The Model is Working

Whatever it was that I wanted to say about Stephen Cohen’s “Lessons Learned From Orthodoxy’s Dramatic Growth” has been entirely overshadowed by Rabbi Gordimer’s marvelous essay. Although I might have tried to be more generous (halevai more non-Orthodox Jews would “pay the PRICE” and stay that much more involved for another generation), Reb Avrohom is unquestionably correct both that “the qualitative returns of such [non-Orthodox but heavily-involved] cases are far, far lower,” and in his explanation of why this is so.

Some of the comments to Rabbi Gordimer’s piece indicate, though, that my own thoughts on Prof. Cohen’s article are still relevant.

I’m not quite sure how Rabbi Gordimer could possibly be called “triumphalist” — he merely had the temerity to explain why the Orthodox are growing at an astounding rate. One can hardly fault him for terming the data “jaw-dropping,” as there are few more accurate adjectives with which to portray it. A veteran analyst of Chasidic demographics, himself the father of over a dozen children, refused to believe the results of Marvin Schick’s 2014 Census of Jewish Day Schools until I prevailed upon Dr. Schick to send him a copy. And who could blame him — what school system doubles in size in a 15-year period, as Chasidic schools did between 1998 and 2013? The fact that Jews were abandoning Torah observance earlier in the twentieth century only further accentuates the phenomenal success of the educational model now in use across the Orthodox community.

When we talked about exponential growth twenty-five years ago, no one said we were being “triumphalist” but rather “unrealistic.” I recall a Reform Rabbi confidently rebutting me with numbers from the first National Jewish Population Survey (1990), which showed that the Orthodox were consistently less than 7 percent of the Jewish population. The boom that was already quite evident within our community — the blossoming of Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey and elsewhere — coincided with the passing of an elderly cohort of nominally-Orthodox Jews, who self-identified as Orthodox based upon synagogue preference rather than solid commitment. Thus the Council of Jewish Federations spent millions of dollars in order to entirely miss the coming transformation of American Jewish life.

Today, the dividing line in Jewish demographics between Orthodox and Non-Orthodox Jews is so obvious that no statistician can ignore it — the new question is whether others will study our model to see what is working. In that regard, Prof. Cohen deserves kudos for daring to say (from his office at Hebrew Union College, no less) that the Orthodox are doing something right in this specific, critical area, and for suggesting that others emulate our model. Last year, after accepting an article on this very topic from Rabbi Pesach Lerner and myself, The Forward editors read it — at which point they hemmed, hawed, and eventually declined to share it with their readers.

At the same time, we are prone to continue to make the same error that plagued the demographers of previous years — conflating any form of “Orthodox Jews” into a monolithic construct. Rabbi Micha Berger commented that “17% of our children elect to leave the American Orthodox community” but added that “it’s apparently constant across all segments of Orthodoxy.” This number comes from the Pew Survey, and as I said in a previous essay, this figure is “outlandishly high where the Charedi community is concerned.”

We should refer back to Rabbi Meir Goldberg’s comment on that previous essay: when he asked two professionals in Lakewood how many of the over 10,000 teens are actually “OTD,” they said no more than 300, and “the vast majority eventually return.” That means that in Lakewood the “attrition rate” is under 3% and probably under 1%. Similarly, Footsteps, the magnificently well-publicized and well-funded organization helping people abandon Judaism — primarily though not exclusively from Chasidic homes — proudly states that it has served over 1100 people in 12 years. Per the Avi Chai study, Chasidic schools alone produced 55,000 graduates during that period, meaning less than 2 percent are leaving. Footsteps can accurately state the demand for its services is “growing exponentially” because the Chasidic community itself is doing exactly that.

And that is the larger point to take away from both the Pew Survey data and Prof. Cohen’s analysis: that growing numbers of individual problems are symptoms of the success of the overall model, rather than its failure or impending collapse. It only makes sense that the number of OTD teens should be growing, even if that reflects a constant or smaller percentage of a rapidly-increasing teen population. Certainly, the community has vastly more resources to help these children, as well as those with learning disabilities, medical conditions and other issues — because a larger community means a larger number of children evidencing any of these problems.

I would argue that even Open Orthodoxy is evidence of the growth and stature of Torah observance in the Jewish world today. A generation ago, adherents of “Open Orthodoxy” would not have hesitated to call themselves right-wing Conservative (i.e. the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism, which eventually dropped the “C” from its name), while encouraging precisely the same changes in Jewish philosophy and practice. Today, everyone knows that the vibrancy and commitment found within Orthodoxy are not replicated elsewhere — and thus it is important to OO to call itself Orthodox despite its abandonment of basic tenets of Orthodoxy.

