25 bTammuz
The future of the Jewish people is in copper mirrors!

That is what I would tell several dozen world Jewish leaders who are convening right now in Jerusalem in order to figure out how the Jewish people can survive and thrive. Under the aegis of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, dozens of top Jewish leaders are meeting now to figure out how to keep the Jewish people from shrinking/disappearing through intermarriage and low birth rates. You can follow the schedule and see some sessions on video.
To use an Israeli expression, Orthodox women “hayu kvar b’seret hazeh” – they have been in this movie before. The future of the Jewish people was hanging by a thread during the enslavement in Egypt. Orthodox women today uphold as their role models those Israelite women during the Egyptian enslavement who represent female empowerment. The midrash Tanhuma explains that when the men were distanced from marital life, the women went into the fields where their exhaused husbands were laboring and enticed the men using their copper mirrors, fried fish & chips, and enough wine to arouse the spouse’s desire. Rashi comments that this assertiveness was Divinely rewarded and the women were blessed with super-fecundity, expressed in the hyperbole “shisha b’keres echad” – that they gave birth to six at a time. The copper mirrors were subsequently incorporated into the basin in the Tabernacle and Temple: “Moses made the basin and its stand from the copper mirrors of the women who raised crowds” of chidren. (Rashi on Ex.1:7 and 38:8).

If I were invited to explain at this conference what would ensure our future, I would give a lecture centered around this midrash. What puzzles me is how the leaders, bright and analytical, can miss the answer that is staring them in the face: give every encouragement to those women, mostly in the Orthodox sector, who want to raise large families. Give them the modern equivalent of copper mirrors.

To see a graphic explanation of what the future has in store, see the website “Will your grandchildren be Jews?” The chart there shows that 100 haredi Jews today will become 3401 Jews four generations from now, while 100 Reform Jews will become 10 in that same time span.

If I were a business owner and wanted to expand my business, I would look at and emulate other businesses that are thriving and succeeding. If I were a Martian and I were asked how to ensure the future of the Jews, I would examine closely what the centrist and haredi Orthodox have done and are doing, since it is there that we find neglibile intermarriage, early marriage, large families, low divorce.

Why is this obvious to me, and not to the Jewish People Policy Planning participants ?

There are numerous articles in the papers delineating the conundrums they will tackle. Shmuel Rosner writes about the conference in “Policy Planning Institute: The future of the Jewish people is not assured.” (Strangely, the photo currently on the Haaretz website illustrating Rosner’s article shows a haredi classroom. Somebody realizes that this is the one place the future is assured.)

Prime Minister Olmert’s address to the conference was discussed in Haaretz and generated 500 talkbacks. “Olmert at Jewish conference: Not all Jews want to make aliyah”
R. David Eliezrie poses an excellent question in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post: “A policy conference without haredim?”

And the Jerusalem Post (25 bTamuz) also reported that the “Jewish Continuity conference rapped over absence of haredim”

All day long I have been pondering – why is the solution clear to me and not to others?

P.S. For a start, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, could add Hebrew dates to the conference announcement on their website. Sadly, I could not find a single Hebrew date there.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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23 Responses

  1. rejewvenator says:

    First, let me applaud you for acknowledging that “six at a time” may be taken as hyperbole, not literal fact – though without taking it literally it’s a lot harder to figure out how 70 people became 2-3 million. A problem for another day.

    While it’s true that the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute might do well to consider Orthodox Judaism successes in breeding, that success is to no small extent dependent on the existence of non-frum Jews who, in Israel, create the economic infrastructure that allows for such high birthrates by providing 1st-world nutrition, medical care, and sanitation. In America it’s the Gentiles upon whom we rely for all that.

    As for population trends, the problem is that they never hold steady. Remember the population bomb that was supposed to overwhelm the earth in the 1970s? The truth is that no future is assured, not in the Hareidi cheder (classroom), the Modern Orthodox day school, the Conservative Hebrew school, or the Reform Temple school. Always, our future is hinged on what Hashem thinks of us. If the Conservative and Reform won’t look at the obvious recent success of Orthodoxy in order to learn lessons, you have to ask yourself why – is it truly because they are stubborn and refuse to accept Hashem, or is it just that they reject us? Maybe we are failing to be something that others would aspire to be, except in our fecundity. That’s a deeply unsettling notion, but I think it hews closer to the mark.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    it is well known that those who purport to be “experts” in the area of Jewish demographics studiously ignore and undervalue Torah observant communities-across the hashkafic spectrum.

