Pew Report on American Jewry- Some Observations

The Pew Research Center just released a major 200 page study of American Jewry including both demography and affiliation. If the Jewish community could not afford or agree on a major study, then the Pew foundation picked up the slack. Here are some of the statistic that I found interesting. The Forward has a nice general article that shows thought and has comments from professionals.

Pew estimates that there are 6.7 million American Jews overall, including 5.3 million adults.

Jews make up a smaller percentage of America due to Hispanic immigration, and the percentage of Jews by religion among Hispanics is even lower than in the general public. On the other hand, there have been two major waves of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union in recent decades, and as a result,the share of Jewish adults who are foreign-born today (14%) is only a little lower than the share of all U.S.

Despite the changes in Jewish identity in America, 94% of U.S. Jews say they are proud to be Jewish. Three-quarters of U.S. Jews also say they have “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”

The survey tolls the end of the triumphalist sense of an Orthodox return. The losses from Orthodoxy are several times larger than the gains. The survey finds that approximately one-quarter of people who were raised Orthodox have since become Conservative or Reform Jews, Just 7% of Jews raised in the Reform movement have become Conservative or Orthodox, and just 4% of those raised in Conservative Judaism have become Orthodox. This was despite the millions spent on an army of kiruv workers during those years.

The big news is that 17% of the 20-somethings have left Orthodoxy but a whopping 43% left Orthodoxy from the millennial and gen x generations, and these younger generations were raised after the triumphal rise of a more committed Orthodoxy. Old news was that 59% of the baby boomers raised Orthodox left, but that was a different era when many were non-observant Orthodox to start.

drop-out rate

Rates of intermarriage among Jews are perhaps most directly comparable to rates of intermarriage among other relatively small U.S. religious groups, such as Mormons and Muslims. Same basic statistics no more or less just proportional to our numbers.

One-in-ten Jews identify with Orthodox Judaism (10%), including 6% who belong to Ultra-Orthodox groups and 3% who are Modern Orthodox. This would yield 670, 000 Orthodox Jews. 202, 000 Modern Orthodox, 403, 000 Ultra-Orthodox. (From other studies we have a percentage of over 75% of this Hasidim and less than 25% yeshivish, maybe as low as 16%. The yeshiva world makes much noise for its size.). and we have 101, 000 of other including Sfardim, Edot Hamizrah, Israelis, immigrants from Latin America and the Former Soviet Union who self-identify as Orthodox but not as Modern Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox.

Here is a shocker. When asked: Can you be Jewish and not believe in God? The following numbers said yes. Notice that Modern Orthodoxy has the least concern for God. (Hashem Yirachem!)
Ultra-Orthodox 50 Modern Orthodox 70 Conservative 56 Reform 66
When asked about their own belief in God as yes, somewhat/unsure, or no, we have 19% of Modern Orthodox as unsure and 3 % as outright deniers.
Ultra-Orthodox 96 , 2, 1,
Modern 77 19 3
Conservative 41, 46, 9
Reform 29, 47, 20

Here is a little tidbit- only 76% of Ultra-Orthodox avoid handling money on Sabbath

Here is another good tidbit when asked whether they attend a non-Jewish religious services at least few times a year, both Modern and ultra Orthodox have 15% that do, but with note that it is negligible in high density area like Brooklyn. So it is much higher than 15 % in small towns.

Should Homosexuality be accepted? Ultra-Orthodox 20% Modern Orthodox 50%. On one hand, this is a divide between the two groups but at the same time a dividing point in the modern camp.

How many went to college? Ultra-Orthodox 25 Modern 65 Conservative 62 Reform 61. Modern Orthodoxy is the highest but in line with the other denominations.

But the biggest and most significant question is do you have household income of $150,000+, placing you in the top 8%. Ultra-Orthodox 24, Modern 37, Conservative 23, Reform 2 9. Modern Orthodoxy is the wealthiest and living in a disproportionate bubble that is wealthier than Reform.

The demographic of Ultra-Orthodox yields only a 4.1 live birth number and if you remove those who leave Orthodoxy and those who die or never produce children, then we have a rough statistic that a statistical couple would only produce three ultra-Orthodox offspring. A far cry from the false numbers in the kiruv literature.