I know that some will read this essay, as well, and conclude that I am being “triumphalist.” But again, that’s simply a pejorative reserved for the Orthodox, to be used (as David F commented) whenever Orthodox Jews mention the successes of Orthodox Judaism, and only now that the rectitude of what was said decades ago is obvious to all. No one said Simeon Maslin, then President of what was then called the UAHC, was being “triumphalist” when he said that Reform, and not Orthodox, are the “authentic” Jews. There is no triumphalism in rejecting a pattern of criticizing charedi Judaism and its leaders for their own successes. The Gedolim knew a great deal more than their critics of decades past; that, too, is a conclusion drawn directly from the available data.

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39 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    Yes, this piece is “triumphalist” but the R and C movements were also being triumphalist during the period of their rapid expansion in the 1950’s when they were saying that Orthodox was “passe’.
    Take the photograph that was used to illustrate this piece. It shows a gigantic mass of Jews, all of whom are wearing exactly the same uniform. I presume this photo was chosen in order to convey the feeling of power and inevitability. But as was even alluded to here, similar photographs could have been taken before the Holocaust in eastern Europe and yet a high percentage of the youth who were in those photos ended up abandoning Torah observance. Who says it could’t happen again if the cushion of the welfare state and the tolerant post-Modernist surroundings disappears?
    More than that, is simply wearing a uniform and showing up at some mass meeting true indication of belief and values? Does outward conformism necessarily indicate the inner state of someone? Maybe what we are seeing is a mile wide but only an inch deep?
    If we turned this mass of people loose in the streets and told them to convince other, uncommitted Jews of the importance of Torah and Jewish identity would they have ANYTHING to say to them? Would they have the tools to explain the importance of Torah to the modern Jew and the ideological and philosophical challenges to Jewish belief and identity in today’s post-Modernist world? I stated previously that I heard from a very knowlegable educator who has talked to a lot of Orthodox young people from all the different ideological trend and that he finds the level of “emunah” among many to be very low and their reason for being religious is simply that they were born into it and that this would not stand up to a real test coming from challenges from the outside, as happened in the 19th and first half of the 20th century.
    How would those in this photograph relate to a 100% Orthodox Jew who decided to move into their neighborhood but who told them he was more influenced by Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein or Rav Eliezer Berkowitz than by their Rebbe? Would they have even heard of them since much of the Orthodox world has condemned them to the status of non-persons?
    Would they be willing to listen to such a person? Would such a person be welcomed into their community, and I don’t mean merely an invitation to a Shabbat meal, but I mean acceptance on a permanent basis in their community as a legitimate religious Jew on equal terms?

    To repeat…”triumphalism” is the belief that a certain group “must be right….look how big they are!”. It would be a serious mistake to extrapolate the remarkable growth of the Orthodox world indefinitely into the future and to decide that all the values of the most rapidly growing groups should be adopted by everyone in the Orthodox world simply because they seemed to work in the recent path.

    • Eli Blum says:

      Good point regarding the welfare state. The Charaidi world depends on Government handouts, without which it could not exist. In a s SWOT analysis, that might come up as the biggest threat for the Yeshivish world (and then explains why returning money to families was a bigger deal than the draft in recent Israeli elections). For everyone who touts the Republicans (or Likud for that matter), it is the Democrats (read:President Obama and probable future President Clinton) who are keeping hundreds of thousands of Yidden on the Derech by keeping them out of extreme poverty.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        The Yesh Atid experiment of the last 3 years is the counter-proof. Poverty became much worse for charedi families yet the OTD rate did not grow.

      • Eli Blum says:

        Yaakov Menken – Yesh Atid was a drop in the bucket. The social network still existed in Israel, even with the “cuts”.

        Now, had they really wanted to break the Charaidim, they could have tied all benefits (including health care) to army service. My guess though is that even Ein Atid was not willing to do that to fellow Yidden, Boruch Hashem.

      • Y. Ben-David says:

        I don’t see how the Yesh Atid government is any proof. That government was in power only 2 years. The phenomenon of people giving up Torah observance is a process going over a significant period of time. I don’t believe a young person is suddenly going to give up being observant because his father’s kollel stipend was recently cut.
        I just read an article stating that the number of Haredim seeking out Haredi-approved vocational training has been steadily increasing over years, it started before the Yesh Atid gov’t came to power and is continuing today. I don’t know if you consider that a Haredi seeking out professional employment is some sort of “failure” and is the same as someone giving up Torah observance entirely, but it is clear that the old Israeli kollel system is simply not capable of maintaining an increasing population and economic pressures are at work
        Someone doesn’t just give up Torah observance because they are poor. Those who do feel the existing system is not responsive to their needs and aspirations and the poverty is just one manifestation of it.

