhat secular."

A fruitful search can be mounted in the sayings of HaRav Shach zt"l, who was fond of quoting Rav Saadiah Gaon who said, "The Jewish people are united by the Torah." That is the underlying mechanism.

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