Saturday, September 16, 2017

Orthodoxy’s Smashing Success and Lurking Challenges

In Does Orthodox Explosion Signal Doom for Conservative and Reform?, Dr. Steven M. Cohen and other researchers present the bold reality of robust Orthodox growth and dramatic non-Orthodox atrophy and population decline, based upon these researchers’ brand new study:
(T)he truly startling situation is among Conservative and Reform Jews. (We combine them to simplify somewhat, recognizing the greater severity in numeric decline among the Reform segment). Here see that the number of 30-39 year olds amounts to just about half the number of the 60-69 year olds. If current trends continue, then, in 30 years, we’ll see about half as many Conservative and Reform Jews age 60-69 as we have today…
And the number of Conservative and Reform children do not reverse the decline. For Jews in Conservative and and Reform homes, we have 570,000 people in their 60s, but just 320,000 kids. Metaphorically, every 100 Conservative and Reform Boomers have only 56 photos of Jewish grandchildren in their wallets (or smart phones).
Turning to the Orthodox, we find wildly different trends. While just 40,000 are in their 60s, we have triple their number – 120,000 – in their 30s. And, perhaps even more astounding are the number of kids aged 0-9. They amount to 230,000 – over five times the number of people in their 60s. If 100 Orthodox grandparents gathered in shul, they could show their friends photos of 575 grandchildren on their smart phones (but not on Shabbat, of course).
Only the Orthodox are having enough children to fuel population growth. Conservative and Reform Jews are falling well short of population replacement. We may compare Reform/Conservative Jews with the Orthodox at different ages. Among 60-69 year olds, the ratio of Conservative/Reform to Orthodox is 14:1. Among 30-somethings, it falls to just over 2:1. And among the children, it’s less than 3:2, as Orthodox numbers have almost caught up to the combined Conservative and Reform numbers.
The data clearly show how non-marriage, intermarriage, and low birthrates have taken their toll on Conservative and Reform population numbers. If the Conservative and Reform movements are to arrest their declines, it means helping younger Conservative and Reform Jews find partners to marry and supporting their decisions to have children. It means encouraging more non-Jewish spouses and partners to convert to Judaism. All of these worthy goals can be furthered by more participation in Jewish day schools, summer camps, youth groups, trips to Israel, Hillel, Chabad on campus and other ways of connecting adolescent and young adult Jews to one another have. And, let‘s not forget that parents, grandparents, and rabbis all shape the Jewish lives of children, teenagers and young adults.
The demographic trends we described are already in motion and cannot be changed overnight. The American Jewish community is entering a transitional period, and in particular the Conservative and Reform movements are facing a rocky few decades that will have implications for many of the major Jewish communal institutions. We hope that a dose of hardnosed realism will motivate committed action so that we get through this period with our feet on the right path.
There is a tendency among many – including the authors of the above words – to advise “bandage” solutions to reverse the precipitous decline of non-Orthodox Jewry: get non-Jewish spouses to convert, encourage non-Orthodox students to become involved with Jewish campus groups and congregational youth groups, and so forth. Many of these “doing Jewish” solutions are certainly better than doing nothing about the problem, but they fail to address the real cause of the predicament.
In a wonderful article that addresses this point head-on, Ms. Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt insightfully argues that it is the very unique values and commitment of Orthodox/Torah Judaism rather than its “doing Jewish” which have enabled the Orthodox community to blossom:
But it’s a fool’s errand. Our methodology for continuity is rooted in the very values that, sadly, many liberal Jews reject — our insularity, our commitment to the collective over the individual, our obligation to a divine value system. Having a few more kids, sending them to sing Shabbat songs once a week for two months out of the year, and then on a Birthright trip a few years later isn’t going to change anything. To me, that’s a band-aid on a bullet wound.
If the Orthodox experience has taught us anything, it is that complete immersion succeeds. Like the immersion in the mikveh, in which every centimeter of the body must touch water, so, too, our commitment requires totality. It is an immersion in our books; immersion in prayer services as punctuation marks for time; immersion in a 25-hour Shabbat experience without smart phones and the internet; immersion in round-the-clock Jewish education, at all costs.
Our commitment to religious values, as much as it is all-consuming, as much as it may jar with secularism, is what keeps us thriving. As the secular Zionist Ahad Ha-Am wrote, “More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Perhaps it is not just the Sabbath, but all of our laws and social commitments which keep us from fading into a larger human tapestry, by maintaining a strong sense of identity that always comes first.
One can’t have the numbers of the Orthodox without the values — the two go hand in hand.
