"Let Us Endeavor to Count Them Up": The Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Jewish Demography.
We all move along in a very narrow orbit; and even statistical knowledge is not accessible to an inquirer. We know nothing of the number of seat-holders in the various Synagogues, that of children fit for education; the progress in prosperity, religiousness, enlightenment observable among us; the new settlements, the nature of the emigrants arriving in this land; and in brief, no data whatever, on which to found a general movement, or to concert a plan for the advancement of the public good. (3)
As the century wore on, Jewish leaders sought and received extensive descriptions of local communities through the press and they increasingly developed standardized, quantitative means of procuring information about where Jews were and how many there were throughout the expanding United States.
This article traces the history of American Jewish "statistics," not to evaluate their accuracy, but to argue that such administrative pursuits were among the most significant and lasting Jewish responses to American life in the nineteenth century. (4) The collection of demographic data was a significant practice undertaken by Isaac Leeser, Isaac Mayer Wise, and others, and yet it has been ignored by scholars, who tend to be more interested in their spirited debates about religious reform. Their religious concerns were not limited to the synagogue, however, nor were they neatly cordoned off from social life, economics, or science. While not exactly a matter of worship, halakhab (Jewish law), or theology, statistics reflected and reinforced particular beliefs about religious identity and community among men of deep Jewish commitment. Attending to this interest in statistics shows that the nineteenth century, rather than being an era of assimilation or Reform, was one of mobility, marked by diverse efforts to control its myriad effects. Furthermore, it shows that while leaders like Wise and Leeser were important, they always worked in conjunction with--and in reaction to--ordinary Jews throughout the land. (5)
Recent scholarship has explored Jewish engagement with the social sciences in later periods and in other national contexts. At various points during the nineteenth century, Jews utilized the fields of Wissenschaft des Judentums (science of Judaism), economics, sociology, and psychology as ways to interpret and reform the majority cultures in which they lived. These disciplines offered a shared, public language that Jews could use to argue for emancipation in Europe, to explain themselves to American neighbors, or to create a more favorable and inclusive conception of the human experience. (6) The case of statistics shows that Jews used the social sciences earlier in the United States than previously recognized and in more expansive ways. While population counts could be used to argue for inclusion in American society, Jews never constituted more than a tiny percentage of the national population. Instead, statistics were primarily used as a means of imposing internal order and consistency. (7) While the biblical book of Numbers opens with a census of the Israelites, other Jewish texts expressly prohibit counting Jews directly. The Talmud recounts the words of R. Eleazar: "Whosoever counts Israel, transgresses a [biblical] prohibition." (8) Those who governed Jews have rarely heeded such warnings, however, especially in the modern era. In some places, Jews were counted for purposes of taxation or demographic limitation, as in the 1764 Polish Census of the Jews, or the Bavarian Matrikel (register) system. (9) Elsewhere, Jewish religion or ethnicity was one important data point in nascent systems of identity documentation and population management. Such data were used to fund and manage Jewish communal bodies, like the German Gemeinde (municipality), and to establish Jewish policies and restrictions. (10) In the United States, by contrast, the annual census--and other documents, like passports--included information about national origin, race, and property, but offered no opportunity to document, and thus to count, Jews as such. (11) Although, as Eric Goldstein has shown, Jews sometimes described themselves through the language of "race" and were popularly depicted in these terms, most ordinary Americans--and more importantly, the apparatus of the state--saw Jews only as white. (12) This classification meant that Jews went undocumented, unmanaged, and uncounted.
This is precisely why statistics became such an important project for American Jewish leaders. Between 1820 and 1877, the Jewish population of the United States swelled from 3,000 to 250,000--fueled largely by immigrants from German-speaking lands--and moved westward from east coast port cities into the American hinterland. (13) Without overarching bodies to regulate, monitor, or even identify Jews or Jewish communities, uncertainty and confusion ran rampant. American Jews collected data about themselves in order to organize, explain, and, they hoped, to overcome the internal diversity that resulted. This project was especially--but not only--important to traditionalists like Leeser, who saw it as an uncontroversial method of improving American Jewish life, as opposed to the burgeoning movement for religious reform. And yet, in its own way, the collection of statistics was as normative and prescriptive as it was scientific and descriptive. It posited stability, cohesion, and equation among individuals and communities that were nothing if not unruly.
Social historians have long utilized demographic data about American Jews--and even calculated it themselves--but none have turned their eye on its formation as a distinct field of knowledge. (14) Now a permanent feature of American Jewish life, it was once a novel strategy responding to immediate crises and hopes. American Jewish demography began through travel and news reports in the American Jewish press. Over time, leaders, especially Isaac Leeser, worked to standardize the information they received, culminating in the first census of American Jews, published in 1880. The story of how this came to be shows that the adaptation of Jews to American life--in which the social sciences played a major role--began in the nineteenth century, not with concerns about integration, but with the administration of internal affairs. In the process, certain norms and institutions became entrenched, creating the American Jewish establishment that persists--and struggles--to this day.
