I’m a hopelessly assimilated, secular Jew with a social and conservative political orientation. I’m not just a dying breed, I’m a theoretically non-existent breed. While I may not really exist, there is a Jewish demographic that looks as if soon, it will not exist at all. The generic liberal American Jews who were so long a part of the American landscape are rapidly assimilating themselves into oblivion or having too few children to have any demographic destiny.
All is not over, however, for the American Jewish population. Richard Baehr, who has been writing at American Thinker about Jewish voting patterns in the last election, tipped me off to the fact that, while generic Jews are vanishing, Orthodox Jews are replenishing rapidly:
In an era when the Jewish population in America is stable or declining, ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish numbers are growing rapidly — a trend that may make the Jewish community not only more religiously observant but also more politically conservative.
So says a University of Florida population geographer who recently completed the first estimate of the Hasidic population based on the U.S. Census.
Geography professor Joshua Comenetz estimated today’s Hasidic population at about 180,000, just 3 percent of the approximately 6 million Jews in the U.S., in a recent paper published in the journal Contemporary Jewry. However, Comenetz calculated that the Hasidic population doubles every 20 years because Hasidic Jews tend to have many children. That’s occurring even as demographic studies show that the non-Orthodox Jewish population is flat or falling. If current trends continue, Hasidic and other growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups will constitute a majority of U.S. Jews in the second half of this century – a potentially profound cultural and political change.
“In demographic terms, Hasidic Jews are more similar to some highly religious Christian groups than liberal Jews,” Comenetz said. “They may also sympathize more with the Republicans than the Democrats on values questions. So, one outcome may be a change in the way Jews vote.” (Read the rest here.)
When I went to New York several years ago, I wasn’t that impressed with the ordinary city sights — the tall buildings and museums and wide streets. I mean, they’re impressive, but they’re not new to me. I’ve seen the same things, with local color, of course, all over the world. What really blew me away was a trip I took across the Brooklyn Bridge to visit an ultra-Orthodox community.
I actually had a hard time finding the Jewish neighborhood because, when I got off the subway, I found myself in a very Hispanic neighborhood. I finally saw an ultra-Orthodox man who was clearly heading home. I ran after him. “Excuse me,” I said. “How do I find the Jewish neighborhood?” He looked me over carefully. While I’m sure I didn’t look threatening, I certainly didn’t look like a religious Jew. “Pardon me,” he replied. “But why do you want to know?” “Because I’m Jewish, and I think I should see it.” He immediately gave me directions, and within minutes, I found myself in a different world.
On this single three block stretch, all the men wore hats, side curls, beards, prayer shawls, and solid black clothing. The women wore wigs, scarves, dresses that covered them entirely, sensible shoes — and were surrounded by children. Any woman over eighteen seemed to have at least one child and the older ones were often surrounded by six, seven or even eight children. This was manifestly an expanding, not a contracting population. “Be fruitful and multiply” was more than a poetic phrase — it was a directive.
I therefore have no trouble believing that Orthodox Jews will eventually constitute the largest part of the Jewish population. I do struggle, though, to imagine a demographic future in which there are a few wildly reproducing communities: committed Christians, Jews and Muslims, and, apparently, Hispanics, regardless of their religious stripe. How are they all going to get along? It seems like a recipe for the Apocalypse.