  3. Dr. E says:

    Without getting into the merits of the content or approach of the aforementioned conference, what bothers me is that Mrs. Schmidt makes a purely quantitative demographic argument. This is overly simplistic and frankly smacks of Orthodox triumphalism. While it may be true that increased numbers play a role in facilitating greater Jewish continuity, it ignores important qualitative aspects. One could read her post and conclude that there are no problems in the Orthodox Jewish Community. Anyone on the front lines knows that this is simply not the case. There is divorce, an aging singles population, and dysfunctional Orthodox families. On the spiritual/religious side, there is rote Mitzvah observance and divisions of cliques that divide us.

    So, in addition to us all running to buy copper mirrors for ourselves and our children, let’s also try to pay attention to building qualitatively better Jewish communities–with the appropriate infrastructure, support systems, educational systems, and achdus. And if we can’t figure out how to do it individually, maybe we need to hold a conference for that–either exclusively Orthodox or (gasp) inclusively pluralistic (with both Hebrew and English dates listed, of course).

  4. joel rich says:

    Linear extrapolation of current trends is almost always wrong.

    I’ve been told that the increase percentage in the divorce rate among frum couples over the last 15 years exceeds that among non-frum couples (because the frum rate was so low to start with). Using your methodology would you predict that the vast majority of frum couples will be divorced in 4 generations? What percentage of the world population should be frum now if someone had applied your methodology to bayit sheni population statistics.

    Let’s accept your methodology. Bderech Hateva what will the demographics of the economy, workforce and defence of the state of Israel look like in 2 generations?



  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Shira Schmidt: All day long I have been pondering – why is the solution (Torah and mitzvos) clear to me and not to others?

    Ori: Because if that’s the only solution they might as well pack up their bags, go home, and never travel at their organizations’ expense again. There are enough people who engage in Orthodox kiruv, and who do a competent job of it. A predominately Heterodox group like the one assembled by the JPPPI is not going to provide any value there.

    The only thing they can do is to find other ways of preserving the Jewish people, ways of keeping Jews who do not want Torah veMitzvot in the fold. You can argue that that’s impossible. But since they themselves are non observant and they do care about the future of the Jewish people, they won’t believe you.

    I believe they should start with: “why do I care about the Jewish people”, followed by “why should my children/grandchildren care about the Jewish people”, BTW.

  6. Charles B. Hall says:

    That famous chart of how charedim will dominate does not seem to be born out in actual numbers. In the United States, the number of self-identified Orthodox Jews declined 13% between 1971 and 2001 according to the Jewish Population Surveys done each year. (Reform declined by the same rate; Conservative declined 50%.) And in Israel, Ashkenazic charedi political parties and religious Zionist political parties do not get a significantly larger fraction of the vote than they received in the 1950s. This is worthy of examination by our religious leaders even if the participants at the conference mentioned in the article don’t care about religious communities.

  7. mycroft says:

    Linear extrapolation of current trends is almost always wrong.

    I’ve been told that the increase percentage in the divorce rate among frum couples over the last 15 years exceeds that among non-frum couples (because the frum rate was so low to start with). Using your methodology would you predict that the vast majority of frum couples will be divorced in 4 generations? What percentage of the world population should be frum now if someone had applied your methodology to bayit sheni population statistics.

    Let’s accept your methodology. Bderech Hateva what will the demographics of the economy, workforce and defence of the state of Israel look like in 2 generations?



    Comment by joel rich

    Joel is absolutely correct. There are losses in the Chareidi community too. Obvious example-the Israeli Knesset has approximately the same amount of seats controlled by Chareidis as there were in 1950. I am leaving out Shas-which is essentially a Sefardi ethnic party.
    In the US using the birth rate one sees in Williamsburgh, Square Town, etc toi the Chareidi population in 1950-one would xpect much more.

    Just before Churban Bayit Sheni there were anywhere from 3 million to 10 million Jews in the world. Assimilation happens.

  8. mycroft says:

    it is well known that those who purport to be “experts” in the area of Jewish demographics studiously ignore and undervalue Torah observant communities-across the hashkafic spectrum.

    Comment by Steve Brizel

    Disagree-I believe CHarlie Hall posted about how he compared the tapes of the National Jewish Census for Riverdale and its surroundings and found that the tapes listed a few more Orthodox Jews than belonged to all the schuls in the area.

  9. Michoel says:

    Dr. E writes: “‘One’ could read her post and conclude that there are no problems in the Orthodox Jewish Community.”

