According to the Reform movements’ President Rabbi Yoffie, the Diaspora’s largest streams of Judaism “are Reform and Conservative.”

Thats odd. From the recent surveys it seems that Reform and Conservative are not the two leading streams of Judaism. The leading streams are unaffiliated and assimilating. Unaffiliated being the single largest group in America today.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


  • We have been saying this for a long time at the Jewish Outreach Institute. It is part of what I like to call the cult of scarcity. While the organized community is focused on the insiders and debating which movement is larger, more and more Jews are voting with their feet and not affiliating with any of the major movements. So perhaps that is where we need to turn our attention.

  • to kerry olitzky:
    while you may be more than correct in saying the jewish world, and especially its leaders, need to focus more attention on the people on the ground and less on internacine posturing,
    the point made in the article treats the issue of legitimacy of an entire swath of the jewish world and its leaders, not a pissing contest.
    This seems especially tragic, because merely in browsing the photos around the halls of JTS, one sees the intitmate involvement of the israeli gov’t and the diaspora jewry. now, it’s like they just can’t communicate. shame.

  • Hey Rabbi, what exactly does unaffiliated mean in this context? Is it people that don’t belong to one of the majour streams? When Muffti was a a little Muffti (before his transformation into Grandness) he went to a synagogue that had broken off from a conservative synagogue but was unwilling to be affiliated with a religious synagogue. It was kind of a compromise place: separate seating but no mechiztza for example. Would the members have counted as unaffiliated?

  • The largest Jewish “affiliation” is Culturally Jewish .. Non-affiliated and tending towards atheism

  • “It’s too bad that someone who aspires to be a symbol of Jewish unity is unwilling to recognize two of the Diaspora’s largest streams of Judaism,” added Yoffie during an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

    First off, his last name is Yoffie. Secondly, I parsed his sentence as saying that Conservative and Reform Judaism are amongst the largest streams of Judaism, not that they are the two largest. Thirdly, you are absolutely correct that (at least American Judaism) is facing a crisis with assimilation, and a challenge with non-affiliation.

  • OK, someone else, what exactly is non-affiliation? Does that mean not a member of any particular stream? Is that bad on its own?

  • When I wrote non-affiliation, I mean the phenomenon where Jews do not belong to any Jewish organization. Jews who do not affiliate in some way, either through synagogues, federations, or JCCs, are the most at-risk group for assimilation. Also, it generally spreads out our people, and makes our numbers seem smaller.

    So to answer you GM, it’s not by definition a bad thing. But in most cases, its an indicator of the health of the Jewish community: the more non-affiliation, the worse off the community is.

  • Affiliation means which one of the three major “branches” one is a MEMBER of. MEMBER = affiliated with a temple that practices either Reform, Conservative or Orthodox (there are sub-sets of Orthodox). One must be a dues paying MEMBER… Keep in mind that these various Jewish groups have their own agendas and tend to defend the status quo.. now, as well all know, the Jewish religion has adapted well to the ever changing world…that adaptation, for some, smacks of assimilation. Which is felt, in some quaters to be destructive of the Jewish “identity”… In the end it is what is in your heart that counts not what is in your doctrine.

  • Why is it reasonable to take that as an indication of health? Simply because organizations aren’t doing well, why does that mean that jews aren’t doing well?

    The synagogue muffit went to, as mentioned before, wasn’t a member of any majour stream. Do tehy count as unaffiliated?

  • Blah, you were affiliated to a synagogue which while being affiliated to judaism was unaffiliated to a particular religious stream. Why is this so confusing? (hahahahaaaaa).

  • No, Muffti, your synagogue counts as affiliated. Affiliation, when in the contexts of the larger Jewish demographic, is a description of involvement in a community structure. A synagogue, a youth group, JCC, Campus Hillel, or any other organization or community structured around Jewish Culture or religion. Unaffiliated Jewry are those Jews living in an isolated (Jewishly) environment. They may know that they are Jewish, and even perform Jewish practices in their homes. But are not connected to the Jewish community at large other then by name. This can be because of self removal, in-ability (unfortunately a lot of elderly are removed not out of choice but because they are forgotten), or ignorance as to options. Most commonly it is because the person would rather shed the Jewish title and just live life as a regular Joe American or what have you.

  • Thanks Tiff; Muffti knows what ‘affiliated’ typically means. For the purpose of the relevant stats, however, does the synagogue (and its members) count as affiliated or unaffiliated?

  • I guess affiliated. The question probably went something like, “Are you affiliated to a synagogue/jewish organization?” You can’t possibly think I was trying to define affiliated for you? I was going for some snarkiness.

  • The median age of American Jews is 39, I read.

    There was no mention of affiliation.

    That means half of American Jews are over 39 and half of them are under 39.

    A piece is out today describing the loss of middle class areas in or even at all near, American cities. Those used to be places folks who were neither rich nor underclass could nest and have children.

    That is why we have no kids. Of any affiliation.

    What to do? GM, think of something.

  • Urban Kibbutz? Get together and buy, or rent, a small building, fill it with yidden, watch each other’s kids on the play roof, and eat in the cafeteria? Get a J-51 tax exemption or not?

