Friday, March 27, 2009

Percentage of Jews in the World, relative to Other World Religions/Spiritual Ethnic Groups

[Click on image to enlarge. The website where I found this pie-chart is linked to just below.]

For more on these statistics, see:

Over there, on the far left, below other and above Buddhism and Sikhism--that's my people. I was suprised to realise, as someone who has practiced a form of grossly Westernised Buddhism in the past, for several years--a BuJew if you will, that there are approximately 27 times as many Buddhists on the Earth as there are Jews. Who knew? Even more surprising to me, and evidence of my lack of knowledge of the world beyond the wild West, the population of Sikhs is not quite double the population of Jews worldwide.

This chart reminds me of how VERY few of us Jews there are in the world. And the number is getting smaller year by year. Is this cultural/religious genocide? Or is it a willful, uncoerced "leaving behind of the faith" by secular Jews en masse? My answer: both--except there's not much that happens in the world by way of "cultural change", that I can see, that can honestly be termed "uncoerced", most often by Western white Christian male supremacist forces.END OF POST.


  1. I'd ask one question: Does that percentage include those who identify as religious, or those who identify as Jewish by ethnicity? And who would have the stats on those categories?

    If you're Jewish by birth but identify as atheist or agnostic, is that an example of "leaving" the faith? I would disagree, since Jewish identity has developed over millennia as a response to ethnic labeling and oppression. I could be wrong, but I don't believe that a person can leave her ethnicity.

    And who has an accurate estimate of how many Jews are in the United States? I have a nagging feeling that converted Jews of color (who tend to be deeply religious and heavily involved in community worship) are less likely to be included in the official numbers.

    When I was doing research on African American women in Judaism, I found conflicting accounts on how many Black women are ordained as rabbis in the US. Two women, Tamar Manasseh of Congregation Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken, and Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, appear to be the only Black women rabbinical candidates accepted by any major Jewish denomination.

    Does anyone out there have more info about Jews of color and their experiences? Let me know.

  2. I think that's a very critical question, Yolanda. And I am wondering exactly that as well. I'm not a "religious Jew" in the sense that there is no synagogue I belong to, I don't ever go to services or otherwise observe the holidays. But I would count myself as "among the Jews of the world". The pie chart wouldn't.

    Let's assume, for the moment, that a survey was sent out to individuals, or that census (and similar) forms were used to gather up the information to then be configured into a pie chart. Let's go with this as "the question": "How do you identify yourself religiously? (And if you do not, please explain your relationship to God, Spirit, spirituality, and secularism. This question, as stated, might make sense most to those who have English as their first language. So already there's a cultural/ethnic bias in terms of how the question gets answered.

    One would hope that anyone of any color who identifies with any religion would be counted as being a member of it. The white U.S. Muslim would be noted as "Muslim". The Latina Jewish woman would be listed as "Jewish", etc. (Ah, but what of the New Age white person who, with arrogant entitlement and exploitive interest identifies as Cherokee, and with that nation's spiritual views and practices??)

    I'm going on the assumption that it's a given that information gathering by the dominant society in the U.S. is no less prone to racist, classist, eurocentric, and hetero/sexist bias, as well as many other forms of distortion. When does an "immigrant" become "part of the current population"? An obvious answer would be "As soon as they make this place their home." But we know there's that Green Card issue.

    Are U.S.-based migrant workers, members of the U.S. population? Are they even asked, if the test is only given in the U.S., and it is only in English? What of the Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Mizrahic Jews in the U.S. who don't speak much English?

    Can one leave their ethnicity? Hmmm. Obviously I can only offer an opinion here, rooted in my own experiences. I personally know white Jews who (as far as I can tell) have left it, in the sense that is has no relevance to their understanding of their lives and doesn't manifest culturally in their lives in any way that is different than non-Jewish white folks. This would include them not being "identifiable" as being Jewish, through whatever stereotypic lenses that might be done.

