the Demographics of American Jews
A friend once got a bit of a reputation by pointing out that "you don’t need the weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing." But you do need a demographer to know which way the Jews are going.
Some readers will recall the journalistic hockey brawl in the NY Times over the National Jewish Population Survey 2000/2001, partially released in October 2002. Now the full survey is out, but the sticks are still flying, and the penalty box is full.
J. J. Goldberg, editor of Forward, the leading ‘Jewish community’ weekly, contributed an op-ed to the 9/17 Times, denouncing "flawed figures." James Tisch, chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, replied in the 9/22 issue, defending their numbers against "critics" who "try in vain to ascribe to us ulterior motives."
If gentile readers were confused about the furor, they will be comforted in knowing that most Jews likewise don’t grasp the underlying issues. But valid stats are crucial to a scientific understanding of the evolution of American Jewry. And with the US military all over the Middle East, and Palestine/Israel certain to be a priority concern in the forthcoming presidential election, universal misunderstanding of the status of Jewry in modern America can have fatal consequences for Palestinians, Israelis and Americans.
The best way for us to start is with the reader estimating the percentage of Americans who are Jews. Got your number? Now the scholars’ calculations. Their figures sit between 2.2% and 2.5%. Now compare your estimate and these figures with the guesses put forth by Americans in a 3/90 Gallup poll.
Twenty-four percent had no opinion. Beyond them, the average American thought that America was 18% Jewish.
That broke down to eight percent of Americans thinking that Jews are less than 5% of the people, 10% saying that Jews are between 5% and 9%, 25% believing that Jews are between 10% and 19%, 18% estimating that Jews are between 20% and 29%, 12% coming up with between 30% and 49%, and 3% reckoning that Jews are 50% — or more! — of all Americans.
Pretty wild? But why should gentile Americans know better? Their guesses are based on what they see. Turn on the TV, go to the movies, pick up a newspaper, follow an election, and in every case Jewish involvement is far above 2.5%.
It is much more shocking that most Jewish estimates are also surreal. Here are the numbers given by American Jews in a 3/98 poll, done nationally by the LA Times.
Twelve percent of our Jews think they are 2% of Americans, 13% think Jews are 3%, and 11% say they don’t know, which is also a ‘proper’ answer. But 7% of America’s Jews think they are 1% of Americans. Five percent of the Jews thought Jews are 4%. Ten percent of the Jews said they are 5%. Eighteen percent believed Jews are 6-10%. Six percent estimated our Jews to be 11-15%, and 18% of America’s Jews projected themselves as over 15% of the population, a whopping margin of error of over 600%.
So, where did those delicious Jewish overestimations come from? Jews know the country is overwhelmingly Protestant, and that the Jewish percentage is much smaller than the Catholics. But they watch the same TV, go to the same movies, etc. Thus, while their numbers aren’t as stratospheric as most gentiles, they likewise tend to be on the high side.
There are two reasons for the Jewish miscalculations. They fall into two broad categories, religious and non-religious. Pious Jews may or may not read the Bible, but the overwhelming majority definitely don’t read much about the mundane history of Judaism since biblical times. And while atheists and agnostics know enough about their ex-religion’s follies to justify abandoning it, once they bail out they usually lose interest in its evolution.
To be sure, many Jews, nationally, read the NY Times, which ran stories on the 1990 NJPS and the 2000-1 follow-up. Atheists might read an article about a bombing in Israel, but they often ignore articles about Judaism as a religion as they see it as not worth reading about. And most religious Jews don’t read the Times or the community weeklies which sit, for the most part unbought, on newsstands in their neighborhoods.
The scholars, real and alleged, argue over the absolute number of Jews because the US census doesn’t count people by religion and it doesn’t accept ‘Jewish’ as an ethnic category. While the contested figures range from 5.2 million in the 2000-1 Survey, to a high of 6.7 million give by a few dissenters, the blood really flows over the intermarriage rate.
