Jews and the Jewish Birthrate
Not long ago, a Manhattan rabbi stunned his congregants by informing them that the future of the Jewish people would be secured not through trips to Israel, not through the battle against anti-Semitism, and not through the continued upward mobility of Jews, but in the bedroom. What shocked his sophisticated Upper East Side audience had nothing to do with his allusion to sex; these days, it is perfectly acceptable to speak in public about intimate behavior. What is not permissible in polite Jewish company is an allusion to the decisions people make about their own family lives, or to the impact of those decisions on the ability of the Jewish community to sustain itself.
It is not as if the contours of today’s demographic crisis are hidden from view. “American Jews See Population, Birthrate Drop,” screamed a recent headline in the Los Angeles Times. “Low Fertility Key to 2000 Census,” proclaimed a front-page story in the country’s largest-circulation Jewish newspaper. By the year 2006, according to a policy institute in Israel, the American Jewish community, hitherto the world’s largest, will for the first time fall behind the Jewish community of Israel in size.
About the Author
Jack Wertheimer is professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Among his contributions to COMMENTARY are “Judaism Without Limits” (July 1997), “The Orthodox Moment” (February 1999), and “The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism” (September 2007).