The strength of the Orthodox community is not rooted in a mere birth rate unsupported by certain principles. Our very demography is rooted in values that run deeply, and which source and sustain our numbers, in the culture of Jewish literacy and in the very texts we construct our lives around, in the way we constantly engage with centuries of Jewish conversation in our study halls and synagogues. It is even in our absolute refusal to touch a light switch on Shabbat, the way we let Judaism define every molecule of our very being — this is where the key to continuity may lie.
Until one values that all-consuming lifestyle — a lifestyle not defined by only tikkun olam and interfaith dialogue — one shouldn’t expect a demographic shift any time soon.
Of course, the sustainability and success of Orthodoxy come from Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu, but the above is the system that He gave us for spiritual and popular prosperity.
We should not be triumphal; we should instead be immensely appreciative and ever-awed. Adherence to a Torah life has resulted in incredible communal success, while the prognostications of Marshall Sklare and others about the doom of Orthodoxy and the success of the Conservative movement (and the other heterodox movements), based on the need to adapt religion to societal values and needs, have been overwhelmingly disproved.
Despite the clear and current trends and the favorable forecast for the Orthodox community, there is room for concern, based on other trends within Orthodoxy that are not yet properly documented but are anecdotally known to all.
I do not speak about the challenges to Orthodoxy that the Open Orthodox movement presents. This movement, which is now its own separate denomination, has followed the trajectory of the early Conservative movementand has continued to move away from normative Orthodox practices and attitudes, including recently several prominent Orthodox clergy members expressing an openness to intermarriage and the cornerstone Open Orthodox congregation two weeks ago extending mazel tov wishes in its recent bulletin to two men who got “married” (and to a woman for “her aufruf”). Open Orthodoxy jolted out of the Orthodox door long ago and is not germane to this discussion.
Rather, I am concerned about trends in Modern and Charedi Orthodoxy. In Israeli society, there is a very steep attrition rate among Religious Zionist youth, and the situation in America does not appear to be so posivite either. Although the numbers are not as severe among Charedi youth, there is an increasing preponderance of stories of such youth “going OTD”, including children and grandchildren from prestigious rabbinical families. All in all, there is powerful growth, but the substantive cracks cannot be overlooked.
In Modern Orthodoxy, the factors for attrition are: 1) positive immersion in/embrace of secular culture, including its values and practices, which are frequently antithetical to Torah practice  and values; 2) an often sterile, uninspiring religious atmosphere. Some of the solutions presented fail to address the underlying issues (factors 1) and 2)) and instead resort to novel pedagogical tactics, or the introduction of Neo-Chassidus, Carlebach-style minyanim and other such endeavors, while ignoring the roots of the problem. (But please see here for a candid assessment and a refreshingly traditional solution.)
Part of the problem in Modern Orthodoxy is an expanding disconnect from the rest of Orthodoxy, and especially from the latter’s Torah leadership. Modern Orthodoxy was previously not a denomination or stream of Orthodoxy per se; it was, rather, an informal way to describe those who were more involved with the outside world and adopted several of its features, in many cases resulting in a diluted religious observance. But it was not a formal movement; rebbeim in Modern Orthodox educational institutions were more often than not of a traditional/”yeshivish” orientation, Modern Orthodoxy did not have its own formulated hashkafa, and there was no religious mandate to be Modern (with a capital M). It was just a pragmatic, situational thing.
(The above issues of Torah leadership and rebbeim are very important for another reason. When institutions insist on hiring and seeking guidance only from those of their own immediate orbit, intellectual cross-fertilization and peer review/checks and balances are sorely compromised. Veering off course, decreased quality and departure from established norms are more prone to result, and one can observe this happening in Modern Orthodoxy – sometimes on an alarming scale.)
I fear that somewhat recent trends of Modern Orthodoxy identifying itself as a distinct religious system and modus operandi will encourage, even unintentionally, factors 1) and 2) above to be more prevalent, thereby triggering even more attrition. (Irrespective of the actual arguments, this approach seems to engender the attitude and mindset of the “Jewish Father” blogger; Rabbi Harry Maryles’ critique is excellent and demonstrates where this is likely to lead.)
Although important higher education/parnassa initiatives have been embarked upon in the Charedi world, the fact that much of the educational system avoids any parnassa training until the point of sha’s ha-dechak or close to it has created some serious problems – which inevitably impact the religiosity of a portion of those caught up in the problems. (Not to mention that this strategy is bound to force people to rely on public assistance and perhaps cut the corners of honesty due to major financial pressures.) The image of new arrivals from Eastern Europe at these shores a century ago abandoning their Torah lifestyle, due to a belief that being frum meant unemployment and poverty, arises in one’s mind as tens or hundreds of thousands of young men receive not even minimal parnassa training until extremely late into the game, if at all. Not to mention lack of instruction in decent and professional communication skills.