  2. joel rich says:

    As Yogi once said:It’s Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future .
    As one who makes a living on predictions I’d simply add that one might look at the current state and ask how one would explain why things are different now such that the historical precedents of Jewish demographics over the years can be ignored and that the future is much more rosy..
    I strongly suggest viewing the Prudential Financial ad (I think Cross Currents does not allow links) described here:Past-Future, an ingenious little experiment that asks people to stick yellow or blue magnetic words describing past and possible future events on a wall using yellow words for good experiences and blue for bad. The point is to show that people have a sunnier view of the future (more yellow words) than the past, which speaks to the need to be realistic in retirement planning.

  3. lacosta says:

    i think in business they talk about ‘retention and recruitment’. rabbi menken puts the retention figure at 97%, rabbi berger more like the 80’s. this would argue to a successful retention model. the recruitment part is more problematic —it’s more than zero , but certainly not increasing marketshare by raiding the competitors’ customers. the growth of O jewry, and more specifically is mostly attributed to no use of birth control. clearly the generational numbers in ten child families is going to vastly exceed the competition….

    rabbi micha berger quotes rabbi wallerstein , he of impecable haredi cred , and wide exposure to haredi youth. regardless , one wonders about the economic model of haredi society , both in USA and Israel , which is indelibly tied to a leftist Social Welfare model , since most families do not have the means to raise and support not only their children, but also the next generation during their lean years , which in many cases may be quite prolonged if not indefinite.

    i would disagree about OO theoretically having left a generation ago, but i will say that certain OO-oriented synagogues would lose significant portions of their membership to C congregations with more traditional options if they would not have initiated the changes they did. furthermore, there will probably remain an element that will alternate their attendance between the C temple and the LWMO synagogue [much the way many jews drive to Temple fri nite while going to chabad the next day ]. If one looks at a day school like LA’s Shalhevet , whose high school students may have attended either an MO or C grammar school . likewise , many liberal MO shul’s youth may attend MO,C , or even public/private-nonjewish schools. there are clearly people that grew up in a C Temple that sidled over to a liberal MO shul , but it’s not their natural home–ESPECIALLY on egalitarian issues…and they can easily gravitate back .

    I wonder if the haredi leadership would prefer real clear demarcations, causing all these people to just leave—- because to an aguda shul they won’t migrate…
    In Tannaic times , a Shmuel Hakattan was called upon to create a prayer to get the Trinitarians out of the synagogue and to make their own religion. I don’t know if that’s really what the Moetzes wants to happen here….

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      You have stumbled back to Rabbi Gordimer’s distinction between Sociology and Theology. The Moetzes made its statement after reading the public statements and teachings of Open Orthodoxy. No one conducted a survey of current OO congregation memberships.

      Why? Because it is not “up” to the Moetzes / “haredi leadership” to make a sociological determination of what statement would be most likely to “retain” people who might well go to a Conservative congregation. This is not a case of someone making a gezeirah and seeing if the kahal can be “omed bah.” The transmission of Torah is about unvarnished truth — the Moetzes wanted people not to be confused. At least now they will make an informed decision, whatever it might be.

      • lacosta says:

        which people were the Moetzes directing at ? the audience who already listens to everything they say ? or the one that pays no mind to anything they say?
        i have no problem with the pronoucements . i just think it’s the wrong leadership —as I said, we have NO doubts that OO, YCT , Maharats etc will make ANY impact on any chareidi mossad . we are rather questioning whether chareidi pronouncements influence anybody else. but they say the chofetz chayim protested a theatre that he knew was inevitably coming , just to be on the record…

      • mycroft says:

        One has to be truthful but RYBS used to state how he has an obligation to make people want to come to shiurim by making them interesting. There is no mitzvah to engage in a losing war. Thus, the Moetzes should and probably does consider the impact of what they believe their statements will have. I hope it is not simply playing to the Amen corner

  4. Sass says:

    It seems everyone takes pains to add the disclaimer that they are not ch”v being “triumphalist.”
    Can I ask a simple question – what’s so wrong with being triumphalist?
    Why would a person or group not take pride in their achievement/triumph?