    You remind me of Rashi on Avimelech saying that “echad ha’am” could have slept with Sarah. No-one without an agenda would read her words that way.

  10. Reb Yid says:

    The “projections” are foolish, as others have noted. If you had done that in 1870, one would have predicted that all US Jews 50 to 100 years later would be Reform. If you had done that in 1920 or even 1950, one would have predicted the disappearance of Orthodox Jews in American 50 to 100 years later.

    There’s simply too much that can change in the interim.

    It is clear that in the short term, the percentage of affiliated Jews that are Orthodox will increase–but beyond that, all bets are off.

    What no-one has addressed in this thread is the relatively high poverty rate associated with the chareidi and chasidic communities, which in turn is associated with the high birth rates (among other factors).

    I would hope that no Jewish organization–whether sectarian Orthodox or broad-based communal–would have as its sole or primary focus “Just Say Yes” (l’havdil).

  11. HILLEL says:


    Your analysis is right on target. Please allow to state it a little differently:

    The purpose of this conference is to find ways of providing Jewish continuity WITHOUT BEING JEWISH–live like a non-Jew and callyourself a Jew. This is known variously as “Gefilte-Fish Judaism” or “Cardiac Judaism (A jew at heart)”

    It can’t work, because, by all historical standards, the Jewish people in exile from their homeland, should have disappeared centuries ago. It is only through G-D’s miraculous hand that we have survived. Those who reject G-D in favor of gentile culture, will go the way of the Egyptians, the Romans, and Greeks.

    Here is Mark Twains famous analysis of the process:

    …To conclude. – If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent. of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star-dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

    He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

    The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

  12. TobyKatz says:

    The Jewish People who lack Torah have made a collective decision to commit suicide by not marrying and not having children. Oddly enough, this decision on their part coincides with the Divine Will.

    It is not His will that there should be a Jewish people without Torah.

    In the Torah, Hashem made a promise of Eternity to the Jewish people, but the promise was to those who actually believe in the Torah.

    Take yourself out of the covenant and you are no longer part of Eternity. I say good-bye, but I do so with a heavy heart. I feel no “triumphalism” towards those of my own blood cousins who never had children — I feel pain for them.

    And the way I feel about my own flesh and blood relatives is the way I feel about the Jewish people in general, dying out by virtue of their own collective decision not to reproduce. Evidently our Conform brothers and sisters have collectively decided that the Jewish People as a People is not worth preserving.

  13. Aryeh says:

    “It is clear that in the short term, the percentage of affiliated Jews that are Orthodox will increase—but beyond that, all bets are off.”
    Short-term (20-30 years) is good. I’ll take that over a model that doesn’t work at all. Is the JPPPI trying to find a model for the next 50 years?

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft-WADR to DR Hall, who is well known to all of our dear friends from Pelham Parkway, Riverdale is but one frum community and is predominantly MO in orientation. Until the demographers start looking at Torah centers ranging from the Five Towns and Bergen County to Lakewood in their studies, I will stand by my critique that the demographers systematically undercount and fail to look at the Torah world.

  15. Bob Miller says:

    In the end, all the misguided attempts to define and cure the problem will fail, with or without our own comments or participation.

    Through instruction and personal example, Torah Jews should continue and strengthen Torah-based efforts to inspire Jews to climb on board. It’s not in our hands to create a timetable for success, only to address the situation with intelligence and commitment.

  16. Jonathon Ament says:

    To Steve Brizel:

    The demographers are well aware of the Orthodox communities you mention, and some of the demographers themselves are shomer mitzvot.

    All recent national and local demographic studies make sure that no telephone calls are conducted on Shabbat or Jewish holidays (incidentally, there are some who argue that if anything this is a potential bias against non-Shomer Shabbat Jews, if all one cared about was obtaining a scientific, representative and random sample).

    In the Monmouth County demographic study, an additional phone list was compiled of Distinctive Sephardi Surnames (as opposed to the broader Distinctive Jewish Names list used in many other studies) to capture Syrian or Sephardi Jews in the Deal area who otherwise might have been missed.

    Before NJPS 2000-01, we ran a pre-test of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform households to test the contentions of some (after NJPS 1990) that Orthodox households were less likely than others to respond to a demographic study of the Jewish population conducted by phone. The results of the test: No differences.

    In fact, there are some researchers out there who are arguing that Orthodox Jews are OVERrepresented in demographic studies. They claim the growing proportions of cell-phone only users (single Jews in their 20s and 30s) are missed by current demographic studies. They claim that since Orthodox Jews are more likely to be married and having someone at home in the evening, that there’s a GREATER likelihood that Orthodox Jews are being reached than other Jews. The jury is still out on this claim, but it’s important to realize that the issue here is much more complex than what appears at first glance.

