Voodoo Statistics

Edah, the ultra-Modern Orthodox fringe group whose coterie consists substantially of people who are conservadox or otherwise not Orthodox, is outstanding in both its capacity to attract publicity and its capacity to raise funds. Bashing the rest of Orthodoxy does sell in our media and with some of the super-rich. Still, this fringe organization reached a new low in probity with the issuance of fraudulent data attributed to Jack Ukeles that 75% of Orthodox households are �Modern� and that even in Brooklyn, this is true of a majority of Orthodox households. I guess that holding its latest conference in Temple Emanuel inspired Edah to be fair, tolerant and honest.

I will deal with Ukeles� research in my next Jewish Week article and I also will deal with the collateral contribution by Sam Heilman. Ukeles and Heilman are bedecked with honor and credentials but their work is fraudulent in the extreme. If we accept Ukeles� nonsense, Yeshiva University scarcely exists and certainly not Yitzchak Elchanon. Nor is there anything else that can be labeled as Centrist Orthodox, including dozens of day schools and perhaps the entire Jewish community in places like Teaneck. It is beyond credulity that this kind of stuff can be published and perhaps taken seriously by some.

What has happened here and also in virtually everything that has Edah�s fingerprint is the substitution of ideology for scholarship and for integrity.

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30 Responses

  1. David Brand says:

    Though I frequently disagree with Dr. Schick, I really think he nailed this one. I would add that the far-left has been overrun with a number of (to paraphrase others) “-isms.” Militant feminism, and similar ideologies that look at Orthodoxy and try to reconcilce Orthodoxy with the ideology of those -isms.

    75% Modern?? that’s a joke.

  2. Nachum Lamm says:

    Marvin Schick is misusing terms as he has in the past, splitting “Modern Orthodox” from a creation of his own, “Centrist Orthodox.” They are one and the same, and when Edah says that 75% of Orthodox Jews, they’re including people he would include in both groups. Mostly, of course, the latter. And they’re absolutely correct. So let me ask Mr. Schick this question: What percentage of Orthodoxy would he call “Centrist?”

    And why the “YU” vs. “Yitzchak Elchanan” dichotomy?

  3. Marvin Schick says:

    1. The distinction between Modern and Centrist Orthodox is frequently utilized by someone else named Lamm, specifically Rabbi Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University.

    2. My posting suggested no YU -v- Yitzchak Elchanan dichotomy.

    3. Strangely, Mr. Lamm does not seem to understand the 75% claim. It specifically includes a substantial proportion of those in the Yeshiva World.

    4. Since I have spent an extraordinary amount of time researching and reporting on day schools and trying to fair to all kinds of schools, perhaps Lamm can indicate where I have misused the terms he refers to.

    Marvin Schick

  4. Joe Schick says:

    However one feels about this issue, the term “centrist Orthodox” was frequently used by Norman Lamm to distinguish YU for “modern Orthodox” and is anything but a recent invention.

    In any event, as I posted in detail on my blog, the Ukeles “study” is a joke. Whatever the percentage of “charedim” vs. “modern”, a one question “litmus test” based solely on whether one considers college education to be important is absurd. Furthermore, there is simply no way that a majority of observant Jews in Brooklyn are “modern.” Boro Park, Flatbush, and Williamsburg have massive numbers of charedi shuls and yeshivas, while Brooklyn’s relatively small number non-charedi institutions are not doing well.

    In any event, why did Ukeles and Edah have the need to label people as “charedi” or “modern.” I can say unequivocally that I am neither charedi nor modern, and plenty of other observant Jews feel similarly.

  5. Joel Rich says:

    I have to wonder how you would react to someone who differed with a more right wing organization writing a similarly toned article. We may agree or disagree with Edah’s positions or research without a tone that we would object to if used “against” our own institutions.
    Joel Rich

  6. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Schick:
    If we are to believe that Professors Ukeles and Heilman are issuing false data, or otherwise fudging their numbers, why is it that they are “bedecked with honor and credentials” while your “articles” in the Jewish Week are paid advertisements?