    • Y. Ben-David says:

      Because “triumphalism” means that your claim to being right is based on being big and strong, instead of right and true. Recall in the Torah, G-d says we are his “am segulah” in spite of the fact that we are NOT the biggest and strongest nation. Christianity and Islam certainly used triumphalism as major recruiting tools. That is why the Muslims insist on building their mosques on other people’s holy places, in our case, the Har HaBayit, in order to show that Judaism is defunct and why they are so upset about us coming back and retaking rightful control of Jerusalem which they think discredits their religion.

      • David F says:

        But nobody ever said we’re so wonderful because we’re so “big and strong.” The point all along has been that we’re growing instead of shrinking and unfortunately those communities who don’t adhere strictly to Torah values are rapidly disappearing. That’s been the point from the start. By your own definition, this has not been triumphalism.

    • mycroft says:

      In the last 1950 years we have not done well demographically. Best estimates there were between 3-10 million Jews in the world before Churban bayit sheini. In 2000 years we have gone down greatly as a percentage of the worlds population. It has NOT been primarily because of persecutions and pogroms. Eg more Jews in Europe 1200 than were in Europe in 1096-beginning of Crusades.

  5. micha berger says:

    Actually, my number did not originally come from the Pew Survey. It came from two independent studies: one by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, studying yeshiva HS students, which naturally was primarily Mod-O students, the other was a study presented by R’ Zecharia Wallerstein at the “inreach” track of the 2011 AJOP conference. (And in fact, I said as much in my comment.)

    Interestingly both studies gave the same 17% OTD rate, despite their focus on different sub-communities. The problem seems to be no better or worse whether we look at the kind of HS that feeds YU or at yeshivish homes. So it’s unsurprising that if the number found in different sub-communities is 17%, that the Pew Study would find a 17% rate overall, but that post-dates my sources. It just indicates things didn’t change much in the interim.

    R Wallerstein found someone to invest the money to hire professionals to get a clearer picture of the problem among his target population. I think that for the sake of our children we should take an honest look at their findings, rather than anecdotally dismiss them as being obviously “outlandishly high where the Charedi community is concerned.”

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      It is certainly remarkable that all three surveys came up with precisely the same number, with no leeway for margin of error. But I did not dismiss their findings, anecdotally or otherwise. I made that comment when looking at the Pew Survey and its conflation of disparate Orthodox communities with different challenges. I was not aware that Rabbi Wallerstein commissioned professionals, nor do I know their survey methodology — we know that Orthodox homes are averse to providing statistical data, especially on something of this nature.

      What I said remains true, and cannot be dismissed as “anecdotal.” 17% is nearly 1 in 5. If the attrition rate were that high, we would know; the average family with 5 or 6 children would have one OTD (chalila!) — and that’s simply not the case. We don’t need statisticians to tell us that more than 90 percent of children of Charedi families are still wearing yarmulkes / long sleeves.

      • micha berger says:

        I think many people would see your own comment and nod that yes, it does fit experience. Take a look around the greater NY area — which is, after all, 2/3 of the population. There are easily neighborhoods in which “ein bayis asher ein sham meis”, and for each few homes that escaped unscathed, there is a home where the children went like dominoes. Remember, one home with 5 OTD boys averages out against 4 homes with none. Your memory might dismiss that home as atypical, being a “special case” for some reason (divorce, disfunction, etc…), and therefore not put it into your “what obviously is” box, but it’s still a total of 5 families that keep the average.

        According to Faranak Margolese’s book, around 2,200 of O Brooklyn’s youth or roughly 10% were at risk (the book was published in 2005, so figure this was in 2003 or ’04). A decade ago, 10% were not just leaving O, they were “engaging in socially delinquent behavior, such as vandalism, theft, substance abuse, promiscuity and running away from home” (as the book defines “At Risk”). The book then suggests that hotlines suggest a number of 1,500, but given the usual rate of problems reaching a hotline, it could suggest an At Risk rate of up to 15.5%. All of which makes a 17% rate of kids who stop keeping Shabbos, once we include the non-delinquent kids who simply lost interest or fell down the IM / Facebook hole, very plausible.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        First of all, this is not about “memory,” it is about what we see around us each day. I cannot speak for unnamed NY neighborhoods, but I can talk about communities in Baltimore, Monsey, Lakewood and elsewhere with which I am familiar. And so can all of us. Who here lives in a Charedi neighborhood in which 17 percent or more of the youth are OTD?

        Furthermore, you are misquoting Margolese. Quote her accurately and in context, and there is no argument.

