Yale study: America is becoming more Orthodox, less Reform

“If trends continue, 50 years from now, the U.S. Jewish community is going to look totally different than you think of it today.”
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Students attend a Ted Talk at Yeshiva University Nov. 16, 2017. (Courtesy: Yeshiva University)

America is becoming more Orthodox, that’s according to new research by Yale University on Jewish life in the United States.

“If trends continue 50 years from now the U.S. Jewish community is going to look totally different than you think of it today,” says Yale Researcher Edieal J. Pinker.

Pinker’s research shows that the number of American Jews who identify as Orthodox is expected to more than double in the next 50 years, meanwhile, the number of people who identify as Reform or Conservative is expected to drop by nearly a quarter. Factoring in age, the number of people who identify as Reform or Conservative is expected to drop by nearly half between the ages of 30-69.

If these trends pan out, Orthodox Jews (who now make up only 12% of U.S. Jewry) will be an estimated 29% of the overall U.S. Jewish community in 2063. The number of people who affiliate as Reform or Conservative is expected to drop from 50% to 39% of the overall community.

Pinker says the demographic shifts are already being felt, especially within the Reform and Conservative communities. “If you ask people in this community, ‘How are membership levels in synagogues or enrollments in schools?’ they’ll say, ‘Well, they’re down.’ So they know they’re struggling, but to see it this starkly should be a real wake-up call,” he said.

The report pulls from Pew’s 2013 population survey of the U.S. Jewish community. Pinker then used that data to build projections.

“The Jewish community is very diverse in the U.S., and I wanted to have a big-tent approach here, to not exclude people because they didn’t formally identify with some established denomination,” Pinker says. “And I think that’s in line with how people today think of modern Judaism—that it’s moving away from labels.”

The research shows that by 2063 the numbers of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative, and partly Jewish and non-denominational Jews will be roughly equal. The changes could have a major impact worldwide, 39% of the global Jewish population calls the United States home.

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