Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer
Rabbi Prof. Dov FischerCourtesy
I carefully have read the valuable contribution here by Mr. Alan Cooperman, Director of Religion Research at the Pew Research Center in Washington. I respect his views, and they comfortably can coexist with my prior contention here that 30-40 percent of American “Jews” — and potentially as many as 50 percent or more — in fact are not Jews.

I respectfully urge the reader to read my prior analysis carefully to review the underlying bases for what I wrote. I have absolutely no argument with Mr. Cooperman nor with Pew. My article was not aimed at criticizing Pew but at alerting the Jewish public to the dangers of misconstruing Pew’s numbers.

Pew’s numbers perhaps tell us accurately how many Americans think they are Jews. However, those numbers do not offer a clue as to how many actually are Jews. Pew would never undertake counting actual Jews — nor could it. Consequently, Pew may be accurate in saying that 7.5 million Americans think they are Jews — an increase of some 25 percent during the past era of massive assimilation, intermarriage, and pure disaffiliation. But the number of actual Jews in America — something Pew has not counted — more likely is between 4.5 to 5 million Jews. Alas.

Mr. Cooperman is a brilliant researcher, graduated magnum cum laude from Harvard, and is a recognized expert on religion’s role and statistics in the United States. Indeed, I stated that Pew staff are not certified rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) and properly do not consider themselves qualified — or interested — in determining whether a person who tells them he or she is a “Jew” actually is a Jew. As I explicitly wrote: “Pew is not to blame; they survey people’s stated opinions and do not present as rabbinic authorities.”

As Mr. Cooperman acknowledges, when Pew publishes numbers of “Jews,” they are not publishing numbers of truly actual Jews. Rather, they are publishing numbers of people who tell them they are “Jews.” In Mr. Cooperman’s honest words: “Self-reporting is at the core of virtually all surveys and censuses . . . . At root, Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer’s contention isn’t that Pew’s surveys are wrong, it’s that many of the people surveyed are wrong: they may think they are Jewish, but by a halakhic definition, they are not.”

Exactly. Exactly. And Amen.

Mr. Cooperman further writes: “As Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer correctly notes, when an Orthodox rabbi in the United States wants to determine whether someone from outside his community is halakhically Jewish, he undertakes an individual examination, scrutinizing evidence like ketubot, birth certificates and conversion records. . . . Certainly, it’s not a task that Pew Research Center should be expected to undertake.”

Amen. Amen. And Exactly.

Self-reporting proves nothing other than what the self-reporter thinks . . . or wants the listener to think. Illegal immigrants can self-report themselves as citizens of the country they have entered clandestinely, but they are not.

When Hillary Clinton of Chicago and Arkansas first announced in 1999 she was running to be United States Senator from New York, she went to great effort to stress that she was no carpetbagger but a full-fledged New York Yankees baseball fan. Hmm. Later, in 2016, when the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series as she was running for President, she announced she is a Cubs fan.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers nearly won baseball’s World Series in 2017, I had a law school classroom full of students wearing Dodgers baseball caps and sweatshirts. Out of curiosity, I conducted a little “study” by kibbitzing briefly and individually with most of those students out of class. Almost everyone respectively self-reported that, yes, he or she is an enthusiastic Dodgers fan. I then gently asked each to name the basic starting lineup then playing for the Dodgers, and almost none knew any of the players except, perhaps, for one or two main stars. These self-reporting “enthusiastic Dodgers fans” simply were fitting in with the moment. By 2019, when the Dodgers promptly lost the NL Divisional series, the caps and sweatshirts instantly switched to basketball and the Lakers. Which is just fine in sports.

In counting actual Jews, there are no “half Jews.” Despite nonsense reported in secular Jewish media like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), whose frequently slanted reporting needs to be read with great skepticism, Jews are not centaurs, minotaurs or mermaids: half this and half that. The child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother is not a “half Jew” — or, according to the “Reform Judaism” deviation, a “patrilineal Jew.” Rather, such a person is a 100 percent non-Jew. Paul Newman was not Jewish. Baseball superstar Alex Bregman is not Jewish. A prominent “Reform Judaism rabbi" at a leading reform temple in central Manhattan is not Jewish. End of story.

Mr. Cooperman honorably acknowledges that Pew does not count actual Jews. Rather, Pew counts numbers of people who claim to be “Jews.” Why do 30 or 40 or even 50 percent of Pew’s “Jewish” respondents falsely claim to be “Jews” when they are not? Not because they are unethical, deliberately lying to skew results.It is because they are ignorant and do not know. In my rabbinic career of more than four decades, I have sponsored conversions of people who initially thought they were Jewish, grew up being told by their parents they were Jewish, attended “Reform Judaism” Hebrew School, even were “bar- or bat-mitzva’d” (whatever that means) at a reform temple, and only later in life learned that their moms or maternal grandmothers never had undergone proper conversion.

