Pew Survey of U.S. Jews: Soaring Inter-marriage, Assimilation Rates
Sixty-two percent of respondents said being Jewish is primarily a matter of ancestry and culture; 15% said it was mainly a matter of religion. Most Jews said it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. In the survey, 60% said a person cannot be Jewish and believe that Jesus is the messiah.
here are a lot more Jews in America than you may have thought — an estimated 6.8 million, according to a new study. But a growing proportion of them are unlikely to raise their children Jewish or connect with Jewish institutions.
The proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all. Overall, the intermarriage rate is at 58%, up from 43% in 1990 and 17% in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71%.
Among the more notable findings of the Pew survey:
- Overall, 22% of U.S. Jews describe themselves as having no religion, and the survey finds they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish. Broken down by age, 32% of Jews born after 1980 — the so-called millennial generation — identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927.
- Emotional attachment to Israel has held steady over the last decade, with 69% of respondents saying they feel attached or very attached to Israel. Forty-three percent of respondents said they had been to Israel.
- Far more respondents said having a good sense of humor was essential to their Jewish identity than observing Jewish law — 42% compared to 19%.
- Approximately one-quarter of Jews said religion is very important in their lives, compared to 56% among Americans generally.
- Less than one-third of American Jews say they belong to a synagogue. Twenty-three percent of U.S. Jews say they attend synagogue at least once or twice a month, compared with 62% of U.S. Christians.
The Pew study is the first comprehensive national survey of American Jews in more than a decade. The last one, the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), was conducted by the umbrella organization of North American Jewish federations and counted 5.2 million Jews, including children. But critics said that study’s methodology was flawed and undercounted American Jews. Overall, Jews make up about 2.2% of Americans, according to Pew. By comparison, 6.06 million Jews live in Israel, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The Pew study found that about 10% of American Jews are former Soviet Jews or their children.
As with other studies, the Pew study found that the Orthodox share of the American Jewish population is likely to grow because Orthodox Jews tend to be younger and have larger families than Jews generally. In addition, while past surveys showed about half of respondents raised as Orthodox were no longer Orthodox, the Orthodox retention rate appears to be improving, with just a 17% falloff among 18 to 29-year-olds.
The new Pew survey found that about 23% of U.S. Jews say they always or usually light Sabbath candles, and about 22% reported keeping kosher at home. While most of those surveyed by Pew said they felt a strong connection to Israel, and 23% reported having visited the Jewish state more than once, the respondents expressed significant reservations about the current Israeli government’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Forty-four percent said West Bank settlement construction hurts Israel’s security interests, and only 17% said continued settlement construction is helpful to Israeli security. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said the Israeli government is making a sincere peace effort with the Palestinians. The Pew survey also asked respondents about what it means to be Jewish, offering several options. The most popular element was remembering the Holocaust at 73%, followed by leading an ethical life at 69%.
Fifty-six percent cited working for justice and equality; 43% said caring about Israel; 42% said having a good sense of humor; and 19% said observing Jewish law. Sixty-two percent of respondents said being Jewish is primarily a matter of ancestry and culture; 15% said it was mainly a matter of religion. Most Jews said it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. In the survey, 60% said a person cannot be Jewish and believe that Jesus is the messiah.