The NY Population Study and R. Yisrael Salanter’s Horses

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18 Responses

  1. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I always enjoy Rabbi Adlerstein’s provocative, out-of-the-box analysis, and this article is no exception. I just want to ask if we can really classify heterodox/secular Jewish America as similar to the crumbling of the fortress of Eastern European Judaism. In the case of a few generations ago, there was still hope because secular Jewish couples were still meeting and getting married and raising children. In this generation the birthrate is so low that there will be little to save or bring back. Even an intermarried family holds more hope than the non-existent one. Nobody is going to do kiruv on the child who was never born. That is the real tragedy.

  2. Reb Yid says:

    It is a mistake to group all former Conservative and Reform Jews as “hedonistic”, just as the authors of this blog would remind us that it’s mistaken to group all Orthodox Jews under one label.

    Many of these Jews are searching for meaning. Just because they have not found it in the institutional settings of the denominations does not mean they are not interested in morals, ethics, rituals and beliefs.

    The other big story here is that the Orthodox growth is being fueled by the Chassidim–more than half of all of the Orthodox children are Chassidic. While one can talk about the non-Orthodox being swallowed up by the Orthodox, if present trends continue it will also be the non-Chassidic Orthodox being swallowed up by the Chassidic Orthodox.

    [YA – It’s not the people I characterized as hedonistic, but the general tenor of the society into which they are assimilating. And the thrust of my piece agrees with you, if only as an optimistic projection. Whatever the reasons for falling away from the Jewish community, I believe that many will, at some point in their lives, become interested in morals, ethics and beliefs. I hope that when that happens, the Torah community will be up to the challenge of offering them something attractive.

    The non-Chassidic Orthodox are not going to disappear. There has been significant pushback against the inroads, among people who are still having 6 children per household, and building new schools while others are shutting theirs down.]

  3. Tuvia says:

    I did spend time with Aish Jerusalem years ago – but did not “take the bait,” and become frum.

    This is totally my own opinion, but I believe that kiruv is actually also appealing to our “hedonistic” selves – even as it disparages a world gone mad with pleasure seeking!

    I found that the main idea in kiruv was to experience this ultimate pleasure of being frum. That they tried to lure young folks with promises of a wife, of a life where your career did not matter (perfect for young men who were unsure in that area).

    They also held out the specialness of being Jewish – so your status was already elevated and your pedigree was excellent just by virtue of your being a Jew.

    In short, it tried to promise a shortcut to happiness – but a happiness defined basically in the same way the hedonistic western person defines it!

    This is appealing to the yetzer hora I believe. I ran out of there, even though I was having a great time in many ways. It was a process of seduction and indoctrination, not education.


  4. AA says:

    Um, check your statistics.

    If the non-frum 70% lost 15% of their numbers…they went to 60%…so when the Orthodox went from 30 to 40% it was mostly on the back of the decline in non-frum.

    In other words, we are not gaining so much as the non-frum are losing.

    If everyone abandons Judaism except the Orthodox, is that called ‘winning?’ Absurd. For the non-frum the truth is that religion is LESS AND LESS USEFUL to their lives. Our product is LESS ATTRACTIVE EVERY DAY, and because of the numbers we think we are winning.

    The kiruv movement is NOT increasing its annual conversion rate. So. Enough of the triumphalism…

  5. Dr. Yitzchok Levine says:

    The story you tell about Reb Yisroel Salanter is not completely correct. See the essay on R. Yisroel on the Tzemach Dovid website.

    Other tales, not so widely circulated, are the following, taken from Meoras Hagedolim:

    o When disciples in Lithuania pleaded with him to return from Germany to fight Haskallah, he replied with a parable: A farmer was chasing a team of runaway horses down a hill. He shouted to a man sitting under a tree further down the slope to stop them. The fellow did not respond. Reaching him, the farmer asked him why he made no effort to stop the horses. “Wait here until they reach bottom and I’ll bring them back for you. If I’d have grabbed them on their headlong charge, they’d have dragged me down with them. At the bottom of the hill, their energy is all spent and they can be led back.”

