Professor Cohen will argue that the number of non-Orthodox Jews engaged in American Jewish life is poised to drop sharply within the next 20 to 40 years. Low rates of marriages and births, along with high rates of intermarriage among Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews, are generating a shrinkage of what may be termed the “Jewish Middle.”
Steven Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University, will discuss the kinds of policies that could slow these trends at the 27th annual Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs. His lecture, “The Shrinking Jewish Middle, and Its Implications for Jewish Communal Policy,” will take place on March 16, at 7 p.m., at Palmer Commons, Forum Hall, 100 Washetnaw Ave. The event begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception and is free and open to the public.
“My lecture seeks to alert listeners to the declining number of non-Orthodox Jews who are active in Jewish life, the reasons behind this disturbing trend, and how it can be minimized or even reversed,” Cohen explained. “As a long-time analyst of Jewish society, culture, and population, and as someone with a principled commitment to Jewish communal vitality, I have long explored and followed the changing fortunes of the Jewish people in America and elsewhere.”
Cohen is a leading authority on American Jewish sociology and social policy. Among his many publications are the books The Jew Within (with Arnold Eisen), Two Worlds of Judaism: The Israeli and American Experience (with Charles Liebman), and Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary (with Isa Aron, Lawrence Hoffman and Ari Kelman). Cohen was the lead researcher on the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011,” and consultant to the Pew studies of American Jews and Israeli society. He has taught at The Hebrew University, Queens College, Yale, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“Essentially, we are seeing growth in two wings of the Jewish identity spectrum: the highly sectarian Orthodox and the highly integrated Jews who are just nominally Jewish, or Jews-by-feeling,” Cohen summarized.” “However, the number of Jews in the Middle, non-Orthodox but actively Jewish, is in rapid decline owing in large part to non-marriage, intermarriage, late marriage, and low effective Jewish fertility. I am hoping that my talk, and others like it, will give support to efforts to strengthen Jewish connections and commitment. Examples include overnight Jewish summer camps, more Conservative, Reform and post-denominational campus rabbis, more trips to Israel, more collective endeavors by and for Jewish young adults, more conversion efforts, and more support for Jewish parenting and pre-schools.”