The Waning Strength and Influence of American Jewry – Including Orthodoxy

By Avrohom Gordimer

The Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project: A Portrait of Jewish Americans created shockwaves, as the shrinkage of (non-Orthodox) American Jewry and its impact and role were ominously documented and further forecast. Far fewer Jews, far less support for the State of Israel, far less religious affiliation and practice, and an overall disappearing American Jewish public presence are starkly indicated and are already occurring. Unless non-Orthodox Jewry returns to its traditional posture and makes a radical, sweeping commitment to intra-marriage and fortification of Jewish identity, its termination as a major religious-ethnic group is almost certain. This would obviously not only mean the effective end of American non-Orthodox Jewry, but it could also mean the end of significant American support for the State of Israel – a support that has been largely precipitated by elected officials seeking to secure the Jewish vote and responding to lobbying efforts on the part of large American Jewish organizations, representing sizeable Jewish political and financial support.

Despite the acutely negative predictions, non-Orthodox leadership has failed to take the necessary steps to attempt to salvage the situation. While a return to Torah observance, values and lifestyle would be the primary and ideal move, it is unfortunate that nothing substantial of any sort has been proffered to stop the hemorrhaging. The disappearance of the bulk of American Jewry and all that this disappearance portends are on the horizon and are well underway.

I am pretty sure I know what people are now thinking: Yes, it is exceedingly tragic that the preponderance of American Jewry is subjecting itself to voluntary extinction (despite the century-old promises of three groups of mavericks to create the most impactful and committed Jewish communities ever by Reforming, partially Conserving and Reconstructing our religion), but what about the Orthodox?! The same Pew data that presages the demise of non-Orthodox American Jewry presents a pretty rosy forecast about the ascendancy of American Orthodoxy; the Orthodox will IYH grow and proposer and will replace the non-Orthodox in terms of Jewish societal presence and influence, especially regarding continued American political support for the State of Israel and the assurance of American Jewish safety and security. In fact, assuming that Orthodox population trends continue, the future public presence and impact of American Jewry will surpass that of the 20th century, in which the limited and steadily declining non-Orthodox populations stood at the fore.

Alas, it is this writer’s opinion that such is wishful thinking, for Orthodoxy, despite its smashing success, is incrementally undermining its influence as well as its infrastructure. The latter, regrettably, is likely to profoundly stunt religious growth and prevent the flourishing and perhaps even the continuation of greatness in Torah and preeminent rabbinic leadership.

One of the keys to Jewish impact and influence in the United States has been the settlement of the bulk of American Jews in major cities, where municipal and resultant state governance is quite powerful and plays a significant role on local and national levels. When the largest Jewish population in America is represented by names like Schumer, Cuomo, Giuliani and Bloomberg, it means something massive. However, think of what would happen if the lion’s share of American Jewry would retreat to the woods or the country, living in rural or semi-rural clusters as the Amish communities do; such would mean the end of any meaningful Jewish presence on a public level, as well as the dramatic demise of influence on political discourse and other issues of great import. (On a very practical, domestic level, as a result of the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has provided synagogues and other Jewish institutions with an abundance of security apparatuses, and the New York City police department has provided heightened, special patrols in Jewish neighborhoods on holidays and other specific occasions; these services are ongoing. Imagine how things would be in the absence of heavy Jewish constituencies and connectivity to the major powers of political influence…)

While I would hardly compare Orthodox settlement trends to those of the Amish, there is an inkling of similarity that is noteworthy to reflect upon in terms of impact. Here in New York City, droves of Orthodox Jews – especially young families – are relocating to small towns and villages north of the city and in New Jersey. In Los Angeles, Orthodox migration to neighborhoods outside of the city limits is increasing significantly. And such is the case throughout America, as people in general (Jews and non-Jews) depart from the major cities and even from the more populous states. Just as the result of this in general means a diminution of public and political influence for those who have left the epicenters of impact and clout, such is the result for Jewry. Distancing oneself from access and affiliation with those who direct the public discourse results in exclusion of one’s interests from that discourse; the formula is simple.

The import of having sizable Orthodox populations in areas of political power will be crucial. However, Orthodox demographic trends are undermining this important source of future leverage and influence, as urban centers are abandoned for small, suburban and often downright rural communities, which do not show up on the political radar, or whose presence there is minimal when compared with the potential.

