Counting The Synagogues
Synagogue study offers fresh data, but few surprises after half-century.
"We tend to be very religious about our observance," he
said. "When you live in a shul instead of visiting it once or
Jewish Telegmphic Agency
twice a week, you want to feel comfortable there."
Some disputed his analysis.
New York City
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice-president of the
he Orthodox movement has the greatest number of
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said Orthodox
synagogues in the United States, despite being the
are largely "neighborhood" congregations
smallest of the three major branches, according to a
don't drive on Shabbat. "The real issue is
new census by the American Jewish Committee.
said. "It's not that the Orthodox take
Of 3,727 synagogues in the United States, 40 percent are
Orthodox, 26 percent are Reform and 23 percent
In many large Conservative and Reform synagogues, he
Conservative, according to the census, the first to count
added, members also follow "different styles of prayer," but
U.S. synagogues since 1936.
form their own minyans to accommodate their preferences,
Other groups, including Reconstructionist, Sephardic,
rather than entirely new shuls.
traditional, humanistic and gay-lesbian, each make up 3
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's
percent or less of all synagogues, according to the census.
Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the num-
The study, by Jim Schwartz, Jeffrey Scheckner and
ber of synagogues "doesn't really mean anything." He will
Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, does not try to count syna-
look more seriously at the upcoming National Jewish
gogue membership, which Schwartz called "a very tricky"
Population Survey, which should show how many Jews
area that is difficult to define.
belong to each denomination, Rabbi Yoffie said.
Yet the study offers the most detailed tabulation of U.S.
The AJCommittee study "is use-
synagogues in decades. The
s- ful information, as long as one
researchers cross-referenced the
doesn't draw inappropriate conclu-
U.S. CITIES WITH MOST SYNAGOGUES:
movements' synagogue lists with
> sions from it," he said.
Jewish directories, phone books,
New York area
Trying to avoid a dispute over
phone surveys and other data to
is a synagogue?" the census
Los Angeles area
compile the first such report since
• defined one as a place whose pri-
the 1936 Census of Religious Bodies. Boston area
g mary purpose is religious; that fea-
That U.S. government study
b tures a permanent physical location
counted an almost identical 3,728
for prayer; where services are sched-
Jewish "congregations," though the
uled regularly; that is led by a rabbi,
new study's authors said it remains
Detroit-Ann Arbor 51 cantor, or laypeople; and that is con-
unclear how many of those were
sidered a synagogue by its members.
housed in synagogue buildings.
Most leaders seemed to agree that the study offered few
Of the Orthodox synagogues in the new study, 36 per-
cent were not officially tied to any organization; 23.5 per-
"This is not a tremendously important study — it just
cent belonged to the Orthodox Union; 23.1 percent to
confirms what any observer of the Jewish scene would get
Chabad/Lubavitch; 10 percent to the National Council of
by looking around," Rabbi Shafran said.
Young Israel; 4 percent to the Agudath Israel of America;
Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR:
and 6.5 percent to Sephardic organizations.
Synagogue Transformation And Renewal, an independent
With the Orthodox movements representing only 8 to
group that aims to build U.S. synagogue life, said the study
10 percent of American Jews, according to surveys, it's a
will provide a "baseline" on which future studies can build.
matter of debate why they have built so many synagogues.
More frequent surveys that counted the number of
"It's true there's been an Orthodox resurgence, but the
American synagogues would be useful to reveal trends and
number of Orthodox synagogues has always been larger than
dynamics in synagogue life, Rabbi Herring and others said.
their proportion of the population," said Lawrence
Meanwhile, study co-originator Jim Schwartz said this
Grossman, editor of the AJCommittee's
census affirmed some long-held assumptions about syna-
Book, which will carry the full study in its 2002 edition.
"Any time you get 10" Orthodox "people together, they'll gogues in the United States:
• The 50 metropolitan areas with the largest Jewish pop-
break off and form their own minyan," he added.
contain 82 percent of all synagogues.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel,
the 50 areas with the densest Jewish popula-
agreed that many Orthodox shuls are small shteiblach with
tions, seven metro areas contain more than 100 syna-
only 20 or 30 members, compared to hundreds of mem-
gogues, or 58 percent of all synagogues in the country.
bers in many Conservative and Reform synagogues.
• The New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island area,
Orthodox Jews take very seriously the
cal style, of their shul's prayers, according to traditions usu-
INSIGHT on page 24
ally based on family habits, he said.
From the Jewish News pages for this week
10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 years ago.
Jews opposed to the new Rabin
government policy of curtailing set-
tlement in Arab areas demonstrate
A museum of Judaica containing
more than 800 ceremonial objects
has been dedicated at the Hebrew
Home for the Aged in the
Riverdale section of the Bronx.
In response to the crisis in Israel,
a group of Detroiters attend a spe-
cial United Jewish Appeal regional
briefing in Cleveland.
Princess Grace of Monaco con-
tributes generously to the American
Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Congregation Shomrey Emunah,
formerly of Detroit, will hold serv-
ices in its new building in South-
Rabbi Chaim Rozinaski is appoint-
ed Hillel Day School of Metropolitan
Thousands of members of the
Jewish War Veterans attend the
organization's 67th annual conven-
tion in Detroit.
The United Nations Fund agrees
to contribute funds to the Israel
The United States grants $73 mil-
lion to Israel for relief and settle-
ment of Jewish immigrants as well
as technical assistance.
For the second year, the Jewish
National Fund Council of Detroit
sends a scroll of names of Detroit-
ters as a message of cheer to
Detroiter Harold C. Allen of
Allen Industries has been granted a
commission as captain in the Air
— Compiled by Holly Teasdle,
archivist, the Leo M Franklin
Archives, Temple Beth El