The 1990 Survey reported a 52% intermarriage rate. The latest survey reports that "the intermarriage rate for Jews who have married since 1996 is 47%. Differences between intermarriage rates … are due to differences between the "born Jewish" definition used for the 1990 analysis and the "currently Jewish" definition used in this report."
They say that 1990 NJPS researchers "calculated and presented an intermarriage rate for ‘born Jews,’ a category that included those they considered Jewish at the time of the survey and some they considered non-Jewish, including non-Jews who had been born to at least one Jewish parent and were raised in a non-Jewish religion."
They admit further on that "In the current survey, applying the broad "born Jews" definition to people whose marriages began in 1991-95 and since 1996 yields intermarriage rates of 53% and 54%, respectively."
To understand their distinctions between "born Jews" and "currently Jewish," you must appreciate the sociological law which, as I’m its discoverer, I call, with my customary modesty, Brenner’s law: All religions lie about how many followers they have, and all left wing groups lie about how many people came to their last demonstration. Indeed, more paper has been wasted on debates over who is a Jew than on any other topic, including who really is a Trotskyist.
Today, with the enormous intermarriage rate, the Jewish establishment can’t face reality. They know that "slightly more than a fifth of Jewish adults who were raised by two Jewish parents are intermarried. In contrast, nearly three-quarters of Jewish adults with just one Jewish parent are intermarried. In other words, Jewish adults who are the children of intermarriages are more than three times as likely to be married to non-Jews themselves. At the same time, among those who had intermarried parents, a Jewish upbringing reduces the rate of intermarriage. Almost 60% of Jewish adults who were raised Jewish by intermarried parents are themselves intermarried, compared to 86% of their counterparts who had intermarried parents but were not raised Jewish by them."
So they stopped counting adults who convert to another monotheistic religion as Jews, and don’t put kids of intermarried Jews, who aren’t raised Jewish, in their ‘current Jews’ category, and, lo presto, they come up with the 47% figure.
Serious scholars find this grotesque. Bob Dylan, my friend mentioned above, converted to Christianity. But many pollsters consider him to be the most famous Jew of his generation. Subsequently, Bob oriented towards Menachem Schneersohn, the late Lubavicher ‘rebbe,’ who most members of his Orthodox sub-sect believe to be the messiah, hovering over his grave in New York, eventually to come back again. It would be unworkable for demographers tracking the evolution of Jewry to drop Bob from their rolls of Jewry because he became a Jesus freak, and then put him back, but as a convert from Christianity.
When doing scientific surveys of religions, races, nationalities, the standard rule is ‘all’s fish that comes into the net.’ T. S. Elliot became a British citizen, but every literary critic correctly lists him as an American poet.
The intermarriage rate has become such an obsession with the Jewish honchos that they overlook an even more ominous stat. Eight out of 10 Jews living with a sexual partner without benefit of clergy is sleeping with a non-Jew. But in their formalistic minds, ‘only’ 47%, for marriages, means that they are still in business, if in deep trouble, whereas if a majority of kids with at least one born Jewish parent intermarry, and the rest are shacking up with gentiles, "organized Jewry," as their journals call them, is unmistakably little more than the dirty ring in the bathtub after the water is gone down the drain.
For all their abracadabras, Judaism is well and truly shriveling up, everywhere except in Israel, and it doesn’t matter what intermarriage percentage they concoct. Intermarriage is a symptom of the collapse of Jewry, not its cause.
The 1st colonial American Jews, known as the Sephardim, of Portuguese and Spanish descent, in time intermarried and converted to Christianity, as did most of the 1st colonial Ashkenazis, meaning German and Eastern European Jews. In the 19th century, almost 200,000 German Jews came here. About 60,000 converted in that century. By now, most of the rest have intermarried, tho not necessarily converted, and have no connection to organized Jewry.