Although the current Orthodox settlement trend can be referred to as a migration or relocation in geographical terms, in religious terms, we have on our hands a splintering and disenfranchisement of sorts, for correlative to decentralized geographic super-bases of Orthodoxy, there has developed a religious fragmentation that threatens to undo the spiritual successes of American Orthodox life. Please allow me to explain:

Starting a few decades ago, many Orthodox pulpit rabbis and communal leaders reacted negatively to the proliferation of breakaway minyanim and the “shteibel phenomenon” that have drawn masses away from established shuls and their main minyanim. (Please see this compelling recent article on the subject by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.) Putting aside considerations such as the obvious effect on the stability of established shuls and minyanim that the mass departure of droves of people therefrom causes, the participants in breakaway and express shteibel-type minyanim (for those who are not naturally part of a shteibel on a communal or family level) frequently lack a regular connection to a seasoned rav or halachic authority and often fail to become religiously well-integrated into the overall community. While no one absolves established shuls and their main minyanim from conceivably providing ample reason for many of their attendees to jump ship and look elsewhere, the larger impact of this phenomenon is quite commonly a sense of disenfranchisement from Torah authority and the splintering of solid religious communities.

What if the breakaway phenomenon were to occur in the yeshiva system? Well, it has, and the results are arguably quite negative. With the exception of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel and RIETS, which attract large groups of long-term talmidim because of these yeshivos’ college affiliations and their unique appeal due to other, differing reasons, virtually all of the large, established yeshivos in America are suffering. Over the past decade, several dozen small “junior yeshivos” have arisen, which cater to bochurim immediately out of high school. These yeshivos, located primarily in Lakewood, Rockland County and northern and central New Jersey, provide their talmidim with the basics of derech ha-limud and classical “lomdishe reyd”; the most popular maggidei shiur in large part are now to be found at these small, new yeshivos. After a stint of a few years, the talmidim leave the junior yeshivos and attend yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for a couple of years, after which they return to America, where they learn in Lakewood and seek to marry. The large, established American yeshivos (excluding BMG of Lakewood, of course) are by definition not part of this system and thereby have lost a very sizeable percentage of prospective talmidim; these large yeshivos have lost their predominance.

Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum in Yated Neeman has documented one of the major effects of the current yeshiva trend: yeshiva students often have no one whom they consider to be their rebbe. Being enrolled in three different yeshivos (and spending one’s most mature years of learning attending a chabura rather than a shiur with a rebbe) can leave a talmid disconnected, lacking a long-term relationship with any one rebbe. This disconnect, as part of the new yeshiva trend, can impact not only the rebbe-talmid relationship, but it can also prevent talmidim from thoroughly acquiring a mesorah in learning and the overall mesorah of a yeshiva.

As the smaller yeshivos attract the bulk of bochurim, the larger, established yeshivos are shrinking. While it may be argued that had the larger yeshivos featured more maggidei shiur and provided more individualized focus for younger talmidim, this phenomenon may not have occurred, the fact is that most of the larger yeshivos are a shadow of what they used to be. This translates into less exposure and connection between senior roshei yeshiva and the overall population of yeshiva talmidim, and a dramatic decentralization of Torah authority. Whereas a few decades ago, every yeshiva graduate had exposure and quite often enjoyed a personal relationship with a gadol ba-Torah due to prolonged attendance at one of the major yeshivos, such is no longer the case. The potential for considerable disconnect between the senior Torah authorities who head the major yeshivos and the those who attend yeshivos in general today is frightening.

The voluntary shrinkage of Orthodox power is occurring on a religious-institutional level, as most of the large yeshivos are being abandoned to a significant degree for smaller, new yeshivos, and small kollelim that are not connected with larger, established Torah institutions are popping up and becoming the sites of preference for many learners. This decentralizes Torah authority, it can impact severely on the quality of learning, and it disenfranchises the masses from connection with gedolei Torah. It also in a sense can prevent the emergence of future gedolim and manhigim, as there is a scattering of Torah mosdos into tiny, disjointed pieces and a disconnect from larger Torah mosdos, in which such leadership has been traditionally cultivated over a steady period of many years.

BH, I live in a community which offers exposure to renowned roshei yeshiva and seasoned, senior poskim, who are accessible and in touch with the local talmidim and laity on a constant basis. A friend of mine, who lives in a much larger, distant Torah community that hosts one large yeshiva and a dispersion of many small junior yeshivos, often asks me what the roshei yeshiva and poskim in my community have stated regarding certain halachic issues, or how they have advised people to conduct themselves pertaining to specific areas of halachic dispute. I once asked this friend why he poses these questions to me, seeing that his own community has far more talmidei chochomim than my community can ever dream of having. My friend replied that despite his access to countless local talmidei chochomim, he does not have access to rabbonim who have a mesorah from Europe and who are preeminent poskim with years of prolonged learning and shimush with the gedolim of yesteryear. That said it all.