  7. Michael Bleicher says:

    What did Heilman speak about? Will that be included in your article as well, or maybe an upcoming post here at CC?

  8. Observant Observer says:

    Sure, the Ukeles study is a joke, but the big news here is that Edah apparently endorses the view that the defining characteristic of modern orthodoxy is a belief in the importance of a college education.

  9. Nachum Lamm says:

    Rabbi Lamm made it clear that he prefered the term “Centrist” over “Modern” because he felt it was more accurate. He referred to those Mr. Schick calls “Modern” as the “Orthodox Left,” “a small group of intellectuals.” I believe he gave up on “Centrist” after a while, but the two terms were synonomous to him.

    “Certainly not Yitzchak Elchanan” implies that it’s somehow “frummer” than YU, and that both institutions are somehow on the fringe of mainstream Orthodoxy, if they can’t even fit into the remaining 25%.

    As to the 75% including the Yeshiva world, I can certainly see your point, particularly if you include, say, Touro. I’m sure, however, that the methodology is a bit more complicated than that.

    Where else has the phrase “Modern Orthodox” been misused by Mr. Schick? Simple: Not too long ago, he wrote a piece attacking Edah and their ilk. So far, so good. But he continually referred to them as “Modern Orthodox.” Now, let’s be honest: To most of the world, “Modern Orthodox” means YU, the RCA, the OU, etc. etc., not the fringe here. By using a common phrase in a derogatory sense, it’s tarring a large number with a small brush.

    To Joe Schick: First, are you including outer neighborhoods of Brooklyn, in the southeast and southwest? Are you including Syrian and other Sefardi Jews in your count? You’d be surprised how much modernity there is in Brooklyn. Make a study, then we can talk.

    As to labeling- sure, it’s messy and inaccurate. But it’s convenient, and more often than not, speaks to an underlying truth.

  10. Michael Feldstein says:

    edah , the ultra-Modern Orthodox fringe group whose coterie consists substantially of people who are conservadox or otherwise not Orthodox

    That’s an extremely unfair characterization to make. Virtually all of the rabbis who spoke at the Edah conference received their smicha from YU or an equivalent school in Israel, and are either pulpit rabbis or teachers at mainstream Orthodox institutions. Included in this list are incredible Orthodox scholars like Rabbi Shalom Carmy and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, among others. Does Schick honestly believe that YU rabbis are not Orthodox? Or more likely, does Schick believe that by associating with a left-of-center organization like Edah, it automatically makes you non-Orthodox? Either way, his chracterization is both incorrect, insulting, and unfair to a host of Orthodox rabbis who spoke at the Edah conference. Perhaps Dr. Schick can offer an explanation of what he meant by this statement.

  11. Menachem Petrushka says:

    I thought counting Jews was a no no. Something that is counted is not subject to a blessing. Hashem promised Avraham that his children would be like the stars in the heaven countless. Every Jew is a a whole world. I think some people – both Charedi and otherwise – have forgotten the above.

  12. Jay Nudel says:

    Golly. The list of rabbonim who have publicly supported Edah is pretty august: R. Yehuda Amital, R. Shear Yashuv Cohen, R. Yoel bin Nun, R. Simcha Krauss, R. Shlomo Riskin, and various roshei yeshiva from Israeli yeshivot. I believe that even R. Bakshi Doron appeared at one of their conferences. Are we to believe that all these people are “non-Orthodox” or “Conservadox”? That they are merely stupid enough to have been hoodwinked? Yelamdenu Rabbenu.

  13. Observant Observer says:

    Nachum Lamm writes “You�d be surprised how much modernity there is in Brooklyn. Make a study, then we can talk.”
    Okay, YOU’RE ON. let’s use yeshiva enrollment as a proxy for affiliation. Does Mr. Lamm really believe that half of the Orthodox students in Brooklyn yeshivos are Modern Orthodox? I suspect that the chasidic enrollment in Boro Park and Williamsburgh alone exceeds the MO enrollment. So here’s a challenge for Mr. Lamm: What are the MO yeshivos / day schools in Brooklyn? Yeshiva of Flatbush, Magen David, Rambam, to be sure. But what else?

