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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Winners and Losers in Denominational Memberships in the United States

Filed under: World Jewry
Publication: Changing Jewish Communities

No. 1


  • Although dominant in the mid-twentieth century, Conservative Judaism has lost this place and is declining in numbers.
  • Over the past decade, Reform Judaism has become the largest denomination. Despite Reform’s more “traditionalist” manifestations than in the past, the rift between it and the traditional Jewish community remains wide.
  • During the 1990s, Orthodox Judaism doubled its percentage of synagogue-affiliated Jews in the United States. It has a much higher percentage of children than the other denominations, and its rapid growth seems assured.
  • The various factions view themselves as a common community and, despite their ideological differences, cooperate civilly with each other to the degree feasible.

In the mid-twentieth century, Marshall Sklare, the “dean of American Jewish sociology,” declared: “Orthodox adherents have succeeded in achieving the goal of institutional perpetuation only to a limited extent; the history of their movement in this country can be written in terms of a case study of institutional decay.”1 Indeed, it was not only institutional decline that plagued the Orthodox. The available evidence suggested that they were decreasing in numbers as well. For at least a decade thereafter, it appeared that they would continue to do so.

The mid-twentieth century was the heyday of Conservative Judaism, and almost all predictions were for its continued dominance. However, the picture has shifted dramatically since, and many of the changes reflect broader changes in American religious patterns.

A Highly Secular Society?

To many in the mid-twentieth century, the United States appeared to be a highly secular society in which organized religion had poor prospects. In the mid-1960s, theologian Harvey Cox’s ideas in The Secular City2 were widely discussed, a group of “radical” theologians were proclaiming the “death of God,”3 and there followed a variety of articles on that topic in the news media, including the New York Times and Time magazine.

In 1967, sociologist Peter Berger published his highly influential work The Sacred Canopy, in which he saw secularization in the fact “that the state has taken over traditional functions of the church such as education and social control, and that the rise of scientific understanding as the dominant worldview has brought into question religious definitions of reality.”4

Berger argued that separation of religion and state, a hallmark of modernity, meant religious pluralism. This, in turn, resulted in religion’s loss of influence over the public sphere and its becoming a commodity in a free market situation, and hence subject to “consumer preferences,” while the religious institutions became increasingly bureaucratized. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, among others, saw religion as playing a role within the private sphere only.5 In the private sphere, although he is a staunch critic of secularization theory, Andrew Greeley was forced to admit: “It would appear that a bit of the numinous”6 had worn off, at least in the area of sexuality. He might well have conceded that it had worn off in other areas within the private sphere as well.

Furthermore, major survey research appeared to confirm the secularization of America’s public sphere. For example, a series of Gallup polls indicated that Americans viewed religion’s influence on their society to be waning.


Table 1: Is Religion’s Influence in the U.S. Increasing or Decreasing (%)?

1957 1962 1965 1967 1968
Increasing 69 45 33 23 18
Decreasing 14 31 45 57 67
No difference 10 17 13 14 8
No opinion 7 7 9 6 7

Source: Gallup Poll reported in the New York Times, 25 May 1968, p. 38.

The secularization was perceived to be so powerful that Berger predicted: “By the 21st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.”7

By the mid-1970s, however, what Berger had earlier portrayed as but “a rumor of angels”8 had developed into a full-blown societal development involving a “new religious consciousness.”9 The presidential campaign of 1975-1976 highlighted Jimmy Carter’s experience as a “born-again” Christian, and he was only the most famous of a growing number of newly religious.

Indeed, the country was undergoing what Robert Wuthnow called “the restructuring of American religion.”10 American religious patterns witnessed a marked decline in liberal Protestantism and a growth in Evangelicalism. Although the mainly Evangelical trend known as the Moral Majority, which grew in the late 1970s, may have peaked and begun its decline in the early 1980s, there were numerous indications of a rise in religiosity. At the end of February 2000, a cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine featured a religiously conservative Christian family who, together with other Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, “make up about 25 percent of the American population.”11

Jewish Denominational Trends

As far as Jewish denominational trends are concerned, the percentage of American Jews whose affiliation is Orthodox rose from 6 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2001. The percentage of American Jews who are synagogue members has not changed dramatically since 1990; in 2001, this figure stood at 44 percent. However, the denominational percentages of the synagogue memberships have changed significantly (see Table 2).