The American Orthodox community has an extraordinary opportunity to lead and impact societally and to grow in Torah as perhaps never before. This requires communal and religious centralization, and it necessitates commitment to the rabbinic and institutional infrastructure that the gedolim and preeminent lay leadership of previous generations established and cultivated with smashing success. Decentralization and fragmentation threaten to jeopardize the infrastructure and to destabilize the system; let us again galvanize our strength and get back with the program.

Rabbi Gordimer is a kashrus professional, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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37 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    To my mind at least, decentralization is a very positive thing, as it gives each individual Jew more choices as to which kind of Torah Judaism to live by. And the more competition that there is between various Orthodox Jewish groups, the more attractive that each of those groups have to be, if they hope to hold on to their followers. In contrast, the more centralization, the less the leaders of that dominant group, have to make any effort to keep their adherents.

  2. Y. Ben-David says:

    It is time for committed Jews, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, to realize that the ONLY long-term future for Jewry is in Israel. This triumphalist view that Orthodox is going to take over American Jewry based on the PEW reports due to large-scale assimilationist trends by the non-Orthodox is misplaced. The United States is in long-term economic, social, moral and most importantly, spiritual decline and it will drag down ALL Jews, regardless of affiliation with it, just as the Jews of the Middle East went into decline along with the surrounding Muslim society after the Middle Ages, even though they had been at the forefront of world Jewry up until then (see Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” for a sociological explanation of America’s ongoing deteriortation).
    Israel is the ONLY country in the world where the Jewish population is growing. I should also add that the belief that a “strong American Jewish community is vital for supporting Israel’s interests in the US” is also incorrect. Israel, at the moment, has strong political support even in areas that have small Jewish populations because the non-Jewish population supports Israel. There would be strong support for Israel even if there were no Jews in the US and Americans begans supporting Zionism as early as the 1830’s, long before there was a significant Jewish population in the US.
    I realize this is hard to swallow by many American Jews, but numerous times before in Jewish history has the historical forces shown the Jews that the only way forward is in Eretz Israel, starting with the Exodus from Egypt.

  3. Reb Yid says:

    The dialectic between diversity, individual autonomy and dispersion on one hand and centralization and union on the other has been part of the America Jewish landscape for numerous centuries. This is no less true for the Orthodox community.

    It’s also part of the story of American history, with the ebbs and flows and tension between the states and the federated government (we even had a Civil War over this issue).

    Let us not write the death knell of the Jewish community, or of its Orthodox subcommunity, prematurely.

  4. CNS says:

    1. The proliferation of shteibels and boutique shuls is strongest in places like the 5 Towns, Brooklyn & Monsyy, where they often have their own Rav, Rov or Rebbe. There are just a very small handful of Modox breakaways that say “we dont need a rabbi.” There may be much to be said about this (I can only daven in a shul with 30 ppl exactly like me) but i dont see this move as a run away from rabbinic authority.

    2. You are ignoring the other social and religious pathologies of large frum super-communities. They certainly have their pros, but also their cons. Many people lead happier more spiritually balanced lives “out of town.” This seems more important to me than political clout.

    3. Either way, the real driver here is cost. Established frum communities are some of the most expensive places to live in the country, and tuition is often higher there. Until we figure out how to make American frum life affordable, the trend will continue.

  5. DF says:

    R. Gordimer doesn’t seem to grasp that Jewish communal clout never (at any point in history, but certainly not in America) came from Rabbis. It certainly never came from Gedolim, by which R. Gordimer obviously means the specific strand of kollel-style orthodox life that uses that term. In fact, that segment of orthodoxy is the LEAST concerned about the Pew report, and is instead focused on its own needs. It seems clear that R. Gordimer comes from that particular point of view which believes one’s entire life must be spent in concert with, and in consultation with, rabbis and roshei yeshivas. That’s fine, but that’s a road map towards isolation and insularity, the exact opposite of influence.

    The reality is, as I know R. Adlerstein is aware of from previous articles, Jewish influence came mainly from Reform Jews who were able to participate in American civic life to a degree that orthodox Jews could not. Sure, there are exceptions, and politicians are always eager to curry votes, but potential activists are fooling themselves if they think they can network the same as others when they don’t eat the same food, don’t drink the same drinks, have zero understanding of the public school system and high school and college sports, etc. [As a top Agudah leader told me when I worked there, their clout came only from the fact that they were perceived as devout and morally superior people, and thus their voice was listened to. Sadly, no one thinks that anymore.] No one suggests the orthodox suddenly stop doing/refraining from doing all the above, just to become more influential. But recognize who established the political clout and where it derived from. It wasn’t from yeshivas. If Jewish influence is indeed waning, it is because succeeding generations of Reform Jews are either not interested in Jewish organizational life, or are simply no longer Jewish, period.