Finally, the Reform movement is growing and the Conservative movement is shrinking rapidly. But the Forward received a wise email from Prof. Sarna.

For Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish studies at Brandies University who also advised the Pew study, the grim statistics facing the Conservative movement could be good for its members. Comparing the movement’s situation to that of the Orthodox movement in the 1950s and the Reform movement in the ’30s, relative lulls preceding large growth, Sarna said that the apparent collapse could force the movement into creative reinvention. It would be “wise to hedge all predictions,”

Go read the report.

57 responses to “Pew Report on American Jewry- Some Observations

  1. Pingback: סקר ענק על יהדות ארה"ב | מינים

  2. Excerpt from the report:
    The view that a person can
    be Jewish even if they work on the Sabbath is shared by a large majority of Orthodox Jews
    (75%). And nearly six-in-ten Orthodox Jews say a person can be Jewish without believing in
    God (57%). There are, however, large differences between Modern Orthodox Jews and UltraOrthodox Jews on these questions, with Ultra-Orthodox Jews espousing a stricter standard
    about what is compatible with being a Jew. Whereas 96% of Modern Orthodox say a person
    can be Jewish and work on the Sabbath, far fewer Ultra-Orthodox Jews share this view (64%).
    And while seven-in-ten Modern Orthodox (70%) say a person can be Jewish without believing
    in God, just half of Ultra-Orthodox say the same (50%).

    I think that this point might have to do with the fact that Orthodox Jews believe that ישראל אע”פ שחטא ישראל הוא thus, a Jew who doesn’t beleive in G-d or keep Shabbos could still be considered a Jew; he is Jewish even if he does not practice the religion. There is also the fact that a מומר is like an עכו”ם which in some ways disqualifies such a person from being considered Jewish. I think that with this in mind, we can better understand this statistic which seems slightly out of place.

  3. Rabbi brills
    One question as anIsraeli: You pointed to a lack of belief by modern orthodox and some other indirect questions( such as attitude toward homosexual) in my humble opinion point to somewhat low level of religious zeal and belief. What percentage of modern orthodox school system grads have ever learnt Jewish philosophy (not mussar!)? What percentage has touched mystical texts? I’d be very obliged to hear your estimate .

  4. Dear Alan,
    Thank you for sending this. Regarding Orthodox attrition, I’m not sure I follow your interpretation. The report states clearly that the higher attrition numbers are among the baby boomers and above:
    “Although Orthodox Jews today make up 10% of the net Jewish population and 12% of current Jews by religion, larger numbers (14% of all Jews and 17% of Jews by religion) say they were raised as Orthodox. This reflects a high rate of attrition from Orthodox Judaism, especially among older cohorts. Among those 65 and older who were raised as Orthodox Jews, just 22% are still Orthodox Jews by religion. And among those ages 50-64 who were raised Orthodox, just 41% are still Orthodox Jews by religion. In stark contrast, 83% of Jewish adults under 30 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox. Some experts think this is not a result of accumulated departures as people get older (i.e., a life cycle effect), but rather could be a period effect in which people who came of age during the 1950s, 1960s”

    The lower you go in adult age the higher the retention level. This demonstrates the rising strength of Orthodoxy among those born since 1980 and is exactly the opposite of what is found among the other denominations. This, to my mind, is a significant trend that actually supports the Orthodox triumphalist position. I am not aware of any kiruv publicists who claim that ba’al teshuvahs actually make a significant demographic dent on broader U.S. Orthodoxy. Their arguments are usually regarding specific communities such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.
    I would be interested to see if they could present a breakdown of the 30-50 category. My guess is that the attrition rates among the 40-50 are the highest. This would bring us back to 1970 or so.
    Adam Ferziger

  5. Adam’s point is about the 18 to 29s is, I fear, wishful thinking. First of all, 17% attrition after the huge ramp up in secondary day school education investment is significant in itself. Second, there is almost certainly a delay in the shedding of Orthodox identity among MOs due to the year in Israel followed by the social cohesion of contemporary university life. It would be interesting to get other cuts of the Pew data, e.g: 25 – 35.

