Serious Questions About the Pew Report on American Jews
The Pew Research Center has become the gold standard for demographic research in the United States. Its just-issued report on American Jews has already attracted much attention and the discussion is certain to increase in the coming weeks and months. It is at one level remarkable that Pew was able to produce this comprehensive study in a little more than a blink of an eye, while the last National Jewish Population Survey took more than a year to conduct and then was a mess.
There is much to be admired in the document produced by Pew. But there are also question marks, many specifically relating to the Orthodox. We are told that we constitute ten percent of American Jews. Almost amazingly, this statistic hasn’t changed much over the past thirty-forty years. The explanation given is the high attrition rate among the Orthodox, an explanation that was valid in 1970 but certainly is no longer valid. The figure is certainly higher than ten percent, especially when we consider fertility rates and what I have reported re enrollment in yeshivas and day schools.
There is no acknowledgement in the Pew report of the hyper-insularity of chassidim and many other Orthodox Jews, a dynamic factor that reduces their participation in survey research. Nor is there any indication that the researchers made any special effort to engage insular Orthodox Jews. Pew went to considerable expense to train interviewers who would reach out to Russian Jews in their native language. No effort was made re chassidim.
I imagine that thirty or forty years hence, when Pew or other demographers will conduct still another survey of American Jews, we will be told once more that we are about ten percent of the population, with the writers of the report giving lucid but inaccurate explanations as to why the needle has not moved.
Additionally, Pew’s use of “ultra-Orthodox” is offensive and it is not any less offensive because the NY Times and others use the term. The Times has never been the standard to determine how to write accurately or ethically about American Jews. No other ethnic group has the appellation of “ultra” attached to it. Muslims who have branches immersed in violence are not so described.
We are told that thirty-five percent of American Jews identify as Reform. The only way that this statistic can be remotely accurate is if it is a default response, meaning that it is the closest category describing a great chunk of American Jewry which scarcely has a scintilla of connection with religious life. So far as I know, there is no category called “ultra Reform.”
There are other question marks relating to this research, some of which have been touched on by Rabbi Adlerstein. What concerns me is that the Pew report will be taken by many within the Jewish community and in the general society as the absolute truth about American Jewish life. The defects in the research will not be sufficiently challenged by this post or by Rabbi Adlerstein’s. There needs to be a more organized scholarly analysis that demonstrates where Pew has failed.
“The defects in the research will not be sufficiently challenged by this post or by Rabbi Adlerstein’s. There needs to be a more organized scholarly analysis that demonstrates where Pew has failed.”
Who would do such an analysis? Presumably there would need to be funding for such a project. And is the bigger job the research to find the faults with the Pew study or the PR work needed to publicize the analysis in venues which will be widely read? Is this a job for the “Orthodox Community Think Tank” proposed in the first issue of Klal Perspectives?
I’ll be one of those who will have plenty to say about this study, both for what it shows as well as its limitations.
Marvin Schick is, of course, correct in pointing out that, in general, it’s certainly not a good idea to rely on only source of information to gain an understanding of an issue.
The truth is that the Orthodox component has risen, even if Pew and other observers have not stated as much. The NJPS 2000 also had the Orthodox at 10%, but that was of a smaller base that was asked the question, representing 4.3 million Jews. The Pew’s 10% is of a larger base–all respondents were asked this question, representing 5.3 million Jewish adults (they don’t make it explicit if it also includes their children, which would increase the base even further).
So in absolute numbers the Orthodox have grown. And they have yet to break down the total population by adults and children–I have little doubt the proportion of Orthodox children among all US Jews will be two to three times the proportion of Orthodox adults among US Jews.
And we can turn to Marvin Schick himself for explaining another factor why the Orthodox rise is not more pronounced, at least proportionally. Most scholars and researchers believe the NJPS undercounted certain segments of the population–younger, non-Orthodox Jews. In fact, Marvin Schick’s own Day School Census was trotted out to show that this tended to skew some of the NJPS data about day schools and the Orthodox. In other words, the 10% in 2000 might have been smaller had more Jews been counted.
