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Was there ever a study done on the percentage of Reform Jews who would be considered Jewish according to Halacha?

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3 Answers 3

No, and it would be nearly impossible to determine. Every modern survey and census of Jews in America has been performed with the widest possible definition of Jew, in order to obtain the fullest and least-controversial numbers. This usually translates to counting someone as a Jew if they identify themselves as Jewish. (Source)

For example, a recent census, the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, primarily counted someone as a Reform Jew if they considered themselves to be one. The more stringent definition was simply those who are members or are affiliated with to a Reform synagogue. (Source) Neither definition gets anywhere near "Halakhic."

The most recent census (as of this edit), the Pew Research - Portrait of Jewish Americans, also used self-identification as their primary criteria.


Even if one were to attempt to find out, they'd run into the following problems:

Reform Judaism accepted Patrilineal Descent in 1983. Any survey or census performed since will have been done according to their standards, which means that the latest generations of Reform Jews will only needed to have just one Jewish parent, and the data will not distinguish which parent it is.

In addition,

"If the child of a Christian father and a Jewish mother is not raised Jewish, the child is a Jew according to the Orthodox movement, but not according to the Reform movement. The matter becomes even more complicated, because the status of that interfaith child's children also comes into question." (Source)

and

"Reform Judaism stresses the importance of being raised Jewish; if a child is born to Jewish parents and was not raised Jewish then the child is not considered Jewish." (Source)

The most recent study, performed by Pew Research, underscores this issue:

"The number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising... and most U.S. Jews (62%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion."

Thus, there are Jews who would be considered Jewish by Halacha, but not by Reform!

In addition, the Pew Survey illustrates yet another issue:

"Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish."

I am far from an expert on this issue, but if I recall correctly, there are many problems with one's halakhic status if one denies God.

Additionally, Judaism counts the children of converts as Jews. However, Reform conversions are not performed to traditional halakhic standards, rending their children non-Jewish according to Halakha.

Finally, even if the mother was halakhically Jewish, there are many problems with potential mamzeirut, as Reform Judaism does not conduct halakhically valid marriages and divorces. While Mamzeirim are Jewish, they are many halakhic issues regarding their integration into the broader Jewish community, and thus any census of "Halakhic Jews" would have to include them as a separate category.

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The mamzerut bit is not relevant to the question. Mamzers are still Jewish. –  Double AA Dec 27 '11 at 4:22
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@DoubleAA | True, but there are many significant halakhic ramifications. –  Shmuel Dec 27 '11 at 5:25
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Latest Jewish population survey is from 2010 not 2000. jewishdatabank.org/Reports/… –  avi Dec 27 '11 at 7:55
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The fact that people might be Jewish but not counted as Jewish by Reform, does not impact the question asked. (What percentage of Reform Jews are halachically Jewish?) If they aren't Reform Jews, their status for purposes of this question are irrelevant. –  avi Dec 27 '11 at 12:29
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My point is that if they're halakhically Jewish, but aren't even affiliated with the most liberal denomination, they're likely to simply not be counted. But you're right. –  Shmuel Dec 27 '11 at 23:48

While, no exact number can be known, estimates are possible.

In a survey done with Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Reform rabbis, no Conservative rabbis would perform an intermarriage, 36% of Reform rabbis would, and 62% of Reconstructionist rabbis would.

In a population survey, 33% of American Jewish Families were "interfaith families", while another study says that currently, just over 50% of marriages are "interfaith marriages"

According to this article, It's hard for me to tell if 33% of intermarried Jewish families had a Jewish mother, or if 29% of Jewish woman, and 33% of Jewish men were intermarrying. The quote is..

Between 1980 and 2004, women, for the first time, were intermarrying in similar numbers to men (33% to 29%, according to the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey).

Based on this information, About 18% of Reform Jews today would not be halachically Jewish. And 33% of Reform children born now, would not be halachically Jewish.

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I don't think it's possible to infer percentages of non-Halakhic Jews from intermarriage numbers. –  Shmuel Dec 27 '11 at 11:50
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Why not? they are an exact cause/effect relationship. And it's only existed for 1 generation. (maybe 2) –  avi Dec 27 '11 at 12:26
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@avi, thanks -- that's more what I was expecting. Last I heard, performing intermarriages would get a rabbi kicked out of the C rabbinic association. –  Monica Cellio Dec 27 '11 at 19:10

While not specific to Reform Jews, the National Jewish Population Survey from 2000-01 (which was just enough time after Patrilineal Descent for college kids to have been born) the found that only 48% of Jews in college had two Jewish parents. Which would mean that 26% of Jews in college have only a Jewish father, and thus aren't halachically Jewish (and this is even assuming that all self-identified Jewish parents are halachically Jewish). Now if that was the case 13 years ago and intermarriage rates have increased or at least stayed the same, and the problem compounds by being left unchecked, then the current and future generations of Jews are going to have even higher percentages of non-Jews in their midst.

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Okay, but not if they are attending all-Jewish schools. –  Adam Mosheh Nov 13 '13 at 20:14
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@AdamMosheh How many Reform Jews attend all-Jewish schools? The answer is somewhere in the realm of slim, and in college- none. And I don't think it would be easy or feasible to change that. If we segregate all of the religious Jews into all-Jewish schools, that will probably drive the assimilation rates even higher for the rest of the Jews, or at the very least it definitely won't help it. –  Hartzl Nov 22 '13 at 6:12
    
@AdamMosheh I don't understand how attending all-Jewish schools would affect whether on is halachically Jewish. (Unless you meant that if would affect the intermarriage rate, in which case I agree.) –  Shmuel Mar 13 at 2:48
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@Hartzl - While I understand where you got 26% from, I don't think you can assume that those with only one Jewish parent are neatly split 50-50 between mother and father. All we know is that 52% have just one Jewish parent. It could be that 42% have a Jewish mother, and only 10% have just a Jewish father, for example. Additional data on intermarriage by gender is required. –  Shmuel Apr 14 at 19:02

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