Monday, January 11, 2010

"...people are defecting from Orthodoxy in droves"

A comment from a congregational rabbi made in a post here. The whole post is worth reading, but this statement really grabbed me, as no one I 'trusted', until this point, had made the claim. I found similar statements made by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, and have even chased down a few demographic studies that could suggest an historical decline in frum population within each generation that could be described as "droves";

"...29% move away from tradition..."

"Of all Jewish adults who were raised Orthodox, fewer than half are now Orthodox. No other Jewish denomination has such a high switching rate."

"...many of us either know personally or have heard the adage that 'every Orthodox family' has had one of their children leave orthodoxy".

"The portion of religious Jews [not even counting Charedim...] reporting a fall in religiosity over the past five years was double that of people of other faiths...[from survey here]

"...Orthodox Judaism in America has had trouble retaining its members. According to demographer Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it loses more of its members over time than any other Jewish religious movement — understandably so, since it is harder to be Orthodox than to be any other kind of Jew."

But is it really that many? Self-definition is pivotal in such surveys; for some two generations, people self-identified as Orthodox solely on synagogue membership; many were mechalei Shabbat yet spoke of themselves as Orthodox based on liturgical preferences, sporadic traditional observance and belief coupled with shul membership - and the fact they probably wouldn't set foot in some other synagogue (when anyone might notice). Over several decades (the course of the survey), people decreasingly grasped this unspoken "Orthodox by affiliation" and ecclectic observance - they simply went with other denominations. By the time the self-identifiers were replaced with Orthodox BTs, earlier generations had simply stopped identifying as Orthodox. It makes sense that the "decline" reflects more of a dropping of pretension than actual migration. But I do see migration as a factor in accounting for Jewish America -- young Orthodox make the bulk of those who make Aliyah! - they drop out of a survey applicable to American Jewry, not Orthodox Jewry!

And yet, the final statement was from Dr. Jonathan Sarna - an historian who knows full-well how to analyze such demographic surveys, and has done several lengthy and academic accounts of changes in Orthodox Jewry in America, and the implications of changing self-definition. And he is hardly a triumphalist about Orthodoxy's "success"!

But surely the drop in self-identifying Orthodox is balanced out by all those BTs - or even goes up, considering the higher birthrate within BT families? Even with kids off the derech, shouldn't the fact that they have twice as many kids make up for the loss of a few here and there (compared to the majority of non-observant kids becoming unaffiliated)? But that's just the era and demographic that Rabbi Horowitz speaks on;

My friends, I have no other way to say this other than “we are running out of time.” The kids are finding each other via cell phones, chat groups, Facebook and My Space. They are “making their own minyan.” Many minyanim in fact.

But what of the Boomer BTs themselves?...R. Horowitz continues;

This phenomenon is also playing itself out in a similar manner among frum adults. Just look at the response on my website to Rabbi Becher’s excellent column "Adults at Risk".

I utterly disagree with the claims therein made for the curative power of reading Kiruv books; many BTs are already reading this stuff for years now - and there are adults still at risk for the same reasons the kids are; much of the same kiruv material was being critiqued and undermined already in the 1990s - and a whole world of formerly-frum bloggers and websites is out there for Adults at Risk to find - maybe bump into their kids on! I'm not naming sites where you can read such critiques. So many already know of them.


At 1/19/2010 3:18 PM, Anonymous avakesh said...

Was there an age breakdown? Many of these studies, when adjusted for age show that it is the past generation that predominates in the ones moving away, which they did in their day, and the younger people who have a greater committment than their elders, children at risk notwidstanding.

At 2/03/2010 8:45 AM, Blogger Pierre Sogol said...

many of which studies? The ones 'linked' here? some do have age breakdowns - but I can't dig them up now, since blogger did something really weird with them.

The 'current' response - which is to say the response of the last 20 years - has indeed been to say that the RWMO have gotten more religious, kids are more religious than their parents, kids are "flipping out", etc. - but this has been the era of Kids At Risk, when people are begging for help with their children. For all the special articles in "Jewish Action" about kids "frumming out", how many more are about the kids leaving? before it went under even Jewish Observer was doing pieces on adults at risk. Even my pulpit rabbi piped in two shabbatot ago about THE MAJORITY of Dati Leumi kids at idealistic religious kibbutzim joining elite military units - and becoming frei.


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