Thursday, October 29, 2009

birthright israel study results misleading

“Non-Orthodox Taglit participants were 57% more likely to have a Jewish spouse than non participants” ---Well, not exactly

A new study of the effect of birthright Israel has strengthened the case for further support to this giant community project.

The Jewish Week in reporting on the findings says, “the most dramatic finding of the new study asserts that Birthright participants are far more likely than non-participants to marry Jews and to want to raise Jewish children”.

Well, I am not sure if that’s exactly what the report shows.

The new study of the effects of the birthright israel trip states that “Non-Orthodox Taglit participants were 57% more likely to have a Jewish spouse than non participants.”

That is true if you compare the married participants to the married non-participants. But that is leaving out some important information. The study also notes that non-participants are more likely to be married (by my calculations, 57% more) than birthright participants. In other words, it is not that there are more Jews marrying Jews but there are less Jews marring non-Jews.

Why should that the non-participants are getting married faster than the participants? The study offers a possible explanation that since participants are more likely to want to marry a Jewish person they “spend a longer time searching for a suitable partner”. The assumption being that the birthright participants will “catch up” to the non -participants in terms of marriage and maintain the differences in terms of intermarriage.

But is that a fair assumption to make? The 2001 National Jewish Population Study shows that there is a very significant drop in the importance of marrying a Jew as the single moves into their 30’s.

The birthright study also notes that there is no significant differences on dating patterns (Jewish vs. non-Jewish) among the participants and the control group. It would seem then more likely that over time the birthright participants will catch up with the non-participants as far as their intermarriage rate goes as well.

The study also shows that out of those who married Jews, 21% of spouses of birthright participants were converts to Judaism, as opposed to 5% of the Jewish spouses of non-participants surveyed. (Since the figures do not include Orthodox participants we can assume that almost all of these conversions were not halachic, but that is another issue).

So what does this all mean? If we can believe the figures that are presented to us, it shows that birthright was effective in getting some Jews not to marry non-Jews but was not effective in getting them to marry Jews. Instead they have either put off marriage or convinced their non-Jewish partner to convert.

Not bad for a mere $650 million.