Almost amazingly, this statistic hasn’t changed much over the past thirty-forty years.
Not so amazing:
1. Aliya is almost all drawn from orthodox population. Yes, it’s a small number, but also drawing from a small population.
2. Orthodox tend to marry each other, so 100 orthodox kids results in only 50 orthodox families. Non-orthodox marry out 71% of the time, so 100 non-orthodox kids results in 85 non-orthodox families.
3. Non-orthodox consider non-halachic Jews as Jews in their numbers. Among reform, this is a large number already, among conservative also growing.
Those secular Jews and gentiles who choose to like us traditional Jews, will like us, and those determined not to, will not. No study or poll taken, even by Pew Research, will ever change that.
Dr. Schick has used facts and logic, rather than emotion and hyperbole to demonstrate the flaws in the Pew Survey. I think that it is very hard for the people who do these interviews to relate positively to Chassidim and Chareidim and to get accurate statistics.They look down on them as primatives and do not really respect their interiewees. I saw the same bias in a widely read op ed by Rabbi David Wolpe who credits the numerical growth of orthodoxy to nothing whatsoever to do with orthodoxy. rather, it is because Fundamentalism is on the rise worldwide and Jews are just following trends. He is the Episcopalian and we are the Baptists and that takes him off the hook because everybody knows that the Baptists aren’t as sophisticated as the Episcopalians. Inother words, they look down their noses at frum Jews and can’t give us any credit for our success. OK.They can laugh but we will be here. All over the country, non orthodox synagogues are being bought by orthodox groups. In Baltimore, a new orthodox group rented the auditorium of a defunct Regorm Day School for its services and filled it up. That is the real trend.
“Pew’s use of “ultra-Orthodox” is offensive”
– is haredi less offensive?
There is nothing offensive about Ultra-Orthodox. They are in fact Ultra-Orthodox and wear it proudly. To paraphrase R’ Gifter: “You know those right wing religious fanatics? THAT’S US!”
Dr Schick deserves a major Yasher Koach for explaining why demographers seemingly have no clue how to conduct sociological research in Torah observant communities.
“The figure is certainly higher than ten percent, especially when we consider fertility rates and what I have reported re enrollment in yeshivas and day schools.:
Actually I think that the high fertility rates and what Dr. Schick has reported regarding enrollment in yeshivas and day schools reinforces the Pew findings. With an enrollment in day schools of a bit over 200,000 — not all of whom are from Orthodox families — it would be a big stretch to get a total Orthodox population of much more than 500,000. While we are all well aware of the tremendous growth of many frum communities, there have also been many communities that have declined or disappeared in the past decades. The Bronx alone has lost at least a hundred thousand orthodox Jews since 1970, possibly more.
The sampling issues Dr. Schick mentions are real and any survey researcher (which I am not) would have to be concerned about them. But the bias could conceivably go in the other direction: Charedi Jews might well be MORE likely to have and to answer a land line telephone, which are the only ones that can usually be contacted via cold calls. And the previous surveys, in 1970, 1990, and 2001, which reported a similar Orthodox fraction, had similar sampling issues.
I do agree with Dr. Schick’s objections to the term “ultra”. I and many others in my modern orthodox community are every bit as “ultra” in our commitment to mitzvot but we don’t wear black hats or streimels. My co-workers do think that I am “ultra” in my refusal to ever consider eating any cooked food from a non-kosher restaurant or coming into the office on Shabat or on any Jewish holiday. Why is it that the self-chosen name for most other religious groups is widely accepted, but not that of charedi Jews? And contrary to an argument in another forum on this site, use by the New York Times does *not* mean that it is acceptable.
Dr. Schick, may I recommend, as an act of Gmilut Chasadim, that you contact the researchers as Pew and give them this piece, maybe with some suggestions on how to reach insular populations? It is quite likely they do a bad job not because they aren’t interested in doing a good one, but because they are clueless. It is difficult, for example, for a non-Charedi to think that it might be necessary to train pollsters in a foreign language to reach people who are 3rd and 4th generation in the US.