From 1881 and the 1st czarist pogroms, thru to 1921, when the US established immigration quotas, to keep out Jews and other undesirables, a minority of Ashkenazis from the Russian empire came here already Marxist atheists. They still considered themselves Jews because they spoke Yiddish, which only Jews spoke. Once here, they recruited other immigrants to leftist atheism.
In the 30s, another minority of American-born Jews became Communists. They also saw themselves as Jews because most lived in Jewish neighborhoods, and most married atheist Jews. Moreover anti-Semitism was still a force here, and they were considered Jews by the larger American public. But most of their descendants, usually no longer leftists, are completely assimilated
Today things are significantly different. Many young Jews grow up in ‘white’ suburbs, mixed in with gentiles. They don’t know a word of Yiddish. They go to school with and then work with gentiles. Most of them never encounter anti-Semitism. This is the sociological basis for the intermarriage wave.
Their great-grandparents came here ‘Orthodox,’ now only 9.7% of our Jews, by the NJPS numbers, even less in other surveys. Orthodoxy segregates women in a separate section of the synagogue. Only men can be rabbis. Everyone keeps the kosher laws, no pork, shrimp, etc. Somewhere along the line most of their families abandoned Orthodoxy for either the ‘Conservative’ sect, 15.2%, with its synagogues having local option on segregation and women rabbis, or ‘Reform,’ 17.4%. They have complete gender equality and now have some gay rabbis. They also have, according to rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, an intermarriage rate of "60% to 70%."
Even if they went to Hebrew school after their day in public school, after their bar mitzvah, their initiation into theological adulthood, at 13, most drop away from any form of Jewish identification. Some of the consequences were described by Reform’s Michael Myers in "Beyond Survival and Philanthropy," a book based on a symposium in Israel, re the disintegration of American Jewry:
"Host cultures, especially that of America, represent a more serious threat to our collective Jewish existence than ever before. Not only are Jews more socially acceptable then ever in the past, but so is Judaism. The problem is that Jewish tradition is seen as narrow and prejudiced the moment it makes any claim to exclusivity, the moment it makes any claim to superiority."
Two contributors, Steven Cohen and Charles Liebman, presented the problem from a Zionist perspective:
"After all, if all people are to be treated equally without regard to race, religion, national origin, sex, and most recently, sexual preference, how can American Jews feel totally comfortable in maintaining a special relationship with, let alone granting preference to, Israelis?
The end result of the process of de facto assimilation is expressed in a host of stats from the 2000-1 NJPS, and from the American Jewish Identity Survey-2001, done at the Center for Jewish Studies at City University of New York. The latter is based on the methodology of the 1990 NJPS and is more reliable than the 2000-1 NJPS, compromised as it is by sugarcoating facts to please the establishment.
According to the AJIS, "More Jews than most other Americans respond ‘None,’ when asked ‘What is your religion, if any?’…. Fewer Jews than members of most other American religious groups agree with the essential proposition of religious belief that ‘God exists.’" Twenty-seven percent of all Jews are uncertain or reject theism, with only 14% of Americans saying they have no religion. The AJIS reported that by 2001 only 51% still believed in some form of Judaism, a 12% decline since 1990. By my reckoning, by this writing, a majority of US Jews reject Judaism. Even the NJPS 2000-1 concedes that only 46% belong to synagogues. That minority divides up 39% Reform, 33% Conservative, 21% Orthodox, 7% other types.
Inevitably the Zionist movement has been dramatically affected by the migrations into religious skepticism and intermarriage. A 1995 American Jewish Committee poll found only 22 percent of America’s Jews calling themselves Zionists, down from 90 percent in 1948. I haven’t found a later percentage figure, but, according to an article in New York’s May 2002 Jewish Post, the decline continues. In 1997, 107,802 votes were cast for American delegates to the World Zionist Congress. In 2002, 88,753 votes were cast.