        You quoted only the upper bound of her figure, which you stated as a carefully-measured statistic. She writes, to the contrary, that “Interviewees were asked to estimate the prevalence of Orthodox at-risk youth in Brooklyn. Most speculated that about 1100 to 2200 Orthodox kids in Brooklyn are at risk, about 5 to 10 percent of the Orthodox population” [emphasis added]. So this was an unscientific survey of parents and professionals working with at-risk youth, asking them to project beyond their experience to the entire Brooklyn community. [I have frequently observed that professionals who make a career out of working with a particular problem, of whatever nature, due to extensive professional involvement with multiple instances of that problem, seem likely to significantly overestimate the prevalence of that issue within their target community.]

        Again, limit yourself to a 5 block radius around your house, and think about families whom you know personally. I would be extremely surprised were you to report anything approaching 17%.

        Furthermore, you define at-risk as beyond “just leaving O.” In actuality, the majority of teens who engage in at-risk behaviors eventually “straighten out,” as stated by the professionals quoted by Rabbi Goldberg. Thus the percentage of teens at-risk is considerably higher than the percentage who go on to be non-Orthodox adults (whether or not they engaged in at-risk behaviors during their teen years).

        And finally, thanks to people like Margolese there are many more resources for at-risk teens than there were in 1999, which is when the survey she quotes was conducted.

        So at that time the number of at-risk teens was likely to be around 7.5%, according to the surveyed guesstimates of professionals liable to exaggerate the number, the “vast majority” of them return to the Derech, and the resources available to help them today are vastly superior to what were available to them 15 years ago.

        All of which indicates that today’s figure, in the communities addressed by her survey, should be nowhere near 17 percent. V’dok.

      • micha berger says:

        You write as though I don’t have friend and family in other neighborhoods. (“Ein bayis asher ein sham meis” was borrowed from a co-worker’s description of his neighborhood, which was slightly humeorous since the phenomenon didn’t touch his own bayis.) I also showed how in a community where even only 5% of the homes have enough issues to be mentally labeled “atypical”, people would naturally underestimate the total when they look around.

        But we can’t argue just what I see vs what you see. (“Na’ah!” Ya-huh!”) There are others reading…

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        So, in your neighborhood, 17% is not merely off, it’s wildly off. And you told me via private email that the “Ein bayis” author was describing one of the communities where professionals acknowledge a figure of about 2-3%. So in your home community you know 17% is untrue, and in the other communities you identify, professionals say the 17% is untrue, yet you believe 17% may be accurate.

        Yes, let us invite others to describe their own communites, from personal experience only. Surely you agree that our actual experiences are more reliable than Margolese’s quote of Danziger’s survey of boich sevaros.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        I don’t know if you can prove anything, because they may be speaking/writing loosely in order to make a point and also don’t mention numbers, but R. Zwiebel said last month in his speech at the Agudah convention “we’re speaking about so many, we’re hemorrhaging”(16:55 in speech). R. Yair Hoffman wrote this March “They are everywhere—on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn and in Lakewood, New Jersey. They are leaving Williamsburg in droves. And their parents toss and turn at night worrying about them. It is to the point where, to echo a Pesach theme, “ein bayis asher ein sham meis”—there is not a home that has not been affected”.(“Sarah Schenirer’s Unfulfilled Legacy”)

      • David F says:

        You don’t seriously think that the quotes by R. Zwiebel or Hoffman are to be taken of evidence of anything, do you? That there’s a problem of kids who nebach go OTD is undeniable, but these quotes lend nothing to our understanding of said problem. Neither Zweibel nor Hoffman is any sort of expert on this matter.

        A figure of 17% is a gross over-estimate just based on my humble experience in life.
        1 – I come from a large [as in HUGE bli ayin harrah] family with more than 500 close relatives. B”H, while some have moved more to the left and some to the right, every single one of them is a Shomer Shabbos L’mehadrin.
        2 – I attended a mainstream Brooklyn yeshivah where each grade had approximately 100 students – in my own grade there was one boy who eventually landed in prison for crimes – I don’t know whether he was still officially frum at the time. Other than that – every single one that I’m aware of today [about 70% of my grade] are still all Shomer Shabbos.
        3 – I have children in High School, pre-HS and post-HS. I am not aware of a single child from the post-HS who is no longer frum. I know of a few who are struggling and may not make it, but for now, they’re all within the fold.

        I am aware of two kids in my overwhelmingly frum neighborhood who are no longer Shomer Shabbos and time will tell whether they’ll return. I’m not all that hopeful but one never knows. In Lakewood unfortunately, the number is probably higher but also nowhere near a 17% rate.