Table 2: Synagogue Denominations (%)

1990 2001
Conservative 51 33.1
Orthodox 10 20.8
Reform 35 38.5

Source: Author’s calculations from National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) data.

Declining Conservative Numbers

Conservative Judaism has experienced a significant decline in recent years. By 2001, only 26.5 percent of America’s Jews identified as Conservative. Demographic decline had been occurring for two generations, primarily as a result of intermarriage. Many who were raised as Conservative are now unaffiliated or affiliate with Reform.

The growth in the Orthodox sector comes primarily from a higher birthrate as well as the decline in the rate of non-observant Orthodox. These are people who, when they go to synagogue, go to Orthodox ones even though they are not religiously observant .

Some observers argue that the Conservative movement suffers from leadership malaise as well as the lack of a clearly formulated and compelling ideology. Alternatively, it has been claimed that Conservative Judaism is experiencing a winnowing, similar to that of Orthodoxy in the first half of the twentieth century, with younger Conservative Jews more committed than their elders. Formal education has experienced something of a renaissance, becoming more intensive. There are now sixty-six Conservative Solomon Schechter lower schools and eight high schools in the United States, as well as a Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem offering a variety of intensive study programs for young adults. Other evidence, however, suggests less encouraging developments.

Conservative Tensions and Struggles

Over the past ten years the Conservative movement has lost two hundred congregations. Twenty-five years ago, the issue in Conservative Judaism was how the rabbi and the synagogue should deal with the Jewish spouses in intermarriages whether they should be entitled to membership, be called up to read from the Torah, and so on. Today, the issue is the role of the non-Jewish spouse in the Conservative synagogue, as increasing numbers of these synagogues become highly welcoming of them.

Today, the overwhelming majority of young Conservative Jews believe that intermarriage is acceptable, though the children should be raised Jewishly. A group of Conservative rabbis on the West Coast authored a small book, A Place in the Tent,12 that takes a more liberal approach toward outreach to the intermarried than is the official stance of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. The group coined a term to describe non-Jewish partners of Jewish congregants, k’rov Yisrael (close to the Jews), which, they say, is much more inclusive than “non-Jew.” As one group member put it, “Labels can be tricky. They can put someone in a bad light. Yet there’s tremendous power in acknowledging someone’s humanity and existence, and giving them a place within the structure.”

Increasing numbers of constituents of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the organization of men’s clubs in Conservative synagogues, are inviting non-Jews to serve on their boards. In 2005, the movement’s United Synagogue Youth organization has been changing its stance of opposition to keruv (outreach).

The modernizing of Conservative Judaism is apparent in other developments, including growing ambivalence about ordination of gays and lesbians and regarding same-sex marriages. In contrast to previous statements that simply reaffirmed the traditional rejection of homosexuality, the United Synagogue – the synagogue organization of Conservative Judaism – and the Rabbinical Assembly have called for civil rights for gays and lesbians.

The increasing religious modernism of Conservative Judaism was evident in the 2001 publication of an authorized Torah translation and commentary, Etz Hayim, that included essays explicitly questioning, if not rejecting, the historicity of various biblically recorded events. Although the movement has always permitted a less than literal interpretation of Scripture, it had also not explicitly rejected the literal reading.

Traditional Judaism

A group of rabbis, some of whom taught at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and laypeople who opposed changes spearheaded a new group, the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism (UTCJ), which initially was to be a “loyal opposition” within the movement. Subsequently it viewed Conservative Judaism as deviating further from tradition. UTCJ objected to, among other issues, some of the textual revisions in the new Conservative prayer book, Sim Shalom, as well as the Conservative alliance with Reform in a struggle to have Israel accept non-halakhic conversions. UTCJ argued that Conservative Judaism was initiating reforms that even conflicted with its own halakhic authorities.