    I am also struck by the differences within Orthodoxy between this study and the latest Israeli statistic. In the US: 6% Charedi and 3% Modern Orthodox by self-identification; whereas in Israel: 8.8% Charedi and 10% Dati (excluding Mesorati’im) by self-identification. The Israeli statistics can be seen at

    • Can anyone explain to me how 7% of those raised orthodox identify as “not Jewish?”

      This is not something that can be glossed over, especially if you are to take the position that a 17% attrition rate is big deal.

      What percentage of these children are getting a public school education? In my community, significant percentages of the modern orthodox send their children to public high school, and then often to secular sleep away college.

      The UJA Federation of New York survey assessed levels of Jewish Engagement across denominational spectrums, with and without day school education, and found that 98% of respondents ages 18-49 reported “High to Very High” levels of Jewish engagement (chapter 5 of the survey). Those who received “supplemental” education only reported 88% of High to Very High levels of engagement–still not that bad, but a notable drop.

      There was a dramatic drop in levels of Jewish engagement, once we went left of orthodox.

      Lastly, we also can only speculate on the personal lives of any of these people. How likely, for instance, is it for mentally and physically impaired individuals to flourish in an educational environment that requires mastery of multiple languages (English, Hebrew, Aramaic), in multiple scripts, in an underfunded educational system? How much of this can be viewed as the fault of Judaism/Jewish practice versus the fact that we are not all born healthy, and that our schools are largely devoid of public funding?

  6. Adam,

    I dont think it is getting worse, It got much better than the boomer era. I think Orthodoxy has shown great success compared to the others and has more influence, however we dont have the % going up by more than a point.
    If the sociologists who think it is accumulated departure are correct then we we see a higher number of 20-somethings leaving in their 30’s.And much of the numbers are due to population growth and wealth, not volitional affiliation. Also the percentage of Modern Orthodoxy within Orthodoxy has gone down due to population increase. I would need to see the next survey in a decade to speak of those born post 1985..
    The haskafah literature still speak of a significant population increase. They still quote Rav Wolbe’s view of recent events, or look at simpletoremember and their statistics that are often cited in drashot, or even in sermons of Rabbi Weinberger’s of Aish Kodesh.You see it through the study of the kiruv agencies and I see it through the haskafah texts.

    Any other thoughts?


  7. 7% of Orthodox respondents age 18-29 say that they are not or no longer Jewish? I can understand the answer of 6%, Jewish of no religion, and I can understand the 3% Jewish of no denomination, but I honestly don’t know anyone who grew up Orthodox who actually converted to another religion. Does this make sense, Alan?

    • Unfortunately, I have a post that I never posted because I did not have hard data. Yes, many have become Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Evangelicals, Mainline, and Hindu, even after day school and even after Hesder gap year. I meet them all the time. In the 7% however there are also those who renounce all religion and become atheists who sever their ties. It includes those were borderline mixed-marriages or conversion for adoption situations. It includes Russian immigrants who were sent to day school. It includes mixed-marriages where the partner converts out.
      But we have to acknowledge conversion out for sincere reasons. Everyone is concerned with J for J or other missionary groups, which have low success rates. However, there is more sincere conversion than we acknowledge. I could, or should, collect authors and websites written by people who studied in Yeshiva and are now another faith. Sometimes they have a sincere quest started in yeshiva that was not met by their teachers or un-spiritual community but they knew they were seeking a more spiritual path.

      • Alan, if you are correct, than my community is doing a magnificient job of avoiding lashon hara 🙂

      • Steve Brizel

        Please define “many” in terms of real percenbtages , as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

  8. 24% percent of “ultra-Orthodox” Jews handle money on Shabbos? 15% of ultras attend non-Jewish services? 94% of U.S. Jews say they are proud to be Jewish, but only 93% of those raised Orthodox identify as Jews?

  9. From what I saw, the report did not seem to indicate whether attrition rates were higher among modern orthodox or ultra-orthodox (I hear the claim that attrition rates are higher for modern orthodox from Haredi kiruv people a lot). Is there any data on this?

  10. Thanks. I agree with you that there is no reason to think that barring any evidence (and none of the people who claim this have it, which is my general response to them as well). I’m curious, though, if there have been any comparisons that have been done by professionals.