  6. lacosta says:

    agree with CNS that cost is a driving factor. but what about decentralized yeshivot and ego— why be number 200 in line of rebbies in BMG when you can be your own rosh yeshiva? and it does help out-of -town girls that there is a local supply of boys, and not everybody in Tristate Standard Timezone….

    disagree with y ben david about israel’s popularity. if USA turns israel=apartheid=BDS, the whole world ALREADY wants to go there; and Israel would be brought to its knees in a flash [remember 24 hr of no foreign airlines landing–how would permanent look to you? ]

    the irony of shrinking community is that as the non-O become increasingly either disengaged or anti-zionist where israel is concerned, Aguda-haredidom ironically will have to come increasingly to represent the Zionist entity and its interests—- not what would have been envisioned at the dawn of the medina….

  7. Bob Miller says:

    So who’s going to pay us to enough to stay in mega-expensive mega-communities so we can be a voting bloc that elects Democrats with Jewish names whose approach to social issues is sick by Torah criteria? Does this come out of their campaign funds?

  8. A. Gordimer says:

    DF: Please read the article again. It did not state or in any way imply that political clout comes from rabbis. The first section of the article addresses political clout and societal influence in terms of bulk constituency populations of Orthodox Jews in key areas – nothing to do with rabbis. The second part of the article addresses rabbinic leadership and the chinuch system – unrelated to politics.

    Orthodox political influence is not to be underestimated, especially if the numbers are present. Agudah and OU are heavily involved in Washington and in the capitals of most states with major Orthodox populations, and the political efforts of these and other Orthodox organizations are being overall met with much success.

    Bob Miller: I agree with your political sentiments. Electing liberals is not necessary for Jewish (Orthodox, in this case) interests to be on the front burner. BH, Republicans are more than happy to represent Orthodox constituencies, and the election of Bob Turner (as well as the last few NYC mayors) is testament to this.

    G’mar chasima tova to all, and wishes for a blessed and good year in all ways!

  9. Joe Q. says:

    Centralizing the Jewish community seems like an effective way of ensuring that fewer and fewer non-Jews ever come into contact with Jewish people or Jewish religious / cultural ideas. Rather than increasing influence, it bolsters the idea of Jews as an “other”, and would lead to marginalization.

    I also concur with other commentators that Yeshivot are only influential within their own demographic context. Jewish influence in society at large comes not from Gedolim or Roshei Yeshivot, but from individual Jews and Jewish organizations with money and / or a strong political voice.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Concerning the merits of large shuls and yeshivos vs. small:

    If large numbers of Orthodox Jews now prefer smaller institutions, perceiving they offer better and/or more cost-effective service to members and students, who exactly can dictate that they now reverse course? Almost always, there is no all-encompassing communal body that has that power. So anyone promoting a movement “back to big” has to persuade many people; that needs lots of convincing evidence to support it, going far beyond the general assertions in this article.

  11. Y. Ben-David says:

    I actually agree with you that support for Israel will decline over time in the US, due to the fact that the fastest growing ethnic groups in the US are Hispanics and Asians who come from outside the so-called “Judeo-Christian” roots of the US and who have no real ideological stake in Israel as do the traditional groups in the US. But the existence of a few million Jews won’t make any difference in the long run if that is the case, just as today they don’t define the US’s current pro-Israel policy. This just means Israel is going to have to learn to stand on its own two feet and stop looking for some “big brother” who is going to protect it.
    I don’t agree that the “whole world” wants to boycott Israel. Few people in the world really care about the Palestinians, including the Arabs, and attempts to isolate Israel having nothing to do with human rights but rather are due to primitive antisemitic beliefs, even if they are wrapped in “progressive” slogans. Israel, if it is smart, can learn to confront this threat and in fact is having success in this even now.

  12. dr. bill says:

    Your post links many diverse areas, each requiring its own in-depth analysis. Both your linkage between and viewpoint in each area is debatable / questionable. Even prior to a developed POV, there are numbers of questions that must be addressed factually and/or definitively.

    First, how much support (financial, political, etc.) for Israel comes from individuals in families where both spouses are not halakhically Jewish? How successful have or can programs targeting that demographic be?

    Second, how does current Jewish concentration in “blue states” dominated by other minorities impact Jewish political influence? Do Jews in Ohio or Florida matter more than Jews in New York?

    Third, how do the impacts on political influence of money, population, power, etc. relate? How does influence from individuals who happen to be Jewish relate to influence from Jewish community leaders or voting blocs?

    Fourth, wags have claimed the only growing business in the Detroit area is kollelim. How, do issues like affordability, kiruv, lifestyle, etc. impact the growth of yeshivot and kollelim in second/third tier cities?

    Fifth, how should the role of the morah de’arsa (local Rav) relate to the role of distinguished gedolai Yisroel?