Consequently, the group formally broke with Conservative Judaism and was renamed the Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ). Its membership comes primarily from the Conservative Right and the Orthodox Left, and seeks to deemphasize denominational labels. It has established a rabbinical seminary, the Institute of Traditional Judaism (Metivta), and a rabbinical organization, Morashah (Moetzet Rabbanim Shomrei Hahalakha), but is as yet a small movement whose development remains to be seen. It has, however, sapped much of the strength of Conservative Judaism’s right wing; at the same time, developments in Reform Judaism have attracted increasing numbers of its left wing.

Reform Judaism

Like Conservative Judaism, Reform lacks a coherent ideology, but it has not experienced the same consequences. The movement’s numbers have grown fivefold since 1937. The National Jewish Population Survey figures show that 35 percent of America’s Jews identified with Reform in 2001. Among households belonging to a synagogue, 38.5 percent are Reform.

The patterns of Reform Judaism resemble the broader patterns of religion in American society. Whereas classical Reform all but excised spirituality from Judaism, contemporary Reform has vigorously restored it. It has also reintroduced Hebrew into its most recent official prayer book, Gates of Prayer, and has reemphasized the notion of mitzvot and the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, as well as a wide range of traditional rituals earlier defined as antithetical to modern sensibilities.

Whereas both the observance of dietary laws and the wearing of kippot and tallithot were once viewed as retrograde, today they are viewed positively by Reform rabbis and congregants.13 Compared to the early twentieth century, there has also been a revolution in Reform’s position on Zionism and Israel.

Reform Judaism has also reversed its attitudes toward Jewish education, and has established a number of Reform day schools. Indeed, today, Hebrew Union College in New York even has a kollel. The Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform rabbinic organization, has become much more rooted in traditional Jewish sources. To some, contemporary Reform sounds at times little different from Orthodoxy, but that is hardly the case. The essential difference remains that, for Orthodoxy, religious observances are viewed as mitzvot in the literal sense commandments of a Higher Authority. For Reform, such observances do not have the binding character of halakhah, but are symbolic acts that derive from and appeal to personalism and voluntarism, a search for self-meaning.

The CCAR Responsa Committee is not like a moetzet gedolei haTorah (rabbinical council), or the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. It is solely an advisory committee, and its “responsa provide guidance, not governance.”14 There is, therefore, no inconsistency between Reform’s adaptation of traditional rituals and its simultaneously sanctioning behavior that is taboo in the tradition, such as intermarriage and same-sex partnerships, which in 2000 the CCAR declared as “worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”15 Thus, despite Reform’s “traditionalist” manifestations, the rift between it and the traditional Jewish community remains wide.

Until recently, “triumphalism,” the prediction by one denomination of the demise of another, was limited to the Conservative and Orthodox trends. Reform has now entered the fray and, in an article in a CCAR publication, the organization’s executive vice-president predicted that the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements’ congregational and rabbinical organizations will soon either join the Union for Reform Judaism or disappear.16 The claim exacerbated relations between the Reform and Conservative movements. Ironically, it may also spark a reaction that could slow or even halt the Conservative decline.

Orthodox Judaism

Not long ago, the Orthodox were known for having the highest proportion of elderly. In 2001, they had the highest proportion of young children. Thirty-nine percent of the Orthodox population are children; only 12 percent are elderly. The corresponding figures in the total American Jewish population are 20 percent and 19 percent. As noted earlier, among those American Jewish households who belong to a synagogue, 21 percent are Orthodox.

Two important societal developments of the late 1970s and 1980s affected the character of American Orthodoxy. The “turn to the right” that occurred in Orthodoxy reflected in large measure, a broader trend and rise of fundamentalism in the United States and various other countries. In mid-century America secularization appeared to be the wave of the future, an inevitable consequence of modernity. So much so that, as mentioned above, Peter Berger predicted that by the year 2000 “religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture”. By the closing decades of the century Berger recanted and averred that the world today “is as furiously religious as it ever was.”17

Moreover, “on the international religious scene, it is conservative or orthodox or traditionalist movements that are on the rise almost everywhere.”18 The forces of moderation have widely been replaced by fundamentalism, and it has become fashionable to reject the culture – although not the technology – of modernity in favor of “strong religion.”19 It should, therefore, be no surprise that American Orthodoxy moved to the right.

