- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Orthodox Jews have the most synagogues of all branches of Judaism in the United States even though they are the smallest of the three major groups, a new census shows.

The Orthodox meeting places particularly dominate metropolitan New York, according to an American Jewish Committee report that says the nation has 3,727 synagogues.

While Orthodox Jews, who are the most observant of traditional Jewish law, make up 10 percent of the nation's 6 million Jews, they operate six in 10 of all synagogues around New York City and four in 10 nationwide.

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"Many [Orthodox] people love to pray in a smaller setting like the one they were brought up in," said Rabbi Elly Krimsky, assistant rabbi at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac.

Though that may result in more small Orthodox meeting places, it is not always the rule. At Rabbi Krimsky's Orthodox synagogue, where the seating is 700, four services are held on Saturdays.

The large number of smaller Orthodox synagogues is possible because a Jewish house of worship does not need a rabbi, only lay leaders.

"Many of these synagogues don't have a rabbi," Rabbi Krimsky said. "Everything is pretty much lay led, and fortunately we have a well-educated laity."

The new synagogue census, conducted in 2001 by researchers at United Jewish Communities, was released yesterday and will be published in the American Jewish Yearbook in October.

It found that when comparing the number of synagogues per 1,000 Jews, the highest density was in middle-size cities such as Providence, R.I.;, Albany and Buffalo, N.Y.; and Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

The higher density may "reflect the length of Jewish settlement, the more traditional Jews who tend to live there, and the priority given to institution-building," said the report.

The branch of Judaism claiming the largest membership in the United States is Reform, a more liberal tradition that the census found to have 26 percent of all synagogues.

Reform synagogues are under-represented in the New York City area, where they make up just 14 percent, the census said.

They are predominant, however, in small towns and rural areas such as Arkansas, Idaho and Mississippi, where 90 percent or more of all synagogues are Reform.

Conservative Judaism, the second-largest branch in membership, accounts for 23 percent of the nation's synagogues.

In the Washington area, nearly half of the 50 synagogues are Conservative.

Other kinds of synagogues that make up 3 percent of the total, the census said, are identified as Reconstructionist, Sephardic, traditional, humanistic and gay-lesbian.

The new census is the first taken since a 1936 count of 2,851 synagogues in the United States.

Other recent surveys have concluded that a majority of the nation's Jews either do not claim a Jewish religious identity or have a synagogue affiliation.

The 2001 census of synagogues also found:

• A third of all synagogues are located in New York, Northern New Jersey and Long Island.

•Seven metropolitan areas New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco contain 58 percent of the synagogues.

•The highest synagogue density is in rural locations such as South Dakota, Mississippi, Montana and Arkansas, where Jewish populations are small.

•Some communities with large Jewish populations, such as West Palm Beach, Fla., and Phoenix, have low synagogue density because of rapid migration and a lag in synagogue formation.

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