  11. It is true that 4% of those who grew up Conservative and 1% of those who grew up Reform are not incredibly high numbers, but they are enough to account for somewhere around one of every six current Orthodox Jews, if my back of the envelope calculations are correct. That’s far from an embarrassing failure, nor is it clear that that money was poorly spent.

  12. I know Orthodox Jews, of healthy body and mind, who went to day school, know Hebrew, have learned gemara, etc. and now consider themselves not to have any religion and even not to be Jewish. Others are no religion, but practice some form of cultural Judaism. This, even of people who marry other Jews and have no personal history of conversion. It’s not really so surprising, however upsetting you may find it.

    Also, not so surprising that so many Orthodox Jews think that you can work on Shabbat or not believe in God and still be Jewish. Of course that’s true! Born a Jew, always a Jew (except maybe in rare cases of apostasy).

    • My question is how, after all of that Talmud study, do they fail to see that they are still Jewish, regardless of their current belief system? Simply say your a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, whatever, who happens to be ethnically Jewish.

      It makes me question the soundness of thinking of these people. AFIK even if some apostates are halachically related to as if they are no longer Jewish, that doesn’t change their actually identity. Nobody stipulates that they have to go into the mikvah and get a ceremonial bris (like converts who are already circumcised) to start practicing Judaism again.

      Either that, or they really aren’t Jewish, which raises all sorts of questions about just how “orthodox” their upbringing really was, and whether or not we would expect them to practice Judaism.

      • They are no longer thinking as Jews. They become a priest or they become Evangelical and are beyond the law, or they see the new religion as a fulfillment of the old.
        Some Conservative rabbis require a re-conversion ceremony. They also require it when a half-Jew, even if halakhicly considered a full Jew, chooses the Jewish side.

      • For those who had at least one Jewish parent or who grew up Jewish, but now practice another religion, the survey categorizes them as “of Jewish background” and doesn’t count them as Jewish, regardless of their personal identity. The same category also contains those who have no religion, but decline to identify as Jewish aside from religion.

  13. these stats suggest the study is deeply flawed. The Jews can’t count the Jews and neither can Pew. 🙂 “24% percent of “ultra-Orthodox” Jews handle money on Shabbos? 15% of ultras attend non-Jewish services?” maybe 24% of ultra orthodox text but they certainly don’t handle money 😉

  14. Once again, an expensive survey fails to even discuss Orthodox life in any detail. Talk about percentages of “Orthodox retenton” IMO should be questionned as to the factual bases of the same-take a walk in any American Orthodox community , MO or Charedi, and you will see a vital community that understands that the elements of that much ballyhooed term-Jewish continuity-consist of a strong cradle to grave committment to Torah observance and study, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. The fact that more people are learning Torah on a full time basis than in any prior generation, the explosive growth in the MO and Charedi worlds and 90,000 for a Siyum HaShas speakes volumes. I wonder whether any of the heterodox movements could claim that 90,000 would attend a major conclave sponsored to celebrate a major event in their communal life. Like it or not, until demographers show some familiarity with the Orthodox real world, as opposed to how the Federation oriented secular Jewish community views Orthodoxy, such surveys are of little value to the community that it is attempting to portray. Raw demographic data can be eaily juggled to meet the expectations of those who are looking forward to its self-justifying conclusions, but facts on the ground such as yeshivos, kosher restaurants and the growth of MO and Charedi communities throughout the United States can only be ignored by those who justify sponsoring speeches by antio Semites and self hating Jews at Jewish communal institutions.

    One can have a k-12 yeshiva education, and even a gap year or more in an Israeli yeshiva or seminary-Unless you emerge ready to tackle the largest issue-namely, “why be Jewish”, and have a strong committment to the elements of Jewish continuity of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, and all of the many challenges to the same, you may find yourself walking away from a committment to Halacha and the Torah observant community.