Attempts to quantify American Jews date to 1817, when Hannah Adams reported population estimates for New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Richmond in her Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations. (15) 1818, Mordecai Manuel Noah estimated the Jewish population at three thousand individuals; in 1826, Isaac Harby made an estimate of six thousand, although he acknowledged that it came "rather from comparative corollaries than from any given accurate data." (16) The precision of statistical methodology would grow over the subsequent decades, along with the stakes and purpose of enumeration. By the 1840s, Jews were a rapidly growing immigrant community flung across an expanding continent. New York remained the largest Jewish community in the nation, but other cities like Cincinnati, San Francisco, Saint Louis, and New Orleans also emerged as urban Jewish centers. (17) By the Civil War, according to one estimation, Jews--both native and foreign born--could be found in at least one thousand different towns throughout the United States. (18)
As Isaac Leeser wrote in 1843, "The country is fast filling up with Jews ... from the newly gotten Santa Fe to the confines of New Brunswick, and from the Atlantic to the shores of the western sea, the wandering sons of Israel are seeking homes and freedom." (19) Jews moved and settled in new places because, as white Americans, they could, and because, as actors in a nascent capitalist system, they often needed to. The 1777 Articles of Confederation had guaranteed that, "the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state," and while this was not mentioned in the Constitution of 1787, it continued to be affirmed as consistent with the "privileges and immunities" clause. (20) In this same era, the ongoing processes of industrialization helped create a robust but chaotic free market capitalism in which individual success was paramount and often required relocation. Numerous young Jewish men peddled throughout the hinterland, hoping to find sufficient capital and a desirable place to establish themselves as merchants. (21)
Mobility beckoned with promise of economic success, then, but it was also risky and lonely. The threat of "freaks of fortune" and of "confidence men" lurked around every corner, and it was difficult to know anyone's true identity. (22) For Jews, these were not only individual economic and psychological ailments, but they also posed serious challenges to Jewish religious practice, which required particular material and human resources, including access to ten Jewish men for a prayer quorum. The United States only reached a density of ten people per square mile in 1860, had little Jewish infrastructure, and offered no way to confirm whether someone was Jewish or not. (23) Over time, Jews found companionship, trust, and religious fellowship on the road through family, hometown ties, kosher boardinghouses, the Jewish press, and informal worship gatherings. They created benevolent, mutual aid, literary, and debate societies; lodges of nascent fraternal orders like the International Order of B'nai B'rith; and congregations. Here they could make friends; find economic support and business connections; offer Jewish obligations of charity and prayer; and foster a stable identity. As chartered corporations, they were recognized by the state, which gave them stability, public legitimacy, and tax exemptions. (24)
Congregations were usually founded once there was a critical mass of local Jews who were geographically and financially stable. On Sunday, October 30, 1859, for instance, an "informal meeting of several [twelve] Israelites of the city of Macon, Ga. was held at the house of E. Brown Esq ... to form if possible a congregation." (25) Of the nine (of twelve) founders who can be readily found in the 1860 census, the oldest was 57 years old and the youngest was 27, still considerably older than most new migrants. All were merchants who seem to have been long resident in the United States, and most were married with children and in possession of more than $5000 in personal estate, a considerable sum at the time. (26) This progression from assemblage of local Jews to formal congregation occurred in towns throughout the country. A Jew from Mobile, Alabama, described the impulse to organize in 1844:
For some years past, in common with many others, I have felt a very great solicitude in this matter, believing it our bounden duty whenever in our wayward wanderings we should chance to mingle in one spot in sufficient numbers, there to offer our worship in those ancient forms that evidence so clearly our great descent. (27)
Despite these grand sentiments, however, who constituted "we" and how to undertake worship were far from clear.
At Macon, membership was restricted to men over twenty-one who had been reliable seat-holders for two years, were elected by the majority of members, and paid a $15 application fee within the month, although membership dues varied based on personal status. In the first few months of the congregation, there were twenty-seven members, fourteen of whom were married men with their own businesses, eight of whom were struggling married men or successful single men, and just five of whom were single day laborers or clerks. Macon Jews took pains to "reserve a sufficient number of free seats for the use of visitors and the poor." Not all Jews were congregational members, then, and even among those who were, there was also much confusion over how to conduct worship. Many Jews sought to replicate the Jewish worship they had known in their youths, and adhered to particular minhagim (customs), geographically distinct rites that governed customs of pronunciation, prayer, and practice. The Macon minhag (custom), they determined, would be "Minhag Ashkenaz," although they wrote it in English as the more ideological "German Orthodoxy." (28) What this meant could vary within a congregation and across communities, leading to confusion, conflict, and fracture. (29) Congregations were further threatened by mobility. For instance, congregations in Davenport, Keokuk, and Dubuque, Iowa, all went defunct when too many members moved away, although they were eventually reestablished. (30) Despite these challenges, more and more congregations were founded and persisted. According to one count, in 1840 there were eighteen formal Jewish congregations in the United States and by 1850 there were at least seventy-six. (31)
This demographic spread and institutional development delighted leaders like Wise and Leeser. On July 4, 1854, Wise acknowledged that while many had "experienced the pitiable lot of living as a Jew under the oppressive and exceptional laws of European masters," now they were lucky to live in "this extensive country," which he described as "the largest territory ever governed by one code of laws!" (32) According to Leeser, the nation was "fast filling up with Jews" and "multiplying congregations faster than perhaps in the whole of the rest of the world." (33) This change was exciting, but it was also uncontrollable. Many Jews were outside of congregations, those within them could not agree on how to worship, and some were closing up shop altogether. Writ large, these local issues meant that there were lots of unknown Jews and that congregations were evolving inconsistently and independently. Whereas Seixas, Noah, and Harby had counted a small number of stable communities along the eastern seaboard, by 1840 the picture looked quite different. Wise and others worried that "in a course of twenty years we [will] not recognize each other any longer as Jews" because "not only each congregation, but each individual has his own and peculiar reforms." (34) How to stave off this threat became the major concern of American Jewish leaders.