    Said Reb Yisroel: “Lithuanian Jewry is plunging headlong into Haskallah. I cannot grapple with them without being dragged down. The Jews of Germany have reached bottom.”

  6. lacosta says:

    A community that can only survive by having others pay for their spiritual lives is hardly a kiddush Hashem. [and]
    Only if we get our act together, attend to the cracks in our own Orthodox edifice

    ——- could it not be argued that current daas tora mandates some of what we see as problems? eg it mmandates [ at least in israel] secular ignorance, material poverty, strict segragation from the Other, and abolition of any modus of publication not under hermetic askonim control? [ie on point 2 ,
    the blogs are treif precisely because they emphasize there are problems that the powers that be dont /wont/cant acknowledge…]

  7. mb says:

    “There is nothing shameful about poverty; the gemara says that it is appropriate for Klal Yisrael.”

    I can think of many statements from Chazal that say it’s not so lovely.

  8. Neil Harris says:

    R Adlerstein,
    A beautiful essay. You wrote, “They will be looking for something to fill the void, to satisfy their quest for meaning and significance.”

    I think is is why the Mussar Institute has been so successful. Dr. Morinis, his staff, and event faculity are able to communicate and reach those who are seeking to fill the void.


  9. Manny Saltiel says:

    In response to Tuvia’s note, the approach is not not a hedonistic one, quite the contrary. The ultimate joy and pleasure that Rav Noach, ZT”L, always discussed was a spiritual and emotional one, not one filled with physical goodies. “The specialness of being Jewish” indeed raises one’s feeling of significance – I count for something. That’s not hedonistic; that’s recognizing that G-d has a job for each and every one of His children. The “promise [of] a shortcut to happiness” is anything but. It’s hard work. It’s just worth it. And it’s not the yetzer harah you heard, it was your yetzer tov. Your yetzer harah was the voice that convinced you to “ran out of there, even though I was having a great time in many ways.” If you keep reading Rav Adlerstein’s columns, you are getting pure Torah wisdom. And I’m sure Mrs. Adlerstein woujld be willing to serve you dinner, too.

  10. Abe Kohen says:

    The “new” liberals won’t come necessarily from the C or R “movements.” They will, as always, spin off from the UO, O, and MO. You can quote Kohelet on that. Dor holech, v’dor ba …

  11. ARW says:

    I think your the one who needs to check their statistics. What you are saying would only be true if the overall Jewish population declined. However, according to the survey the overall number of Jews in NY grew despite the decrease in the non-orthodox population. Thus the conclusion was exactly the opposite of the one you stated. In reality the growth in the percentage of the Orthodox population was not on the backs of the decline in the non-Orthodox but due to the population growth of the Orthodox.

  12. James says:

    “They will be looking for something to fill the void, to satisfy their quest for meaning and significance.”

    There are plenty of ways to find meaning and significance outside of Torah and just as non-Jews can find meaning and significance without Torah, so can Jews. They will turn to politics, public service, social justice, etc. A life spent in public service can be very meaningful and rewarding.

  13. cvmay says:

    Quite an order for us to fulfill yet we Can & Should but not for the sake of kiruv rechokim rather for the sake of kiruv kerovim.

  14. L. Oberstein says:

    There must be some connection between the NY Population Study and Parshas Korach. Perhaps it is that we engage in short term and eventually unproductive strategies because our judgement is clouded by “negios” ,self agrandizement. Leadership of a sinking ship is still leadership in the short term.
    As I understand it, the American Melting Pot has dissolved most ethnic and even religious differences and melted us into one nation with common values.The orthodox Jews who oppose intermarriage are an anomaly in a society where people change religions for minor reasons, like which church is nearby and more friendly. Ideology means very little to Americans, inclluding Jews.
    The hetrodox are tryng to adapt orthodox strategies, like having a “Kollel” and a “Kallah” and adding more Hebrew and wearing larger prayer shawls, but if the essence is missing, the apurtanences won’t matter.The black hat doesn’t make you frum.
    Time will tell if the rest of us can adapt and survive . In the meantime, Korach heirs cannot admit that they are losing, so they can find another way to push back, like blaming the Chasidim for having too many children. As a parent of many children, I can understand both sides, but we never decided that paying tuition would preventg us from bringing more Yiddishe kinder into this world. Tha is such a goyish idea.

