American Jews focus of two recent studies


Uncovers some surprising attitudes

PROVIDENCE – Within recent weeks, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute (SSRI) at Brandeis University released a demographic study of the American Jewish population as of 2012 (related story on page 1). The Pew Research Center also released a comprehensive survey of American Jewry which overlaps with the SSRI study and extends it by covering other topics, including Jewish identity, religious beliefs and practices, rates of intermarriage, connections with Israel and social and political views.

The  estimates the Jewish population at 6.7 to 6.8 million, which is a relative decrease over time compared to the entire American population. Moving forward, this population is very likely to continue to decrease because of a low fertility rate and the increase in intermarriage, which results in less of a Jewish identity.

Jewish Americans tend to be older, more educated, more affluent and more urban than Gentile Americans. Though many are affluent, a fifth report an income below $30,000. Several trends are reported: more than half of the self-identified Jewish population report having non-Jewish spouses; increasingly, Jewish adults report themselves as secular as opposed to religious Jews. Almost one-third of the population says it has no denomination while another third identify as Reform. Denominational switching tends to occur from more traditional to less traditional  and then to no denominational identification as the population ages.

As could be predicted, Jewish connections and community are stronger among those who report themselves as religious as opposed to secular Jews and those who have married non-Jews. Overall, while a small majority donated to a Jewish cause, only a third of the population belong to a synagogue. The majority of Jews say being Jewish is important to them, that they are proud to be Jews and that they feel connected to and responsible for other Jews. Only a minority feel that being part of a Jewish community is essential to being Jewish. A vast majority feel that remembering the Holocaust and leading an ethical and moral life is essential.

While many say that caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish, twice as many people feel that having a sense of humor is more important than observing Jewish law and eating traditional Jewish foods. Perhaps one of the most surprising results of the Pew survey was the answer to questions about what is compatible with being Jewish. Over two-thirds of the respondents felt that atheism was compatible and a full third thought that believing Jesus was the Messiah was acceptable.

In a household where there is at least one Jewish adult, a large number report that their children are being raised Jewish in some way. Last year, fully half of all Jewish children were enrolled in a yeshiva or day school, being educated in some other formal Jewish situation, in Jewish day care, a Jewish camp or youth group. Children of secular or intermarried Jews were significantly less likely to be enrolled in a Jewish organization.

Since Birthright Israel trips have begun, many younger Jews report having visited Israel and many more say that they are emotionally attached to the country. This emotional attachment is stronger for older and for more religious people. People are generally optimistic about a two-state solution though many doubt that the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort.

Jews, politically, are mostly Democrat and liberal though a minority report themselves as conservative. Just over half are in favor of bigger government and this is especially true among secular Jews. Orthodox Jews are more Republican, more conservative and want fewer government services.

Lee Kossin ( is an artist living in Providence.

Editor’s note: To read the full studies, go to and