Even that decline doesn’t tell the whole story of the movement’s decadence. Reform’s slate got 42.24% of the vote, the conservatives received 22.29% and the Orthodox slate garnered 20.23%. The American branch of the Israeli Labor Party got 2.2% and Meretz, a liberal ally of the LP received 3.96%. The rest went to tiny factions supporting Sharon’s ruling Likud Party.
Followers of the late terrorist, Meir Kahane, are not allowed to run in the elections, but they number a few dozen to a couple of hundred, at most. The most significant outside group are the Lubavitchers, who number about 15,000. They are major funders of the Likud and many New York Democrats and Republicans. When the rebbe was alive, a visit to him was a ritual stop for our politicians. Altho most Jews look upon the Lubavichers as the Jewish Amish, and have nothing to do with them, a photo op with Schneersohn meant you were ‘good for the Jews.’
The election percentages give an impression that is contradicted by visible reality. Everyone attending the annual NY Salute to Israel Day parade notices that almost all the men wear kippot, Hebrew for skull caps, which tells us that they are Orthodox. Reform and Conservative rabbis got their congregations to sign up for the election so that they could put pressure on the Israeli government to grant equality to their co-religionists there, who are not allowed to legally marry or divorce even their own followers. But the bulk of the voters do nothing more than vote.
The vote drop from 1997 to 2002 can be explained, in large part, by disenchantment over the fact that Israel didn’t do anything significant in the way granting them their rights. Reform Zionists have an ideology of ‘Jewish peoplehood,’ which ties them to Israel in spite of their getting nothing more than a kick in the teeth from the government. In case you haven’t noticed, most politicians, everywhere, operate on one principle. ‘If we don’t give the beggars what they want, what will they do to hurt us?’ Since the Reform rabbis will do nothing, they get nothing. But the penalty they and Zionism pay is that the bulk of Reform, especially the youth, are de facto non-Zionist. As Beyond Survival and Philanthropy delicately put it, US Jews "have such difficulty appreciating the virtual monopoly the Orthodox exercise over the meaning of Judaism in Israel."
Our universities are disaster areas for Judaism and Zionism. Darwin and physics courses destroy most students lingering faith in the Old Testament. And the devil, taking the form of left-wing professors and the anti-war movement, does the rest. The 1/4/02 issue of Ha’ aretz, Israel’s liberal daily, reported that out of "about 400,000 Jewish students … only about 5 percent have any connection to the Jewish community."
In many respects, the best illustration of Zionism’s increasing isolation are the tourist stats. According to the NJPS, "just over one-third of all American Jewish adults have been to Israel, (35%)." Ninety-two percent of all Jews have traveled abroad, but England and France outrank Israel as a destination. Altho Reform’s members are the most affluent of the 3 groups, they are least likely to go to Israel.
We see this again with immigration to Israel. Most of the true believers who go there to live, and especially the ones who actually stay, are Orthodox.
It is characteristic of the NJPS that it didn’t ask a direct question, ‘are you a Zionist?’ Instead it asked vague questions as to emotional attachment, whether US and Israeli Jews shared a common destiny, etc.
"My people are American. My time is today." George Gershwin, who was never even bar mitzvahed, said that in 1926. Its taken decades for the typical young Jew to get to that point, but that is the case today. And the assimilation process is a worldwide one, with intermarriage rates of over 50% in every country in the world except Israel and Australia, and even in that last country the rate is climbing.
Why then is the Zionist lobby so powerful when their own scholars write endlessly about the alienation of their youth from the movement? The answer is simple: the Jews are the richest ethnic or religious stratum in the US. Because their standard of living is so high, they are the most educated. Because they are the most educated, they are the most scientific oriented, hence most inclined towards atheism or religious skepticism. But the true believer minority still has an unbelievable amount of money to throw at the politicians.
In 1991, I interviewed Harold Seneker, then the editor of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, for an article in The Nation. I told him that I found Jews, 2.2% of the population, to be about 25% of the 400. He told me that he thought this a success story, both for American capitalism and for the Jews, and that he wanted to write a story on it. But Forbes wouldn’t let him. The then publisher had gone thru the Hitler era, when talking about Jewish money was an anti-Semitic specialty.
