Why American Jews Will No Longer Be Overwhelmingly Liberal

(The following article originally appeared in American Thinker. I wrote the article using great generalization, purposefully overlooking many subtle and at times important distinctions, due to the overly general presentation of the damaging article (relative to the specific readership) to which I was responding, as well as due to the readership probably not being familiar with the nuances I otherwise would have included.)

Steve Feinstein’s recent article, Why American Jews Are Overwhelmingly Liberal, omitted a crucial part of the story: its conclusion. While I do not take issue with the article’s facts – although I think that it was too broad of a sweep, not taking into account the substantial number of Jewish conservatives – the truth is that a wave of conservatism, based on religious values, has been deeply cultivated and is robustly emerging on a major scale in the most vibrant and enduring segments of American Jewry.

Studies have demonstrated that America’s secular and mostly liberal Jewish population is shrinking and disappearing, as a result of intermarriage and abandonment of Jewish identity and tradition. Liberal Jewish congregations are dwindling and shutting down, and even seeking non-Jews to join, as there are no longer enough Jews to fill these emptying houses of worship. And the same is true with liberal Jewish schools and organizations.

In contrast, the American Orthodox Jewish population is growing, and it is projected that this population, which is politically conservative and which strives to live by Biblical values, has strong family units and adheres to a traditional way of life, will replace the liberal Jewish communities.

The most notable impact on American society of this seismic change will be in the political arena, as Orthodox Jews predominately vote Republican. Other changes will be seen as well, especially in the areas of support for traditional family values, as Orthodox Jews are pro-lifeoppose gay marriage and support school choice. And on a more recent note, much of the greatest Jewish support for the appointment of Steve Bannon came from the Orthodox Jewish media.

As much as the ascendancy of Orthodox Jewry and the decline of liberal Jewry are largely unknown to those outside of Jewish institutional life, equally unknown to most is the fact that a sizeable amount of the current Orthodox population consists of former liberal, non-Orthodox Jews who renounced their heterodox religious allegiances and embraced the Judaism of tradition, transforming their lives to center around God and the authentic Law of Moses. These Jews – most of whom are exceptionally talented and highly articulate, creative individuals – sensed the emptiness of a shallow religious experience, in which “feel good” mantras and political correctness came to replace genuine belief and Divinely-ordained commandments. Orthodox outreach organizations such as National Conference of Synagogue YouthChabad and Aish, among many others, exposed secular-liberal Jews to the beauty of their tradition and inspired many of them to return to it.

Jews are typically idealists, searching for purpose and higher meaning, whether they realize it or not. Liberal Judaism, which came about as an accommodation to radically changing social and political trends in 19th century Western Europe, marketed a life-philosophy of veritable purpose and higher meaning, but instead sold its constituency an empty bag, stuffed with promises and platitudes but little substance and zero long-term endurance. (Think of the “Obama Greek Columns” speech.) Such purchases are inevitably returned or disposed of. Those liberal Jews who recognized what the real article is rejected the religious identity of their upbringing and proceeded to align themselves with their bona fide tradition, while the rest of their brethren are sadly and silently disappearing, unbeknownst to general society.

The Orthodox Jewish spectrum is broad, and it is rich in vibrant ideas that connect contemporary life to religious tradition and Biblical values. This old-new conservatism is the emerging and future face of American Jewry. Get ready for major change.

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39 Responses

  1. dr.bill says:

    The issue is that most American Jews will view intermarried, reform, secular, etc. Jews, who choose to so identify as Jews, as Jews.  They will remain fundamentally liberal.  Another wild card are the ghettoized orthodox enclaves dependent on Government support who care little about anything outside their world and often vote as commanded by their rabbinic leadership.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      IIRC, there was a statewide election in NJ ( possibly the most recent gubernatorial election) in a state which has some of the nastiest “drive time” commercials on the radio imaginable, and I think that the calls of the Lakewood RY were in fact ignored by those residents who look to their guidance on a wide range of issues.

      • dr.bill says:

        you are correct.  the BMG leaders’ directives were opposed by other rabbis in the town; for whatever reason(s) BMG leaders were not blindly followed.

        though addicted to various forms of government subsidy, lakewood is hardly a ghetto, like kiryat Yoel or Square.  in any case i said often because of places like lakewood, whose dramatic growth have brought a limited level of diversity, not tolerated in the communities mentioned.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Your comment re who identifies as a Jew is correct to the following extent -we were at a family gathering and a young man identified himself as born a Lutheran who was converted by a RJ clergyman and now “considers himself Jewish.” This is obviously a growing sociological trend.