  14. Joe Schick says:

    To Nachum Lamm: First, I am not sure that most Sephardim in Brooklyn would consider college education important. Does that mean that they are “charedi”? For whatever it’s worth, when I attended Brooklyn College in the early 90’s, two Sephardim in a political science class with me told me that they were dropping out of college because their parents insisted that they join the family business rather than waste time in school.

    However, even including the Sephardim and the pockets of non-charedi Orthodoxy (call it centrist, modern, whatever), the charedim are the large majority. How many non-charedi schools exist in Brooklyn anymore? I know there are some, but they are dwarfed by the number of chassidish and yeshivish schools. Even Toras Emes, the elementary school I attended in early-mid 80’s, has moved significantly to the right and now pretty much considers itself charedi.

    Finally, I believe you are wrong that my father used the “modern Orthodox” to refer to Edah. I believe he usually refers to Edah as “ultra-modern” and distinguishes them from the mainstream modern and centrist Orthodox. Personally, I think Rabbi Saul Berman is a nice person (after all he did give me an A in each of two Jewish Law classes I took in law school) and sincere in his endeavors; my father may have a more negative view.

    Also – again speaking for myself – I would have the same negative reaction if at the Agudah Convention, Rabbi Avi Shafran would announce, based on a “litmus test” of, perhaps, whether one deems gemara study to be important, that 75 percent of observant Jews are charedi. The Ukeles “study” was not a study but stupidity. And R. Shafran is to be criticized for actually agreeing that the “litmus test” is sound – as though there aren’t many people who identify as charedi who see college as important. R. Shafran’s response is further evidence of the growing disconnect between many moderate charedim and their purported lay and rabbinical leadership.

  15. Nachum Lamm says:

    The Crown Heights Yeshiva (not in Crown Heights), among others. Flatbush, of course (for example), is pretty big, bigger by far than many of the other schools. And, of course, lots of kids may go to schools outside of the borough. And lots of the “yeshivish” places are full of kids who could hardly be called “charedi.”

    So far, I see nothing scientific, just “Looks like there are a lot chassidim in Brooklyn!”

    Anyway. The statistic cited says 55% Modern in Brooklyn. Accepting some of Mr. Schick’s reservations, let’s lower that to 40-50%. That’s not so unreasonable.

    Of course, if it’s 40-50% in Brooklyn, it’s going to be much more nation- and world-wide.

    To tell the truth, the bean counting can become a bit silly.

  16. Observant Observer says:

    Mr. Lamm:

    You have added only the (relatively small) Crown Heights Yeshiva. You say “among others,” and I do not dispute that others exist. But your difficulty in identifying them highlights the difficulty of your task, and supports the argument that there are not a large number of thriving MO yeshivos in Brooklyn.

    While Yeshiva of Flatbush is a large school, it’s far smaller than the nearly 3000 student B.Y. of Boro Park, and its enrollment is only a fraction of that of (each of the ) Satmar schools in Williamsburgh.

    You also write that “of course, lots of kids may go to schools outside of the borough.” I doubt that many elementary school kids travel to othjer boros. Where do they go? Ramaz? Revel? The numbers just aren’t there.

    Finally, you say that “lots of the �yeshivish� places are full of kids who could hardly be called �charedi.� Wouldn’t you think that the school chosen by the heads of household is a better proxy than a silly “do you or don’t you think college is important” question? Finally, if you think schools are not a proper proxy, how about Shuls? Not too many Orthodox going to shuls in other boros. Do you really think that the MO shuls in Brooklyn have nearly equal membership with haredi shuls?

    After saying that you “see nothing scientific,” you offer to lower the MO estimate “to 40-50%” to account for criticisms. Talk about unscientific. If Ukeles’ study is baseless, it can’t be rehabilitated by whacking 10-15% off the top.

