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December 22, 2005

The sun rises in the East

The American Jewish Committee's annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion shows, according to the headline in the Washington Jewish Week, that "Jews oppose Iraq war, annual poll finds." Well, excuse me if I'm not bowled over by that news. Or by this news:

Indeed, 78 percent of American Jews believe Arabs aim not to secure the return of territories lost in war, but rather to destroy Israel. Yet 56 percent of respondents said they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, while 38 percent oppose it.

"American Jews are schizophrenic," Harris said. "Our polls year after year after year show the very same thing: On the one hand, on the peace process options, a majority of American Jews support -- let's call it the liberal option. At the very same time, a clear majority of American Jews in the next breath say the real goal of the Arabs is to destroy Israel."

In other words, most American Jews believe Israel should try for peace with the Palestinians, but don't necessarily believe the Palestinians are serious.
American Jews aren't "schizophrenic"; they're nuts.

The most interesting aspect of the survey is discussed in the very last paragraph -- a style known in journalism circles as "double-inverted pyramid" form -- namely, that Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews viewed issues very differently:
[David] Harris [of the AJC] said the "single greatest indicator" of how a person will come down on issues of policy such as the Iraq war and abortion is whether he or she identifies as Orthodox or non-Orthodox. That split, he said, is "extremely telling and affects the Jew[ish] community profoundly."
Harris doesn't elaborate on that last statement -- at least, not in the article -- but let me try here. The obvious way it affects the Jewish community is by making it more complicated to bridge the divide between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. If that divide is not only religious but also political (which is far more important to most non-Orthodox Jews), that makes it even harder to come together. To oversimplify a bit, the Orthodox are basically anti-abortion, against radical separation of church and state, and unapologetically pro-Israel. To say that this makes the metaphorical family dinner difficult is to understate things tremendously.

The second way the split affects the Jewish community is outlined in a fascinating post last March by David Boxenhorn at Rishon Rishon. David argues that the difference in fertility rates (also known as child-bearing) between Orthodox and non-Orthodox will change the complexion of world Jewry over the next several generations, by dramatically increasing the percentage of Jews who are Orthodox.