    • Reb Yid says:

      You hit the nail on the head with your first two sentences.  While the current liberal denominations may or may not be shrinking, that is not really the point.  A greater proportion of Jews in the future will identify as Jewish without reference to ANY denomination (it’s the fastest growing denomination in America in general, period–the “nones”).  Some may not even identify as Jewish by religion, but will by culture, heritage, ethnicity, etc.

      And of course the most likely driver of liberal Jewish population growth–those who are attracted to Jewish partners who were not raised Jewish themselves (as well as their children).  Jews are in.  People want to marry Jews.   Long gone are the days when a Jew marrying someone who was not a Jew meant renouncing one’s faith, community, heritage and values.


      • Steve Brizel says:

        See my post from 6:00 pm last night about some of the consequences for long term support of Israel. The mere popularity of a Jewish spouse cannot bode well for a long term and sustained support of Israel especially given recent polls re support for Israel within the Democratic Party at an all time low.

      • Reb Yid says:

        If you mean a reactionary type of support for Likud or of an AIPAC or ZOA, then I agree with you.

        If you mean support for a two state solution, and continued support of American liberal Zionism which far predated the birth of Israel itself, then I strongly disagree with you.

        But in any event, per the theme of this post, American Jewish households will still be predominately liberal for the forseeable future.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Liberal Zionism as defined and set forth above cannot or transmitted from one generation to another without being eroded by the curre t Zeitgeist on college campuses and in the mainstream media. Parents who subscribe to the same have no answer to the question of why and what it means to have a Jewish identity that is rooted in Bris Avos and Bris Sinai let alone explain why the anchors and bedrock of Judaism are Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim and the role of parents as the connection between the past and the future as opposed to merely providing the means for their children to do what makes them happy

      • Steve Brizel says:

        This is how you Tom Friedman Roger Cohen and Peter Beinart define what they as being a Jewish liberal.many who do so do not have Jewish children let alone grandchildren.They often resemble in their views and lifestyles the 80% of Klal Yisrael who as stated by Rashi  because of their failure to adhere to the dimple command to stay hone during the plague of darkness did not leave Egypt.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        When liberalism demands that Israel commit political suicide and offers a watered down definition of what it means to be Jewish then one has to simply ask oneself what takes priority Judaism or liberalism as the basis for ones moral committtments.

      • dr.bill says:

        i wonder how many of your insights might apply to Rav Amital ztl and those who ascribe to his views.  this admixture of religion and extreme zionism was predicted to end badly by a number of then active religious thinkers.  sadly, they were rather accurate.

  2. Charles Hall says:

    “Orthodox Jews predominately vote Republican.”

    That isn’t really true. The only exit polls in both the 2012 and 2016 elections that disaggregated by observance level showed Obama  winning over Romney among self-identified Orthodox Jews in 2012 by 4% and Clinton winning over Trump by 17%. While some Orthodox communities do vote overwhelmingly Republican in national elections, some vote just as overwhelmingly Democratic (Teaneck and Riverdale) and even the former are usually quite happy to vote for Democrats for local and state offices.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      One must distinguish between MO and Charedi communities. MO communities do vote Democratic. There have already been post election surveys showing that while Teaneck voted Democratic, Bergenfield and Lakewood did not. Similarly while Riverdale and the UWS went Democratic, Flatbush, KGH and BP voted for Trump.

      • Bob Millee says:

        This is a side-effect or primary effect of MO immersion in the attitudes of the surrounding secular society.  Who is transforming whom?   The nations, wrongly understood, can be a darkness unto us.

      • dr.bill says:

        or perhaps views formed in former environments where jews lived have been transferred and applied in what RMF ztl called a “medinah shel chessed.”

  3. Rachel W. says:

    Orthodox Jews tend to live in the larger cities which are Democratic strongholds.  That is why they vote Democratic in local elections-it is usually the only viable option.  When a Republican does somehow make his way on to the local ticket, (as in Rudy Guliani in NYC) often the Orthodox vote will go for him/her.

    • dr.bill says:

      hence their votes are meaningless.  take the jewish vote in california, illinois and ny /nj out of the picture, then let’s talk.  its the Jews of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, etc. that matter.  Orthodoxy has a presence in those states, but the remainder of the Jewish population is where attention will lie for the foreseeable future.

  4. J.B. says:

     America’s secular and mostly liberal Jewish population is shrinking and disappearing, as a result of intermarriage and abandonment of Jewish identity and tradition. Liberal Jewish congregations are dwindling and shutting down, and even seeking non-Jews to join, as there are no longer enough Jews to fill these emptying houses of worship. And the same is true with liberal Jewish schools and organizations.

    Liberal Judaism is not shrinking. It is shifting in geography and age, but it’s not in some sort of catastrophic collapse.