In Search of Statistics
In 1852, Leeser wrote, "Go where you will, you will find an absolute ignorance of the condition of the Israelites in the neighborhood even, nay of those in the very place where you happen to make the inquiry." He continued, with frustration, "This circumstance will not be met with in any other religious denomination in the country; for they all have statistics." (35) By the mid-nineteenth century, American interest in counting had exploded, responding to the needs of a newly industrialized economy and of the American state. (36) The American Statistical Association was founded in 1839 and, following the disastrous irregularities of the 1840 United States Census, the 1850 census was more expansive, centralized, and scientific than ever before. For the first time in 1854, census data was consolidated, printed in manageable sizes, and widely disseminated. (37) Americans counted births, deaths, and economic assets, but also measured and compared religions. The 1850 census for the first time collected information about local religious bodies, and independent publications such as Israel Daniel Rupp's 1848 History of All Denominations in the United States sought to offer "Authentic Accounts of the Rise and Progress, Faith and Practice, Localities and Statistics of the Different Persuasions." (38) Leeser contributed an essay to that volume on "The Jews in the United States" and he and other Jewish leaders regularly drew on U.S. census data in their own descriptions of the country. (39)
This expanding pool of demographic information was not merely of theoretical interest. "Authentic facts," many believed, would beget consensus and cooperation, and were invested with activist hopes for social change. (40) At least since the first edition of Thomas Malthus' 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, population was seen as a social problem eliciting concern and demanding activism. In the aftermath of disestablishment and amidst the proliferation of evangelical reform movements in the early American republic, the ideas of Malthus, who was himself an Anglican clergyman, came to be further infused with religious meaning. (41) Joseph C.G. Kennedy, superintendent of the 1850 US census, saw the "mission" of statistics as carrying out "the example of our Saviour while on earth [by] improving the moral state and social happiness of man." (42) Christian denominations had long kept membership information, but also imported these ideas into their own record keeping, collecting data about parish locations and sizes, and publishing them in almanacs and newsletters. (43) According to the 1852 Baptist Almanac, the goal of "presenting] to the world [such] statistics and localities ... [was to] awaken gratitude to God for his kind providence and favor" while also fostering familiarity and calling attention to both failure and success. (44) Statistical information was not neutral or secular, but infused with religious possibilities for the glory of God and the perfection of mankind.
Antebellum American Jews were not alone, then, in seeking demographic information toward religious and organizational ends, although in the absence of denominational structures, it seemed a particularly pressing task. Leeser and others began to collect statistics through newspapers, which were the first Jewish institutions with national reach. Particularly important were Leeser's The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, founded in Philadelphia in 1843, and Isaac Mayer Wise's Israelite, founded in Cincinnati in 1854. The goal of these papers, as correspondent "A Southern Jew" described it in 1843, was "not only in advocating and elucidating our holy faith, but in collecting and disseminating information of 'the dispersed of Israel.'" (45) The form of this data shaped its function, and at first, it was presented through local reports and letters to the editor as well as travel writing undertaken by the editors themselves and by others, all of which offered details about what, when, who, where, and bow many Jews there were throughout the United States.
Typical was a note from Leeser that appeared in the Occident in 1857. Leeser had heard of a new congregation in Davenport, Iowa, and wrote:
Would Mr. Eiseman, the Secretary, have the kindness to inform us with regard to the number of Israelites in his city, the state of the congregation, and the names of its officers and also those of his society? We should also be happy to obtain authentic information respecting other settlements of Israelites through Iowa, where we believe they are numerous in many towns. (46)
Eiseman quickly responded, "We, the young men of this city and Rock Island, Illinois, (just opposite) started a Society known as the 'Young Men's Hebrew Literary Association.' ... We number at present twelve members" (Figure 1). He listed the officers, but reported that unfortunately there was no congregation, because even though "there are enough Israelites in both places for three times Minyan [thirty men] ... the married men keep aloof." There were Jewish congregations, he reported, in Dubuque, Burlington, and in Keokuk. (47) While Leeser spoke of "Israelites," Eiseman's response accounted only for men because they were most relevant to his institutional goals.
Statistics were produced not only within societies and congregations but through the enactment of religious ritual. De facto demographic records were kept in congregational marriage records and in mohel books, as well as in accounts of the travels they facilitated. (48) Henry Loewenthal, then a religious functionary in Macon, Georgia, wrote in to the Israelite in December 1860 about Florida, where he had recently performed a circumcision. Of Tallahassee, he reported, "The number of our brethren in faith that dwell here is fifteen - four families and the rest single men." Women and children were only counted during ritual events or as part of a family unit, while individual men were counted and linked to details of their social and geographic location. As Loewenthal told it, three Jewish men were among the most successful merchants in the city, two among the best harness makers, and two among the most honest bookkeepers: "In short our brethren here are healthy and wealthy." Having given both a count and an account of these Jews, he also offered a geographic listing: "Israelites are to be found in the following places of that State, viz: At Apalachicola, St. Augustine, Aspaloga, Banebridge, Jacksonville ... and in several other small places, too many for me, at present to mention." (49)
Though usually associated with their homes in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, respectively, Leeser and Wise also traveled incessantly, both locally and on longer trips, whether to raise funds, sell subscriptions, give lectures, or consecrate synagogues, and they always reported back on what they had found. (50) For instance, on a trip up the Mississippi River in 1856, Wise reported, "There are about 40 souls of the Jewish persuasion" in Quincy, Illinois, who "do a flourish business ... [and] bought some two years ago a parcel of land, and devoted it to a Jewish burial ground." (51) Leeser was more speculative, reporting in 1857 that in Detroit "Israelites already are numerous, and appear to be doing well," and that in Milwaukee "the Israelites are more numerous than Detroit and divided into two congregations." (52) In these and other ad hoc demographic accounts, numbers could not be understood apart from local social conditions and interest in individual communities was combined with concern about geographic spread.