    Other communities with significant “frum” populations like Ocean County (Lakewood), Rockland County (NY) and Orange County (NY) have never actually conducted demographic studies, so that’s part of the reason why we don’t know as much as we should (although see recent NYTimes article from this month from US government data that Kiryas Joel and New Square were 2 of the 3 fastest growing communities in NY State during the past few years).

    Understand that Orthodox communities themselves by and large don’t make this a priority–indeed discourage it, mostly in my opinion for a variety of historical reasons (one could argue the extent to which these reasons should preclude a “count” today).

    But it has nothing to do with demographers “ignoring” Orthodox Jewish communities.

  17. Eytan Kobre says:

    To Mr. Ament:

    1) You write: “The demographers are well aware of the Orthodox communities you mention, and some of the demographers themselves are shomer mitzvot.” Since I’m newly committed to following the JTA/Joe Friday “just the facts, ma’am” philosophy, could you elaborate on which demographers you are referring to and what percentage of them are a) shomer mitzvot (by which I assume, given the context, you mean Orthodox) and b) fervently Orthodox (this latter figure is also relevant given the demonstrable bias certain modern Orthodox sociologists regularly display towards their fervently Orthodox brethren; ample examples provided upon request).

    2) Could you elaborate (since you evidently were personally involved) on the nature of the pre-test run prior to NJPS 2000-01 to test Orthodox participation, and which areas and types of Orthodox Jews were contacted?

    3) You write that “the jury is still out on the claim” that Orthodox Jews are overrepresented in demographic studies. I find this a fascinating contention, and might yet write about it. a) Who are these researchers and b) how would their contention be proved right or wrong?

    4) You write: “Other communities with significant “frum” populations like Ocean County (Lakewood), Rockland County (NY) and Orange County (NY) have never actually conducted demographic studies, so that’s part of the reason why we don’t know as much as we should. I’m confused — does this mean other communities have dome such studies; I thought all the data we have comes from the NJPS, which covered all communities? Please clarify.

    5) You write: “Understand that Orthodox communities themselves by and large don’t make this a priority—indeed discourage it, mostly in my opinion for a variety of historical reasons (one could argue the extent to which these reasons should preclude a “count” today).” I’m confused again — what is it that Orthodox communities don’t make a priority, and actually discourage?

    I assume you’re not referring to participation in surveys, for if so, you would have cited that as a counterargument to the researchers you cited earlier who claim the Orthodox are overcounted; what then are you referring to? Also, please clarify what you meant in the parenthetical sentence.

    6) In the final analysis, how have you demonstrated the truth of your concluding assertion that “it has nothing to do with demographers ‘ignoring’ Orthodox Jewish communities”?

    7) Lastly, on an unrelated note, why is it that you sometimes post comments using your real name and at other times (sometimes regarding the same post!) you use an assumed name (have no fear, I won’t blow your cover — I detest Richard Armitage)? Just wondering.

  18. Jon Baker says:

    Ms Schmidt has perhaps read “How to lie with statistics”? If not, she should – everyone who ever sees poll results should.

    I’m no demographer, but there are lots of other factors in community continuity beyond birthrate. The biggest is mobility between communities. That is, what percentage go “off the derech”? For what reason – economic, intellectual, social? What might influence these factors in the future?

    Take my father’s mother’s parents. You’d probably describe them as “chareidi” – traditional European Orthodox, his brother seems to have been chassidish, they baked the matza for their town in addition to being musicians.

    Their children – well, all the boys but one went to the St. Petersburg Conservatory. How can you become a professional musician outside of a Jewish context without violating Shabbat? All of the 13 children became non-observant, one even being raised Xtian by his father (his mother married out, then died young). At this generation, many are intermarried, very very few that I know are religious, and that through becoming more religious than their parents. There are hundreds of us in my generation; most seem to be intermarried or children of intermarriages.

    The brother who was probably chassidish – that’s my father’s father’s father – well, a couple of us are religious, again through being BTs. I think one great-aunt may have stayed religious in this country.

    My mother’s side? My mother’s mother’s parents were probably what you’d call Modern Orthodox; since they married about 1893, these distinctions didn’t exist yet. That side of the family included some fairly major figures in American prewar Orthodoxy, albeit few rabbis (Israel Goldfarb, Joseph H. Cohen). They stayed more traditional, growing up in the US rather than Russia.