    Reform is the largest denomination in the US, both by membership of the URJ and by 2013 Pew reported stats (35% of American Jews). It’s followed by unaffiliated Jews at about 30%. The 2013 numbers for Reform and unaffiliated Jews, by the way, were at or above the 2000-01 numbers as well, so the trend is not downwards.

    Even if you buy the “all Orthodox are politically conservative” theory, most American Jews (9-1) are NOT Orthodox according to the 2013 Pew data. Basing supposed political trends among “American Jews” on purported trends in the Orthodox community is unreasonable.

    The only evidence for the reference citation is a new analysis of 20+ year old data about the dangers of intermarriage. In the studies one and two decades later, the liberal movements did not suddenly shrink as direly predicted. Intermarriage is not killing Jewish identity, even if Orthodox Jews may not recognize all offspring as Jews.

    [Liberal Judaism] sold its constituency an empty bag, stuffed with promises and platitudes but little substance and zero long-term endurance… Those liberal Jews who recognized what the real article is rejected the religious identity of their upbringing and proceeded to align themselves with their bona fide tradition, while the rest of their brethren are sadly and silently disappearing, unbeknownst to general society.

    This is incredibly condescending towards millions of liberal Jews. Incidentally, it’s also total nonsense, since about 90% of Reform and Conservative Jews by upbringing remained Jewish according to the 2013 Pew data. Only 1% of those raised Reform, and 4% of those raised Conservative, became Orthodox. That means that roughly 88% of Reform Jews and 86% of Conservative Jews remained non-Orthodox Jews; overwhelmingly, they neither abandoned Judaism nor “[aligned] themselves with their bona fide tradition”.

    Even if you define Judaism on solely religious grounds, the yields are still 72% Jewish/71% non-Orthodox Jewish from Reform (vs 51% according to the Aish analysis) and 83% Jewish/79% non-Orthodox Jewish from Conservative (vs 81% according to the Aish analysis)). Liberal Jews are overwhelmingly staying Jewish, contrary to the claims of this article and the cited Aish article.

    In fact, both the 2000-01 data and the 2013 data indicate very high rates of denomination switching from Orthodox Judaism. 52% of those raised Orthodox were no longer Orthodox in the 2013 survey, higher numbers than the 2000-01 data. However, given the growth rate of the Orthodox population and the high percentage of Orthodox Jews who are children, this cannot necessarily lead us to conclude that Orthodox Judaism is on the decline in America.

    Frankly, though, this article should be dismissed out of hand even before such analysis. Jews voted Clinton 71-24 last year, according to Pew’s data. That number increased from 2012. The proof is in the pudding: American Jews voted for Hillary, and there isn’t a trend away from American Jews voting blue in national elections. The fundamental assumption this article makes (Jews are voting more for Republicans in national elections) is false. The real discussion, as ever, has been why this has been so for decades, not whether it is true.

    • J.B. says:

      Formatting was stripped from this comment. The first and sixth paragraphs were quotes from the article itself.

    • Rafael Qunoaface says:

      The problem with your article is that in real halachic terms, the liberal Jewish movements are becoming less and less Jewish. It may be true that the heterodox recognize patrilinear descent or unhalachic conversions and therefore their number remain constant or grow, but that is effect of abandoning halachic standards to maintain total numbers. As for voting, its is interesting to note for Canadian Jews (of which I am one) were traditionally voters for the Liberal Party of Canada until Stephen Harper become Prime Minister of Canada. Due to the fact that Harper was very pro-Israel, at one point the most-pro-Israel politician in the world, Jews shifted their allegiance to the Conservative Party of Canada. So change from liberal to more conservative voting can happen, but I believe it is less likely in the U.S. where Jews have less of a Jewish identity and anti-Israel and BDS have made much more inroads among the U.S Jewish population, combined with non-Jews who believe or they are Jews voting with a “non-Jewish” frame of reference.

      • mycroft says:

        Not the first time that a Canadian PC PM who was pro Israel was succeeded by a Liberal PM who wasn’t see eg John Diefenbaker succeeded by Lester Pearson. Diefenbaker has a forest in Israel named after him, Pearson an airport after him. Pearson similar to Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for their activities pressuring Israel.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Trudeau was proceeded by a conservative who was a huge Ohev Yisrael

      • Reb Yid says:

        I would much, much rather have the current Canadian PM than his predecessor.  And you are again perverting what it means to be “pro-Israel”.

        I’m “pro-America”, but opposing Trump doesn’t make me any less so (addarabba).


      • Rafael Quinoaface says:

        Reply to Reb Yid of Feb 3:

        You would much rather have a PM who on February 15 is permitting an MP of his to put forth a motion against Islamophobia that meets the Cairo Declaration of that term (i.e. silence criticism of Islam as blasphemy) and would infringe on free speech in Canada?