In a letter to Leeser, Joseph HaLevi of Cleveland described his pleasure in the Occident's reportage of "all the interests of the Israelites of these lands, words of truth and peace, something of the news of various communities, their numbers and customs." (53) In one representative issue of the Occident from 1855, there were reports about Jewish life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Portsmouth, Ohio; St. Louis; New Orleans; Lafayette, Louisiana; and La Pointe Michigan. (54) Some writers seemed to think that if their city or town did not appear in the Jewish press, it was as if they did not exist. In 1870, a Jew from Chicago wrote to the Israelite complaining that "hardly any notice of us and our doings appears in" American Jewish newspapers. This was a problem because it "may induce the belief among our brethren abroad that we are inactive here in the discharge of the obligations devolved on us by our mission as Israelites." (55)
Wise described the purpose of such news as "the instruction and amusement of our readers," but they were also intended, in the words of Leeser, to "prompt good-will and unity among all Israelites" by "furnish[ing] a connecting link to distant congregations [and] by informing them of the passing events in which all are interested." (56) News reports provided Jews with a glimpse into the lives of their co-religionists elsewhere, serving as a form of education but also of connection. A Dakota Jew described his relationship the press in 1869, "I read and imagine to be a member of society ... A little jump of the imagination overcomes the geographical difficulties." After Max Lilienthal wrote about his time in Vicksburg, Mississippi, a local Jew wrote to the Israelite, "In perusing this excellent production of Dr. L.'s, we almost live those happy hours over." (57) While editorials were controversial and some complained that sermons were boring, everyone seemed to love producing and consuming "statistics." (58)
Editors not only compiled and reported statistics, however; they also used them as a chance to editorialize and advise. For instance, Wise elaborated on the Jews of Quincy, Illinois: "I am sorry to say, that I did not find here the cordial and brotherly feelings usually prevailing among the members of our race." On that same trip, he wrote of Saint Louis, "there are in this city about 250 Jewish families [but] no school and no Sabbath rest." He further criticized the city's Jews for having too many Hebrew Benevolent Societies, asking rhetorically, "Why six? Two would be better." (59) Such analysis was not limited to their own reports, and could include celebrations as well as critiques. For instance, in 1863, Leeser described a letter he had received from Dubuque, Iowa: "They number seven families ... For their size and means they give the minister a respectable salary ... every member is taxed very much to keep up this new society; but we believe the sacrifices are cheerfully brought in the interest of religion." (60) Many local news reports were actually such second-hand reports printed with an editorial gloss. In form and in content, then, editors promoted particular expectations about the ideal nature of American Jewish life, namely that it should be enacted in families and in institutions that united all local Jews socially and religiously.
This message was necessary because, more often than not, news reports confirmed that American Jews--and their congregations--were decidedly unstable. In 1854 it was reported that there were around two hundred Jewish families in Newark, New Jersey, but only sixty members of the congregation because many had "limited means to assist in bearing the necessary expenses." (61) In Downieville, California, the next year, there were twenty Jewish men, "[fourteen] of whom observed [Yom Kippur] with becoming solemnity," while the remaining six "mocked us for upholding the faith of our fathers here in this country." Despite their irreligion or inability to join congregations, such men were regularly included in counts of local Jews. (62) Likewise, in Mobile, the congregation complained that its building seated 36 ladies and 60 men, but left no room for children or "for strange Israelites, of whom there are many in Alabama." (63) Fights about synagogue worship were also documented. In Keokuk, Iowa, the congregation was, "one fourth the Polish, one-half Ashkenas and one-fourth of Dr. Jastrow," plus "some of 'Dr. Wise's men.'" (64) Reports appeared side-by-side of congregations with different attitudes toward reform and with different rites--in an 1852. Occident, readers learned that Jews in Columbus had adopted the German minhag, those in Louisville the Polish, and in Cincinnati there were one Polish and two German congregations, although what those labels meant was rarely entirely clear. (65)
Responding to such news, editors asked, "What can be the matter with the young men of our community? ... Are they men--are they Israelites?" (66) Of congregational worship, Leeser asked as early as 1844, "What shall be done with the difference of Minhag or custom of the various Synagogues?" (67) Early American Jewish demography, then, was a collaborative project of ordinary laypeople and national leaders, and from the beginning it was inseparable from local social and institutional concerns. To count was also to classify, evaluate, and compare. Ad hoc and diverse though they were, statistical reports helped American Jews to find one another, to determine what Jewish life should look like, and to imagine themselves as part of a national phenomenon. And yet, the fact that they reported did not obviate the problem of what they reported, which, more often than not, was continued apathy, conflict, and division. (68)
Standardizing Jewish Demography
In 1852, Leeser urged congregational officers to send him more concrete data, so that "we may be able to publish hereafter a complete table of all the localities of the various Synagogues in the country, so accurately designated that strangers could readily find them." (69) He soon "number[ed congregations] with a friend, from the imperfect data at our command," and found about eighteen congregations. (70) Local and travel reports continued to appear in the Jewish press, and yet leaders worried that there was not enough good information being collected or circulated. They worked to expand and standardize their rudimentary information and gradually produced new statistics without any narrative context, finding that in numbers, if nowhere else, Jewish identities were certain and Jewish communities both stable and unified. In the process, such leaders--and subsequently, the institutions they founded--asserted their own authority and standards of measurement. They would find, however, that for ordinary Jews, filling out a form was less compelling than writing a personal letter.
In 1856, Leeser published an article called "Congregations" that boasted of Jewish "worship in more than a hundred and ten localities." He then "endeavorfed] to count them up, without pretending to be accurate," listing by state the names of cities with Jewish communities. (71) For instance, in Pennsylvania he counted "five in Philadelphia, one in Easton, one in Honesdale; one in Danville; one in Pottsville; one in Pittsburgh; one in Lancaster; one in Harrisburg; one in Wilkes-Barre, and incipient ones in Hanover, York, Williamsport, Erie and Reading; any from thirteen to eighteen [communities]." The contextual information that was the hallmark of local reports was here heavily diminished in favor of basic geographic accounting. The details of what was happening, say, in Danville, were left to the imagination.