Baruch Hashem that the Orthodox community is growing. Hashem’s pledge to perpetuate the generations of those who follow His Torah is being fulfilled before our eyes. Let us do our best to address hashkafic and educational matters in a manner that is conducive to continued sustainability, growth, and adherence to the Torah’s vision and goals.


  1. This is ridiculous, because it is just a current trend. A few decades ago, orthodoxy was at the bottom end, it was tiny,struggling, and had suffered half a century of decline. That was preceded by a century of Haskala and assimilation.
    Now, things have begun to improve, which is certainly good, but there is no guarantee that these projections will be the road to Moshiach. And the demographics of the Reform or Conservative are not really relevant. how can they affect the future of orthodoxy? In Israel, the population is highly secular or traditional, and even the haredi world is still a minority. The number of hareidi Mks is small, hence they have less voters. And sadly, many people go OTD, and it is also a "trend" which he chooses to ignore.
    In the major city of tel Aviv it is still difficult to find a Kosher restaurant, so where is the Orthodox revolution?

    R' Gordimer is a Hareidi thinker with a token "MO" label.

    This kind of talk is yet another type of false messianism, just like the BT movement a few years ago, or the Chabad movement. To try to understand this, the BT rabbis and leaders people were saying that the trend of people doing teshuva will mean that in a generation or 2 , the secular population will have either disappeared or become frum. If everyone is frum, and keeps just 2 Shabbatot then Moshiah will certainly come. Well, 2 generations have passed.
    There is still a huge secular population. many frum people ar leaving orthodoxy, and quite a few BTs have also left. Moshiach hasn't come, and Gordimer's predictions are equally dangerous.

  2. “The American Jewish community is entering a transitional period, and in particular the Conservative and Reform movements are facing a rocky few decades that will have implications for many of the major Jewish communal institutions... Part of the problem in Modern Orthodoxy is an expanding disconnect from the rest of Orthodoxy, and especially from the latter’s Torah leadership.”

    Wow! Brilliant article on how bad things are in treifa America .

    I’m grateful to God that I live in Bnei Brak. The streets and paths here are so filled with happy children. See

    “Religious: everywhere in Israel you see young and old people praying and studying, while the yeshivas, the holy sites and the synagogues are always packed with people. Demographic: not only the Israeli religious families, but also the secular Israeli ones are blessed by many children. Cultural: Israel has one of the world's highest per capita number of published books, scientific publications and university degrees. And now compare these figures to Europe's ones. The "old continent" is refusing to protect itself and it is a free rider on the back of US security. Religiously, Europe is a continent marked by apathy or, worse, by a militant anti-religious feeling. Demographically, Europe is a sterile and aging continent. Culturally, Europe produces every year very pessimistic books about its own decline and irrelevance. In Israel you can sniff optimism at every corner. And the Jewish State is happier than most of Europe's countries. All the Middle East is imploding, while Israel is experiencing a real Renaissance.”

    American reform, and conservative, are imploding while Jews in Israel are experiencing a real Renaissance. American Modern Orthodoxy must stop violating halacha they do with their robust support of ORA and agunahinternational.