    They identify as "secular [U.S.] Americans" or as "white" or as "a Pisces". Perhaps due to their Jewish parent or parents doing their best to fully assimilate into dominant white Christian culture (even if not religiously), are they still Jewish? What makes them so? Is my brother, an Anglican, Jewish? He was officially made Anglican, however that is done. What makes him Jewish now? (Having grown up with Jewish relatives? Feeling the sting of anti-Semitism personally? Is that sufficient?) He is married to an Anglican woman. She is far more interested in Jewish culture and Judaism than he is. If their child is raised as a Jew, that will happen because of her work, not his.

    He actively wants her to "Believe in Christ our one and only Saviour" and bombards her with Christian "teachings". (I use this language intentionally because neither my sister-in-law, nor her very firmly established Anglican church-going parents approve of his way of managing "religious teaching". In my view and theirs, she is likely to leave Christianity when older precisely because of his strident heavy-handedness. (To what extent is his choice of religion and his approach with his child bound to internalised anti-Semitism?)

    The whole matter of conversion is so complicated to me. I think given that people can and do change their religions, with varying levels of obstacles or incentives for doing so, your initial point remains the central one: distinguishing between ethnic Jews and religious Jews.

    And among non-religious ethnic Jews, there's obvious gradations of "involvement" and "identification" with 'being a Jew'.

    I am first generation, as a Jew. Not so on the other side of my Christian family who have been around in the U.S. as white Protestants for one to two more generations. My parent's older relatives (who came over with him) spoke ESL, and first spoke Yiddish, and Polish, and Russian, and German, and perhaps later also English. I doubt my father's first language was English; it was far more likely Yiddish.

    That impacted my sense of "Who I am". I didn't identify with being "just a U.S. American" because one of my parents wasn't born here. My non-U.S. ethnicity has always been very tangible to me, not abstract.

    Here's one issue about converted Jews of color (and some whites also, I suppose) that is deeply messed up, at least in the U.S.:

    Only some Jews of color, who went through a process of conversation to Judaism via an Ashkenazic rabbi "counts" as "having successfully become Jewish"--there are various things that must be done, in other words, according to Ashkenazic Rabbinical traditions, spelled out in great detail.

    For example, if one has a male body, having a briss performed by a rabbi is mandatory regardless of whether he's already been circumsised in a culturally secular-medical procedure.

    There are religious (observant) Jews who do not get their male children circumsised, who raise their children as Jews. One has some room for futzing around with tradition, if "born Jewish" in the eyes of at least some branch of rabbis.

    If gentile individuals decide to be Jewish who are not born into the community but convert through a non-Ashkenazic (yes, this is white supremacy at work) Rabbi, it may or may not be regarded (by whom?) as "a proper conversation". I'm weak in this area, so someone please fill me in, including you, Yolanda, on the finer points here.

    Given that white supremacy--whatever its other names have been at other times in other places--has been active for centuries, we can assume there have been white supremacist Jews who didn't count or wish to have counted Jews of color as "Jews". This much we know: Black Jews of African descent now living in Israel are treated far worse than those of European descent, by white Jews there.

    I checked the website for the HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College -- Jewish Institute of Religion), and from all the images there I certainly got a sense that "the Jews" are all light-skinned.

    Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick's story is fascinating and painful to read about, while also somewhat typical of people who come into Judaism to be a rabbi or a congregant.

    I am struck at this moment with overlaps to transgendered stories and experience. When is a transgendered youth the gender (if there is "a distinct one") with which they most identify? As a child? After coming out? After surgery, if that is part of their process of approaching a state of wholeness or uniformity in mind/spirit/body?

    And, similarly, and not, how "secular" can a converted Jew be? If I'm not religious, I'm still Jewish (well, according to some, anyway!). But if a convert later leaves the faith of Judaism, are they still a Jew? I believe the "official" answer to that is "no".

    If a transgendered person transitions fully into the gender that they most identify with, including through hormone treatment and surgery--an M2F, let's say, what if that M2F person doesn't want to present as typically "feminine", including by choosing to have small breasts that can easily be concealed with loose-fitting clothing? Is that person "less a trans-woman" than one who meets the dominant heterosexist society's view of what "women" look like?

    All of these issues are surrounded by the politics of race and gender.