July 30, 2012
Israel, Jewish numbers, and Population are Quite The Topic
It’s been a popular topic for demography in the local print media and even in the hand-written bible reading over the past weeks.
We recently completed reading the weekly Torah portions of the book whose title in Hebrew ba’midbar or “Wilderness” ends up being called “Numbers” in English. Why Numbers? The answer that Moshe Sokolow provides is that the English is a translation of not the book’s current Hebrew title but its classical one: Humash ha-Pikkudim, meaning, literally, the Pentateuch book of censuses, which the Greek Septuagint rendered as “Arithmoi.”
The Los Angeles Times’ excellent 5 part series this week “Beyond 7 billion” couldn’t have been written without the census counts and surveys aggregated by agencies such the U.S. Census Bureau and it’s International Data Base (IDB) which currently covers 227 countries and areas with current populations of 5,000 or more. It provides a context that that underscores the often repeated fact Israel and Jews don’t stand out numerically and are a relatively smaller proportion of the world’s population.
The stagnant population growth of Jews could change with the increasing transparency of world faith systems enabled by technology as well as the increasing genomic transparency of people’s personal genomes, e.g. 20 percent of Catholic men in Spain and Portugal had Y chromosomes that indicated they were of Sephardic Jewish ancestry. A passing interest in personal genetics of a multitude of the “newly informed” may spark a generation of seekers with unprecedented access and sources to Jewish knowledge and traditions which could have significant demographic consequences for the Jewish people.
This brings us back to the lack of the counts of Jewish people here in Los Angeles and nationally highlighted in a feature article by Julie Gruenbaum Fax in this week’s Jewish Journal. The consequences of the lack of reliable counts of L.A. Jews is well-covered. Another consequence of what I documented as the “one million Jew mistake” and the lack of a national Jewish population survey is that we can’t even say for sure that Israel has become country with the most Jews in the world, which would be a milestone of perhaps spiritual, ideological and historical proportions.
Jewish counts are still missing in LA and the US. The interest and consensus for doing the counts is widespread. The segments of the organized Jewish community who have traditionally undertaken this important counting task are pleading, unlike their predecessors, that they are just not up to it with all the other pressing needs that are taxing their resources. The one constant about the organized Jewish community, resources are always overtaxed….at least that’s what the fundraising pitches always points out.
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 (and author of the “most recent” 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population which was the third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is a 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: email@example.com To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih