In a few weeks, the month of Elul will see some Jews engaging in cheshbon hanefesh, or "accounting of the soul." Jewish social scientists and policy makers, meanwhile, engage in a different type of cheshbon nefesh: counting Jews. This month, BJPA is highlighting Jewish population resources.
A JTA article last month reported the failure to mount a 2010 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS). In 1970, 1990, and 2000-01, several of the predecessors of JFNA conducted large-scale surveys of the American Jewish population -- a streak which seems to have come to an end.
The lack of a 2010 NJPS leaves a gaping hole in our knowledge of the American Jewish community. One way to gauge the loss is to examine the wealth of information provided by earlier NJPS studies: click here to see a BJPA bookshelf of over 60 reports related to NJPS data. The 2000-2001 NJPS allowed researchers to shed new light on Jewish education, economic vulnerability, employment, adult education, philanthropy, demographics of the three largest denominations, Jews in small communities, Holocaust survivors, the elderly, political behavior, and much more.
When it comes to raw population numbers, however, NJPS has been complemented by the American Jewish population figures published by the AJC for over a century in its American Jewish Yearbook. (Since the 1970s, the Yearbook has also featured worldwide Jewish population estimates by Leon Shapiro, Sergio DellaPergola and Uziel Schmelz.) Recently, these Jewish population estimates have been taken over (with the Yearbook's permission) by the Berman Institute's North American Jewish Data Bank.
A JTA article in July heralded the rise of Jewish community studies on the local level, intensifying a long-standing trend. Our Archive includes studies from Maryland in 1903; New York in 1972 and 1978; Boston in 1985 and 1995; and parts of Florida in the'90s and aughts. Los Angeles and Denver undertook Jewish community population studies in 1997, and Denver performed another in 2007. In 2002, the UJA-Federation of New York engaged Jacob B. Ukeles and Ron Miller (who spearheaded the Denver studies) as principal investigators to perform the Jewish Community Study of New York. Ukeles Associates, Inc. has performed dozens of local studies, many of which can be found here.
Jewish population studies regularly draw methodological debates. In 1966, writing in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Saul Kaplan critically examined a methodology based on self-reported Jewish birth-rate at hospitals. In 1981, David P. Varady and Samuel J. Mantal Jr. advocated random-digit phone dialing, while Fred Massarik cautioned against being "married" to any single method. In 1985, Sidney Goldstein called for greater standardization of community studies. Three years later, Barry Kosmin, Paul Ritterband, and Jeffrey Scheckner explored methodological issues more generally. Another general overview of these issues was provided by Gary A. Tobin and Sid Groenman in 2003. See also the summer 2006 issue of Contact, and the October 2010 issue of Sh'ma, both of which focus on these and related topics.
So How Many Jews Live in the United States?
Charles Kadushin and Leonard Saxe argued in 2003 that the 2000-2001 NJPS was unreliable in its finding of a shrinking US Jewish population (5.2 million, down from 5.5 in 1990). In 2006, Bethamie Horowitz took to the pages of the Forward to tell American Jews to Stop Worrying; new studies had placed the estimate over 6 million. Ira Sheskin, summarizing the arguments from all sides in 2008 for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, placed "the most likely range" at between 6 and 6.4 million. In 2010, Leonard Saxe presented the estimate of 6,466,899.
For the raw data from these and the many other Jewish population studies, as well as the numerous reports they generated, I highly recommend our partner organization, the North American Jewish Data Bank.
Our newsletters present only a small selection of our 12,000 documents, including hundreds of other publications on the topics of demography and population estimates. Undoubtedly there are also many other resources on this topic which we don't yet possess in our holdings. If you are a copyright holder for any of these items, send them our way! (either by email or by uploading them yourself).
You may have noticed that four of the links earlier in this letter are in bold and italics. These are links to BJPA Bookshelves. If you are a registered user on BJPA, you can create your own bookshelves. Maintain an ongoing bookshelf to save your favorite articles, or create a different bookshelf for each area of interest, or for each research project. Copy from your bookshelves for easy citation, and export the information easily to MS Word for bibliographies. You can also publish a bookshelf to the web, giving it a URL (like the four bookshelves linked in this letter) to share with colleagues; or keep it private.
With best wishes,
Director, Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
Prof. Steven M. Cohen