  3. R. Gordimer is Modern Orthodox, a YU alumni, and an EVP of the RCA.

  4. He has a hareidi hashkofo, .
    Good, but moshiach didn't come yet.

  5. K is hareidi, not Mo. Philly is hareidi.

  6. Using your criteria, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz is Modern Orthodox since he has a MO Hashkafa.

  7. No idea who he is.

    R' Gordimer is not a convincing figure, since he falsifies and exaggerates things . So he attacked R' Cardozo , for example, saying he is violating the Shulchan Aruch.

    This "violation" was that R' Cardozo said he sees a built up Jerusalem, bustling , and a return of AM Yisrael to their land, so on Tisha B'Av he does not see the destruction that is peaks of. This is not a violation of SA, it is metzius. I know the MO machmirim, and they are more exagegrated than Hareidi Rabbonim, since many Hareidim know when to be meikil as well.

    In any case, good that Orthodoxy is thriving once again, especially in the lands that were considered treife - America, and in Israel, which is thanks to the modern secular state and army which has allowed them to be free from Arab persecution.

  8. In Modern Orthodoxy, the factors for attrition are: .........2) an often sterile, uninspiring religious atmosphere. Some of the solutions presented fail to address the underlying issues (factors 1) and 2)) and instead resort to novel pedagogical tactics, or the introduction of Neo-Chassidus, Carlebach-style minyanim and other such endeavors, while ignoring the roots of the problem.

    I'm far from MO, and I agree with so much of his article. However, I do think that the Carbalch style minyanim and the neo chasidus is addressing factor #2 ! It is instilling a warmth, passion and feel for being Jewish and Jewish practice, to some degree. It is making Judaism inspiring to them.

  9. Good, but moshiach didn't come yet.

    Did he say when Moshiach will come? I must have missed that line. Kindly point me to it. Thank you.

    Kindly produce exact quotes from fourteen years ago, and show your supposed correlation to what Rabbi Gordimer wrote here.

    Don't attack the messenger. Please deal with the substance of his article. Thank you.

  10. We’re experiencing the Biblical prophecies in Israel and not in America, such as Amos:
    “I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, Nevermore to be uprooted From the soil I have given them —said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)
    While Israel is having prosperity and a renaissance down in treifa America, Reform, and Conservative, are imploding. Israel has little America Reform and Conservative followers. Most Israelis today support Netanyahu and Trump. Israel has little of the resistance movement against Trump. The anti-halacha stuff in treifa America of K-G heter, ORA, agunahinternational, Modern Orthodoxy, Satmar, etc bring chillul Hashem and is losing popularity, b”h.

  11. Rav Kook was in many ways modern Orthodox, but not in the same model as YU. he was a fusion of Chassidus and Litvish styles.
    Also in Israel there is the ChabBaKuk movement, which is a fusion of Chabad, Breslov and Rav Kook Styles and outlook. That is similar to the Carlebach style. However, what is the problem with this exactly?
    A good example, is the mitzvah of techelet. This is a D'oraita requirement, and it was attempted by Rizhiner Chassidim with a chemical dye, and now it is only used by MO/DL based on research of Rav Hertzog ztl. Interestingly, it is not generally worn by the haredi end of the MO spectrum, and I'll bet $1 to tzedakah that R' Gordimer does not wear techelet.

    All the talk by the Haredi people who bash MO, yet in some areas hareidim do not even attempt to fulfill this mitzvah d'oraita, which is still valid. Rav Eliashiv pointed out that previous attempts were wrong, so maybe this is also wrong. It shows the overall weakness of haredi thought. I'm sure when Moshiach comes, the Hareidm won't accept the 3rd bet Hamikdash, because sacrifices are not in the Shulchan Aruch.

  12. btw, there are many Modern Orthodox rabbonim and laymen who went to Hareidi yeshivot. So being a YU alumnus is not proof of one's being MO. Rav Lichtenshtein ztl studied under Rav Hutner, as did R Hartman.

  13. He is faithful to his Breuer's upbringing. In fact, still lives there. (Breuer is charedi.)

  14. He is an RCA EVP today. RCA is the flagship Modern Orthodox Rabbinic organization.

  15. So you are happy that in the RCA, there are some Rabbonim with a Hareidi outlook!

  16. The moshiach comment was with regard to the BT movement. I was saying that the BT movement was a false messianic movement, since one of the claims that Kiruv rabbis were making is that the BT movement could bring the Moshiach. I am not saying secularism is preferable to teshuva. I'm saying that the BT movement is just a fringe movement in the Jewish world, so these statistics are not really meaningful. I know a lot of people whose parents were members of nominally Orthodox shuls, but they have now joined reform. So there is a TB movement as well as a BT one. (they were never frum anyway).