I’d suggest that approach only after the chareidi leadership agrees to request that their followers respond to surveys. There may have been challenges in the Pew survey (as an actuary I know a bit about statistics and surveys) but not much more than face anyone surveying in today’s day and age.
The orthodox community has to my knowledge not been one that seeks actual objective data on its population but rather uses anecdotal information. I hope that the belief in daat torah (vs. data torah?)is well founded for making decisions based on anecdotal data, because bderech hateva (in the natural world) studies have shown that leadership’s beliefs concerning their subordinates is often well off target.
Did they call a lot of numbers in places such as Kiryas Yoel or Crown Heights? It would be nice to know such details. I doubt they got a single Satmar Chosid in the study, but that community is growing extraordinarily fast.
Can we really say that the under-polled groups steer clear because of faulty polling methods or pollster bias? If the leaders and followers in the under-polled groups actually object to polling of this type as a matter of principle, the statistics will continue to be skewed regardless of methodology or personnel.
Pollsters who aspire to objectivity need to make their best case to the leaders.
“I do agree with Dr. Schick’s objections to the term “ultra”. I and many others in my modern orthodox community are every bit as “ultra” in our commitment to mitzvot but we don’t wear black hats or streimels. My co-workers do think that I am “ultra” in my refusal to ever consider eating any cooked food from a non-kosher restaurant or coming into the office on Shabat or on any Jewish holiday. Why is it that the self-chosen name for most other religious groups is widely accepted, but not that of charedi Jews? And contrary to an argument in another forum on this site, use by the New York Times does *not* mean that it is acceptable.”
– Charles, you are not really agreeing with Dr Schick at all. Whereas Dr Schick is offended that he is being picked on by being called Ultra (a bad term), you are offended about be snubbed by not being called ultra (a desirable term, apparently). Please take your own advice and ignore the Times
Question: When the academic, white-bread WASP religion experts study Amish, Muslims or Sikhs in America, do they have similar problems?
Charlie Hall-ask any of your friends whether they were asked to serve as participants in this survey. Samuel Heilman, who served as a consultant to this survey, could have directed those who conducted the survey as to which communities are vital Charedi and MO communities. The survey shows no such surveying, and essentially is a mirror image of the more recent UJA survey. As far as the Bronx’s Jewish population is concerned, ask yourself which communities other than Riverdale and Pelham Parkway would be deserving of being included in the survey. Why not focus on Queens , Brooklyn, the Five Towns, West Hempstead, Monsey, Teaneck, Bergenfield, Passaic and Lakewood in examining some thriving MO and Charedi communities instead of discussing declining communities? One waits in vain for a proper survey of these communities in the same manner as Dr W Helmreich’s pioneering work on the yeshivas of the US.
L Oberstein wrote in part:
“I think that it is very hard for the people who do these interviews to relate positively to Chassidim and Chareidim and to get accurate statistics.They look down on them as primatives and do not really respect their interiewees”
This IMO is the key. As long as the interviewees and the researchers whose names are on the bottom line of this survey, the Torah observant world ( both MO and Charedi) will continue to viewed in surveys in exceedingly negative fashion with any growth therein ascribed solely to a world wide rise in religious fundamentalism.
L Oberstein wrote in part:
“All over the country, non orthodox synagogues are being bought by orthodox groups. In Baltimore, a new orthodox group rented the auditorium of a defunct Regorm Day School for its services and filled it up. That is the real trend.”
There are many formerly C houses of worship that now have mechitzos and have become fully Orthodox or at least a mechitza minyan in the major metropolitan NY area. This trend has gone completely unnoticed.
Surveys, as in the case of any article or book, should always be checked out in the acknowledgements. IIRC, the editor of the Forward was thanked for her suggestions. The editor of the Forward has presided over a publication that has brought Orthobashing to new heights, and has had especially harsh comments for Charedim in her editorials.
