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Jewish Journal

The One Million Jews Mistake?

by Pini Herman

January 19, 2012 | 12:25 pm

Most Jews? U.S or Israel?

Two new independent studies have found that there are between 6.4 million and 6.6 million Jews living in the United States today, representing about 1.8% of the population. One study out of Brandeis by Leonard Saxe, the 6.4 million figure and another study out of the University of Miami and University of Conneticut by Ira Sheskin and Arnold Dashevsky are creating a debate which is the newest tempest in a teapot. With all the pronouncements about the newly found million Jews, we don’t know anything more about one single Jew in the US than we did before this “PEGGING” of US Jews at the over 6.4 million mark rather than the previous 5.2 million which would have made Israel at 5.8 million Jews the largest Jewish population in the world.

It all hinges on how hundreds of thousands of US respondents answered the generic religion survey question on dozens of general surveys in the US and whether Jewish screening questions were properly applied in more specialized Jewish population studies.  In both cases, as an experienced demographer, I would worry before I made a rash announcement of an million extra Jews in the U.S.  There are other serious issues as to estimation assumptions, such as using 3 to 10 year old surveys which provide no household members information to estimate current Jewish population figures based on current population estimates.

Its a reach to use the methodologies that Saxe, in the Brandeis study, and the Sheskin and Dashevsky study use to estimate U.S. National Jewish populations.  If my experience with false positives, that is non-Jews claiming to be Jewish, in local Jewish surveys in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Houston is ramped up to a national scale and ignored then I would expect a number much higher than it actually is.

As described in a recent Forward article:

Daunted by the steep expense and lengthy time required by random digit dialing, Saxe and his team ferreted out data that already existed to reach his conclusion. This included information from more than 150 government surveys on topics completely unrelated to Judaism, such as health care or education. Each study had a sample size of at least 1,000 people, and each study asked the question: What is your religion?

So, as long as US Jews don’t actually do a needed $10-14 million scientific survey, we retain bragging rights over Israel on the basis of guesstimates.

Now that we’ve cheaply built this Jewish demographic castle in the air…when do we move in?

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (I was recently notified that with 40,000 visitors this year the 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population was third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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