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Where Jewish Life Thrives in America

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Forget the teeth-gnashing already occasioned by a new study on Jewish identity in the U.S. by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project. The only thing every generation of Jews has in common is the conviction that it will be the last. What matters for the continuity of Jewish life is quality, not quantity. And in today’s America, Jewish intellectual, cultural, spiritual and religious life is flourishing. Case in point: Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, New Jersey, known as BMG or simply “Lakewood” -- one of the two biggest yeshivas, or Talmudic colleges, in the history of the world.

At Lakewood, 6,700 undergraduate and graduate students pursue a curriculum focused on the Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of legal argument and ethical narrative that has informed traditional Judaism for a millennium and a half. Even at the height of the golden age of yeshivas in pre-war Europe, it is doubtful if that many people were studying the Talmud full time. The once-famed yeshiva at Volozhin (modern Valozhyn, now in Belarus), the progenitor of the modern yeshiva movement, had no more than 300 students, and perhaps as few as 150; only 60 were officially registered.