With these developments, the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have apparently gained self-confidence that manifests itself in greater assertiveness. For example, whereas at mid-century religious outreach was the province of the modern Orthodox, with the haredim being somewhat suspicious of ba’alei teshuva (the newly religious), by the end of the century the haredim were heavily engaged in religious outreach. Some of the frameworks include the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), the Association for Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP), with which hundreds of Orthodox outreach organizations are affiliated, and the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). Many of these were initially modern Orthodox but are today staffed by haredim.

Modern Orthodoxy Turning Inward

Ironically, the modern Orthodox who pioneered religious outreach have turned inward and, institutionally, are hardly engaged in such activity. For the most part, the modern Orthodox have become defensive and are much more likely to engage in intellectual discussions among themselves, rather than actively reaching out beyond their borders. Likewise, as Adam Ferziger has demonstrated,20 the modern Orthodox rabbinical seminaries have turned more inward and emphasize halakhic expertise, whereas the more right-wing institutions have programs that train rabbis in outreach. Even in NCSY, which is a branch of the Orthodox Union, much of the leadership has a strong haredi influence.21

To some extent, this also reflects the modernity of the modern Orthodox. Similar to the larger American society, they are less likely to be affiliated and actively involved with communal organizations. Political scientist Robert Putnam amassed considerable data indicating that Americans are increasingly less likely to join parent-teacher associations, unions, political parties, and other social groups.22

Although there is recent evidence of modern Orthodox strength and institution building, it still appears that the focus is on intellectual discussion among peers rather than active involvement with the broader population of America’s Jews or the American public in general.

The Ultra-Orthodox

The Ultra-Orthodox, on the other hand, have moved precisely in the direction of outward involvement. Agudath Israel, for example, became very active in the public sphere during the latter half of the twentieth century. It maintains a fulltime office in Washington, DC, as well as others across the United States, and actively lobbies all branches of federal, state, and local government on issues that it views as of Jewish interest. Its public relations specialist frequently publishes columns in Jewish newspapers across the country and internationally, expressing the Aguda perspective on broad issues of importance to Jews.

Indications are that the haredim are increasingly attached to the larger society, and view living their lifestyle as a right rather than something that sets them apart from it. One possible indication of this is the widespread display of American flags at homes and businesses in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods following the 9/11 attack. The fact that the national office of Agudath Israel sent strongly-worded letters imploring its members to contribute to the fund for families of firefighters and police victims of the disaster also seems to indicate a deep sense of identification with the tragedy as Americans, and of being an integral part of the society.

Kosher Food Standards

The coming of age of Orthodoxy in American society manifested itself in additional developments during the second half of the past century. One was the growth of the kosher food industry. Until recently, it was difficult to be an observant Jew, especially with regard to the dietary requirements. Because of a combination of cultural and structural factors, this is no longer the case.

The World War II immigrant group of Hasidim focused especially on raising kosher food standards and improving availability. They helped develop new lines of kosher products. The cultural patterns in the larger society that made it increasingly likely that both spouses in the family work outside the home precipitated a growing need for readymade foods and, for observant Jews, kosher readymade foods.

This sparked technological developments in the food processing industry that largely removed the restricting and thus stigmatizing nature of kosher food, by dramatically expanding the selection and availability of such foods. Increasing numbers of food products that are sold in supermarkets and grocery stores around the country are kosher, though they are not conspicuously designated as such. An annual trade show, Kosherfest, takes place in a large convention center, such as New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena or New York City’s Javits Center, and is attended by thousands of international trade buyers, including top buyers for supermarket chains, restaurants, caterers, hotels, hospitals, universities, and so on.