    Esther could fix this up. She knows folks on the Upper West side.

    If not a gated community, a moated building.

    Ok, Ok, various minyans of various kinds and stripes, and a study room for the home schoolers.

    Urban Moshav. Near things.

  • According to Marvin, active Reconstructionist Jews are unaffiliated.

    Everyone defines the words differently. Apparently, according to all of you guys, affiliated means buying into mainstream groups. Attend an intependent minyan, have classes with your peers in your home, celebrate holidays with your friends, and you’re unaffiliated according to all of the definitions that I’m seeing here.

    I study at JTS, work for a Jewish organization, WILL NOT involve myself in synagogue life. Am involved with several independent communities.

    By certain standards, take out the job and the school, and people would call me unaffiliated. By other standards, I could keep the job and the school and still be unaffiliated.

    continuity, assimilation, affiliation. They’re all just goddamn buzzwords.

  • What about people who read and study Jewish texts on their own, don’t they count too?

    I am not so big on this affiliated thing.

    It is useful for organizations, seeking to justify their existence.

    Myself, I am less and less affiliated but more and more studying Jewish Books, Journals, and sefarim. Are you saying that is bad?

  • Maybe the people who are undercounting the mentally and spiritually affiliated, who are not members of anything with a business phone listing, would be happy to know about you, but they cannot find you, to count?

    There is something to be said for paying your dues and pulling your freight institutionally, paying your taxes as it were.

    We all suddenly need a synagogue. Stuff happens. Fill in the blanks.

  • Steves, I’ll say it again, being affiliated probably refers to participating in some kind of organized judaism, such as synagogue, hebrew school, study group, kosher cooking circle…whatever, I’m sure studying at JTS makes you affiliated. I hate this word and will now try to not ever say it again.

  • I think one of the strengths of Judaism is the sense of community it fosters. So attending an intependent minyan, having classes with your peers in your home, celebrating holidays with your friends – these are all indications of the existence of a community that offers its members these options. As much as I’d love to dbate the merits of what movement one is affiliated with, I don’t believe I can afford that in an age when many Jews are choosing to live a life outside ANY discernible or significant Jewish communal structures. Frm that perspective BD, I don’t think anything I am saying can be dismissed as a collection of buzzwords×¥ As for hating our organized jewish community, it aint all bad. Someone’s got to take care of the old people for instance.

  • WOW.
    This is the discussion I was hoping for.
    GM- unaffiliated as the authors of the studies do. No memberships.
    You know I always wondered how many people were affiliated in my grandfather’s shtetl of Stawisk. I mean what did the prices of the Rosh Hashanah tickets cost, and how often did the newsletter go out from the shul’s executive director…

    Of course the answer is never. none. there were no memberships in shtiblach or small shuls. Jews had no choice but to belong to the Kehillah. It was that or..become Christian. The Kehillah functioned like an autonomous governemnt in many places. Its effectiveness and power waned and ebbed over the years in this area of Poland.

    But without getting into a history lesson, I think that this is a crucial discussion. Affiliation should not mean membership in some j-club, like a shul or jcc, the ADL or AJC.

    I am more interested in what role does being Jewish play in a person’s life and what role do they want it to play in te lives of their children and grandchildren. How “committed” is a person to Jewish ritual and learning in any form. How passionate is someone about their cultural identity. Those are cool questions that do a lot for me. I don’t give a matzoh ball which “official” “movement” is larger or smaller. How self serving are these labels. And in fact there is no “orthodox” as there is an official reform, conserv, and recon organization. The OU is just one of many players.

    It is one of the myriad of things which attracted me to Torah, the decentralization of authority in humans, and the centrality of authority in through Hashem.

  • I read once that most of the baal tshuvas are from a conservative home, some are from reform background and very few if any from the unaffiliated. So all this massive Orthodox outreach program are just shifting people from one stream to another.

  • It sounds really good – all this talk about people who are poring over Jewish texts, talking to G-d – but just not bothering to link up with communal organizations – such a drag, and so much like our parents stale old generation.

    Sorry folks – community is woven into the warp and weft of Judaism, and is as much a challenge to the extreme individualism of today’s America as many other “issues” commonly taken as flashpoints.

    As anyone who really is “poring over the texts of Judaism” knows.

    Attachment and sense of obligation – from the intimate bonds of marriage and family to the only-slightly-less-intimate bonds of a Jewish community – these are the cornerstones for the Jewish concept of “Humanism” and “Social Justice”. Jewish charity most definitely does begin at home – or as the Sages of the Mishnah said, “Care for your own town’s poor first”.

    And although “everybody knows” that our parents are SO un-cool – the organizations they set up are doing a heck of a lot of good.

    And there is no escaping the communal nature of Torah study and spiritual growth. In contrast to the university model, one’s Torah teacher is supposed to be a mentor and spiritual guide, not just a distributor of information. Torah is supposed to be learned – and observed – at the communal level, and that’s how prayers are supposed to be uttered.