    Sixth, how is the need for local knowledge that must temper pesak implemented in the era of global communications?

    Frankly, the list is incomplete and I have a POV but hardly a quantifiable or definitive position on these and many more related questions.

  13. Wolfman says:

    Many Jews, including Orthodox Jews, vote for Liberal candidates who are not pro-Israel. The most pro-Israel voters today are Evangelical Christians. I agree with the rest of the essay.

  14. A. Gordimer says:

    Wolfman: The essay does not advise Jews to vote for liberal candidates. The names of the liberal politicians in the essay were for the sole purpose of illustration – that public officials serve the interests of those in their districts, and by Jewish populaces residing in districts of strong political and societal influence, their interests can be represented far more potently than would be the case would they reside in areas of low political and societal influence.

  15. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Rabbi Gordimer conflates two distinct issues but fails to make a compelling case on either.

    Living in small rural areas does not necessarily diminish political power. Quite to the contrary, the Orthodox vote in towns and villages such as Lakewood and Monsey have a far bigger result on congressional and local elections than the Orthodox vote could have ever had in large cities. Local politicians take note of the Orthodox vote, connections are made and networks are developed. The visits to Lakewood by politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul and Chris Christie are proof of the increased political clout of the Orthodox community.

    Small “junior” Yeshivas actual help insure that Talmidim have a personal connection to a Rebbi. It is at the very large “legacy” Yeshivas where it is virtual impossible to create a real and meaningful relationship with a rebbi or rosh yeshiva.

  16. Y. Ben-David says:

    Rav Gordimer said:
    The potential for considerable disconnect between the senior Torah authorities who head the major yeshivos and the those who attend yeshivos in general today is frightening.

    I am not sure what it is you are frightened of. The majority of Orthodox Jews in the world are not part of this Yeshivah-Kollel system you are referring to and they and Orthodox Judaism are doing fine and much Torah is being studied on a high level by all sorts of people and new generations of talmidei hachamim are being produced, again, outside of this “European” system that was mentioned. There is no way in the modern world that a single authoritative system and leadership can be imposed on people. People need options and individuality is the order of the day. The Torah world has to accept this. For example, in the Israeli DL world, new yeshivot are opening that allow the students to engage in the arts or science in addition to Torah study. Not everyone is cut out for the “European” system mentioned and everyone just has to accomodate themselves to this reality

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Rav Gordimer wrote above, “…and the election of Bob Turner (as well as the last few NYC mayors) is testament to this…”

    Note that the current Democratic Mayor, De Blasio, is as far left as one can get in America. Yet I saw many expressions of Orthodox support for De Blasio before and after his election. OK, he had no real opposition, but should we grovel for his approval in this fashion, either to get a job or contract with the city or to funnel more tax money our way? We as a community should not sell ourselves to the highest bidder or aspire to going on life support from big government.

  18. A. Gordimer says:

    Crazy Kanoly: While voting blocs in areas of heavy Jewish concentrations are of course significant, the clout of the elected officials and of their geographic regions is also a very important factor. Not to in any way compare the major Northeast communities with those of the rural Midwest, but (as a raw illustration) it was surely the case that the Postville Orthodox population was an important voting bloc in Iowa. And even had that bloc been much larger and consisted of tens of thousands of frum Jews, whose powerful votes were needed to carry any election, the larger political and societal influence and standing of that bloc in the US and arguably even in Iowa would have been minimal.

    Crazy Kanoly and Y. Ben-David: I do not dispute the benefits of “junior yeshivos” and the potential or actual downside of the larger, older/established yeshivos. I am observing that trends toward the former, to the detriment of the latter, even for the best of reasons, are likely to portend some very undesired consequences on the broad level. For sure, there needs to be plenty of choice as to where one learns, and there are many derachim and nuances that need to be given space. However, a system that creates a disconnect from contact and exposure to the gedolei Torah, and which has built-in ceilings, necessitating shuffling talmidim from place to place in order to progress, raises some very serious questions, as I see things.

  19. brooklyn refugee sheygitz says:

    I don’t understand Rabbi Gordimer’s advocay for Orthodox community building and communal advocacy
    I alway thought that Orthodox Jews by definition seek to fulfill as many mitzvos as possible. So by that definition all Orthodox communcal advocacy should be focused on a communal plan for ensuring that as much of the next generation as possible is driven to fulfill mitzvas yishuv haaretz and all the mitzvos hatluyos baaratez that can only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael.
    I’m sure that Rabbi Gordimer doesn’t suggest that his congregants or talmidim not wear tztitzis only because it is a mitzvah kiyumis. Why should communnal advocay be any different?

  20. Shua Cohen says:

    > Rabbi Gordimer opined: “The potential for considerable disconnect between the senior Torah authorities who head the major yeshivos and the those who attend yeshivos in general today is frightening.”