    I think 6 of the 9 children (8 girls, one boy) married Orthodox, and remained so after marriage. Several of us attended Ramaz (a Mod-O yeshiva). Even so, I think only R___ is still Orthodox all the way down in direct line (parents, grandmother, great-grandparents). T___ and L___ (sister/brother) are observant-conservative (when Terry’s oldest son looked for marriage, to find another observant-conservative person he married a rabbi). Others are Conservative of one stripe or another. Very few intermarriages, and where they exist, the children (of Jewish mothers) are being raised Conservative – conscious of their Judaism. One of the intermarried mothers even raised her daughters kosher and shomer shabbos. Two others of us are BTs – from Conservative or Reconstructionist parents.

    Hmm, from that family, 9 children, 6 married Orthodox, 1 married non-religious, 1 married anti-religious, 1 intermarried.

    Next generation: (key: I(ntermarried, O(rtho, C(onservative, oC – observant C, nR – nonReligious)

    M__ 2 daughters, both married, no issue;
    J__ 2 daughters, each had 2 kids, of those four only one is married with children, and that’s I,C;
    C__ 3 children, one died young, one I w/o issue, one is Mom – with 3 kids, two nR, one me, and we have no kids.
    A__, two sons, both gay, one deceased. (Her husband, BTW, while anti-religious, was still booted out of the Manhattan Project for being too consciously Jewish – he asked too many questions about what was happening to the Jews of Europe).
    S__, one daughter, who married O, her two children, one O, one I yet observant, they have three children among them.
    H__, I, no issue
    J__, married O, no issue
    M__, married O, one son, he still hasn’t married at 48.
    B__, married O, son/daughter oC (one married R, one married anti-religious, oC is the compromise position). Each has 3 sons. Son’s eldest is a BT, lives in Israel, 2 kids; son’s youngest married C, 1 kid so far. Daughter’s eldest married a C rabbi (they attend a Mod-O shul). Rest not married yet.

    So to summarize:
    9 children, 5 O, 1 I, two no issue;
    13 grandchildren, 1 O, 3 oC, 7 no issue;
    15 great-grandchidren, 3 O, 2 oC, 2 I, 4 no issue;
    (so far) 12 great-great-grandchildren, 3 O, 1 oC, most too small to characterize yet.

    My father’s family isn’t so close, so I hardly know any of them, except one BT cousin in Israel. But I know a lot of them intermarried; looking at a family tree posted on, and having gotten the occasional invite to a “Fishberg Family Reunion” always in Florida, always on a Shabbos, in some open park so I can’t even just be in the hotel with them. I mean, look at my father. His parents, both raised frum, my grandfather cut off his payess at his bar-mitzva, they had 3 children and 10 grandchildren, 5 of whom are Xtian; of the other 5, 1 intermarried (briefly), 1 Reform (2 boys), 2 non-religious, and myself.

    So don’t take these pseudo-demographic “Chareidim have more kids, therefore there will be zillions of them in a hundred years” arguments seriously. There are all kinds of factors.

  19. thanbo says:

    A longer comment was refused admission, so here’s a summary:

    Ms. Schmidt’s analysis leaves out a lot of factors, such as socioeconomic pressures, inter-movement movement, etc.

    Some anecdotal evidence: my great-grandparents (for people who lived 100 years ago).

    One pair, raised frum in Ukraine, musicians and matza bakers – their hundreds of great-grandchildren include only two Orthodox ones that I know of, myself and a professor in Israel. Many are intermarried or children of intermarriage.

    Another pair, more-or-less Modern Orthodox, from a family that includes a few major figures in pre-WW2 American Orthodoxy (R’ Israel Goldfarb, Joseph H. Cohen), out of 15 great-grandchildren, 3-4 are Modern Orthodox, and a few others are highly observant Conservative.

    So percentage-wise, my sorta-Modern-Orthodox great-grandparents are doing better than my frummie Eastern European great-grandparents, although neither is doing all that great.

    Another factor that contributes to lack of complete spread-out of descendents – infertility. In each generation, there have been several members who were infertile in my mother’s family.

    So life is a dice-game. Send your kids to yeshiva, and hope for the best. Crude demographics such as the website cited by Ms. Schmidt, while they reek of Orthodox triumphalism, tell us little beyond that most people are easily fooled by statistics.

    Yes, I know a few families that can look back to a distinguished rabbinic ancestor, where many stay religious. But those seem few and far between.