        I am somewhat acquainted with the right-wing MO community and while they’re definitely losing more than Charedi families, their number is also nowhere near 17%. I’d say that 5% might be more accurate.

        I am very well acquainted with Chassidishe families and there is nowhere near a 17% drop-out rate there. I don’t think 5% is accurate either. Lower, but definitely there.

        Everything I’ve written is anecdotal but based on very real familiarity with large swaths of the frum population by virtue of my years in education. All those arguing the higher percentage tend to have an underlying motivation [raise funds, create buzz at an Agudah convention, or disdain for Orthodoxy] and nothing I’ve ever seen supports their contention.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        I agree with you that it’s easy to overemphasize the problem; I’m pointed out that people do describe it this way. FWIW, here’s a similar quote from R. Yitzchok Fingerer of BJX this January:

        “There is a mageifah in the Jewish world. Nine out of ten Jews are unaffiliated, with no connection to Torah Judaism. Of those that are from the frum world, so many have fallen astray and don’t feel connected. Ain Bayis Asher Ein Shom Meis- there is no home that hasn’t been affected,” commented Rav Fingerer.

      • David F says:

        Again, all nice hyperbole. Nothing based on a smidgen of statistics. I know Rabbi Fingerer and he’s a wonderful person but his speculation adds nothing at all to the conversation. Seriously – quote some real stats and then we can talk. I know what my lying eyes tell me.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        You would agree with Jonathan Rosenblum’s “More Information, Please”(Mishpacha, 1/30/08) regarding causes of OTD(also discussed by R. Zwiebel and others at the Agudah convention), “The truth is that we have relatively little hard empirical data about the drop-out phenomenon. Most of what we know is based on anecdotal experience from which we extrapolate wildly…”

        I’ve read about the research focus of “Institute for Applied Research & Community Collaboration” in Monsey(Dr. Yitzchak Schechter).

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “but his speculation adds nothing at all to the conversation..then we can talk.”

        The contours of an anecdotal conversation are subjective. I think its relevant and timely to add to an already anecdotal conversation(see some of above comments) what I think people are saying as long as one notes it’s anecdotal and inexact; you don’t, and that’s fine. De gustibus non est disputandum(al taam va-reyach ein lehisvake’ach). Interestingly, one of the solutions to the OTD problem–whatever the actual numbers are– is to  see things more broadly from different angles, or from other people’s perspectives(both R. Shafran and R. Becher mentioned this last point at the Agudah convention in similar ways; see “Through Others’ Eyes” , 12/5/15 on this website).

      • micha berger says:

        Like mycroft, I believe formally collected statistics, and feel that arguing anecdotal evidence is a distraction. I was therefore dismayed by R’ Menkin’s summary “can’t be”. Since all the numbers are consistent, all the more so. A professional’s estimate is still not the same as someone actually doing a survey. (And your “professionals acknowledge” is a far overstatement of “one professional deduces after talking to his peers”.)

        Where do I say these numbers do not reflect my home community? Actually, in Passaic it’s very plausible. But then, to really discuss Passaic might get us sidetracked into a discussion of whether children of BTs have a higher drop-out rate. A neighborhood where 40% of the O adults are BTs is not typical, and I wouldn’t use it as a sample to extrapolate national demographics from. But if I thought it were typical, it would reinforce my point, not question it.

        To add to the contrary anecdotes: I also note R’ Harry describes it (presumably, the view from West Rogers Park): “Everywhere I turn these days it seems, I find a family where at least one child has gone OTD (Off the Derech — away from the religious path).”

        Last, “At Risk” and “OTD” are different things. If 5%-10% are At Risk, as we’re still back at roughly 17% OTD. Or do you think every kid who goes OTD becomes a juvenile delinquent? This is why you need to read the rest of the section from Margolese’s book to get an OTD number, from where my number derived. But the truth is, this number — as you note — is an expert’s projection. Just like R’ Meir Goldberg’s two experts.

        But why are we talking anecdotes when real numbers exist! Especially now that you see that what you took for granted is NOT everyone’s experience. We also have Pew reporting on a population that is 2/3 chareidi having a 17% departure rate. If that 2/3 only had a 5% OTD rate, we would be saying that 41% of MO leave. I doubt any community watchers would believe that one any faster than the proposal you’re rejecting. It is more likely that my memory is just fine, even if I did pick a round number out of the range that would best match the MO number.