    >> I wholly agree with Y. Ben-David’s exception to Rabbi Gordimer’s plaint, to wit: “The majority of Orthodox Jews in the world are not part of this Yeshivah-Kollel system you are referring to and they and Orthodox Judaism are doing fine.” I would add that since the passing of the prior generation of Gedolim — R. Mordechai Gifter, R. Yaakov Kamenetsky, R. Y.Y. Ruderman, R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Y.B. Soloveitchik, R. Yitzchok Hutner, R. Yaakov Pam — who were paradigms of Torah leadership, we have not had, subsequently, leaders of their caliber who are able to command the kind of universal respect of these luminaries. The aged remnants of that generation now reside in Eretz Yisrael (parenthetically, I’ve always wondered why this is not looked upon as a sign from the Aibishter that the Jewish sojourn in America must come to an end), to where American Bnei Torah continue to refuse to return. This being so, in chutz l’Aretz the Jews are orphans, and the only “senior Torah authorities” who are left to “connect” with are the talmidim of the greats, who carry on in much smaller, segmented venues (perhaps for purposes driven largely by the need for parnassah?) So it goes.

  21. lacosta says:

    to mr ben david

    with respect to israel going it ‘alone’ , south africa under pressure of massive shunning from the world , collapsed in the face of world economic pressure. israel i don’t think could stand if they could not trade with USA or Europe , with no foreign airlines allowed to land there , loss of tax-exempt status of all institutions in area of mandatory palestine etc. reading the anti-zionist websites extensively , i feel that the jewish community , and certainly the more isolated haredi communities , underestimate the long-term risk of BDS efforts….

    [YA – So do you, if you can call them “long-term!” I assure you that the State of Israel does not underestimate the risks, near-term and long-term. We either misjudge, or don’t care enough about the Jewish State. The people who can counter the depredations of BDS are us – by reaching out to our neighbors more than we have been doing.]

  22. crazykanoiy says:

    Rabbi Gordimer if you build a relationship with the senators from Iowa that will result in greater access to other elected officials in the halls of power. I know of local Rabbis in small town Indiana and Minnesota who built strong personal relationships with Walter Mondale and Dan Quale. Political clout often comes from networking and most often from the ability to bring in campaign contributions. I believe that the small town phenomenon is not all that bleak.

  23. david says:

    The argument that by moving out of town we are losing power is not correct in fact the opposite is true. Lakewood together with the teaneck communities now have real influence with christie/menendez and booker 3 heavywieghts that 10 years ago would never have happened. I also see that in the small comm. they are developing relationships with congressmen witch could prove to be very useful down the road.

  24. Y. Ben-David says:

    Lacosta-There is no comparison between Israel’s situation and that which was apartheid South Africa. The world rightfully opposed even white Afrikaner nationalists admit it was wrong. Our situation is totally different We have a territorial dispute with another people who completely deny our right to a state within any borders which most of the world does recognize.
    In any event, sanctions did not bring about the end of apartheid. It was internal pressure largely from the white business elite that saw that the apartheid police-state apparatus and job discrimination was a massive drag on the country. That, and the collapse of the Communist bloc which lead the ANC to agreeing to respect white property rights that brought about and end to the old system. It wasn’t the sanctions.

  25. Bob Miller says:

    Our relatively small Orthodox communities in Indiana have enjoyed excellent relationships with current Governor Mike Pence (formerly US Representative), current US Senator Dan Coats, and others.

  26. A. Gordimer says:

    Brooklyn Refugee S: Of course, aliyah is the ideal, but seeing that until Moshiach comes, may it be soon, many American Jews plan to stay here, we need to maximize our potential and communities here.

    Shua Cohen: Yes, perhaps Hashem is telling us that our sojourn in golus is nearing its end. And it is true that there are very few central, top-tier Torah personalities left in America who command the comprehensive respect and adherence of the gedolim of the previous generations. Yet, perhaps this is because the system is so fragmented now, such that every accomplished rebbe and rav has his own small mossad, unrelated to the larger ones, thereby preventing the emergence of centralized leadership and the large-scale masa u’mattan of Torah that may be needed to cultivate the next preeminent cadre of gedolim/manhigim?

  27. lacosta says:

    kvod RYA—- i doubt the one-on-one is as important as trying to keep the evangelicals from changing to Replacement theology, and therefore siding with the xtians of palestine against the yoshke-killers–and of course that’s where people like you and Prager eg , come into play

    reb ben david— YOU may disagree with the aparteidization of the Palestine question— but 98% of the world’s governments already or readily will buy into it , and the isolation that follows from that is readily apparent. Israel can exist with just the US and European union. how do you propose they would exist without it? how would the charedi communities exist if collectors couldnt enter US and bochrim couldnt go to learn in the town that the is not the recognized capital of the zionist entity?

