Politics of a Hasidic Baby Boom

Had I seen the headline–“Are Liberal Jewish Voters a Thing of the Past?”—connected to a piece at the New York Post or Commentary, I might have ignored it as another of those hackish prophecies dating back to the 1970s that American Jewish socio-economic status, hostility to affirmative action, or solidarity with Israeli was about to doom that community’s very long history of leftish voting. But since this was a New York Times headline, I checked it out, and it’s about a very different trajectory involved birth rates rather than politics.

It’s immediately obvious from Joseph Berger’s argument that the word “past” in the headline includes the present and the immediate future:

A 2012 demographic study by UJA-Federation of New York found that 60 percent of Jewish children in the New York City area — the Jewish center of the United States — live in Orthodox homes, which suggests that in a generation a majority of the city’s one million Jews may be classified as Orthodox. A sizable percentage of those children happen to be Hasidim, the group that has fueled Orthodox growth with its astonishing fecundity. (Seven or eight children per family is common and one Hasidic woman, Yitta Schwartz, had about 2,000 living descendants when she died in 2010.)

“In a generation” is a pretty significant qualifier, even if you buy the underlying premise.

Still, the article is interesting, even if it actually undermines the impression that the growing size of the ultra-orthodox community means conservative voting behavior as well as conservative culture. Clearly New York Democratic politicians, Jewish and gentile alike, are acutely sensitive to the need for Hasidic outreach. Despite the already-sizable influence of the ultra-Orthodox, the Jewish delegation in Congress remains for the moment 100% Democratic, another indication that “the past” could persist for quite some time. And in Israel, until quite recently (and perhaps in the future) ultra-Orthodox Jews have generally maintained an arms-length arrangement with the major political coalitions, lending support in exchange for tangible concessions but not viewing themselves as a permanent part of any conservative bloc.

Beyond that, not being terribly knowledgeable about Jewish demographics, I do wonder if the phenomenon Berger is describing is a bit too Gotham-centric. Do more religious liberal or non-observant Jews in places like Los Angeles or Chicago or Miami view themselves as about to be overwhelmed by the large families of the ultra-orthodox? Perhaps someone who knows more about this than I do could enlighten us in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.