  15. I find the comments dismissing this data to be puzzling, but I guess I shouldn’t by now. I am reminded of the anecdote Putnam tells in _American_Grace. He writes, about a meeting he had with Lutheran theologians (2nd ed, pp. 539-540):

    “They were shocked that such a high percentage of Americans believe that there are many ways to get to heaven. One theologian spoke up firmly that those who believe this are simply wrong. And judging from the murmurs of approval from the group, he was not alone in his opinion. In an attempt to reconcile this apparent heresy, another member of the audience proposed, that, surely Missouri Synod Lutherans do not take such a casual view toward salvation. What ensued was social science research in real time, as an on-the-spot analysis of the 2006 Faith Matters data stored on Putnam’s laptop revealed that 86 percent of the Missouri Synod Lutherans said that a good person who is not of the faith could indeed go to heaven. Upon hearing this news, these theologians were stunned into silence. One wanly said that as teachers of the Word, they had failed.”

    I don’t mean to dismiss the possibility of some errors (e.g. the statistical margin of error within the 6% Ultra-Orthodox segment), but arguing the Pew data is fundamentally flawed is not logical given the organization and its advisors.

    P.S. Looking at p.77 on handling money on Sabbath, I would not be surprised a typo crept in and the “7” should have been a “9”. Look at the rest of the metrics on the line.

    • I personally am not dismissing the data, but am advocating two things:

      (a) speculating on the basis behind some of the answers given in the survey. Ideally the respondents should be logical people (although you can argue that there is value in doing a survey on ALL Jews, regardless of the quality of their thinking, since this is a population study).

      more importantly:
      (b) comparing the PEW data alongside the UJA Federation Population study:

      Approximately 6,000 individuals were interviewed for the UJA study. The PEW data, while talking up a draw of 70,000, interviewed closer to 4,000–what I would regard as a comparable number, and thus I think it is reasonable to compare the studies side by side, and speculate on discrepancies, to hopefully emerge with a more 3 dimensional picture.

      Chapter 5 of the UJA study (I’m having trouble cutting and pasting the data directly here: Exhibit 5-7) seems to indicate that the day school model is indeed effective in turning out committed Jews, particularly if the parents are “orthodox In married.” The rates of “High to Very High Jewish engagement” (defined in chapter 4, but involving many orthodox Jewish practices) are well into the 90s% for individuals between the ages of 18 and 49–in other words significantly better than what the PEW survey would suggest about the age 30-49 cohort. (Interestingly individuals age 35-54 had fewer rates of Day School/Camp experience, and of the youngest cohort of 18-34 year olds Day School attendance was only at 81%. Individuals >55 had still fewer rates of Day School/Camp attendance–potentially explaining the generational differences in Jewish observance noted in the PEW data).

      So I think an important questions is: why the difference between the data sets? Some thoughts:

      (1) How generalizeable is data for New York Jewry to the rest of American Jewry? I wouldn’t think the positive effect of day schooling/camp attendance would vary by region of the country, so on the one hand I would think the UJA data is generalizeable. On the other hand does the concentration of Jews in one’s locale make a difference?

      (2) Is “High and Very High” Jewish engagement, as measured in the UJA study an adequate surrogate for “Orthodox” as measured by the PEW data? Does it matter in the end, if people are observing significant portions of the mitzvos and are enthusiastic about their Judaism?

      (3) The UJA study in chapter 5 reports data on children from families of parents who are “In married” vs. intermarried, across denominations. It’s not clear to me if they excluded children from divorced homes in their calculations, which is potentially pretty huge, as divorces appear to be on the rise in Orthodoxy.

      My reading of the two data sets is that, indeed, Day School education (and camp attendance) are by and large a major success story, particularly for children of orthodox parents. So orthodoxy, particularly those who send their children to day school, are experiencing a good deal of success at securing Jewish continuity.

      The major financial burden of day school + camp raises questions about sustainability, and the wisdom of orthodox Jews remaining in the States in coming generations, but that’s another story. So to, but equally important, are addressing the various social problems in the religious communities (like anywhere else), but overall they should be proud.

      • I completely agree that comparing this latest data with the JCSNY 2011 data and conclusions is important work to be done. I have seen no output from the Orthodox establishment on the JCSNY study (despite the data sets being made available to researchers) and we still seem to be in emotive stages on the Pew.