Others have pointed out similar unlikely statistics in the report, such as page 80 which states that 4% of orthodox Jews had a christmas tree last year, and 16% attend non-Jewish religious services at least a few times a year. A disclaimer states that the latter statistic “is significantly less common among Orthodox Jews who live in areas with large Orthodox populations than it is among self-identified Orthodox Jews who live in areas of the country with fewer Orthodox Jews. Among Orthodox Jews reached in the high-density Orthodox stratum, 94% say they seldom or never attend non-Jewish religious services.” This hardly gives the study an air of reliability.
I agree with the main point in your article. However, it is notoriously difficult to engage the ultra-Orthodox in any surveys, whether or not one has specially trained people.
And, You are creating a storm in a teacup over the “ultra-Orthodox”. It is simply used to mean “very” and used by the BBC, IMF and OECD. Just to name a few organizations not exactly known for causing offence. It is not your right to decide whether it is offensive, I am sure some find Haredi (quakers) offensive. I have never come across a Haredi who cares one way or the other, they don’t really identify as Haredii anyhow. It is mostly used by outside and ba’alei teshuvah who seek a sense of identity by using the term Haredi/ultra-Orthodox.
[YA – Actually, this is simply not true. Lots of people are offended. Dr Schick did not invent the grievance. High-level meetings have been going on for quite some time to get leading publications to change. The argument that seems to have worked best is that journalists allow groups to be called what they like – and to avoid labels they dislike. That is how “Gypsy” was deep-sixed in favor of “Roma.”]
Gypsys are referred to as Travelers in Britain.
However, if I remember correctly, the term ultra-Orthodox was given to themselves by themselves and for years it wasn’t a problem Everybody knew what it meant.
Aren’t there more important battles to fight?
The Pew Research Center seems to not know that Reform
artificially inflated its population statistics by radically
redefining Jews to include so-called “patrilineal Jews”
and non-Halachic converts and their descendants.
In other words: they cheated.
Well, I, as a fully observant non-Charedi Jew, am offended by the idea that Charedim are *not* ultra-Orthodox. Are you claiming they’re not? Then what, pray, are the rest of us? Not quite good enough?
Joel Rich: I’d suggest that approach only after the chareidi leadership agrees to request that their followers respond to surveys. There may have been challenges in the Pew survey (as an actuary I know a bit about statistics and surveys) but not much more than face anyone surveying in today’s day and age.
Ori: I didn’t know that the Charedi leadership is opposed to surveys and statistics. Of course they wouldn’t use them as a primary source of information (they’re traditionalists and statistics are relatively new), but that isn’t the same as being opposed to them.
If the leadership isn’t supportive, I don’t think any statistical methods would work anyway.
The thing is how the Pew study defined Jews. They did not define Halakhic Jews, but according to self identification. They state that if you take only halakhic Jews, you get 4.4 millions among adults defining themselves as Jews and another 1.3 million among people of Jewish background but not defining themselves as Jews. I think this second number is incredible – if it is true, I tend to think it is over inflated. But according to the study you have 500,000 adults with two Jewish parents who are today Christians or Buddhists or whatever and not or only partly Jewish. These people are the infamous “assimilated” Jews that everybody speaks about.
So how much Jews are there in the USA – apparently some 5.7 million adults (probably less) and one million children, exactly as the study says, just that these are not the same 5.7 million “Jews” they counted.
To Dr Schick –
The term for Ultra-Orthodox is a self-described term and is defined in detail on Pg. 48 of the report that it includes all who identify as Ultra-Orthodox,Yeshivish, Heimish, and Hasidic. Why are you offended?
In terms of sampling, they go through very carefully in the Appendix (Starting on Pg 124.) where they identify how they got a stratum of participants and made concerted efforts to include what most would call Ultra-Orthodox (using Kings & Rockland in NY – although they did exclude Orange County where Kiryas Joel is located, and Ocean County where Lakewood is located)
There is a significant amount of survey methodology literature about surveying “Hard-to-reach” populations, which is defined by researchers (included the US Census Bureau) as highly-insular communities with a distrust of outsiders and rural/remote populations. Lumped in this is hasidic, amish, inner-city slums, and other religious groups suspicious of outsiders.
Your primary issue, and others commenting or writing here, is using a self-identifiers as a methodological tool – that is debated rather hotly in survey methodology literature.
In Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise”, there is an interesting thought; that the most detailed drawing of a cat, does not take into account the ‘whole’ cat. That all models are flawed, but some are useful. I believe that applies here as well having read through a good portion of the study with a meteorologist’s eye. With the above thought in mind, I think that’s what the researchers had in mind when they titled it “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”.
I have 2 comments :
The orthodox community has to my knowledge not been one that seeks actual objective data on its population but rather uses anecdotal information
1) There’s anecdotal evidence and there’s anecdotal evidence. There’s a difference between saying ‘That can’t be true; I know so many frum people!’ and anecdotal evidence that the entire community of KJ as well New Square were likely ignored in this survey if it was indeed only conducted in English and Russian. Are they not aware that large swathes of these communities use English as a second language- if they use it all? It’s also irrelevant whether they would cooperate with the poll. Let’s say they wouldn’t. That’s Pew’s problem, not theirs. Even if we assume that these chassidim are the worst dregs of humanity, that has zero to with whether they exist. Imagine saying that there are no terrorists in America because zero % percent surveyed identified themselves as such, and the ones in Guantanamo aren’t willing to cooperate.
2) I agree that ‘ultra’ is not inherently negative. I used to think it, was until I started thinking of words like ultra-light aircraft, ultra-sound, ultra heavy weight boxers etc. (This doesn’t impact on the point that communities should be identified by how they wish to be identified. But you need to establish that a significant % of UO find the label insulting. I don’t know how you’d do that. Maybe a Pew research poll…)
A commenter above, seeking to defend the obnoxious term, says “The term for Ultra-Orthodox is a self-described term…”
No, it isn’t. Unlike the term orthodox, which has been embraced by the community, not a single person self-identifies as “ultra-orthodox.” It is a term invented by outsiders to the community it purports to describe. And it is obnoxious, because it attaches someone’s else’s value as to what is acceptable orthodoxy, and what is excessive. If the shoe were on the other foot, and the writers who use the term were themselves described as “ultra-atheists”, they might then begin to understand.
Until newspapers who use this offensive term drop it, I personally dismiss out of hand any of their moralizing or sermonizing. I’ll not be lectured in morals by a gang of hypocrites.
You are correct that Ultra-Orthodox is not a self-described term, but rather a categorization and yes that term is coming from their POV.
However, this particular study did not attempt to moralize (at least knowingly or insidiously). My understanding is that it was their attempt to categorize or ‘split-hairs’ within Orthodoxy. For instance, many readers of this website (my presumption) would not describe YCT as Orthodox. However YCT and their communities do. Would you rather the researchers (or newspapers for that matter) use the term ‘traditional orthodox’? Or ‘Halachic’? Chareidi? ‘those who follow Da’as Torah’? Or ‘people who try to keep the Torah even if they have personal failures of adherence’? It’s not a perfect term, but its a useful one. That was and still is my main-point.
I think a dismissal out of hand of any part of the survey, even if you feel insulted, would not be the most measured approach (nor would a full acceptance).
Joel Rich wrote in part:
“The orthodox community has to my knowledge not been one that seeks actual objective data on its population but rather uses anecdotal information”
Dr. Helmreich wrote a still unsurpassed study of the yeshiva world that was rooted in actual interviews of Roshei Yeshiva, talmidim ,etc. Dr Heilman wrote a great study of the Charedim in Yerushalyim but his later works on the slide to the right and the Lubavutcher Rebbe ZL were tendentious and IMO not very helpful in describing the subjects of the study but rather fitting the facts to his preordained conclusions. There are studies of BTs in Israel and the US as well as a 1998 study of NCSY’s alumni. Where are the studies of the growth of MO and Charedi communities since the 1960s? When the academics and demographers are ignorant of what it means to be Orthodox today, blame poor results on “insularity” and feed into the notion of a big tent definition of Judaism, results and portraits of Orthodoxy as depicted in the Pew survey and as well in the UJC study are the invariable and inevitable result-as well as a waste of valuable Jewish communal dollars that could and should have allocated elsewhere.