  17. Shawn Landres says:

    The unsupported assertion that someone’s work is “fraudulent in the extreme” is probably libelous according to American civil law, let alone Jewish law and the standards Cross-Currents claims to try to live up to. I do not know Jack Ukeles’s work, but I do know Samuel Heilman’s work. He is a scrupulous social scientist and an orthodox Jew; his research and writing has secured orthodoxy its rightful place in the social scientific study of Judaism and Jewish life. He does not deserve this calumny, so much the less in the absence of any supporting evidence.

  18. Joe Schick says:

    Just to be clear, it really makes little difference what percentage of observant Jews fall into one category or another. The objection is to Edah’s trumpeting of the notion that 75 percent of observant Jews are just like them. Nachum Lamm’s objection to not differentiating beteen non-charedim like Edah and people in YU, etc., is quite apt in that regard.

  19. Nachum Lamm says:

    Joe, you raise an interesting issue in your criticism of R. Shafran. You see, one of the defining characteristics of ultra-Orthodoxy (yes, I know people don’t like that term, but I use it out of default, sorry)- perhaps *the* defining characteristic- is the adherence to the word of gedolim in all matters, or da’as torah. Those who do not adhere to this are often declared beyond the pale. Now, as far as I can tell, da’as torah has never been enthusiastic, to say the least, about a college education (or calling it “important”), for example. So if we’re take the charedi leadership at their word, then yes, those who disagree with R. Shafran do not suffer from “disconnect,” they’re full-blown Modern Orthodox.

    Now, of course, I don’t agree with that evaluation at all. But I think that to a certain extent, the study can’t be faulted for taking da’as torah pronouncements at face value.

  20. Michael Feldstein says:

    I don’t know if importance of attending college should be the litmus test for being Modern Orthodox. (Those who argue against it make some very valid points.) And I don’t know if the right percentage of MO Jews to total Orthodox Jews is 75% or 60% or 50% or maybe even less. However, what seems to be clear is the number of Jews who identify themselves as MO may be higher than what both MO Jews and Chareidi Jews believe, and the perception of MO dying a slow death may be exaggerated if you look strictly at the numbers. However, there’s still a problem within the MO community. What the numbers don’t show (and what Rabbi Berman spoke about in his keynote speech) is the lack of religious passion within the MO community, which work against any majority in numbers that the MO may claim.

  21. Joe Schick says:


    In that case, the “litmus test” should have been whether one believes daas Torah to be very important, important or not important. Besdies, is Edah’s point that 75 percent of observant Jews – including many who prefer to identify as “centrist”, many who are far from charedi but oppose Edah, and many who think they are charedi but aren’t sufficiently shomer daas torah (but abhor Edah even though they know little about it), are all in fact “modern”? What does that even mean?

    As for college being contrary to daas Torah, that’s not entirely true. Some charedi rabbis consider college “very important” because of economic realities (the poll did not ask why one considers college important) and would recommend that charedi students go to Touro or the Lander Center in Queens. So again, if daas Torah is the real “litmus test” then at least ask directly about daas Torah.

    When I refer to the growing disconnect between many moderate charedim and their purported leadership, what I am saying is that to the extent that leadership sees daas Torah as essential, it is undermining itself (and thereby the concept of daas Torah) when it comes up with bans on books and on the Internet, and even on sheitels, etc. The average moderate charedi person in Flatbush, who let’s say works in the city and has interests beyond reading Yated, is ultimately going to sense that certain aspects of rabbinic prounouncements are really essential to charedi hashkafah, while others may not be taken seriously.

    Does this mean that these moderate charedim are not really charedi? Well, they still identify as charedi, and would be shocked if you told them that they were “modern.” But it may be fair to say that many of these moderate charedim, when it comes to issues of support for Israel and its soldiers, enhanced Torah education for girls and young women (even if that doesn’t include gemara study) have been influenced in some way by the historic positions of leading non-charedi rabbis like R. Soloveitchik. But at the same time, these are people who wear black hats, whose wives wear sheitels and whose children would never go to a co-ed school or are even supposed to interact with the opposite gender.

