DAYLE A. FRIEDMAN
Aging in the Jewish Tradition
"Gray hair is a crown of glory." ( Proverbs 16:31)
When Jews have birthdays, it is customary to say to them, 'Ad méah ve-́esrim: "May you live to one hundred and twenty!" The wish expresses an important Jewish sensibility, namely, that it is a blessing to live to a ripe old age. One hundred and twenty is the designated ideal age, as we have seen, because Moses lived to that age, and "his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated" ( Deuteronomy 34:7).
While few Jews manage to attain this extreme longevity in literal terms, both the number of older Jews and the ages to which they are surviving have dramatically increased in recent decades. In 1957, it was estimated that 8.5 percent of the American Jewish population, or about 475,000 individuals, were over the age of 64.1 In 1970, that figure stood at 12.5 percent and by 1990 the National Jewish Population Survey revealed that the proportion had jumped to 18 percent, or some 975,000 men and women. Not only are there now more older Jews, but there are more extremely old Jews. Among elderly Jews, 33 percent are over 75 years of age, and 10 percent are over 85. The 85-and-over group, in fact, is the fastest-growing segment of the American Jewish community.2