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2013-2014 Annual Assessment

Israel surpassed the U.S. in world Jewish population rankings – or did it? Israel as a sovereign nation conducts a census of its people. The U.S. does not collect data on religious affiliation, so there is greater doubt about what is an accurate tally. The widely discussed Pew study and a study of American Jews by researchers at Brandeis University offer estimates of a U.S. community of over 6 million. This is not without controversy and is discussed in detail in the section on demographics. The fact that the Haredim are by far the largest growth sector added to the policy debate over identity that is the focus of this annual assessment.

Both of these developments bring home that demography remains largely a zero-sum game from the perspective of the Jewish people. Israel has world Jewery’s highest birthrate (appreciably above the replacement rate). Almost by definition any non-biological impact, such as by immigration from other countries, comes at the expense of the Jewish communities in the countries of origin. If recent policy moves to increase the attractiveness of Israel to emigrating French Jews are effective, the Jewish population of France decreases.10 It is at least worth hypothesizing that the smaller any given Jewish community becomes, the less likely their non-Jewish countrymen will develop an identification with Jewish people interests or would even themselves associate with the Jewish community even at the meager rates which are usually the norm in most Diaspora locales.

As in the past, recent moves by the government of Israel to curtail the subventions to haredi families along with the increasing move toward encouraging labor force participation may affect the fertility rates among this community as well. In Haredi communities outside of Israel in which a greater accommodation to economic considerations is already the norm, the divergence of fertility rates from those of other Jewish religious branches and non-affiliated identified Jews is likely to continue with the result being an increasing proportion of Haredi and other Orthodox streams. The biggest determinants of the Jewish future in global Jewish communities outside of Israel are likely to be the continued trend toward more inter-marriage, how the offspring of such unions are regarded, and what accommodation is made for their inclusion into Jewish community life. Analyses of the Pew study did note that one of the sources of possible demographic growth is the increased self-identification as Jewish by the offspring of intermarried couples.

Because the demographic dimension sees the slowest rate of change from year to year, we did not include questions from this sphere in the survey instrument. It is interesting to note, however, that for many of the other dimensions, particularly the extensive questioning on Jewish identity, the respondents are acutely aware of the importance demographics holds for how a number of outcomes will be resolved in coming years.

There is a possibility that a more positive demographic picture of U.S. community will emerge. More potentially significant, however, are the various active measures (discussed in this annual assessment) being taken to increase affiliation in Jewish communities abroad and also to make the processes of ingathering and absorption in Israel more suited to modern needs.

We register a positive change this year on this dimension’ gauge.