    To a larger extent than those who identify as “modern” or “centrist” or the “charedi” seem to realize, these labels often relate more to culture than to real hashkafah.

  22. Yori Yanover says:

    The surprising bit about the discussion so far is that no one is stopping to ask why it is that so many Jews have been naming themselves Orthodox, an adjective that was slapped on traditional Judaism by the Reform movement centuries ago, and which at the time meant only bad things: conforming to an unyielding dogma, conventional, forbidding. How did the religion of Moses, which set out to revolutionize the world, end up embracing this insult, and even, in this case, fighting to divvy up the territory defined by that unkind word?

    I suspect we turned from �frum� to �orthodox� after the Holocaust, because survival required holding on to something tangible at all costs, including the cost of creativity, humor, and most importantly: freedom. But to see this raging debate over who can count more Orthodox Jews in his camp is to witness a movement approaching a crucial moment in its history.

    A Shomer Shabbat myself, I hesitate to be counted inside any one camp. I daven with charedi Chassidim, but I send my child to a Jewish school outside the strictly Othodox system, and I munch on Rabbanut and OU hechsherim quite shamelessly, occasionally doing the kula on some products. I give to Jewish charities, but I�m also a registered Democrat (a different problem altogether). I worked on the new Reform siddur (until they fired me) and give kvitlech to more than one rebbe. So how am I classified?

    I got news for you: Most of klal Isroel is just like me, not like you. And your effort to increase the isolation and division are self-destructive and, in the end, rife with inconsistencies. For one thing, we are communicating now via a medium which is ossured by a huge chunk of �orthodoxy,� need I say more?

  23. Aharon says:

    “is the adherence to the word of gedolim in all matters, or da�as torah”

    I completely dispute this definition of charedi. I think many charedim don’t pay much mind to “da’as torah” pronouncements and/or question the ability of gedolim to speak on matters on which they may lack information. Da’as torah has been a gateway for essentially chassidic ideas to enter the mainstream yeshiva world. There are many charedim who buy into *very* scaled down versions of da’as torah that essentially amount to respect for talmidei chachomim’s views, not much more. I think that if you questioned many “old-timers” – people whose parents and grandparents were charedi European immigrants – you would find that the closer to the “real McCoy” one gets, the less emphasis on “da’as torah” there is. Da’as torah is a pretty recent import to the American scene.
    On college specifically, there were any number of old time Mirrer who were pretty open to secular education, particularly for women, and who never opposed college per se.
    The major difference between MO and charedi is the priority given to torah in the TUM equation, and whether madah (or synthesis of torah u’madah) is an ultimate ideal.

  24. Nachum Lamm says:

    Granted, but then you have to wonder if such things as labels can apply at all. If you’re going to do studies like this, you need to start at some point. I’d like to see more of their methodology before saying more. (Did they ask about Zionism? Did they ask about secular knowledge, not just “college”?)

    I’d caution against saying “charedi European immigrants.” Concepts like “charedi” and “modern” didn’t exist until well after most immigrants arrived, and didn’t exist in Europe either.

    I think the swipe at Edah raising funds is unwarranted. Let’s be honest- all Orthodox groups raise funds from “the super-rich,” and very often the same donors will give to groups throughout the spectrum, and for varied reasons.

  25. dilbert says:

    I feel compelled to add my voice to those who protest the calumny voiced against Dr. Heilman and Edah. Its one thing not to agree with them, and quite another thing to call them names. If you are so against them, write a column using facts and say why. That might be a lot more persuasive than name calling. It also wouldn’t make you look as bad as this post did. I think your readers are more moved by facts than by polemic.

  26. Larry Yudelson says:

    It’s really very important to slice *all* demographic data by generational cohort.

    Thus, to take a couple of statistics from Ukeles, there are people living in Orthodox households than Reform households in the 8 counties surveyed.