Clearly, most of those partaking of kosher food today are not Orthodox or even Jewish. By the end of the century, one frequently ate kosher food whether one knew it or not. The emergence of this industry is evidence, among other things, of the socioeconomic mobility of American Orthodox Jews. This and the contemporaneous expansion of the kosher food industry have also made possible the emergence of the kosher tour industry. One can now go on kosher tours and cruises worldwide, and celebrate the Jewish holidays, including the High Holidays, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, at lavish hotels with the finest cuisine.

Orthodox Publishing

Another industry that developed dramatically since World War II is that of English-language Orthodox publishing. The largest in this field are those pioneered by Rabbis Nosson Scherman’s and Meir Zlotowitz’s ArtScroll and Mesorah, which publish a wide array of translations, including the very popular ArtScroll Siddur (prayer book), as well as hagiographic biographies, commentaries, children’s books, and so on.

Critics have argued that ArtScroll censors its books to present only haredi perspectives. By the turn of the century, however, most observers agreed that, whatever its faults, ArtScroll had revolutionized Jewish learning in America and raised its level to unprecedented heights by bringing many remote sacred texts to the attention of the general public in attractive editions. In addition, it played a key role in the popularization of daily Talmud study through publication of an English-language translation of the Talmud.

One manifestation of this phenomenon was a series of major celebrations, comprised of more than twenty-five thousand Jews who completed the entire Talmud by studying a page each day for approximately seven and a half years. In September 1997, the tenth celebration of Siyum haShas (Completion of the Shas [Talmud]), sponsored by Agudath Israel, included a satellite hookup to both Madison Square Garden in New York and the Nassau Coliseum in Nassau County, New York. By the close of the century, being Orthodox not only appeared acceptable but almost the “in” way to be Jewish. As suggested, this dramatic turn was precipitated by a variety of internal Jewish as well as broader societal developments.

Voting Patterns

American Orthodox Jews have typically voted more conservatively than mainstream American Jewry, but they have not played a prominent role in conservative politics. This now appears to be changing. That Orthodoxy is now “kosher” in America was obvious at the 2004 Republican National Convention, where kippot of both the haredi and modern varieties were evident all over. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreiss gave the benediction on the second night, and an Orthodox woman quoted Psalms in Hebrew before the entire convention while requesting a minute of silence for the victims of the Beersheba bus bombings earlier that day.

Some have even interpreted the absence of any formal, organizational statement by American Orthodoxy in opposition to the Israeli disengagement plan as indicating their identification with the policies of George Bush. This, however, seems doubtful, and certainly is not the entire answer; the majority of American Orthodox identify with their Israeli counterparts who oppose the plan.

The American haredim, like their Israeli counterparts, have tended not to participate overtly in the antidisengagement activity. The Rabbinical Council of America (modern Orthodox) and the Orthodox Union, which attempts to bridge the modern-haredi divide, are following their traditional stance of not openly opposing internal Israeli policies, and are maintaining that position even though it is probably costing them support among the American Orthodox.

The “Cost of Jewish Living” and its Impact

This author has argued that the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) data indicate that Orthodox families have lower annual incomes than Conservative and Reform families, and that the “cost of Jewish living,” while affecting all the denominations, is higher for the Orthodox:

There is a gap of more than $10,000 between the mean family incomes of Orthodox and Conservative, and a similar gap between the mean family incomes of Conservative and Reform baby boomers. Almost two-thirds of the Orthodox baby boomers reported combined annual family incomes of less than $45,000, whereas only half of the Conservatives and 42.5 percent of the Reform did…. Since Orthodox have more children than Conservative and Reform do, this means that the economic constraints are even greater than these data indicate. The lower income of the Orthodox, combined with their larger families, means they have considerably less disposable income than others. In addition, their ideological commitments compel them to join synagogues at a higher rate than others, . . . and to send their children to private day schools, as well as to contribute to a variety of other Jewish communal institutions. There is, thus, ample evidence that the Orthodox are disproportionally affected by what has been called, “the high cost of Jewish living.”23

The lower income of the Orthodox continued to be evident in the 2001 NJPS. For example, of those identifying as Orthodox, 80 percent had incomes of less than $100,000, compared to 77 percent for Conservative and 73 percent for Reform. Five percent of those who identified as Conservative had incomes of $300,000 or more, compared to 3 percent for Reform and only 1 percent for Orthodox. It must be taken into account, however, that the Orthodox have larger families. In other words, although most American Orthodox Jews are middle-class, the community’s significantly higher cost of Jewish living persists.