        Does anyone know the status of the Dallas regional study (

    • Why? The authors admitted in a footnote that the survey excluded Charedi neighborhoods due to an admitted bypassing of such communities due to an implausible inability to conduct research in suchh communities

  16. Pingback: The Pew Report | ETS HAYIM • עץ חיים

  17. Prof. G. Tendler Pickholz

    One apparent methodological flaw is the assumption that those in the unaffiliated category fall “to the left” of reform, particularly in discussions of Orthodox attrition. I belong to two synagogues of well over 500 people each on any given Shabbat, 100% orthodox in ritual, but at least 90%+ of the congregants will say they irrevocably reject mainstream Orthodoxy, its institutions and its Rabbinic leadership. If the next question asked is poorly worded, they would reply as totally rejecting Conservative Judaism as well.
    That does not make them left of Reform in observance at all. What is emerging is a British United Synagogue, or even closer in comparison a French Consistoire. The rejection of mainstream Orthodoxy, both socially and institutionally, was not at all a rejection of halachic observance. That embedded presumption in the poll’s questions lead to significantly skewed conclusions, particularly regarding Orthodox drift and attrition.

    • I noticed that as well. You can see in their data on denominational retention that the more observant the upbringing, the more likely to currently identify as religiously Jewish of no denomination.

    • Please define “mainstream Orthodxy”, etc. the term without reference to either the Charedi or MO worlds is overly vague

  18. I believe that the Pew surveyors followed the survey procedures as they are listed in the methodology section of the full report. However, I do believe that a percentage (~20-30%) of those who reported that they are “Orthodox” or grew up as “Orthodox” are not people that I would consider Orthodox – BTW, my definition of Orthodox is that you don’t knowlingly violate the halachos of shabbos, you keep Kosher at home and outside, and as applicable, you keep the laws regarding niddah.

  19. Anecdata: Four of us (age 48 today) from Ramaz entered Paradise (Princeton). We were one religious, three non. The religious one is now Recon, and active. I’m now O, through a lot of self-study to convince myself hashkafically, and a desire to live an observant life. The other two non-religious went to a post-college year of yeshiva. One became O, the other entered in peace and left in peace.

    From 1 and 3, to 2 and 2 – a net gain of one, but still displaying some attrition. All four of us married Jews. It all goes to show – with day school, you pays your money and you takes your chances. You never know how your kid is going to wind up, but at least with the yeshiva education, they have the tools to make an informed choice.

    • BTW, the O-to-Recon one went to yeshiva in Israel for a year after HS. The three of us non-religious did not. The year in Israel was not yet de rigeur in 1983.

  20. A few points: among the older generations, Jews who left O went R or C (52% of the 65+). Among the youngest generation, it’s down to 1%. Those who leave no longer go to R and C. That is astounding. We’ve debated this before, but I think that now young Jews who leave observance still identify as Orthodox. That would explain the spike in retention rates.

    Also, the 30-49 column makes little sense. 43% attrition seems high, though the day school movement didn’t really kick into gear until the early 70s (I think it correlates to the race riots and the suburbanization of Orthodoxy, but that’s another discussion), as Adam noted. The really bizarre #s for that cohort are the spike in non-denominational religion. 22%! Double any other cohort! And then nobody from that cohort left Judaism completely? Something about that column just doesn’t seem right.

  21. Prof. G. Tendler Pickholz

    Elli Fischer: well said. That was precisely my point. I believe they have drawn a significantly skewed and flawed conclusion regarding the religious adherence and belief of those “no longer orthodox”, and I daven with 500+ of this statistical category every Shabbat. Turning ones back on mainstream orthodox near-monopolistic institutions and Rabbinate has nothing to do with going off the derech — and does even touch on issues such as YU and RCA scandals and their inevitable consequences. In fact, we are the fastest growing group in orthodoxy today.

  22. Great post, and interesting comments. I was an adviser to the study, and I have full confidence in the results. I believe that the surprising results about Orthodox Jews (e.g., 23% do not refrain from handling money on Shabbat, 16% attended non-Jewish religious services at least a few times last year) can be explained by a discrepancy between what we understand Orthodox Jews to be and who identifies themselves as Orthodox Jews. Some people are likely willing to use that label in a phone survey because the synagogue they rarely attend is affiliated Orthodox or Chabad. We see this especially among recent immigrants.