      • Rafael Qunoaface says:

        Whoa! That’s going back a while! 🙂 Before my time (I was born mid ’70’s).

        But you are correct about that. What’s funny is that Harper was a pleasant pro-Israel change from the Liberal regime under Jean Chretien, which was cool to Israel and very anti-US. In fact, Chretien is infamous for shaking hands with a head honcho of Hezbollah at the Francophonie convention in Lebanon and then claiming he didn’t know who that person was. 🙂 The fact is that Canadian Jews became sick and tired of Canada “neutral” position on Israel, and amazingly voted for Harper in the 2010 election when he won a majority government.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    These stats are supported by the fact that while those affiliated with RJ and CJ vote liberal, their children and grandchildren  will be so assimilated in  the future that any support for Israel will be attenuated at best and registered by their parents and grandparents. All of the surveys ( Pew, etc) point to a declining degree of affiliation by RJ and CJ and growing Orthodox communities. Similarly,  ask anyone involved in kiruv-the teens and adults today, as opposed to the generation of the 1950s and 1960s, lack such basics as a Jewish name and have far less of a bedrock awareness of such observances that their parents and grandparents conducted such  as a Bris Milah, Bar and Bas Mitzvah,  Pesach Seder and fasting on YK and have been exposed to anti Israel sentiment and propaganda in the media and college campuses far more so than their parents and grandparents.

    • dr.bill says:

      while there are certainly bad actors that are impacting support for Israel, it would be less than candid not to highlight some self-inflicted wounds.  1) the dedication to finding an acceptable solution (in spite of palestinian incitement and worse), 2) the commitment to a jewish and democratic state and 3) fundamental respect for the diverse religious views across US jews, all contribute to weakening support currently.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Yes–again you hit it on the head.  I would like to suggest to Steve Brizel, among others (including Bibi and Naftali), to reread Israel’s Declaration of Independence.  Israel’s government in recent decades has been veering away from this ethos into a much more particularistic, myopic and xenophobic perversion of Zionist vision.

        It is no wonder that the majority of American Jews are reacting to the current government in Israel with revulsion, just as they are with the current POTUS.  Bibi is a poor man’s (some might say beggar’s) version of Trump.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        This is classical liberal progressive apologetics.

        one reaches peace with a defeated enemy while remaining Democratic and not watering down areas of communal practice that are lapel. Pnim

      • mycroft says:

        US and Canada have been at peace for 200 years- neither party was defeated. Last war was a draw-1812-1815

      • Steve Brizel says:

        No PM of Israel should see their job description as based upon the need to appease the cultural Zeitgeist of the times in the media and academia that would have Israel retreat to the Auschwitz pre 1967 and indefensible post 1948 armistice lines.

      • dr.bill says:

        thank you.  yesterday’s action by the trump administration, who is committed to achieving the supposed impossible, clearly delineated what netanyahu thought he could obfuscate – building within maale adumin and new settlements in palestinian areas.

      • Rafael Qunoaface says:

        You do know, I hope, that George Soros is the financial muscle behind J-Street and all of these other “liberal” Zionist organizations. This is not grassroots at all, but top-down imposition of far-left views on Israel, financed by the same man is who is financing anti-Trump lawsuits, “pro-bono” lawyers in airports, and street protesters.

  6. Raymond says:

    What all of this might boil down to, is to what extent that each of us Jews allows ourselves to be distracted by secular, gentile culture.  The more we lose focus on our Jewish core, the less important that issues such as Israel becomes.  To those of us who manage to never forget who we really are, however, the choice of whom to vote for becomes exceedingly effortless.  Just to give a still recent example of this, I will admit that during last year’s Presidential Primaries, that I found myself very much opposed to Donald.  What turned me around was the quite obvious point that he has always been very strongly pro-Israel.  Once I focused on that to the exclusion of any other issues that really were nothing but distractions, supporting him became the easiest thing in the world for me to do.

  7. Josh K says:

    As a group, Orthodox Jews are best understood as (in most cases) conservative on social and foreign policy issues, liberal on economic ones.  The real truth is that we don’t fit neatly into the U.S. political spectrum.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Or is it that the leftist Jews will continue to vote as they have voted, but will no longer identify as Jews?    This process is already in motion, to our chagrin.

    Also, do not underestimate the desire of many traditional Jews to be subsidized by the government at all levels, which can continue to drive them to support the Robin Hood Party.


  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill WADR tour invocation of R Amital ZL I stand by my prior comments on the sustainability of liberalZionism

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft please explain the relevance of your last post name one nation that prevailed after any war and not only gave up strategic depth but enabled its enemy to keep on fighting in the media educational institutions and armed it to fight and launch guerilla warfare against the victororious nation.

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