        If you question the numbers (or my memory of them), you run a platform with enough readership for the interested parties to consider addressing directly. Don’t just guess what someone must have meant, you have the clout to ask R’ Wallerstein on the readership’s behalf!

        But your dismissing the numbers we do have in favor of anecdote or informed guesswork is really unfair to those who need communal support to help combat the problem. We are bleeding kids. All is not well when 1/6 of our children choose to leave. Now how do we fix that?

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        Why would someone who believes in “formally collected statistics” not present them? Because we don’t have them. The Pew Report suffers from the same problems as previous Jewish population surveys — anyone who grew up attending an Orthodox synagogue is “Orthodox” by its reckoning. This was so robustly true 25 years ago that the growth of Torah observance in America was entirely hidden. So Pew’s 17% is the first clue that the number among the Torah-observant is much lower.

        Margolese said the precise opposite of what R’ Micha previously claimed — why should we be so anxious to falsely tar the Orthodox community? “We are bleeding kids” — true, because every kid is one too many. But the size of the problem helps determine appropriate solutions — exaggerating the magnitude of the issue leads to wrong solutions that do not address the problems. It is not helpful.

        The population of teens “at-risk” is higher than the number who stay OTD, because most charedim who go OTD show “at-risk” behaviors in their teens, and not all those at-risk leave. That’s what at-risk means, does it not?

        Without getting into any form of Charedi-MO debate, in order to believe that yeshiva students have the same dropout rate as those attending four-year secular colleges requires that either (a) yeshivos are pathetic failures at doing what they do, or (b) that the normal rules of anthropology and sociology simply don’t apply. “Anecdotal” evidence universally suggests that neither of the above is accurate.

        As a BT, living in Baltimore with a similar high percentage of BTs, I will confirm without sidetrack: yes, the rate is higher, obviously so. But even among BT families it’s not anywhere close to 17%. I asked R’ Micha to contemplate a local survey, and he has declined. No one else has chimed in to say that 17% is true in any neighborhood — much less the majority.

        We call it an epidemic. But it is obviously a great exaggeration to claim “ayn bayis” — designed to reflect how great this issue is in our eyes, not to pretend that it is literally true.

      • Reb Yid says:

        As one who has studied and worked on some of these surveys for a while, my take is different. I believe that the 17% figure is at least a starting point for discussion.

        20, 30 or 40 years ago, these figures were significantly higher for people who were raised in Orthodoxy but currently identified with a different one. That is because, as has been noted, some of these folks were raised in nominal Orthodox homes where the synagogue one attended, to the extent that one attended at all, was Orthodox.

        The figures are lower today because l’maaseh this cohort has died out. So we’re dealing with a different Orthodox population now. The only exception, and this has been discussed on academic listserves, may be the growth of Chabad where they ID as Orthodox but their “Jewish” behaviors may seem deviant to the Orthodox world. But in any case that is not relevant to this discussion, as most of these folks were not raised Orthodox to begin with.

      • dr. bill says:

        My own observations are inconclusive and carry little to no weight in supporting or denying one study or another, though 17% seems high. From personal observation, I see the MO community losing some of its best and brightest to a less or non-observant lifestyle, although in many/most cases maintaining a tie to their previous community and friends. I am also becoming increasingly aware of the impact of homosexuality, a topic too complex to address. I know little about this issue in the chareidi community. However, two things that worry me are: first, the extent to which those who leave maintain reasonable ties to their previous community and/or successfully integrate into the broader society, and second, always threatening in the background, is the possibility of a dramatic confrontation with modernity that has, to date, been avoided.

      • mycroft says:

        We need data not anecdotal evidence. My morning minyan has unfortunately lost higher percentage to OTD than the amounts listed here. Look no one has parties, sends out press releases to Hamodia and brags about children who went OTD-thus one can be fooled by anecdotal evidence.

    • mycroft says:

      About a decade ago I was discussing the issue with a leading frum professional in the field. We both felt a study of what happens in the decades after schools from students who attended various day schools would be very worthwhile. Prtoblem schools would not want data around-it is much easier to state slogans and triumphalism. Of interest would be to take number of chareidim from about 50-60 years ago, take the birth rates during that time, with marriage ages etc and see what the expected number of chareidim is vs the amount currently identifying as chareidim. Our plug numbers would show substantial loss of chareidim.

  6. dr. bill says:

    Three independent points. 1) Israeli politics is impacted by chareidi growth in Israel; what might growth in the US chareidi population portend? 2) I would not always use numerical growth as an indicator of success; despite being the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths we are far from the largest. 3) Vie es christelt sich, azoi yidelt sich; fundamentalism is on the rise throughout many parts of the world.

