Jews, Orthodoxy And The Jewish Birthrate
Jack Wertheimer's disingenuous article on the declining American Jewish population is now online.
Wertheimer, an official of the failing Conservative movement, blasts his more liberal peers in the Reform and Reconstructionist movements for espousing attitudes that reduce rather than increase the Jewish population. But Wertheimer writes nothing about the failings of his own movement in this regard, and does not note that the mass desertion from Conservative Judaism came about because of the movement's own failures. Those formerly Conservative Jews now (occasionally) fill the pews of the Reform congregations whose message Wertheimer so despises.
But the real problem with Wertheimer's piece is his whitewash of Orthodoxy. Wertheimer touts the high birthrate – but he is silent on the enormous number of Orthodox Jews on welfare and on the failing Orthodox communal institutions that survive only by raising funds from decidedly non-Orthodox Jews. Further, the average Orthodox family has yearly tuition bills (K-12) in excess of $60,000 per year. Many families take second and third mortgages to pay these bills. Others are forced to homeschool or to hit up relatives – especially non-Orthodox ones – for donations.
Wertheimer notes that in less than one generation the majority of affiliated Jews in North America will be Orthodox, and that they will demand (and get) their fair share (figured by population, not donations) of the communal pie.
What he does not note is that pie will continue to shrink. As things now stand, sometime toward the end of the first twenty years of Orthodox dominance, the continued hyper-birthrate of the Orthodox will cause a communal meltdown, with need for services far outstripping the financial resources needed to pay for them.
And then, what?
Unless Orthodox Jews enter the workforce in large numbers with sufficient training to earn salaries high enough to pay for tuition bills far in excess of the average American household's income, our demographic boom will turn into a spectacular bust. If history is any lesson, the attrition from the Jewish community will be staggering.
Poverty does not attract or retain members. Neither does self-serving Jewish leadership of any denomination, whether they sit in Lakewood or JTS.
Then we have the increasing phenomenon of attrition from Orthodoxy, from the hallowed streets of Lakewood, Williamsburg, Boro Park and Crown Heights. Dissatisfaction with the communities that Wertheimer extols is clearly on the rise, and, unlike earlier generations where Orthodxy's loss was the Conservative or Reform movement's gain, those who leave seem to leave all organized Jewish practice. Wertheimer seems unaware of this, as well.
An honest look at the Jewish community will show that no amount of child marriages and increased social indoctrination will solve our problem.
Do you want to stem the attrition from Judaism? There is only one answer, and it is the most difficult solution of all. Fix what is broken – Judaism itself.