Striking results from survey of American Jews

The Pew Research Center recently published its study of American Jews conducted between February and June of 2013. While their findings confirm some trends a lot of us had already sensed, it’s still interesting to see how striking some of the numbers are.

I recommend taking a look at the report (go here), which presents the findings in a very clear fashion.  But here are some highlights:  (Note: It seems they defined someone as Jewish if s/he had one Jewish parent, father or mother).

  • 22% of Americans who consider themselves Jews also consider themselves as either atheists, agnostics, or having no religion.
    • The younger the “Jew,” the more likely is s/he to be part of this group of non-religious Jews.
    • These non-religious Jews are far less likely to donate to Jewish organizations and to raise their kids with any Jewish culture or identity whatsoever.
    • 30% of Americans who consider themselves Jews do not identify with any denomination of religious Jews (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc).
    • Orthodox Jews have more than twice as many babies as other Jews, and so their share of the Jewish American population is growing.
    • Only about half of those raised Orthodox are still Orthodox; however,
    • 83% of those raised Orthodox who are now between ages 18 and 29 are still Orthodox.
    • Among Jews married in 2000 or later, 58% married non-Jewish spouses.

And so if you raise your kid Orthodox today, there’s a very good chance the kid will remain Orthodox into adulthood.  And the Orthodox population is growing, because Orthodox Jews have a lot more babies than other Jews.

On the other hand, if you raise your kid Reform or Conservative or one of the other flavors of modern religious types, it seems likely your kid will be less religious than you in adulthood.

And so it seems like we’re heading towards a pretty severe dichotomy:  Jews will be split between very religious and very not religious.  As I argued previously, you can teach your kids to be strictly Orthodox, i.e. to believe that the Torah is the inerrant word of the perfect, all-knowing being and ignore the challenges of science, philosophy, and modern Biblical scholarship, and unfortunately that usually works.  Conversely, you can teach your kids that to accept science, philosophy, and modern Biblical scholarship and accept that the Jewish religion is as man-made as every other religion, and that also usually works.  But when you try to mess with Mr. In-Between, as some Reform and even more Conservative Jews, as well as Modern Orthodox Jews, do, you have your work cut out for you trying to get your kids to buy into both modernity and the Jewish religion, as these survey results seem to show.

I will say, though, I think it is sad that more non-religious Jews means much less involvement in and donations to Jewish organizations and more raising of Jewish kids with absolutely no Jewish identity.  There are so many Jewish-led organizations, many if not most of which are non-denominational, that do such wonderful philanthropic work, and it would not do anyone any good if they go out of business.  And while raising kids who are not Orthodox may be a good thing, so that these kids realize they have a choice on how to live their lives and are not taught beliefs that have been disproven, raising kids with no Jewish culture whatsoever would mean no more Jews.  After all the pogroms, exiles, and a Holocaust, I think it would be very unfortunate if all the richness of our ancient Jewish customs, songs, foods, teachings, values, expressions, and sense of community would be no more.  That’s not going to happen, because the Orthodox Jewish community is growing, but I wouldn’t want a Jewish population consisting only of Orthodox Jews either.

And so when I bring in words of Torah or Jewish expressions or talk about Jewish culture, it’s because a) I think it’s fun, and, more importantly, b) if Freethinking Jews don’t make an effort to spread the gospel of “Jewishness Without the Dogma,” we’ll be headed for a Jewish world that none of us wants.

But what do you think!

h/t Chatzkaleh Kofer

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One thought on “Striking results from survey of American Jews

  1. Cynthia

    The challenge, of course, is to figure out what is unique and compelling about being Jewish, apart from concerns about anti-semitism. [The silver lining with the Pew study is that assimilation is arguably increasing among the non-Orthodox precisely because Jews are more accepted in mainstream American society. I know the intermarriage is far lower in places like Montreal (estimated at 16%), but the current Parti Quebecois government has made it very clear that Jews are NOT considered part of the mainstream by stunts like attempting to ban public employees from wearing a kippa.]

    Both the Pew study and an earlier National Jewish Population Study showed that Jews, including and especially non-Orthodox Jews, DO have values which are distinct from the rest of the American population. Think about that for a moment. Contrary to what some in the Orthodox community will preach, non-Orthodox Jews don’t simply have different values on issues like gay rights or abortion or voting Democrat because they are assimilated. The fact is that they are MORE likely to support these things than the average non-Jewish American. What’s more, someone who isn’t Orthodox but clearly identifies as Jewish is MORE likely to support these things that someone who doesn’t identify as Jewish but has Jewish background or affinity. In other words – the children and grandchildren of Reform and Conservative Jews who intermarried and/or assimilated are actually more likely to become more conservative.

    Judaism is a historical religion, and it invites us to derive moral lessons from history. I’ve suggested that there is actually a Post-Holocaust Anti-Nazism Theology. http://jrkmommy-personalandpolitical.blogspot.ca/2012/03/post-holocaust-anti-nazism-theology.html This shaped the way I was raised so much that I was actually shocked when I realized that the rest of the world wasn’t raised with the same view, and I had to explain why, as an observant Jew, I hated the idea of raising kids to automatically obey authority or why I supported equal legal treatment for gays.

    Reply

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