This week’s Forward newspaper features a front page story on the changing demographics of the US Jewry. According to a closer parsing of the Pew survey of American Jews, 27% of Jews under 18 years of age live in Orthodox homes. According to sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Every year, the Orthodox population has been adding 5,000 Jews. The non–Orthodox population has been losing 10,000 Jews.” If this trend continues I suspect American Jewry will hit a tipping point where non–Orthodox Jews will simply cease to be Jews.
But hold on, why imagine that just because we liberals Jews will be in the minority we will stop being Jews? After all Orthodox Jews have been a tiny minority among American Jews for decades and they never abandoned Judaism. Can it be that our faith in our Judaism is less strong and compelling then that of Orthodox Jews?
Yes it can. Orthodox Jews believe that God literally chose the Jews as His (sic) people, and gave them His (sic) Torah, the only true revelation given by God to humanity, and promised them the Land of Israel as their home. Liberal Jews may give lip service to these ideas, but few actually believe them. After all, if we did believe these things, we would live by them, and if we did live by them we would be Orthodox Jews.
So the problem isn’t just that Orthodox Jews have more babies, but that Liberal Jews have less faith. Or, to be more specific, a different understanding of faith, but nevertheless one that I suspect will not cling to the label “Jew” if the Orthodox take control of the brand.
But I could be wrong. Indeed I want to be wrong. So, please share with me your thoughts. If the numbers reverse themselves and 90% of American Jews are Orthodox Jews and only 10% are Liberal Jews, would you, as a liberal Jew (assuming for sake of argument that you are) stay with Judaism or would you find a faith community more conducive to your beliefs?