U.S. Jewish Demography; Does Anyone Care?

The existing data, a decade old and inconclusive, becomes more irrelevant with each passing day

Writing in The New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt looks at this week’s conference of Jewish demographers and the concern that the lack of a national Jewish population study will hinder communal planning.

“The leading researchers in this specialized field are perceived as a contentious bunch who often critique each other’s work publicly. But they seem to agree that the decision by JFNA not to commission a new national survey is a shame, and a setback to those planning communal policy or engaged in academic research.

… There was a sense in the room that some in the organized community underestimate the value the research can provide.

In an interview, Jerry Silverman, the CEO of JFNA, who was not at the conference, said much of the blame for the lack of another national Jewish study belongs to the Jewish demographers whose public sniping about the methodology of past studies undermined the work.

“Debate is healthy” up to a point, Silverman said, but when it is driven by “egos,” and “inhibits” communal action, it goes too far.

… 1990 study – for all its controversy over whether the intermarriage rate was indeed as high as 52 percent, as cited – led to a communal emphasis on continuity programs, outreach, day schools, camping and other forms of Jewish education to offset assimilation.

But the experts in the room were hard-pressed to come up with any practical outcome from the beleaguered 2000 study, which found that the community declined to 5.2 million Jews – from 5.5 million in 1990 – and that the intermarriage rate had risen slightly.