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jon Baker and thanbo (if they are separate people) point to an important phenomena. A hundred years ago Charedi retention rates were low. If I understand the Orthodox writers on this site, today they are a lot higher.

    Why? Are the high retention rates expected to continue?

  21. Aryeh says:

    “Why? Are the high retention rates expected to continue?”
    We can rarely see the future with ANY degree of accuracy more then 20-30 years ahead, but speaking regards the 20-30 years and perhaps longer..
    The reason why we expect things to continue is because they always have. Meaning, Jewish people’s retention rates have historically been high. We had a system that worked. Now about 200 years ago the system started breaking down as it was built to cope with the one challenge, mostly from without (other religions) and suddenly faced another one, mostly from within(secularism it its various forms). It took Klal Israel another 100-150 years to work out methods (more then one!)of dealing with this challenge and applying these methods to those who were left (by definition the strongest) so far has produced a high retention rate.
    Perhaps, there will be another challenge coming up, but if it will be it’ll take some time to develop itself. Secularism, after all, didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere. It started out with Mendelsohn and took another 100 years to destroy the Jews of Central Europe and then another 50 after that to spread to Eastern Europe.
    Right now, IMHO, there’s no new ideological threat on the horizon, so we’re safe for the next 50 years or so.
    Another aspect of this is that the trend is going our way. Meaning there are more Baalei Teshuvah than there are people that go off the derech. Or at least that’s the perception. It’s cool to be frum now. Whereas 100 years ago it was cool to be a Zionist/Socialist. And this weakens even more the danger of another ideological challenge from within, especially as the baalei teshuva tend to be from the higher strata of secular society (at least here in the US), whereas those who go off the derech tend to be from the lower strata of the religious society.
    To summarize, there’s a story that Chafetz Chaim once said about the situation in his time: “People say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But not if there’s a strong wind blowing.” It blows the other way now. Surely this is no chance, the Torah tell us at the end of sefer Devarim that the Jewish people will do Teshuva and we are living through this prophecy.
    That said, we never know what the future brings. Our job is to do what Hakodosh Boruch Hu asks us to do, with hishtadlus “lfi hapshat b’enav” in the words of Chovos HaLvovos.
    P.S. I personally am very skeptical about this whole JPPI thing and what they can come up with, but if they manage to stem the tide of assimilation and increase the secular birthrate, it would be a good thing. Although I think they’d be better spending their money investing in kiruv and free Jewish day school education.

  22. thanbo says:

    Jon Baker == thanbo. The first post sat in moderation for two days, so I figured it had been rejected, and posted the second, shorter post.

    Aryeh: you miss the point. It’s not just Big Ideological Threats. The Emancipation wasn’t an ideological threat, it was a social change – Jews were allowed to become citizens of the larger society. But in order to function in larger society, many felt they had to give up shabbos and kashrus. The intelligent ones, such as Mendelssohn, saw no necessary conflict between shemiras hamitzvos and being part of the larger society, but too many, whose attachment to Yiddishkeit was probably pretty weak to begin with (mostly going through the motions, rather than thinking about why they do what they do), fell away.

    Even today, one sees surveys showing that many, up to 40%, of Orthodox even in the past 20-30 years fall away to C/R or, more commonly, to nothing at all. The siren call of the open society has not abated. The phenomenon has only begun to be addressed, between the Jewish Observer’s very recent concentration on “kids at risk” (help them, rather than boot them out of yeshiva after yeshiva), and books such as “Off The Derech” are beginning to document the phenomenon.

    But Orthodox society has not yet truly addressed the problem of retention. Kiruv is not the answer – it helps, every little bit helps, but perhaps 10% come in through kiruv, while 40% leave – it’s a huge net loss.

    Ideological threats, such as Chassidus and Enlightenment in the 18th century, drew people away from the nascent Yeshivish ideology, but did not necessarily draw them away from observance. Zionism did not draw people away from observance, so much as tap into the already-nonobservant to give people some sense of positive Jewish consciousness. As you can tell, I strongly disagree with those who blame Ben-Gurion for the loss of millions of Jewish souls.

    But as many have said, the mind is a great tool for rationalizing decisions that the heart has already reached. Social pressures, personality, culture touch the heart; ideology gives justification for the heart’s decision to leave or enter.

  23. Charles B. Hall says:

    Regarding the under- or over-counting of Orthodox Jews, there was a census done by Dr. Marvin Schick several years ago that found approximately 200,000 children in Orthodox schools in the United States. That seems consistent with the approximately National Jewish Population Survey estimate of a total approximately 520,000 self-identified Orthodox Jews.

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