  15. Raymond says:

    In response to a comment made above, I am not quite sure that meaning in life can be found outside of the Torah and its way of life, except to those whose minds are too superficial to contemplate ideas such as meaning of life in the first place.

    Secondly, while I personally have enjoyed most of my experiences with Aish HaTorah, I do have to say that their approach is significantly different from that of people such as Rabbi Adlerstein. Aish HaTorah does paint a picture of the Torah world vs the secular world in precisely the way described by Tuvia above. Rabbi Adlerstein’s approach, in contrast, is not only far more intellectually honest, pursuing the truth wherever it may lead him, but he has never struck me as somebody who sees the Orthodox Jewish world through rose colored glasses. I think that those who did not grow up religious but aspire to be so, may be especially prone to seeing the Orthodox world as some kind of utopia, when in reality, it is maybe just a little bit of an improvement on normal, secular life.

    As for what can bring more Jews into the Orthodox Jewish world, I think a lot of that depends on which kind of person one is addressing. Some of us relish a highly intellectual approach, studying the Torah in depth, as well as the ideas of such people as the Rambam and other Rishonim, the Maharal, Rav Hirsch, Rav Soloveitchik, and other traditional Jewish intellectuals. I know that is the approach I like best. Others may focus far more on its practical aspects, on how it helps ensure happier marriages and better-behaved children. Still others focus on its more emotional aspects, on its ability to make people feel happier and have more hope in their lives. Most of all, though, I think that such a radical transformation in one’s life, has to come from the person himself. Imposing such major life changes from the outside simply cannot last for any significant length of time, and is even likely to be resented after a while. Becoming religious must come from within a person. How such a mindset or passion is ignited in a person, is something beyond anything I will ever understand.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    I thought that the survey’s description of the Orthodox community was seriously flawed and stereotypical in its description of the Charedi neighborhoods of Brooklyn as constituting the Orthodox community. A footnote on the first page of the study proves that the authors defined the NY area in terms at variance with the definition used for official US governmental purposes. I could not imagine a survey of Orthodoxy in the greater NY area that did not begin with the Charedi communities in Orange and Rockland County, the vibrant Beis Medrash of RIETS, the strong MO communities in Teaneck, Bergenfield, West Orange, Highland Park-Edison as well as such strong and vibrant communities as Passaic, the Five Towns and Lakewood, the heartland of the Charedi world in the US. I agree that the results of the survey present a unique opportunity for Kiruv that is non-judgmental and avoids simplistic answers and triumphalistic rhetoric and concentrates on the deeply profound message that Torah Judaism, whether Charedi or MO, is a 24/7 approach to life, regardless of the political, cultural and societal norms of the secular world.

  17. Reb Yid says:

    To Steve Brizel:

    The study only covered the region that constitutes the New York federation’s catchment area. That region happens to be New York City, Long Island and Westchester. “The authors” were working for the NY Federation to conduct a study for their service area…they did not invent the definition of the NY Federation area.

    Totally agree with you that we need to realize what was counted and what was not counted. It is a mistake by the all of the Federations in the NY metro area (as defined by the US census) not to work together to conduct a single study.

    That said, there is no question that within the confines of the NY Federation area, Brooklyn has by far the greatest concentration of Orthodox Jews–it’s no contest. Not to say that other areas in the study such as the Five Towns, Rockaways, Kew Garden Hills, Riverdale, New Rochelle, Washington Heights don’t matter–they do–but Brooklyn dwarfs them all, particularly when factoring in the Hasidic cohort.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    Reb Yid-the above referenced definition is NY Federation’s definition, but IMO, it is hardly descriptive of the Torah observant world in the tri State area.

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