This kind of statistical methodology had begun to spread among a wide range of Jewish leaders. In 1854, orthodox hazanim Jacques J. Lyons and Abraham DeSola included a listing, by city, of congregations and societies as an addendum to their Jewish calendar. In keeping with the temporal and practical nature of the guide, they listed, where available, historical information--for instance, the year of founding--and practical information for the interested worshipper--the minhag, time of worship, and exact location. (72) Its publication was noted in the Israelite, which, after praising the calendrical exposition, reprinted two of the local accounts, of Montreal and New York, the homes of the authors. They were followed by a note--most likely written by Wise, their opponent in regards to reform--arguing, "This little work ... should be in every house." (73) Samuel Myer Isaacs, editor of the Jewish Messenger, counted congregations in annual reports as a measure of the previous year's success: "There have been five new congregations organized during 5620, one at Portland, Oregon, one at New Brunswick, New Jersey, one at St. Joseph, Mo., and two in this city [Philadelphia]." (74) Over the course of the 1850s, a consensus emerged among American Jewish leaders in support of compiling and publicizing Jewish institutional data themselves.
In 1859, Leeser was involved with the founding of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, which was based in New York. The Board's goal was "a closer union by which [Israelites'] general interests can be better promoted" as well as "to obtain the utmost possible conjoined efforts of the various communities of Israelites." While its plans included a committee of arbitration, an ecclesiastical board, and the promotion of Jewish education, the Board's very first stated objective was "to obtain all kinds of statistical information respecting American congregations and to have the same duly recorded." (75) The next year the Board created a form that echoed but standardized local press reports, seeking the names of the ministers and officers, the number of members, and information about congregational origins and educational endeavors. In addition to seeking local information, it asked "what other Congregations exist in the vicinity" to cover those who did not respond. (76) And indeed, despite their high hopes, relying on individual congregations to report data proved imprecise at best. Within the next year survey data had been received from only forty of the one hundred and sixty congregations addressed, returns that were deemed to "have been so imperfect as to prevent their being of practical advantage." (77)
Whereas previously Jews had enthusiastically volunteered detailed information to the press, they seem to have been much less willing to fill out quantitative statistical forms. Despite the disappointing results, Jewish leaders and organizations continued their pursuit of accurate data, and sixteen years later, in 1876, they tried again. That year the Board of Delegates' Committee on Statistics reached out to the still-new Union of American Hebrew Congregations [UAHC| to collaborate on statistical collection, citing as difficulties the massive scope of the project and "the crude machinery at our command." (78) The UAHC, its founders had hoped, would allow American Jews "to act in concert to work in harmony and to do all those great and good things to advance the sacred cause of Israel on this American soil." (79) They insisted that "the congregations must be united organically and systematically" in order "to preserve and elevate Judaism." In keeping with these goals, UAHC officials agreed that it was "eminently fitting that a record of our people should be compiled for future reference." (80) While these Jews did not use the same theological language as had Christians to describe statistics, they nonetheless saw it as a means of both spiritual cohesion and of historical legacy.
Unable to undertake a conclusive statistical survey and without any mediating state or regional institutions to lend a hand, the new joint committee again relied on local communities. They created a form and a circular, which they sent to three hundred congregations, but they only received replies from a little over half. They noted the imprecision of the data, but nonetheless assembled and organized it by state into "a directory of probably nine-tenths of all the congregations in the country with the names and addresses of their presidents and secretaries and of prominent Jews in places where there are none." Not only did this directory help equate, compare, and share information among diverse congregations, but it attempted to include the many Jews outside of congregations, too. The committee added twenty-five percent to the self-reported population "for places not heard from and for individuals scattered through the country," estimating a national population of around 240,000 Jews served by 174 congregations, 14 institutions, 15 publications, and 4 fraternal orders. The following year the committee--now contained within the UAHC, after its merger with the Board of Delegates--suggested that they send another, more basic statistical form not just to every congregation, but "to every town in the United States where a Jew resides." Thus the UAHC completed the transition from qualitative bottom-up to quantitative top-down data collection, from counting families, single men, and communities to all individuals, from attempting local description to congregational directory to national quantitative account. (81)
In 1880 the UAHC published the results as The Statistics of the Jews of the United States in order to "enable them to act in greater concert in all that concerns them as children of the Abrahamic faith" (Figure 2). It was organized into tables, publishing for each institution its year of organization (although not its minhag or attitude toward reform); the number of members or seatholders, religious school children, and teachers; the value of its real estate and other property; "remarks," usually meaning a one-line summary of its purpose; and its estimated Jewish population. They distributed over four thousand copies of the results in pamphlet form, paving the way for many subsequent surveys to come, from the American Jewish Yearbook, established in 1899, to the more recent National Jewish Population Survey and the Pew Research Center's Portrait of Jewish Americans. (82) Rational, systematized information would become a hallmark of an American Jewish community that refused to limit itself to local, state-based, or regional autonomy or to the voluntary affiliations demanded by American religious life. Despite its institutional, ideological, and geographic diversity, American Jewish leaders would continue to affirm and pursue their constituency's national scope and population, in no small part through counting.
In antebellum America, Jewish life was informed by the fear of anonymous, individual Jews and far-flung independent congregations. Over time, the rise of national Jewish institutions and their quantitative statistical projects expanded the availability of information to these Jews, solidifying a sense of national identity that press reports had fostered. But they also made their collection and dissemination impersonal, systematized, and subject to the explicit oversight of rabbis and leaders. Statistics seemed to be a non-sectarian pursuit that everyone could support, and yet its methods asserted and perpetuated particular assumptions and ideas, namely that Jewish identity was a stable essence--that could be counted--and that American Jews constituted an organic community--that should be counted. In 1848, Leeser had complained that American Jewish congregations were "uninfluenced by and without influence on others." (83) By the end of the nineteenth century this was no longer the case. By then, they were part of larger denominational bodies in which they were consistently measured against normative standards, other congregations, and collectively, in comparison to American Christian denominations.