    • mycroft says:

      In the past 120 years or so the ratio of the population ratio of another Abrahamic faith to Judaism has increased from approximately 15-1 to 100-1.

  7. Dov says:

    I think the strongest point to take from the numbers is a counter to those that feel the we are losing people because of traditional orthodox Jewry. The argument of the early part of the 20th century that people will go elsewhere if not for XYZ has been proven false. I don’t think you can say that for
    A. Conservative
    B. Open orthodoxy
    or even for Modern Orthododxy .

    I dont think the numbers are there to support any group saying ; “if you don’t adapt to us , you will lose your religion”, at this point time has shown that traditional orthododxy is the best bet with regards to staying a strong commited jew.
    (although i do think the kollel system will bankrupt these families and the numbers are not there to support such endevors “

    • lacosta says:

      no one has proven that abject poverty was a prime cause of defection from the european model [do we call this haredi? ] of judaism in th e 1800’s early 1900’s, have they?

      • Y. Ben-David says:

        There were several reasons for the mass defection of Jews from Torah observance in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Poverty was certainly a major factor…..poor people simply don’t have the time, energy or resources to give a proper Torah education to the youth. Other major factors was virulent antisemitism and the outright despair much of the Jewish community had about any hope for the future in the countries of eastern Europe.This attracted many Jews to Communism and other revolutionary movements. Add to this the rapid development of technology, science and general knowledge and the desire of many Jews to want to become part of this added to general curiosity about the world around us.
        The Torah leadership of the time had many different approaches to dealing with this ongoing crisis. Some said simply to ignore it, and simply try to keep an elite nucleus inside. Others turned to Zionism and the idea that only a return to Eretz Israel could give the Jews hope for a better future that would keep Jews from assimilating into European or American culture. Others , like R. Shimson Raphael Hirsch said religious Jews should at least partially enter the general European culture.

        Today, the welfare state and associated affluence added to the prevailing post-Modernist philosophy has shielded young Orthodox Jews from the challenges I outlined. Today there is a general denigration of science and knowledge so it is less attractive to intelligent young Jews, there is the success of modern Israel in giving Jews a safe place to live fully Jewish lives, and there is a general disillusionment with the achievements of modern society, added to a current political correctness against antisemitism (to a point) and bigotry.

        How long these trends will last no one can say but there is no guarantee that they won’t change (e.g. an economic crisis, demographic changes in the US, etc). Then the whole religious crisis could reappear.

    • lacosta says:

      just realized that mr Dov is implying that MO is some sort of ‘accommodation’ rather than a legitimate shitta like eg chassidus. not sure that is an acceptable position.

  8. Reb Yid says:

    A number of factual corrections and comments:

    1. The fact that Steven Cohen is employed by Hebrew Union College does not in any way make him a Reform Jew. One might be, one might not be (and since I know Steven I can assure you that he’s not). This is a point that I have made on repeated occasions to various posters and commenters. One can work, as I have, for a whole host of institutions, Jewish among them, but the institution should not be conflated with the individual.

    2. We don’t have much in the way of solid data on the Charedim and Chassidim, and in any case none that explore its qualitative dimensions. It is therefore impossible to assess many of the assertions made in this post regarding “problems” relating to children or teens in the community.

    Your claim saying that the growing problems are “to be expected” given the increase in the population has no current way of being substantiated–because we don’t really know how many problems truly exist or at what rate they are increasing relative to the population increase.

    Surely we must be that with certain kinds of issues such as violence, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, etc when we use government and agency data we KNOW that many crimes simply are not reported. Victims are for good reasons scared/embarrassed/intimidated from coming forward. In many cases they may feel they cannot escape the community despite their great pain. This is true in the general US community, and if anything this phenomenon is far more likely to transpire in places like New Square, Lakewood, etc.

    3. There’s a very good reason why the UTCJ folks put in the C–they originated as a lobby within the Conservative movement and stayed in that capacity for numerous years. Later they began to attract adherents from Traditional Jewish congregations and from rabbis associated with the FTOR (Federation of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis), and separately it was realized that any attempts to reach an accommodation with the Conservative movement would not transpire. Only then was it decided to drop the “C”. But importantly, the “O” was never added which completely debunks your assertion.

    Ironically, this FTOR community was more sociopolitically liberal than the original UTCJ folks. It is clearly the case, by the way, that the OO community is more liberal than the UTCJ was back in the late 1970s and 1980s.

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