Since the mid 20th century, when the American Jewish community was at its peak of about six million religious followers, it has decreased to less than two percent of the entire United States population.
According to the U.S. Census, only 1.7 percent of the whole population in 2007 was identified as Jewish. This number is expected to decrease more.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, professor of Jewish Theology at the American Jewish University, is scheduled to discuss the decline in the Jewish population among other topics in the Sierra Hall Whitsett Room.
The two main causes of the rapid decrease of Jews are marriages between a Jewish and a non-Jewish people and a low birthrate.
“The rate of Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews is close to 50 percent,” said professor Amy Shevitz of the Jewish Studies department at CSUN.
The reason why this contributes to the reduced amount of Jewish people is that those who marry outside of their religion frequently do not raise their children as Jewish because their spouse has not converted to Judaism.
Elise Wolfson, 21, is a Jewish biracial. Her mother is of Mexican descent and her father is a third generation American studying Judaism.
She recalls that it was her great-grandmother who was extremely religious, but after Wolfson’s grandmother married a non-religious person from a Jewish background, their practices slowly started coming to an end. Then, her father married her mother whose family was brought up Catholic.
“So because my mom is Catholic we just never chose a religion,” Wolfson said.
Wolfson has two brothers and she says neither of them could choose which religion to follow either.
In addition to the interracial marriage that conflicted with the choice in religion for the Wolfson family, what also played into situations like this one are the different age groups.
Dr. Linda Yellin, also a professor at the CSUN Jewish Studies department, said the decedents of Judaism followers are at greater risk of disappearing.
“Demographers estimate that within two generations, the grandchildren of today’s Reform and non-affiliated Jews will no longer call themselves Jewish,” Yellin said.
She added that this approximation also applies to the grandchildren of today’s conservative Jewish population.
The conservative branch of Judaism primarily focuses on conserving the older traditions and blending it with today’s modern ideas. One motive this developed was to adapt to society rather than to trail behind modernism and potentially lose devotees.
Shevitz said another potential part of the problem is that the new generation is not clear on how they should define themselves and how the word “Jew” is defined.
From the few children who do grow up to declare themselves as Jewish, there is still a slimmer possibility for the Jewish community to grow. Today’s Jewish generation is not reproducing as much as their ancestors did.
“These young people tend to marry late or not at all, have less than two children on average,” Yellin said.
Overall, Shevitz also said Jews are known for not having a very high birthrate.
If the Jewish pattern of having only two children persists and 50 percent will likely go on to marry someone who is not Jewish, the Jewish community does not stand a great chance to increase and the Jewish population will only prolong its struggle.
For more information on these issues, Rabbi Elliott Dorff ‘s lecture “The Decline of the Jewish Population and Environmental Ethics” will take place from 9:30a.m. to 10:45a.m.