    Similarly, the 75% of Orthodox households categorized as “modern Orthodox” is a lagging indicator, since the overall number of people in the haredi households is larger. It’s not quite 50-50 yet, but it’s heading there.

    So to, it’s important to separate the generations when analyzing discussions of “Modern Orthodoxy.”

    For Ukeles, of an older generation still remembering 1950s Orthodoxy, there is a clash between “modern” and “ultra”, between YU and Lakewood. For him, Edah represents all of the non-Haredi world.

    Obviously, that’s not the case. In the article I wrote for the Jewish Standard, Edah Program Director Rabbi Bob Carroll admitted that Edah ideologically reflects Avi Weiss’ formulation of “Open Orthodoxy.” Without quibbling about the term, the point is that Edah represents one hashkafa, one whose minority status in the Orthdox community can be seen by counting shul rabbis and educational leaders from erstwhile Modern Orthodox communities like Teaneck.

    In other words, Ukeles interpreted his statistics far beyond their actual meaning.

    I’m reasonably convinced that the “is college very important” question serves as an approximate marker for something resembling haredi/non-haredi. Clearly it’s more appropriate for a simple demographic survey than asking about da’as Torah.

    What I like about the question, and the resulting definition of haredi/non-haredi, is how well it captures the realities of the changes in the Orthodox community over the past couple of generations. Much of the “shift-to-the-right” has happened within various communities. Second and third generation YU students may be frumer in hashkafa etc than their ancestors, but are they running off to learn in kollel? Do they feel they have broken with their parents’ Orthodoxy, or just fulfilling it more?

    Let me put this another way: I think the college question serves to capture the two different (pardon the expression) edot in the New York Orthodox community. By edot, I mean communities which maintain some of the sort of continuing deliniations once ascribed to European ethnic origin. These may prove as transitive as Polish ethnicity in America has become, or perhaps not.

  27. Joe Schick says:

    While I disagree that the college question was a good one, Reb Yudel (a/k/a Larry Yudelson) makes an obvious but important point: A distinction between households and people. However one defines charedi and modern, there are obviously more children in a charedi household than a modern household. Yet Gary Rosenblatt’s Jewish Week article was headlined “Modern Orthodox Outnumber Haredim Here” and included a statement that “the Modern Orthodox are the largest segment by far of the Orthodox population in New York, according to a leading sociologist.” The Ukeles study only measured households, not individuals.

    Getting back to the college question, even if Reb Yudel is right, who in a household is to determine whether college is important? Is every frum household a monolith?

  28. Esther says:

    One comment regarding using day school as an indicator of where a family is holding. In many communities outside of NY, there are two schools – one “charedi” and one “modern.” I know many families choose based on a specific aspect of one or the other — and often it is simply because one school is co-ed and the other isn’t. So a lot of families, like our own, end up in the right-wing school simply to avoid mixed classes, but that does not mean we fall into that group.

  29. Larry Yudelson says:

    Interesting. Esther sees herself as non-haredi, but wants a school without mixed classes. From a sociological point of view, her self-perception is significant: She is sociologically ‘modern Orthodox’ but ideologically has accepted a classic ‘haredi’ position.

    Back to Edah: Edah was formed for the ideological struggle within the ‘modern’ community. (Which is presumably why the refuse to accept my proposed backronymn, Educationg Dati’im Against Haredim).

    As to Joe’s question: Who speaks for the household is an issue for all questions. Generally, it’s whoever answers the phone. The Ukeles study — which is the UJA-Federation 2002 New York Population Study — measured both households and population. Ukeles highlighted the Modern Orthodox *household* number, but he had the *population* number up his sleeve also.

  30. Joe Schick says:

    Esther: Isn’t your comment an indication that many people cannot neatly be placed into one of two categories? And even if you do not fall into the charedi group, the fact that you want to avoid co-ed classes is, at the very least, a rejection of Edah’s brand of modern Orthodoxy.

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