Demographic data collection, then, became enshrined as part of an American Jewish establishment that was national and institutional. This--not classical Reform--would be the lasting legacy of the nineteenth century, a product of Isaac Mayer Wise and Isaac Leeser, but also of the many ordinary Jews who wrote to them, sometimes asking for advice, but often ignoring their guidance. If economics, psychology, and sociology have constituted major strands of Jewish engagement with the social sciences, then demography, geography, and "statistics" have been even more securely entrenched as communal tools of self-regulation and understanding. Originating in the nineteenth century, American Jewish statistics attempted to stabilize identity and community in a vast continent by counting all Jewish communities and all Jews throughout the nation. This Utopian goal has persisted and it has remained elusive as the spectre of the uncounted American Jew continues to haunt.
(1.) "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, May 1852, 108. See also "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, February 1855, 577; "New Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1856, 47.
(2.) Patricia Cline Cohen, A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America (New York: Routledge, 1999).
(3.) "On Association," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, October 1848, 313-20.
(4.) Paul Ritterband, Barry A. Kosmin, and Jeffrey Scheckner, "Counting Jewish Populations: Methods and Problems," The American Jewish Year Book 88 (1988): 204-21.
(5.) The only article that I know of to address the early history of American Jewish statistics is Steven A. Fox, "On the Road to Unity: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations and American Jewry, 1873-1903," American Jewish Archives 32, no. 2 (November 1980): 145-193. The relatively small number of monographs on this period dealing with religion includes Leon A. Jick, The Americanization of the Synagogue, 1820-1870 (Hanover: Published for Brandeis University Press by the University Press of New England, 1976); Sefton D. Temkin, Isaac Mayer Wise: Shaping American Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Lance J. Sussman, Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996); Karla Goldman, Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001); Zev Eleff, Who Rules the Synagogue?: Religious Authority and the Formation of American Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
(6.) David N. Myers, Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Derek J. Penslar, Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Lila Corwin Berman, Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Andrew R. Heinze, Jews and the American Soul: Human Nature in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). A corollary literature looks to the history of Jewish calendars, almanacs, and time-keeping: Elisheva Carlebach, Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); Michael Satlow, "Jewish Time in Early-Nineteenth-Century America: A Study of Moses Lopez's Calendar," American Jewish Archives 65, nos. 1-2 (2013): 1-29.
(7.) In 1848, Leeser rejected an estimate--made, significantly, in an appeal to the state's governor--that there were 15,000 Jews in Pennsylvania. He deemed that number much too high, although he admitted, "We cannot say any thing positive in the absence of all statistics." The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, November 1848, 410.
(8.) Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 22b.
(9.) James F. Harris, The People Speak!: Anti-Semitism and Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century Bavaria (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994); Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century: A Genealogy of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 22.
(10.) Patrick Weil, Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005); Jane Caplan and John C. Torpey, Documenting Individual Identity: The Development of State Practices in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Robert Liberies, "Emancipation and the Structure of the Jewish Community in the Nineteenth Century," The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 31, no. 1 (1986): 51-67.
(11.) Margo J. Anderson, The American Census: A Social History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); Kenneth Prewitt, What Is Your Race?: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Craig Robertson, The Passport in America: The History of a Document (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). For more on the politics of mobility in nineteenth-century America, see Shari Rabin, "Manifest Jews: Mobility and the Making of American Judaism" (PhD diss., Yale University, 2015), ch. 1.
(12.) Eric L. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). For antisemitic cartoons from the period, see Peter Adams, Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014). For passports of American Jews documenting their whiteness, see Passport, Washington, DC, December 20, 1861, OS1 Henry Cohn papers, BANC MSS 2010/675, Judah Magnes Museum; Passport, Washington, DC, September 3, 1829, OS3, Cohen Family of Richmond and Baltimore, P-3, American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS); Passport, Richmond, February 8, 1864, OS1, Cohen Family Papers, P-101, AJHS; For examples of non-Jews surprised to learn they are speaking to Jews, see Sketch of David Steinheimer, Atlanta, Ga., David Steinheimer Papers, Mss 26, Cuba Archives of the Breman Museum, Atlanta, Georgia, and "Memories from Yesteryear," May 24, 1914, translated by Lisette Georges Henry Cohn papers, BANC MSS 2010/675, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
(13.) Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 364.
(14.) Most significantly, see Jacob Rader Marcus and American Jewish Archives, To Count a People: American Jewish Population Data, 1585-1984 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1990). See also Anton Hieke, Jewish Identity in the Reconstruction South: Ambivalence and Adaptation (Hawthorne: Walter de Gruyter, 2013); Sarna, American Judaism, 375; Rudolf Glanz, "The Immigration of German Jews up to 1880," YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 2-3 (1947-48): 81-89.
(15.) Her information came on the authority of New York hazan Gershom Mendes Seixas and counted a combination of individuals and families. See Hannah Adams, A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations, Jewish, Heathen, Mahometan and Christian, Ancient and Modern (New York: James Kastburn and Company, 1817).
(16.) David Sulzberger, "Growth of Jewish Population in the United States," Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 6 (1897): 141-149.
(17.) Rudolf Glanz, "German Jews in New York City in the 19th Century," YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science n (1956): 9-39.