    [YA – I beg to differ. Protestant theology is fluid. It was guilt for the Holocaust that got them to ignore (or reject) Replacement Theology for decades. It has been Palestinian cultivation of relationships with them that had gotten them to rethink the rejection. And it can easily be relationships with the Jewish community that will allow them to continue to ignore it, or (even better) to develop more nuanced theologies (based on key passages in Christian scripture) that supersede (pun intended) older replacement theology.]

  28. Wolfman says:

    A Gordimer:

    In the very first paragraph of the essay, the first example given of waning Jewish influence due to the scattering of Orthodox communities was the potential for decreased support for the State of Israel. I was pointing out that the ebb of flow of the Jewish community would not exert the predicted influence due to the primary support of Israel coming from a different constituency.

  29. Louis says:

    With great hesitation to say it, but, lacosta’s view of Israel’s viability echoes the meraglim and their concerns. Better in the US, essentially we can’t rely on Hashem’s promise… Disappointed that there is not a stronger response. On a political level it was pointed out that there are a great many countries (Russia, India, China, Japan, etc.) who base their economic decisions on self-interest and have no interest in the BDS movement which is not succeeding outside of Europe to any great degree. Similarly, the large non-Jewish support for Israel in the US is not based on a special love for the Jews in America but a much more nuanced analysis. More importantly, in view of the realization of the outstanding miracle of the in-gathering of our exiles as prophesied so that B”H more than half of Jewish children/young adults in the world are now in Israel; the promises regarding Israel by Hashem; the harsh lessons of the illusory nature of even the golden galut in Jewih history as well as basic loyalty and love for our blessed Land given with special love by Hashem, it should be self-evident that the present and future of Am Yisroel is in Eretz Yisroel with Torat Yisroel.

  30. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Rav Gordimer writes that, “Starting a few decades ago, many Orthodox pulpit rabbis and communal leaders reacted negatively to the proliferation of breakaway minyanim and the “shteibel phenomenon” that have drawn masses away from established shuls and their main minyanim. (Please see this compelling recent article on the subject by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.) …the participants in breakaway and express shteibel-type minyanim frequently lack a regular connection to a seasoned rav or halachic authority and often fail to become religiously well-integrated into the overall community. While no one absolves established shuls and their main minyanim from conceivably providing ample reason … to look elsewhere, the larger impact of this phenomenon is quite commonly a sense of disenfranchisement from Torah authority and the splintering of solid religious communities.”

    With all due respect, through most of our history in America, those “established shuls” were anything but “solid religious communities.” Having grown up in 1960s Great Neck, I remember our large, “established shul” with 1,000 member families, 90% of whom showed up for Rosh HaShanna, Yom Kippur, maybe Yizkor, and if they had a reason to be at the bar mitzvah being celebrated that Shabbos. And make no mistake, the shul catered to that 90%. On Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, the aliyot and honors went to the right contributors who never showed up any other time. At the shabbos bar mitzvahs, the rabbi was very careful not to suggest that a “bar mitzvah” was expected to start observing “mitzvos,” and I still remember being treated as an interloper at the bar mitzvah simply because I came to shul that shabbos. It was only after I left to go to college that the synagogue visited the final indignity on the regular mispallelim. Until then, seating at yomim noraim was first come first serve, which means that the regulars, who always came on time, got their makomos kevuos. The synagogue decided to institute reserved seating, which allowed them to give the rich latecomers the best seats, and the regulars lost theirs. Six years later, Great Neck started to shtiebilize, with a breakaway minyan.

    By the way, the breakaway minyan affiliated with the most important shtiebilization movement in the United States. It was a movement that for many years was denounced by established shuls and even the Orthodox Union as dividing, separating, and splintering Torah Judaism. This terrible, dangerous, movement called itself “Young Israel,” and today it is the backbone of the modern (or centrist?) Orthodox establishment. And in the process, it probably saved more neshamos for Torah any anyone else in the US, if not everyone else combined. By the way, I haven’t davened in a Young Israel in over 25 years.

  31. Josh K says:

    Rav Gordimer,

    You are simply wrong when you say that the “voting blocs in areas of heavy Jewish concentrations are of course significant, [but] the clout of the elected officials and of their geographic regions is also a very important factor.” On a national level, clout in Congress has nothing to do with geographic location. In fact, the most culturally prominent areas often have the least clout politically. Presidentially, candidates respond to swing state blocks somewhat (again, New Yorkers can be safely ignored, although Florida matters), but less than you’d think.

