Jews by Choice

Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Jews by Choice


  There are about 200,000 Jews in America who chose to become Jews although they were born to non-Jewish parents. These “Jews by Choice” have become an important part of the Jewish community. Evidently, the Jewish people have always been a community bound together by a common history, a common set of values and common ideals. Those who have shared in the Jewish tradition have been called the Children of Israel, not because we are physically the descendants of one man, nor because we are even remotely a race, but because we have all stood at Mt. Sinai together with all those who share our values and ideals. This includes “Jews by Choice”, most of whom became Jews because they married a Jew. The importance of these converts to our tradition is illustrated by considering these statistics.

1.     There are in the U.S.A. no more than 4.2 million persons who were born Jewish and whose religion is Judaism. Together with Jews by Choice the number of Jewish believers is now about 4.4 million.

2.     In 1937 Jews constituted 3.7% of all Americans and in 1968 the Jewish population had shrunk to 2.9% of all Americans There are now 1.2 million Americans who were born to Jewish parents but who have no religion. If these folks are considered Jewish then the grand total of Jews in America today is 5.6 million or 1.8% of the American population.

3.     The American Jewish community is older than the general population. Only 18.9% of American Jews are under age 15 while 21% of all Americans are under 15. The Jewish population aged 65 or more constitutes 20% of all Jews. Only 11% of Americans are over age 65.

4.     The birth rate of Americans generally is about 1.29 per woman age 25-34. For Jewish women it is only .87 and 1.57 for those who practice Judaism.

5.     Since 1985 over half of all born Jews chose a spouse who is not Jewish. Therefore, of the 3,186,000 Jewish households in America only 57% are entirely Jewish.

6.     700,000 children born to at least one Jewish parent are raised in another religion.

7.     Non-Jewish religious practices are widespread among American Jews. Thus, 28% of all American Jews have a Christmas tree but only 22% light Sabbath candles each week.

8.     72% of all American Jews do not belong to any Jewish organization.

9.     There are now 415,000 adults of Jewish parentage in America who belong to another religion.

All of these facts have important consequences for Jewish survival in America and for the security of Israel. Surely American politicians are aware that our numbers are very small and that our interests need not be given much consideration if we cannot influence the vote very much. This is becoming particularly acute as Jews disperse all over the United States so that the large voting block in New York and other eastern states are weakened.

Because of these vital issues in American Jewish community life we have undertaken some measure to counteract these trends. These measure are, in the main, the inclusion of  women in leading Jewish community positions and the promotion of the Jewish day schools and Jewish higher education. These topics will be discussed in future columns.


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