(18.) Jick, The Americanization of the Synagogue, 17-18, 26; Rudolf Glanz, "Where the Jewish Press Was Distributed in Pre-Civil War America," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 5 (1972): 1-14; Rudolf Glanz, "The Spread of Jewish Communities through America before the Civil War," YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 15 (1974): 7-45.
(19.) "On Association," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, October 1848, 317, cited in Lance J. Sussman, Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism, 43.
(20.) Zechariah Chafee, Three Human Rights in the Constitution of 1787 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1956), 186; Passenger Cases, 48 U.S. 283 (1849); George Wilson Pierson, The Moving American (New York: Knopf, 1973); Timothy Cresswell, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (New York: Routledge, 2006).
(21.) "Progressive Reforms," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, June 1858, 125-44. See also Isaac Mayer Wise, Reminiscences (Cincinnati: Leo Wise and company, 1901), 38; Hasia Diner, Roads Taken: The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
(22.) Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Jonathan Levy, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).
(23.) Michael R. Haines, "Area and Population, Table Aa1-5," Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition On Line, edited by Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2.006).
(24.) Charter of Incorporation, Temple Covenant of Peace Records (Easton, PA), MS370, American Jewish Archives (AJA); Jacob S. Feldman, "The Pioneers of a Community: Regional Diversity among the Jews of Pittsburgh, 1845-1861," American Jewish Archives 32 (1980): 119-123. "[W]e organized a congregation about four years ago, under the name of Beth Jacob. Last year the congregation was chartered by the Virginia legislature," Correspondence, Israelite, August 4, 1854, 30. Johann N. Neem, Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); Sarah Barringer Gordon, "The African Supplement: Religion, Race, and Corporate Law in Early National America," The William and Mary Quarterly 72, no. 3 (2015): 385-422.
(25.) Minutes, Temple Beth Israel, Macon, Georgia, Mss 151, Cuba Archives. In Nashville, Tennessee, talk of a congregation began when there was a critical mass of five families and eight young men. "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, September 1852, 318. In Mora, New Mexico, high holiday services and subsequent plans of founding a congregation were credited by a local Jew to one individual, "Benjamin Loewenstein, Esq., an old resident of this town a very influential business man and a good Jew," American Israelite, November 6, 1874, 6.
(26.) Two of them were brothers who lived together and three lived in close proximity to one another. At least two had appeared in the 1850 census in Georgia for Bibb country. Ancestry.com, accessed August 19, 2014.
(27.) "Congregation at Mobile," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1844, 56-57. Hazan Judah Wechsler wrote hopefully, "The congregation is the centre of usefulness for every pious Israelite," Letter, Israelite, February 13, 1863, 250.
(28.) November 6, 1859, Minutes, Temple Beth Israel, Macon, Georgia, Cuba Archives.
(29.) Minutes, March 31, 1873, Box x, MS-554, Portland, OR, Temple Beth Israel, AJA.
(30.) Israelite, March 28, 1856, 307; Letter, American Israelite, July 10, 1874, 5; Simon Glazer, The Jews of Iowa: A Complete History and Accurate Account of their Religious, Social, Economical and Educational Progress in this State; a History of the Jews of Europe, North and South America in Modern Times, and a Brief History of Iowa (Des Moines: Koch Brothers Printing Co., 1904), 221; Jack Seymour Wolfe, A Century with Iowa Jewry: As Complete a History as Could Be Obtained of Iowa Jewry from 1S33 through 1940 (Des Moines: Iowa Printing & Supply Company, 1941), 239.
(31.) Jick, The Americanization of the Synagogue, 57.
(32.) "The Fourth of July," Israelite, July 15, 1854, 3. See also Isaac Mayer Wise, "Contemporary Problems, 1855," American Jewish Archives 24 (1972): 96; "The Emigrants," Jewish Messenger, October 2, 1872, 5.
(33.) "On Association," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, October 1848, 313-20; "The Ministry," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, May 1847, 87.
(34.) The Synod, Israelite, May 30, 1856, 380.
(35.) "What Can be Done," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, November 1852, 371.
(36.) Cohen, A Calculating People.
(37.) Anderson, The American Census, 52-53.
(38.) Israel Daniel Rupp, History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States: Containing Authentic Accounts of the Rise and Progress, Faith and Practice, Localities and Statistics, of the Different Persuasions (Harrisburg: J. Winebrenner, 1849).
(39.) For instance, "Progressive Reforms," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, June 1858, 125-44; J. Wechsler, Letter, Israelite, February 3, 1871, 7.
(40.) Cohen, A Calculating People, 150.
(41.) John M. Pullen, "Malthus' Theological Ideas and their Influence on his Principle of Population," History of Political Economy 13, no. 1 (1981): 39-54; Dennis Hodgson, "Demography as Social Science and Policy Science," Population and Development Review 9, no. 1 (1983): 1-34. See also the discussion of population in Michel Foucault and Robert Hurley, The History of Sexuality Vol. I: An Introduction (London: Allen Lane, 1979).
(42.) "The Origin and Progress of Statistics," Journal of the American Geographical and Statistical Society 2 (1860-70): 92-120, quotes on p. 99, cited in Anderson, The American Census, 61.
(43.) The Baptist Almanac and Annual Register began publishing in 1850, and the Congregationalists began producing a yearbook in 1854, in the aftermath of the Albany Convention, which united eastern and western churches. William Mark Newman and Peter L. Halvorson, Atlas of American Religion: The Denominational Era, 1776-1990 (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2000), 37.
(44.) John Lansing Burrows, American Baptist Register, for 1852 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1853), 4-6.
(45.) "Jews in Savannah," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, August 1843, 247. See also "Memphis," "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, September 1847, 317.
(46.) The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, January 1857, 504.
(47.) "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, February 1857, 550-1.