More recently, Gerald Bubis highlighted the high cost of Jewish living in general but appeared to downplay its significance for the Orthodox. As he put it,

They remain steadfast in their commitment to day school education, trips to Israel far beyond the frequency of other Jews, and, to a lesser extent, Jewish camping experiences. At the same time, they have more children per household than other Jews, keep kosher with its concomitant higher costs, buy special clothing free of shatnes (the forbidden mixture of fibers), and, for the Ultra-Orthodox, purchase wigs for women’s hair covering. Given all these additional expenses, the Orthodox or traditional practitioners spend 25 to 35 percent of their available income for Jewish living, often at a sacrifice of more adequate housing, a more comfortable lifestyle, and the acquisition of savings. Scholars such as Bayme, Gittelson and others have correctly noted that the cost of Jewish living is a complex variable and cannot be separated from attitudes and values.

The Orthodox community encompasses a range of values and life-styles ranging from Ultra-Orthodox to Modern Orthodox. At the most religious end of this spectrum are a significant sector who live in poverty but continue to hold true to their beliefs and practices. The potency of the community and its institutions serves to support these values and practices. Thus the economic hardships of the most impoverished are often mitigated, to a degree, by the readiness of community members and institutions to help. Giving tzedaka is a hallmark of the community and is seen as a requirement, a mitzvah in the sense of a commandment and not just an opportunity to “do good.”

The relative totality of identification and identity within this community is worth examining in a social-psychological context. Identity as a social psychological concept encompasses many different identities within one person. One can answer the question “Who am I?” with many appropriate responses-man, husband, lawyer, human, Jew, American, parent, child, to name a few. There is an ebb and flow in the importance attached to each of these identities, depending upon place, time, and circumstance.

Identification encompasses the ways one acts out one’s identity through behavior. For example, little girls usually show their femininity through how they dress, the toys they play with, and the games they choose. Conservative Jews show their identification with Judaism by wearing a head covering in the synagogue but rarely outside it. New immigrants to Israel, who see themselves as Israelis and as Jews, still use their mother tongue at home, but if an entire family attends ulpan, they will switch to Hebrew when they walk their children to school and see the school.

While Orthodox or traditional Jews have more than one identity, their identity as Jews is paramount. This is not true of the other 90 percent of Jews in America. This is demonstrable by the language we use to describe ourselves as a group. Until the 1970s and 1980s, fiction and sociological literature referred to Jews living in America as American Jews. The last twenty years has seen a shift toward the appellation Jewish Americans, showing the primacy of the identity as American, even though the modifier “Jewish” is important for most. I would argue that today the movement toward assimilation has passed its low point, and the return to a more intensive Jewish lifestyle, as a function of identification, is palpable and normative, even among a substantial portion of the intermarried.

It is here that the economic cost of Jewish living enters the discussion. If a non-Orthodox family is comfortable with its American identity, but desires a more intensive expression of Jewish identity, then cost becomes a barrier in a way that is not true for an Orthodox Jewish family. Consequently, for Jews whose income levels are above the $75-$80,000 level, the desire for Jewish identification must be seen as key to what they are prepared to pay both economically and psychologically for their Jewish experiences. The cost is not only dollars and cents but includes the modification of behaviors.24

Bubis assumes that the cost is not a barrier for the Orthodox community because their Jewishness is the most important aspect of their identity. However, he does not consider that cost is a factor for many Orthodox Jews as well and may play a role in the fact that Orthodoxy has not grown as rapidly as one might have expected. It may also play a role in the haredization of American Orthodoxy because the haredi community is more tightly knit and has much greater provision for hesed, “good works” of all kinds, for those who do not have the means.

