Jonathan S. Tobin writes: Last week’s release of a new demographic study of Jewish life in Greater New York created an understandable stir, as it revealed that the Orthodox are forming an increasingly large percentage of the population. Assimilation, intermarriage and negative population growth are reducing the number of liberal and secular Jews while the Orthodox, and in particular the Haredim, are experiencing exponential growth. Though the implications of this trend will potentially alter virtually everything about Jewish life in the region, given that Orthodox Jews tend to be far more conservative than the rest of the community, the political implications of this pattern are inescapable. In a city like New York where 74 percent of all Jewish school-age children are Orthodox, there is little question the traditional dominance of secular and liberal Jews is not likely to persist in the long run.
That this would upset liberals is understandable. But that ought not to excuse the willingness of the editorial page of the Forward when discussing the Orthodox community to engage in the sort of language it would never excuse were such words directed at non-Jews. The impending dominance of non-liberals has caused the newspaper that began its life in 1897 as an advocate for socialism to vent its spleen in such a manner as to label many Orthodox Jews as the “undeserving poor,” whose inappropriate life choices ought perhaps to render them ineligible for government assistance if not the aid of the rest of the Jewish community. While the decision of the Forward’s editorial board to belatedly join a decades-long discussion about the merits of the welfare state is welcome, the piece makes it abundantly clear this shift is motivated more by open distaste for the Haredim than any misgivings about liberal ideology.
The conceit of the piece is that the Orthodox growth is being fueled in large measures by that community’s belief in the value of large families. The Forward, speaking in a voice that drips with upper and middle class condescension for the poor as well as contempt for the Orthodox often heard in liberal Jewish circles but rarely published, implies that most of these children probably shouldn’t be conceived, because their religious parents may not always have the material resources the Forward’s editors think they should possess before adding another soul to the community’s numbers. To their way of thinking, if some of these Orthodox families are not entirely “self-sufficient,” their voluntary choice to reproduce should push them to the back of the line when Jewish agencies are doling out aid to the poor and also calls into question the wisdom of so much government aid being given to them.