Haredi growth absent in talk on Jewish future

The fastest growing demographic in the Jewish world had no representatives on Israeli Presidential Conference panels.

June 20, 2012 22:40
2 minute read.
Malcom Hoenlein at presidential conference panel

Jewish conference panel 370. (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)


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Two panels debating a broad range of issues affecting the Jewish world took place at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, but one hot topic that was recently in the news received little attention.

“It was the elephant in the room,” said Dov Waxman, associate professor of political science at the City University of New York, who was in the audience. “The growing demographic weight of Orthodoxy and ultra-Orthodoxy as revealed in the recent UJA Federation study raises huge and fundamental questions about the Jewish future.

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It has implications for federations to sustain themselves and also huge implications for the future political and cultural orientation of Jewish communities.”

Last week, new data released by the UJA-Federation of New York showed Orthodox and specifically haredi Jews were by far the single fastest growing demographic in the Jewish population of that city. According to the study, the 10 percent increase in the number of Jews living in the New York metropolitan area over the past decade – who now number 1.5 million – was largely due to high birth rates among the fervently religious.

At the same time, the number of people affiliated with Reform and Conservative Judaism dropped and intermarriage rates among secular Jews remained high at about 50 percent.

“We were surprised by how much attention the study has received,” said Steven M. Cohen, the researcher who conducted the survey on behalf of UJA-Federation of New York, and was also attending the conference on Wednesday.

While Cohen’s study has been discussed at length in Jewish media, it was mostly skirted around in Jerusalem on Wednesday, even when it did come up.

During a panel discussion titled “The Challenge of Being Jewish in the Diaspora,” moderator Steve Linde, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, asked Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, about the study’s findings.

“Lets be careful with that study,” replied Jacobs. “It is the New York Jewish community and it is unlike any Jewish community except parts of Israel.”

Jacobs called haredi Judaism a “beautiful and authentic” form of the Jewish faith. He added, however, that non- Orthodox denominations like his own were equally so and should not be discriminated against.

“It’s easier to be Jewish in the Diaspora than a non- Orthodox Jew in Israel,” he said, referring to the exclusion of non-Orthodox rabbis from the religious establishment in Israel, which is dominated by Orthodoxy.

Earlier in the day, the New York study was mentioned in passing on a panel titled “New Interpretations of an Ancient Identity: The Next Jewish Generation.”

But speakers – which included Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; columnist Jay Michaelson and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg – did not comment on it.

Neither panel featured an ultra-Orthodox speaker.

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