(48.) Including Stockton, Bea Valley, Hornitas, Jacksonville, San Jose, Sonoma, Washington, Benecia, Sacramento, Homilis, Mariposa County, Placer County, Nevada, Memphis, Michigan Bluffs, and Washae. Oversize Box 14, Congregation Sherith Israel records, BANC MSS 2010/720, Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. It is not clear whether the bride and groom traveled or the officiant did. Also see the John Eisner, Circumcision Records and Records, 1845-1864, SC-622, AJA.
(49.) "Our Brethren in the West and San Francisco," Israelite, June 2, 1876, 4.
(50.) Besides frequent trips to Louisville and other places in Indiana and Ohio, Wise undertook several extensive tours to the east, a few to places further afield in the Midwest, and one trip to California. Temkin, Isaac Mayer Wise, 130, 285. Wise's travel is also discussed in his Reminiscences and The Western Journal of Isaac Mayer Wise, 1877, William M. Kramer, ed. (Berkeley: Western Jewish History Center, Magnes Museum, 1974). A few examples of his travels are "Bound to the East," Israelite, October 23, 1857, 124; "A Glance at Chicago," Israelite, September 30, 1859, 102; Editorial Correspondence, Israelite, July 27, 1860, 30; "On to Richmond," Israelite, June 21, 1867, 4; Isaac Mayer Wise, "Chicago and Milwaukee," Israelite, February 20, 1874, 6. Leeser regularly left his home in Philadelphia, making repeated trips to points from Baltimore through New England. He traveled at least once to Saint Louis and three times to New Orleans, stopping frequently each time on the way there and back. Sussman, Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism, 182. Some of his documented travels are: Occident, October 1849, 380, Occident April 1852, 108-112; "At Home Again," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1855, 1; The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, July 1857, 197-203. Max Lilienthal also traveled regularly beginning in the late 1860s. For example, "My Trip to Macon and Atlanta, Ga.," Israelite, November 6, 1874, 5, and "Keokuk, Iowa," Israelite, August 3, 1877, 4.
(51.) "Correspondence," Israelite, August 1, 1856, 29.
(52.) "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, September 1857, 306-7.
(53.) Letter from Shasta, Israelite, May 4, 1855, 341; Arkansas Letter, American Israelite, December 31, 1875, 6; Correspondence, Israelite, February 11, 1876, 5, March 3, 1867, Box 1, Folder 3, MS-197, Isaac Leeser Papers, AJA.
(54.) "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, October 1855, 368-72.
(55.) Correspondence, Israelite, July 22, 1870, 6-7.
(56.) "The Press and the Pulpit," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1857, 3. "The Occident," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1846, 5.
(57.) "A Radical Voice," Israelite, August 13, 1869; Letter, Israelite, June 17, 1870, 6.
(58.) Joseph Jonas to Isaac Leeser, Aug. 15, 1852, Box 1, Folder 4, MS-197, Isaac Leeser Papers, AJA. Leeser was aware of this complaint. "What Shall We Write," Occident, 1857, 361-9.
(59.) Correspondence, Israelite, July 25, 1856, 21.
(60.) Dubuque, Iowa, The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, July 1863, 43.
(61.) "News Items," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, March 1855, 618-9.
(62.) Letter, Israelite, November 16, 1855, 155.
(63.) "Mobile," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, August 1850, 261-2.
(64.) Letter, American Israelite, January 15, 1869, 2.
(65.) The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, April 1852., 44-61.
(66.) Jewish Messenger, May 20, 1859, cited in Idana Goldberg, "Gender, Religion and the Jewish Public Sphere in Mid-Nineteenth Century America" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2004), 187.
(67.) "The Demands of the Times," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, February 1844, 1.
(68.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1998).
(69.) "A Suggestion," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, August 1852, 262.
(70.) "What Can be Done," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, November 1852, 371.
(71.) "Congregations," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate 14, December 1856, 409.
(72.) Jacques J. Lyons and Abraham De Sola, A Jewish Calendar for Fifty Years (Cincinnati: Bloch, r 854).
(73.) "A Jewish Calendar for Fifty Years," Israelite, September 8,
(74.) "Review of the Year 5620," The Jewish Messenger, September 21, 1860, 92.
(75.) Proceedings, Box 1, Folder 1, 1859-1877, Board of Delegates, AJHS, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
(76.) First Annual Report, Box 1, Folder 1, 1859-1877, Board of Delegates, AJHS.
(77.) Second Annual Report, Box 1, Folder 1, 1859-1877, Board of Delegates, AJHS.
(78.) Third Annual Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, American Israelite, July 21, 1876, 4.
(79.) "The Importance of the Conference," Israelite, June 23, 1871, 8.
(80.) Third Annual Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, American Israelite, July 21, 1876, 4.
(81.) "Report on Committee of Statistics," American Israelite, June 15, 1877, 4.
(82.) Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Statistics of the Jews of the United States (Philadelphia: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1880); Steven Fox, "On the Road to Unity: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations and American Jewry, 1873-1903," American Jewish Archives 32 (1980): 191; Jonathan Sarna and Jonathan J. Golden, "The Twentieth Century through American Jewish Eyes: A History of the American Jewish Year Book, 1899-1999," American Jewish Yearbook 100 (2000), 1-146; Berman Jewish Data Bank, Jewish Federations of North America, accessed May 31, 2016, www.jewishdatabank.org. On the new techniques of counting developed in the twentieth century, see Sarah E. Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); Robert Wuthnow, Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation's Faith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
(83.) "On Association," The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, October 1848, 313
Caption: Figure 1. Occident and American Jewish Advocate (February 1857), 550-1.
Caption: Figure 2. Statistics of the Jews of the United States (Union of American Hebrew Congregations 1800), 42.
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