Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Orthodox Ascendancy, indeed...

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

For me to give a speech about a topic, I need to feel:
1) I am exercised by the topic, and
2) I have a basic understanding of the topic, and
3) I have something substantive as well as Torah-based to contribute to the discussion.

I can't say it if I don't feel it in my gut, as a real issue for debate and action. I don’t want to present a nice dvar torah explaining a nuance in the haggadah. Divrei torah are beautiful and fulfill the mitzvah of talmud torah, but how much more wonderful it is if you can do all of that, and also motivate people in some practical way, on a topic of greatest relevance!

As of this morning I did not have a topic for Shabbos Chol haMoed. I wanted to talk about the issue of IDF conduct in Aza - it will not surprise you to hear that I think any fish wrapped in the New York Times is treif – but I’d rather save that for the last days, to match it with the theme of מעשי ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים שירה, the drowning Egyptians upon whom Gd has a shred of mercy. Other current topics seemed too cliché. I was starting to get worried.

Then a friend forwarded me the link to An Orthodox Ascendancy? at The Jewish Week.

Here, a few highlights:

Today, Orthodox synagogues and day schools flourish as never before in American Jewish history. Orthodox birthrates exceed those of the non-Orthodox by a factor of at least one additional child per family. Haredi birthrates generally are even greater.

Demographically, Orthodox Jews constitute at most 10 percent of the total U.S. Jewish population. Yet 23 percent of Jewish children are Orthodox, according to a United Jewish Communities report. Among affiliated Jewish homes 197,000 children are Reform, 153,000 are Conservative, and 228,000 are Orthodox. The smallest of the movements (Orthodox) contains 38 percent of the children of affiliated Jewish homes.

What of the future? Orthodoxy will be a force to be reckoned with. Predictions of its demise have proven entirely fictional. One sociologist estimates that given Orthodox fertility and affiliation patterns, Orthodox Jews are likely to comprise as much as half of Jewish leadership of the next generation.

I hate articles like that; they make my skin crawl. They reflect the historic Jewish fixation upon numbers, upon being like the stars in the heavens, a fixation which I believe misses the point and leads to disaster.

Which is good… because now I have my topic for Shabbos Chol haMoed…


  1. You've got my curiosity piqued. Maybe I should walk over on Shabbos to hear more?

  2. Fruma-
    Sounds good to me. Or you could see the derashah on-line; I hope to post it tomorrow.

  3. what if your congregants read the drasha online, and end up being bored in shul when you give it "again"?

  4. Steg-
    That's a risk I take, but it's worthwhile to me on many levels - in terms of the number of people from shul who actually look up the derashah afterward (as well as in advance), and in terms of giving the thought wider readership. It also gives me an incentive to work harder on developing a good derashah idea.
    I could, I suppose, post it after the Shabbat/Chag, but most people don't read divrei torah about the day that just passed, and, in any case, by then my mind is on the next Shabbat/Chag.