Saturday, December 10, 2005

Orthodox population explosion

Ben J. Wattenberg of the American Enterprise Institute has a lengthy study on Jewish demographics.

I excerpted it in case your fifteen children are vying for your attention:


New Square is a small village in Rockland County, New York, less than an hour's drive from Manhattan. With fewer than five thousand residents, it would not be of particular interest to the average passerby. But New Square is unique: much like the old shtetls of Eastern Europe, it is entirely Jewish, and entirely Ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi. These are among the most zealous Jews in the world, the men donning black garb, black hats, long beards and sidelocks, and the women wearing long skirts, long sleeves, and wigs.
Besides dress, there are many things that set this small, tight-knit community apart from the surrounding world--their professions, their food, even their language--but perhaps their most distinctive characteristic is their demography. While most Jews in America have few children, the Jews of New Square have many: at least six children per woman, and possibly even more, a rate among the highest on earth.
This is not unique to New Square. It is found wherever there are Haredi Jews, all over the world, and there is evidence to suggest the trend is unprecedented in Jewish history. Until the 1950s, official demographic information about Jewish birthrates was difficult to come by. Yet it appears that in the immediate aftermath of World War II, American Haredim were probably having in the range of two to four children per woman, much like their non-Haredi counterparts. But most demographers believe that in the 1970s the situation began to change dramatically. Since then, the Jewish community has broken into two distinct groups.
On the one hand are groups like the Haredim, whose birth rates have climbed to extremely high rates. At their current pace, the Haredi population could theoretically double or even triple in each generation...

Various estimates have placed the Haredi population in America at approximately 250,000, about 5 percent of the total Jewish population. (Statistics about the Haredi population are scarce not only because of logistical difficulties in counting them, but also because of a Haredi taboo on counting people at all.) "A culture of children has developed in Haredi society," says Samuel Heilman, professor of sociology at Queens College in the City University of New York. "In secular societies, young people aim to get a college degree, go out into the working world, and succeed in their careers. Haredim, on the other hand, have made it their goal to have as many children as possible. That is how they realize success." Children have become a sort of Haredi "one-upsmanship" that sets their society apart from secular society: The more children a couple has, the more forcefully they feel that they have demonstrated their superiority over the secular world, and that they have followed the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply. Added is a post-Holocaust mentality: The Haredim believe they are called to repopulate the Jewish community. (The number of Jews in the world is estimated to be two million less today, at thirteen million, than it was in 1933, fifteen million.)
Despite their high fertility rates, though, no one has a sense of just how many Haredi offspring are staying within their communities. Periodically, stories trickle out about people who grew up Haredi and moved out of the community after learning about the nature of the non-Haredi world. A few films and support groups testify to this trend, but no one really has a clear sense of how many people are involved in this drift. Malkie Schwartz, who heads a support group for former Haredim called "Footsteps," believes that the trend will only grow. "A lot of these kids have access to the Internet," she says, "and that makes it easier to leave." On top of that, she says, the largely Haredi neighborhood of Williamsburg has now become one of the "hip" places for young non-religious (and even antireligious) artists seeking relatively inexpensive rent near Manhattan. This shift, Schwartz says, might lead more people to leave the Haredi community as they come into greater contact with young, non-Haredi Jews.
But evidence is scarce as to just how many "expatriates" are out there. Indeed, even in those prominent stories of departure from the community, there is strong evidence that the majority stay within. One scholar emphasizes that the numbers going out are tiny, especially compared to the numbers being born. On balance, then, there is enormous growth for the Haredi community as a whole...

In the late 1990s, Antony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, two private researchers, collaborated on a study that showed the next few generations of Reform Jews dwindling down to a relative handful, while the numbers of Haredim would boom. Yet there is a major caveat, Samuel Heilman notes. "The Haredim have financial problems galore," he observes. The money is simply not there to finance families of eight, ten, or twelve children. Even some older Haredim, born before the recent demographic boom, are concerned about their grandchildren's financial security. "They are horrified by the number of kids their children are having," says Hella Winston, who has spent several years at the City University of New York studying dissent within the Haredi community.
Still, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, the largest organization of Haredi Jews in the United States, sees the future differently: "There will be an economic crunch, and there already are many two-income families in the community, but no Haredi Jew is starving, or having fewer children because of economic restraints... All members of the community tithe their incomes to make sure that others will have the help they need. The Haredi community therefore has an unbelievable array of charitable organizations that ensure the survival of its members." According to Shafran, the Haredi community will grow stronger, younger, and much larger in the coming years....

Some Jews do not consider birthrate to be a grave problem. It's the quality, not the quantity, that should concern us, some say. In their view, a dedicated minority is far better for the long-term health of the Jewish people than a large group of people who are indifferent to their people's survival. "Less is more," they say. Unfortunately, though, less is really less. Fewer people means less funding for schools, nursing homes, synagogues, and community centers. Fewer people means fewer educators, organizers, and rabbis. It could also lead to decreased power in Washington and decreased support for Israel....
posted by Yeshiva Orthodoxy
at 5:55 PM

2 Comments:

Anonymous Yechiel said...

Shafran: "There will be an economic crunch, and there already are many two-income families in the community, but no Haredi Jew is starving, or having fewer children because of economic restraints..."

Or in other words, population growth will inevitably lead to a drop in the percentage of kollel people.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous SephardiLady said...

Avi Sharfran says "There will be an economic crunch, and there already are many two-income families in the community, but no Haredi Jew is starving, or having fewer children because of economic restraints... "

1. I don't think the prevelance of the two-income earning family is a positive. Overworked parents and children who lack for the love and attention they crave is extremely detrimental.

2. Apparantely Rabbi Shafran is not present in the bedroom of many frum, black-hat couples. Of course, neither am I, but most couples I know are not having as many children as they could possibly have and most the Rabbanim are supportive by granting heterim. While there are plenty of families with children 13-18 months apart, there are plenty of (also growing and often large) families with children who are 2-3 years apart.

3:22 PM  

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