This mentality is still common on the left as well, and it is wide spread among elderly Jews. Forbes, much of the left, and old Jews share what must be called a ‘folk Marxist’ mentality. Despite the differences in their politics, they all believe that history repeats itself. Someday there is going to be another 1929 Depression. The capitalists will, once again, call up central casting and get another Hitler to smash the left.
This is fantasy. Its a projection of the past, and Germany’s past at that, into America’s future. In reality, journalists constantly turn out articles for Zionist publications about how Jewish campaign contributors play a major role in funding both parties and, very rarely, the topic is touched on in the mainstream media. "The Political Future of American Jews," a1985 American Jewish Congress pamphlet by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, declared that "While there have been few reliable statistics on the subject — and some reluctance to gather any — the journalistic and anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that more than a majority of Democratic funds on a national level, and as much as a quarter of Republican funds have come from Jewish sources." They were referring to private contributions, as was an article in the 1/5/93 NY Times announcing that "Jews contributed about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton’s noninstitutional campaign funds."
My estimate is that 84 of the latest 400 are Jews. The magazine doesn’t list religious affiliations unless the person involved is distinctive in giving to religious charities, etc. And not all of the Jews are pro-Zionists. Some listees are among the educated disaffiliated we are discussing. But Zionist money is prodigious. James Tisch, chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations isn’t on the list, altho he is CEO of Loews Corp., listed on the Fortune 500 list. But daddy, Laurence, is, at $2 billion, and uncle Preston is worth $2.3 billion. His predecessors at the Conference were Ronald Lauder, $1.8 billion, and Mort Zuckerman, who struggles along with a penny ante $1.2 billion. Chaim Sabon, $1.7 billion, is a University of California regent. Mayhaps he got the job because he gave the Democrats the largest campaign contribution in American history?
Because of the establishment’s cover-up of the extent of the disintegration of organized Jewry, it is reasonable to think that most gentile politicians don’t realize it. But the Jewish pols do. And there is no reason to think that the gentiles would stop pandering to Zionists even if they understood that they are a shrinking minority among Jews.
Both major parties pick their candidates via primaries which any member can enter. So occasionally an honest Democrat or Republican is elected to congress and begins to criticize their party’s Israel über alles line. Usually it doesn’t take long before a tidal wave of Zionist cash pours in against them in the next election and out they go.
Some Arabs denounce Zionist funding, all day and all night, but there is no way of suppressing Zionist campaign contributions without doing away with the whole structure of privately funded campaigns, and they never talk about that. Many leftists don’t like to talk about it because of their fear of raising anti-Semitism. They want to talk about oil money. That’s fine. Any kid who they let cross streets alone knows that oil is the major reason that the US in so deeply involved in the Middle East. But that doesn’t explain why the two capitalist parties are so pro-Zionist. Indeed their pro-Zionism creates problems for them with the Arab masses. And it doesn’t explain why liberal Democrats are as zealous for Israel as the most fanatic Republican Christian Zionist.
If liberals constantly badmouths big business, they don’t get contributions from the major corporations. But Zionist money is single issue money. A liberal can dump on oil companies, or whatever, and he still gets a share of the Zionist gusher.
A personal experiences tell it all about liberals and Zionism. In 1971, the Vietnam-era National Peace Action Coalition asked me to draw in Eldon Clingen, the Liberal Party member of the New York City Council from Manhattan. We had been in the Socialist Party’s youth In the 1950s. He joined the Libs on assignment but subsequently involved himself in Democratic Party politics, without changing party registration. But, as he was "Mr. Clean Air" for his leadership in the anti-pollution effort, the Libs asked him to be their Council candidate.
He was pleased to get his Lib faction involved. We chatted. I mentioned that lower-case liberals, against war in Vietnam, shot passing Arabs, even camels, to get Jewish votes.
