70 Years After Liberation, Jewish Faith Deepening
Dirshu, a worldwide organization working to replenish individual Judaic scholarship lost during the Holocaust, recently recognized that, 70 years to the month after the liberation of Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe, the worldwide Jewish population will soon meet and exceed, for the very first time, pre-Second-World-War levels. Orthodox and other observant Jews are leading the population surge, indicating that the level of Judaic devotion is deepening among individual Jews.
There were approximately 16 million Jews living worldwide in 1939, the year Germany invaded Poland. Dirshu and others estimate that the total worldwide Jewish diaspora will reach 15 million people in the coming months, and will exceed 16 million soon thereafter. Most of that increase is occurring in Israel and the United States.
“The world has witnessed a miracle of resilience over the past 70 years, and we should pause this month with thanks and humility to celebrate the tenacity of the Jewish people in getting to this point,” said Dirshu founder Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, the son of Eastern European Holocaust survivors. “What’s even more extraordinary is the unmistakable trend among Jews to deepen their individual faith by returning to their historic texts for daily guidance. By studying our ancient texts, Jews are rediscovering who they are, fortifying their gains as a people and ensuring a strong future for themselves and their families.”
The Dirshu curriculum demands intensive commitment involving daily study of Talmudic and religious texts. Exams, which are taken by Jews of all sects worldwide, are held monthly. The level of memorization required under the Dirshu program is difficult for most people to comprehend. Dirshu scholars study Judaica for spiritual gain only and receive small financial stipends for completing course work. They are not studying to become rabbis in many cases, but to become better men, husbands, and fathers.
A 2013 Pew Research Poll showed that 27% of American Jews younger than age 18 now live in Orthodox households, whereas only 11% of American Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 years old report living in Orthodox homes. The average overall birth rate among Jews in the U.S. is 1.86 children per woman, but in Orthodox families those number multiply significantly, according to the National Jewish Population Survey, with estimates ranging from 3.3 children per woman in “modern Orthodox” families; 6.6 percent children per women in Haredi or “ultra-Orthodox” families, and up to 7.9 children per woman in Hasidic families.
Dirshu, which started in 1997 with a handful of students, has in excess of 100,000 individuals currently studying religious texts, most of them laymen. Approximately 30,000 Jews worldwide took a Dirshu exam on Sunday alone.