    I agree with Adam Ferziger about the trends. The survey indicates a high birth rate and an impressively high retention rate in the youngest age group. Orthodoxy will continue to grow, not only in numbers but also as a percentage of Jews.

    Someone asked about what seems like typos (e.g., on p. 51 – “How Important is being Jewish…” – the overall percentage for Orthodox Jews is 87, but both Ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox are 89.). I asked about that and learned that the Orthodox category includes a small percentage of people who consider themselves just Orthodox, not Modern or Ultra-Orthodox.

    • Sarah – Thank you. It would be enormously helpful if one of the analysts could subdivide the 18 – 29 segment in the summary of “Orthodox Retention, by Age” (p. 49) into 18 – 24 and 25 – 29 to reflect the breakpoint between being a dependent young adult and an independent adult finding his/her way in the world. I.e. at what point, if any, do we see a dropoff from the 83% retention toward the 57% average of the next segment and how sharp is the decline?

    • which Orthodox communitiis were included-MO, Charedi?

    • Sarah wrote “I believe that the surprising results about Orthodox Jews (e.g., 23% do not refrain from handling money on Shabbat, 16% attended non-Jewish religious services at least a few times last year) can be explained by a discrepancy between what we understand Orthodox Jews to be and who identifies themselves as Orthodox Jews. ”

      No It can’t be explained that way, it’s off by orders of magnitude. The results have UO handling money on the sabbath 5 percentage points more than MO. MO is a cohort that has a 17 percent non-kosher home,the corresponding percentage for UO is 2 percent. The same goes for attending non-jewish religious services,it’s not a remotely plausible result

  23. walter benjamin

    What is exactly meant by “handling money”? Touching is permitted because ‘muqsa’ is to move.
    So may I assume the intention is spending or purchasing? This would seem strange because it would entail חלול שבת בפרהסיא which would negate the ‘orthodoxy category’ stated. Or may it mean transactions online which wouldn’t be exactly ‘handling money”?

  24. There are people who identify as Orthodox (based on the shul they attend every week) and drive on Shabbat (see: Jewish life outside the tri-state area), so surely there are people who are Orthodox and use money on Shabbat. I believe that handling money = spending or receiving money on Shabbat. I wonder if that number is due to people who attend Chabad shuls (which are ostensibly “ultra-Orthodox” since their leadership is) but are not personally fully observant. They might be counted as ultra-Orthodox Jews who handles money on Shabbat.

    You can’t do anything but ask people how they identify and count them that way, since you can’t go into people’s homes and observe them and categorize them the way you want with this kind of study.

    In my opinion, none of these large scale studies fully investigate the Orthodox community because we are so tiny! Only the OU or YU or the RCA or Agudah would potentially be interested in funding such a study, and I’m not sure I’d trust such a study as to the results regarding attrition, since Orthodox Jews seem so intent on proving that their numbers are growing (due to kiruv and birthrate) and not shrinking (due to attrition).

    Finally, I don’t think you can extrapolate from the UJA-Fed study to the rest of the country. In many ways, Judaism in NYC, Westchester, and Nassau County are totally different from Judaism elsewhere, because there are so many Jews, Jewish institutions, seminaries, etc. here.

    Oh, really finally, the Orthodox-Jew-turned-non-Jew who I know does NOT consider him/herself to be any other religion. He/she identifies as an “ethical human being,” not as a person of any religion. S/he does not practice Judaism, except in the sense that s/he sometimes happens to be with family when they are eating in the sukkah, so s/he does, too. He/she is a vegetarian, so kashrut isn’t really an issue, and he/she thinks that being a vegetarian is FAR more important than keeping kosher. Think of the Americans you know who doesn’t go to Church and are atheist or agnostic and don’t observe Easter and don’t observe Christmas until they have children. Under religion, if asked, would put “none.” That’s what this person is like. Why is that so hard to understand?

    • I think the UJA data retains some usefulness for those of us outside of the NYC area: the dayschool effect on Jewish engagement is strong, and is likely generalizable for those of us who utilize the system. One can of course argue that somehow the saturation of Jews in NY makes a difference, and somehow the dayschool effect is not portable, but I think the dayschool effect retains significant independence, since Jewish ethnic saturation does little to retain engagement of the Reform in the NYC area.