"Oh, you have me wrong. I’m of Christian descent, and when I think of the terrible things Christians have done to Jews, I say I can’t do enough for the Jews."
I told him that the next time he called for more ‘enough’ for Israel, he should write a check to me because, although I’m a Jew, I don’t get any of that ‘enough.’
"OK, I’ll tell it like it is: In order for a liberal — and I mean a lower-case liberal — to win in New York, he must have the Black, Puerto Rican and Jewish votes because he can’t get the Irish or Italian vote. They are locked away with the right-wing. But Blacks and Puerto Ricans don’t give us money. So don’t tell me about terrible things Israelis are doing to Palestinians. It would upset me. But I’m not going to break with my meal ticket."
The moral of the story is that, while it is crucial to talk about oil industry domination of US foreign policy, it is just as crucial to talk about Zionist funding and its enormous influence on domestic politics. The discussion of both factors must be within a context of insisting that ordinary Americans, Jew or gentile, are fools if they continue to support parties that are so obviously funded by the rich.
Far from being afraid of discussing Zionist funding, it should be a major point in any critique of private contributions. Jews are less than 2.5% of the people. Zionists are now considerably less than 22% of all Jews. (My current estimate is ca. 10%.) And rich campaign contributors are a minority of Zionists. Yet we have an overwhelmingly gentile Congress that is emphatically more pro-Zionist than the majority of Jews.
Far from being a diversion of public attention from the capitalist nature of American politics, as some leftists fear, talking about Zionist money is one of the best ways of making that point. Because of the civil rights struggle and other battles, equality for all races, religions, nationalities, has become part of the broad American value system. Because of this, my percentage estimate of the Jewish proportion of the 400 richest Americans, which, trust me on this, is shared by serious scholars, has an automatic tendency to shock. But isn’t capitalism is about inequality? It is absurd to think that a system that sanctifies inequality could be egalitarian in the ethno-religious distribution of wealth.
All that is necessary to make the important point that it isn’t Jewish contributions but Zionist slush that is offensive, is to cite the fact that we now can see that the Zionists are a minority of Jews. Talk about the oil industry and Zionist contributions at the same time, and people will get the correct idea that we are trying to explain a complex problem in detail.
Let’s go further. What US support for Israel and support for Saudi Arabia additionally have in common is that both regimes are theocratic states. An atheist of Jewish background should be concerned if we talked about Israel and didn’t talk about Saudi Arabia. So the moral of the story is talk about both. Additionally, everyone now sees a growing alliance between the Zionist establishment and the so-called Christian Zionists. These fanatics support Israel because of their lunatic notion that the creation of Israel means that Christ is coming, any minute now, to save a Christian America, and send all those atheist Jews, and atheist gentiles, to hell. Hitherto, the Jewish establishment could at least be relied on to resist attempts to convert America into a ‘Christian’ government. But, with the new alliance on foreign policy, that resistance is getting weaker and weaker. The Christian right now reasonably expects an increase in Zionist votes and funding for their candidates. Indeed it is a central tenet of Jewish neo-con politics that it is unreasonable to expect perpetual Christian Zionist support for Israel, unless they get something back in return.
In other words, we are now in a complex political crisis with profound domestic and international consequences. A complex situation can’t be dealt with in a one-sided manner. We have no choice but to examine all parts of the situation. If we denounce all the criminals, Americans, Arabs, Christians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, for their crimes, from a democratic secular perspective, in a scientific manner, the Zionists and their Democratic and Republican patrons can say anything they want. An educated public will see that we don’t want to deny anyone their rights. On the contrary, they will see that we want to extend human equality and secularism, here and in the Middle East.
LENNI BRENNER is editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, and a contributor to CounterPunch’s new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism (AK Press). Brenner will be one of the featured speakers, along with Alex Cockburn and Jeffrey Blankfort, at the CounterPunch forum on the book in Berkeley on October 19. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.