Conclusion: The Decline of Overt Interdenominational Tension

The marked decline in overt interdenominational tension in recent years is viewed by many as a very positive development in American Judaism. It is held to bespeak a new era of tolerance and even pluralism, which are viewed as signs of communal health.

Some, however, such as Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary, are not so sanguine. Wertheimer correctly avers that: “Despite all the positive rhetoric and cooperative programming, the religious leaders of the various movements speak very different languages and employ entirely different categories of religious discourse.”25

The question, however, is why this should matter. Does community require that everyone agree or even employ the same categories of religious discourse, or instead, that despite their differences they feel a sense of kinship and at least behave civilly toward each other? What is important is that the various factions view themselves as a common community and that, despite their ideological differences, they cooperate civilly with each other to the degree feasible.

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1. Marshall Sklare, Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1955), p. 43. The augmented edition included an entire new chapter in which Sklare analyzed the dilemmas of Conservatism and contrasted its development to that of Orthodoxy, which “has transformed itself into a growing force in American Jewish life [and] reasserted its claim of being authentic interpretation of Judaism” (New York: Schocken, 1972) p. 264.

2. Harvey Cox, The Secular City (New York: Macmillan, 1965).

3. Thomas Altizer and William Hamilton, eds., Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).

4. Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967).

5. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1967); Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan, 1967).

6. Andrew M. Greeley, Unsecular Man: The Persistence of Religion (New York: Schocken, 1972), p. 193.

7. “A Bleak Outlook Seen for Religion,” New York Times, 25 February 1968, p. 3.

8. Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969).

9. Charles Glock and Robert Bellah, eds., The New Religious Consciousness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).

10. Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since WWII (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

11. Margaret Talbot, “A Mighty Fortress,” New York Times Magazine, 27 February 2000, p. 36.

12. Tiferet Project (Rabbi Mark Bloom et al.), A Place in the Tent: Intermarriage and Conservative Judaism (Berkeley, CA.: EKS, 2004).




16. Debra Nussbaum Cohen, “Reform Leader Predicts Demise of Conservatives,” Jewish Week, 5 March 2004.

17. Peter L. Berger, ed., The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center and Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 2.

18. Ibid. , p. 6

19. Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 2003.

20. Adam S. Ferziger, “Training American Orthodox Rabbis to Play a Role in Confronting Assimilation: Programs, Methodologies and Directions,” Research and Position Papers, Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality, Faculty of Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University, 2003.

21. On the haredi influence in NCSY, see Nathalie Friedman, Faithful Youth: A Study of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth, 1998).

22. Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

23. Chaim I. Waxman, Jewish Baby Boomers: A Communal Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), p. 35.

24. Gerald B. Bubis, “The Costs of Jewish Living: Revisiting Jewish Involvements and Barriers,” Contemporary Jewish Life Department, American Jewish Committee, 2005, p. 8. Quoted with permission.

25. Jack Wertheimer, All Quiet on the Religious Front: Jewish Unity, Denominationalism, and Postdenominationalism in the United States (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2005), p. 23.

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Chaim I. Waxman is professor of sociology and Jewish studies at Rutgers University, and specializes in the sociology of religion and ethnicity, with particular focus on Jews in the United States and in Israel. He is the author of The Stigma of Poverty: A Critique of Poverty Theories and Policies (Pergamon Press, 1977; 2nd ed., 1983); America’s Jews in Transition (Temple University Press, 1983); American Aliya: Portrait of an Innovative Migration Movement (Wayne State University Press, 1989); and Jewish Baby Boomers: A Communal Perspective (State University of New York Press, 2001). He is coauthor of the Historical Dictionary of Zionism (Rowman & Littlefield/Scarecrow, 2000, with Rafael Medoff), and has edited or coedited more than a half-dozen volumes including Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 1999, with Roberta Rosenberg Farber) and, most recently, Jews in Israel: Contemporary Social and Cultural Patterns (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 2004, with Uzi Rebhun). Prof. Waxman has been president of the Association for the Sociological Study of Jewry, and is a member of numerous national and international scholarly associations.