    Many people in our generation remain stuck in PERSONAL spiritual and moral quests. That is good and healthy – at least for a while – but it’s not the terminus of spiritual growth. There are things you cannot learn about yourself, truths that cannot be discovered and tested, without moving past the self-focus, and building family and community with others.

    Affiliation isn’t just a buzzword. It’s an important, integral part of Judaism.

    If we’re honest with ourselves – the reduction of Judaism to a “personal preference” is actually the last step in the assimilationist shrinking of Judaism – from binding moral code/communal identity, to ethnic label/personal profession.

  • This is now beginning to read like the old middle ages question of “How many saints can dance on the head of a pin ?”.. by the way a very typical christian type of philosophical discourse…at any rate formal organizations are NOT what Judiaism is about anyway… I don’t think that God (even if he/she/it) exists (or once existed) really was/is a proponent of formal organizations…

    Let’s move on to the really big question…. Can a Jew like both round and square knishes?… what personality traits can be found in these two distinct groups and can they be called “affiliated” in any way? 🙂

  • Funny, I guess because we live in Manhattan where membership to a synagogue is fairly extraneous, we are considered unaffiliated, despite davening regularly in an Orthodox shul, keeping kosher and a semblance of shabbos, while lighting candles weekly and performing other ritualistic obligations.
    I guess a $2000 check would be what I need to get my stamp of approval, err, affiliation.

  • One thing I will grant you is how positive Judaism is for children, at least in my case.

    As much as I bitch about the costs, you are I feel rewarded many times over the cost, and
    I do have to struggle in many kinds of difficult and low paying physical works, that many stopped doing after high school.

    But to see such a love, such a positive, unpoisenous glow in all of my children, I attribute, not only to their glorious mother, but in large measure to the excellent classical orthodox education they are getting, and in the home, my little connect.

  • Hey Steves — “classical orthodox education”…as opposses to what other type of “orthodox education?… neo-classical???

  • Ben-David is the man. That is a world class post.

    Deis Cane, kicking in something, if not as much as $2,000 is part of the story. If you like the music, don’t you think you have to pay the piper? Do you think shuls stay open magically without paying their bills for electricity, heating and cleaning? Even with discounted rates for some of that?

    Stuff happens. People die. Oy. We call the shul, the rabbi, we weep, we expect something.

    There are TOO totally secular types becoming Bal Teshuva. They are sometimes a little ashamed that shuls and mikvehs are there no thanks to them. No thanks to the decades they didn’t contribute. Humbly and patiently waiting. Surviving because of other people. Makes the poor Bal Teshuva feel that he/she has been parasiting off others for a very long time. That hurts.

    Parasite is not a pretty word.

  • I agree with Rabbi Yo that it was better when everybody was a Jew and there were no “streams” and the rich picked up the tab because they could and knew they should. And everybody made an effort to help a little bit if they could manage it.

    No, Judaism is not navel gazing. No offense to whatever Eastern thought systems may have literally used that technique.

    Judaism is great because it has both the individual and the communal aspect. Yay team. Shabbat shalom.

    Who is starting the Urban Moshav? There must be Jews out there who just can’t, temperamentally, viscerally, cope with the idea of living in a suburb. Just can’t. Please. I am an urban person. And I refuse to be run off. Even if I have to do lobby duty once month to keep things cool.

  • Marvin, can’t you just let things be fer chrisakes? Yeah very amusing, lol.

  • Steves Rick your post about the sweets of your children’s Jewish education is world class. I hope you hang around here more.

  • Steves… I cannot let things be…why would or should I do that???? I enjoy afflicting the comfortable… 🙂

    and to Jewish Mother… “world class” ??? .. What exactly is that suppose to mean?…

    see Steves…I’ll pick on anyone…:-)

  • I, too, was deeply impressed by the courageous stand taken by Ben-David. So what if he cites no “facts” or “evidence?” That’s just how the ASSIMILATIONISTS and CULTURAL ELITE try to impose their MORAL RELATIVISM as part of the Crusade for Political Correctness. While this may well fool those who care about “tolerance” and “pluralism” I can assure you The Rest Of Us will never be taken in!!

    What’s that you say, that nobody here ever denied the importance of communal institutions? Nobody ever denied that Judaism was a binding system of moral laws, rather than some New Age spiritual quest? Well, be that as it may, let others equivocate. Let others worry about what’s easy and popular. Ben-David is willing to go on the record right now: HITLER WAS EVIL, no matter what anyone says. Throwing puppies into traffic and stomping on baby ducks is wrong!! And damn it, BEN-DAVID DOESN’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT.

    Finally, it’s about time we acknowledge that the obsession with “critical thinking” is nothing but an artifact of RADICAL SECULAR HUMANISM. Truth isn’t established by anything so quaint as “proof” and “logic,” but by the promiscuous use of quotation marks, capital letters, acronyms, and lots of exclamation points!!!
    And if, God forbid, you should happen to find yourself in a situation in which people are inexplicably under the spell of “facts,” just feign exasperation, and sum up your “argument” with something brilliant, like: “Go Learn!!” (And don’t forget those exclamation points!!)

  • Oh, don’t worry, Jewish Mother, I give money to the shul we attend regularly, other shuls we sometimes attend and the Federation.