The Growth of the Haredi Communities in the Diaspora

The Growth of the Haredi Communities in the Diaspora

Although American Jewry is often considered in the aggregate, segments of American Jews who both self-identity and participate in Jewish life tend to divide into two broad rubrics:

  1. “General” Jewish communal organizations, such as the federations, which include in their leadership and staff some Orthodox Jews and large numbers who identify with other Jewish denominations or as “just Jewish.” Of course, each of the religious streams has its own organizations as well, but in general, the non-Orthodox and the Modern Orthodox are substantially integrated into the general communal organizations.
  2. The Hasidic and Yeshivish Orthodox maintain their own philanthropic, religious, educational, and communal frameworks and minimally participate in general Jewish organizations.

In the past, both frameworks depended on a population base to support and staff its organizational structures and operations. Yet, by the beginning of the 21st century, the relative weight of the various Jewish Diaspora communities began to change. This change, largely the result of differing fertility and assimilation rates, entails a reduction of the population base of the general communal organizations and a strengthening of its Orthodox counterpart.

According to the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews, nearly 30 percent of Jewish children are being raised in Orthodox households. If present trends continue, the Orthodox segment of the American Jewish community will constitute approximately one third of its total population by mid-century.

This increase can also be observed on the local community level. For example, in the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish community, the Orthodox make up only 15 percent of the adult population. However, they constitute 37 percent of the children. Similarly, in the Baltimore community, in 1999 Orthodox children constituted 26 percent of the total population of Jewish children, in 2010 they constituted 38 percent. In New York, the general Jewish population increased by 9 percent between 2002 and 2011. The Orthodox population, however, increased by 30 percent.

This developing trend of increased Haredi demographic significance is evident in Orthodox and Haredi birthrates and their age cohort structure. According to the Pew survey, Orthodox families have an average of 4.1 children while non-Orthodox families average 1.7. According to the New York study (Steven M. Cohen, Jacob B. Ukeles, Ron Miller, Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011. New York Jewish Federation, p. 215.), Haredi women aged 33-44 have, on average, over five children per family while the Modern Orthodox average 2.5 and the non-Orthodox 1.3. The high birthrate is also reflected in the age structure of the Haredim, especially relative to the larger non-Orthodox Jewish community. Orthodox Jews are younger than other Jews. 24 percent are between 18 and 29 years of age while less than 17 percent are in that age cohort among the non-Orthodox. On the other hand, only 12 percent of Orthodox Jews are over 65, while 22 percent of the non-Orthodox have reached that milestone.

Not only has the Orthodox community increased numerically, it has also developed economically and institutionally. Some Orthodox households have achieved prosperity in the past 75 years, and the Yeshivish and Hasidic communities have built impressive educational, religious, and social welfare infrastructures. In order to meet its needs, the Frum community has established connections with political leaders – on the local and state levels especially, but also on the federal level. In recent years, it has, to some degree, become part of a politically significant religious coalition with Evangelicals and conservative Catholics working to protect common interests, such as increasing government funding for religious/parochial schools and their perception of religious freedom. Haredi Jews are beginning to enter government service and private sector jobs. More and more Haredi Jews are able to retain their traditional dress, distinctive signs of Jewish religiosity, and strict observance of Jewish law while also acquiring business prominence and political influence.