      It is possible more orthodox Jews in smaller communities make use of the public school system, which may account for differences in attrition rates/commitment of the children. Many of the MO in my small community do just that–heterodox dayschool, sometimes not even going to the upper grades, public HS, and secular sleep away college. Attrition rates appear to be higher with this approach, when I compare with those who do dayschool/yeshivah/seminary all the way through.

  25. If you can imagine a Catholic who grew up attending church and went to a Catholic school for grades K-12 and whose parents are faithful Catholics, but who chooses not to be Catholic as an adult, Jews who choose to leave Judaism as a religion and for whom it is not important as an ethnicity or culture (like being Irish or Italian or Puerto Rica might not be important to some Americans whose parents or grandparents found it very important) make sense, too.

    • Good point. I suspect that inherent in the study are multiple self-definitions, based on: belief (in the binding nature of the Torah definition as conferring membership to the nation of Israel), ethnicity–either one or both parents are Jewish, perhaps some non-Jews who believe in Judaism but did not halachically convert, Jews who reject their citizenship in the nation of Israel (as defined by Torah) because they reject the Torah. Like an American who withdraws his citizenship.

  26. Sarah Benor –

    when they say Orthodox, they mean they affiliate to an Orthodox synagogue, rather than a definition based on practice or outlook or cultural grouping. .A key responsibility of an researcher doing ethnography (which this really is) is to understand the terms, and establish the dimensions, especially how these terms are understood by both the repondent and their community. If it fails in that, it fails altogether.

    • No, Joe sorry. A demographic study is not ethnography or causality. It is not a study of ideology but of a demographic unit. It is like polling for democrat or republican even though there is wide variance in what those terms mean. They may then ask Which party do you self-identify? are you registered for that party? Did you vote that way?

      • YM Goldstein

        Alan, you wrote “The survey tolls the end of the triumphalist sense of an Orthodox return.” I continue to think that if the survey counted as Orthodox only those who are truly observant or who grew up in a home with partents who were truly observant, then the results would show a community that is not experiencing a huge dropout problem.
        My father would be one of those coutned as having grown up in an Orthodox home and then became a Conservative Jew, but in fact his home was not truly Orthodox and he is not really Conservative in his practice.

  27. Pingback: Funny, Some of My Best Friends Were Once Orthodox (PEW Report on Jewish ID) (Identity Fetish Identity Boundaries) | jewish philosophy place

  28. Has anyone noticed that the report’s data states that there are twice as many Chareidim as there are Modern Orthodox in the United States? Looking at the data in the full report even closer right now, it indicates that among Orthodox Jews under 30 years old, 82% are Chareidim and 12% MO. Among Orthodox in their 30s and 40s it is 71.5% Chareidi and 28.5% MO.

  29. There are some ideas here that might answer some commenters’ concerns, especially with Orthodox retention, Reform attrition, and ultra-Orthodox Jews handling money on Shabbat.

  30. I have seen many comment on the study and then another person write back that you can’t dismiss Pew. And I don’t have the kheshek or time to delve into Pew’s methodology for this study (with Sarna’s help), but I agree with those whe say the study shows deep flaws. The 25% of Ultra-Orthodox who handle money on shabat that has been mentioned repeatedly should be enough to show that they had major problems in people lying to them about affiliation, not understanding questions, or something else. Same thing with 15% who attend nonJewish services. I don’t know anybody who calls themselves Ultra-Orthodox. No matter how super duper ultra they are. So how did they get someone to say yes to that? And where did they find these khasidim? Did they speak Yiddish? Where did they find any of these other Jews? How do you find someone who was born Jewish and has no affiliation, not to mention where they make up a high percentage of respondents.

    I even find the 65% of MO going to college bizarre–I’ve not seen anything like that among MO where it seems much higher (closer to 80 or 90), but maybe it’s an older generation.

    Look at the end of the day, this information doesn’t impact how I live my life (except to make me even more anxiety-ridden about my parenting), so I’;m not going to be passionate about it. I’m not triumphalist so i on’t need to be knocked down a peg. But I find enough things really strange in this study that I am pretty damn skeptical of any of it. If somebody has any quick links that can show me methodology or why I should trust this study, I’d be appreciate. Thanks.

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