This realization often arises when someone is about to marry into a more traditional Jewish family who raise the concern, or even when someone learns, to his or her bemusement, that the Jewish cemetery will not allow his/her mother to be buried there. My professional experiences are not unique but have been recounted in variations at countless rabbinic conferences:

  • The yeshiva high school graduate who learns during a Gap Year seminary program in Israel that he is not Jewish.
  • The employee of the college Hillel who learns, to his consternation, that he is not Jewish.
  • The person who learns the truth while on Birthright or while surfing the internet or at a college Chabad pizza lunch.

I invite readers to share a personal encounter with the moment of revelation that a maternal line of theirs or their friend was not Jewish, whether outright unresolved or because a meaningless “Reform Judaism” Marilyn Monroe “conversion” is all they had in their maternal lineage.

Mr. Cooperman is top flight. As he writes — and as I wrote — Pew does not hold itself out as an authority in determining who is an actual Jew — one born of an actual Jewish mother or converted according to halakha (the requirements of Judaic law and tradition). Pew does not have the staff or expertise to study “yuchsin” (halakhically Judaic lineages) to document how many self-reporting “Jews” actually are Jews. As he writes: “In reality, no one knows what the number would be. . . . Once again, no one knows how many such people there are.” And that is my point, exactly the same as Mr. Cooperman’s.

It is critically central to any analysis of actual Jews in America to recognize that it is “Reform Judaism” itself that proudly declares that more than half of all people in their movement are intermarried. Read this quote from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the national president of the Union for Reform Judaism, on page 9, left column, four paragraphs from the bottom, in this embedded link here.

That means more than half the dues-paying members of “Reform Judaism” temples and parents of their “bar- and bat-mitzvah” children actually are not “Jews” but outright non-Jewish to begin with, and furthermore a strong number of the “Jewish” spouses of those non-Jews are non-Jewish as well. (Paradoxically, at least that means they are not intermarried. . . .) Those spouses of those outright non-Jews include “Jews” who themselves were born to non-Jewish mothers, particularly since 1983 when “Reform Judaism” officially began deeming such non-Jews as “patrilineal Jews,” a nonsensical concept that has no meaning.

(My reference to weekend telephone polling was not aimed at Pew but at “these surveys,” the proliferation of other surveys like those that Mr. Cooperman points to. Pew’s 2020 numbers are not from telephone polling, an improvement from that 2013 flaw. I reiterate that Friday and Sunday non-Shabbat telephone polling also dramatically undercounts Orthodox Jews. And any assertion that Orthodox Jews comprise only 9 percent of actual Jews in America is manifestly absurd as I present in my prior analysis.)

In concluding, Mr. Cooperman writes: “[T]he [Pew] Center is not engaged in ‘fanciful maximizing of Jewish demographics.’ In our reports, you will see that we take no normative position on the question, ‘Who is a Jew?’ We do present a working definition of Jewish identity, which is in keeping with decades of sociological studies in the U.S., but we clearly acknowledge that it’s not the only definition. And we show how the size of the Jewish population might be larger or smaller, depending on which definition you choose.”

Exactly and Amen. That is my whole point: If a Jew is to be defined by the definition that has been the only definition normative Judaism has accepted these past 3,300 years, then the Pew numbers are not relevant for counting actual Jews. Between 30-50 percent of “Pew’s Jews” are not accepted for membership in Orthodox shuls, their children are not accepted in yeshivot or even for synagogue bar- and bar-mitzvah training, and their deceased are not allowed to be buried in shul cemeteries.

They may “feel Jewish” or, like the hapless George Santos, describe themselves as “Jew-ish,” much as those law students self-reported as “enthusiastic Dodgers fans.” But they are not actual Jews, and that has enormous ramifications, including understanding how so many American “Jews” can be anti-Israel, pro-BDS, pro-“Palestinian,” members of Soros-funded apostate groups like J Street and “Jewish Voice for Peace,” and comprise a “Jewish Law Students Association” that cheers on a Jew-hating graduation speech at CUNY Law School.

Finally — and most importantly — American Jewry’s blight and impending disaster poses a grave and dire warning to the one Jewish population that matters most: the Jews of Israel. Israel still has time to prevent suffering American Jewry’s catastrophe. The Law of Return must be restored to what it was and even improved on. Those who would import American Jewry’s tragedy to the Western Wall and to the cities of Judea and the outskirts of Jerusalem — and all of Israel — must not be given the foothold, funding, or even the legitimacy to wreak their havoc in Zion.

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