  17. I haven't a clue how to take this rant.

    Please explain what you think MO is, and in what way it's comparable to Rav Kook.
    Please explain what you think Chasidus is, and what Rav Kook took from it.
    Please explain what Litvish is and what Rav Kook took from it.

    The fusions that you mentioned in the Holy Land are far and few. It is not a major movement.

    As to Techeless: how does this have anything to do with what you wrote first? Also, you misquoted Rav Elyashiv.

    Oh, and now you accuse "Chareidim" of not being machmir enough??? How many times did you accuse them of the opposite?

  18. I was saying that the BT movement was a false messianic movement,

    You cannot just decide to lable Jews who chose to follow the Torah as a messianc movement. That's sounds messed up.

    since one of the claims that Kiruv rabbis were making is that the BT movement could bring the Moshiach

    Keyword: Could.
    What's wrong with that?

  19. Honesty, thanks for your comments. I think the substance

    of the article is that a) Orthodoxy has won, and b) Modern Orthodoxy doesn't exist, and never has.
    the article is short sighted and dishonest. The problem that Ultra-orthodoxy has is that in many ways it has to sustain itself from external sources. I am not talking theological, but human or financial. So having a very kosher standard for meat, for example - means a large number of animals will not pass as Glatt or mehadrin etc, but may get regular kashrut. But if every consumer is ultra-orthodox, there will be no market for those. Will they go to the Halal or treif markets? Possibly, but not in Israel.

    In Israel, there is a secular and even religious economic and military infrastructure. Again, the same principle applies. Ultra-orthodox would prefer not to get involved in military or security apparatus. leave it to the "goyim" or chilonim. If - according to these projections, the future is all "black" , there will not be enough chilonim to run the infrastructure of the army. So the hareidim may think they have a long term majority in the future, but they are sadly mistaken. There are a dozen enemies who are always building up their armed forces and are prevented, B'H, by the might of the largely secular (but also MO/DL) IDF. On a theological level, we must not say "my might is with my right hand / army". It is from Hashem , ultimately. At the same time we cannot rely on nissim. Islamic and terrorist armies of today ar just as hateful towards Israel as the nazis were in the 30s and 40s.

    We hear a lot of protests from the hareidi world about funding , etc. This is from the government, which is largely secular, and which does not appear in any prayers in sidurim used in many Yeshivos and shuls.

    I've seen some siddurim which do contain these prayers having the page ripped out in hareidi yeshivos. This is the same thinking as the pre-war anti-zionism.

    Do you think groups like Hezbollah,hamas, iran, Syria, PLO, could care less whether your siddurim have these prayers or not? If there is no secular army, then you will have to deal with those rather than the zionists.

    R Gordimer links to R' Harry Maryles response to the $40,000 Judaism guy. Maryles admits that the cost of education is an existential problem! If it is an existential problem, and Maryles is still attacking the $40,000 man, then Maryles has lost his sense of reality. since when are we allowed to risk our lives in order to choose a Yeshiva day school education?

    Having greater numbers of frum Jews is a good thing, but the hochma and responsibility of leading these is a very great requirement, that I'm not sure I see evidence of in these articles.

  20. Correct, i am not labelling them as messianic. I mean the kind of "promises" that BT kiruv rabbis make are false and misleading. A lot of BTs are destroyed psychologically, financially, and alienated from their families because they trust in the sheker that their rabbonim (often themselves BTs) are telling. Plus, they are also screwed when it comes to Shidduchim, because the frum world laughs at them, and if they are not making money, they can't get married anyhow. I made this point on R' Maryles' blog as well.
    BT rabbis, or rabbis in BT yeshivot are detached from the real Torah world, and practice extreme chumras or wishful halacha which isn't even halacha. The Chatam Sofer warns against the danger of becoming a BT. he was great and knew the human psyche and neshama, and what it can and cannot take.


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