    New York is a prime example. It has two senators, so does Iowa. It has an abysmally low rate of federal money spent in the state per capita (as the state’s politicians have often complained). But it somehow inherently has more clout than Iowa? Further, on a local level, no one outside of New York cares about a New York governor or mayor, they are purely local figures.

    The Orthodox population’s ghettoization in New York badly hurts our ability to influence both local and national politics. Locally, you are right that moderate concentration helps (not too much concentration by the way – it’s far better to be 10% of the voting population in 10 districts than 100% in one – that way, 10 people listen to you. You just have to be concentrated enough to be noticeable, and organized enough to vote as a block).

    Further, New York is a very large state so we’re drowned out in the noise there. If every frum Jew in New York picked up and moved to Iowa, we would have much, much more influence over state policy. The same is true at a municipal level, NYC drowns us out. The ideal would be moderate concentrations of Jews within a number of smaller cities and states. That way we would be a noticeable block within the municipality and state, but still spread out enough to influence national government.

    Nationally, the problem is even more severe. Influence comes from relationships. The key to AIPAC’s success, for example, has been having committed activists in every state in the country. Folks with money in big cities (who, again, are politically isolated themselves due to their location) give bundled checks of 10k or so a committed individual donor in a less culturally prominent state. Those hundreds of activists use that bundled contribution to create a relationship with their Members of Congress across the country, and use relationships to inform them about Israel. That way, every Member of Congress has contact with a committed activist. The keys to that system are money and broadly dispersed activists. Concentration would hurt our influence on Israel.

    In sum, you are badly off base with your concern about dispersion hurting Orthodox Jewish influence politically. The bigger threat is that we simply don’t have the money to throw around that our secular brethren do, and we have not prioritized political outreach because, until now, we have relied on the secular community to advocate for Israel on our behalf.

    (I spent 8 years working professionally in politics before becoming frum)

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    Rav Gordimer’s article is yet another excellent article on the future of Orthodoxy in America. For those interested in the growth of the yeshivas in Lakewood ( other than BMG) and Rockland County-take a look at the weekly Yated-every week there is another mid level new yeshiva opening that caters to a niche in the community that is not already served in that world.

  33. ben dov says:

    Must we get down on the fact that Jews who seek affordable housing away from the grime of NY City? I would have preferred an article that affirms the positive aspirations of such Jews together with a balanced discussion of the pros and cons, and strategies to make the best of accomplished facts. Spiritually, NY City has plusses and minuses. This article over-romanticizes what used to be the status quo.

  34. A. Gordimer says:

    Mr. Reisman: I agree with you that shuls such as the one you describe are not in any way ideal or proper kehillos. Such scenarios are shameful and of course very improper. I rather refer to communities in which the members are meticulous about mitzvos and shul attendance, etc., but there is lack of personal connection to a rav or exposure to what a rav has to offer due to voluntary fragmentation and disenfranchisement. I know people who attend informal shteiblech and breakaway minyanim have no rav, and who literally have not heard a derasha or shiur in years, as they are basically outside the system, albeit they are fully frum.

    Josh K: I do not dispute your position on any of this. My point is that the Jewish vote and public presence is already dwindling, and the more that Jews disperse further will only hasten this waning.

  35. brooklyn refugee sheygitz says:

    Rabbi Gordimer – I don’t understand your point
    First of all the aspects of “moshiach” surrouning “kibutz galuyot, the flowering of the land of israel and many others, have clearly arrived. I saw “moshiach” in the machaneh yehuda shuk the other week. it wasn’t a dream or a hallucination or a figment of my imagination.
    I’m not denying that the community must care for the members of the community who for whatever reason have chosen to ignore certain mitzvot and continue to reside in chu”l. However in terms of communal planning for the long-term does the “community” educate towards fulfillment of this mitzvah? does it present the practical issues of say choosing to be educated to eventually work in Israel vs. say taking a serious second and third mortgage to fund a professional career which can barely be paid back on US wages (let alone Israeli ones)?

  36. Bob Miller says:

    Rav Gordimer commented above,

    “…I know people who attend informal shteiblech and breakaway minyanim have no rav, and who literally have not heard a derasha or shiur in years, as they are basically outside the system, albeit they are fully frum.”

    Unless frumkeit means something other than maximal adherence to all aspects of Yiddishkeit, doesn’t it include a commitment to continuing Torah education?

  37. Zadok says:

    When the largest Jewish population in America is represented by names like Schumer, Cuomo, Giuliani and Bloomberg, it means something massive.

    The last name on this list undermines the point as he was openly hostile to Orthodox Jews at the end of his career.Which other politician ever commented in a interview with a national publication “Who want ten thousand guys in black hats outside his office?”

    Replace the word “hats” with skin if you don’t think the comment is anti Semitic.

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