Event Transcript: Changing Identity of Jewish Americans – Implications for Social and Political Engagement
American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, according to a major new survey by the Pew Research Center. But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America. One-in-five Jews now describe themselves as having no religion. More than 60% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. And among Jewish survey respondents who have gotten married since 2000, 58% have non-Jewish spouses. At the same time, emotional attachment to Israel among American Jews has not waned discernibly in the past decade, with about seven-in-ten Jews saying they feel very or somewhat attached to Israel. Yet just 38% say the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians, and that number is even lower for Jews under age 30. The survey also finds significant differences between Orthodox Jews and other Jews on some social, political and religious questions.
What do the survey’s findings mean for the future of American Jews and their broader role in American public life? What impact will the greater religious polarization within American Jewry have on social and political engagement of the U.S. Jewish community? Will younger Jews become more attached to Israel as they age, or will the U.S. Jewish population become less attached to Israel over time?
On Oct. 10, 2013, the Pew Research Center brought together some leaders from the Jewish community for a round-table discussion about the latest data on American Jews. The edited transcript is below.
Alan Cooperman, Deputy Director, Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center
Nathan Diament, Executive Director of Public Policy, Orthodox Union Advocacy Center
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Luis Lugo, Director, Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center
LUIS LUGO, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: As they say, no eatin’, no meetin’. We have eaten, so now it’s time for the meetin’, but please continue eating. Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us on this rainy day. We’re delighted to have you with us. I’m Luis Lugo. I’m the Director of the Religion & Public Life Project here at the Pew Research Center. As many of you know, the center is a nonpartisan organization and does not take positions on issues or engage in policy debates, and even if we did, we would not get involved in the debate about who is a Jew. The major survey on Jewish Americans that we released last week, [which was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Neubauer Family Foundation], has received widespread attention in both the U.S. and Israel. It was even among The New York Times’ most emailed stories for almost a week. And what is surely a sign of its broad reach, the survey’s findings on synagogue membership were the lead-in to the skit “Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy” on Saturday Night Live last weekend. I hope you caught that. It also prompted Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin of Bayonne, New Jersey, to pen his first song in 35 years. “The Jews, We Are A-Changin’” is what he entitles it. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first potential hit recording that one of our surveys has inspired. The report has sparked a lot of conversations and debates in the media, among family and friends and within many Jewish organizations about a wide range of issues relating to Jewish identity. In this discussion we’d like to explore more specifically what the internal religious dynamics within the community might mean for Jewish social and political engagement, not least U.S. policy toward Israel, which features prominently in the survey.
We’re delighted to have as panelists for this event two very distinguished leaders of major Jewish organizations. They need little introduction, so I’ll be brief. Nathan Diament is Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, where he develops public policy research and initiatives. Nathan has been called the public face of Orthodox Judaism in Washington, and The Forward named him among the most influential Jews. Speaking of Nathan’s influence, if you’re enjoying your meal this afternoon, you have Nathan to thank for advising us on the best kosher catering choices here in Washington. Thank you, Nathan. I think this was Kosher Kitchen that won the prize there. Rabbi David Saperstein is Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he has represented the Reform Jewish movement to Congress and the administration. It says here, David, for more than 30 years, but that has to be a typo. Is that right? More than 30. My goodness. Like wine, David only gets better with age. Newsweek has called David the most influential rabbi in the country, and earlier this year David was also the highest-ranked rabbi listed on The Jerusalem Post’s “Most Influential Jews in the World.” It’s also my pleasure to introduce you to my right-hand man, Alan Cooperman, the Deputy Director in the Religion Project.
ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: I’m on your left.
LUGO: Yes, I know, but that’s why I said, my right-hand man. I turned to you. He’s also sitting on the left. Who will walk us through some of the – from their perspective – you’re now on my right – who will walk us through some of the survey’s relevant highlights. Alan’s leadership was absolutely critical in making the survey and the report that’s in front of you a reality. His work from the survey is far from over. This rock star – this survey is making him into a rock star – is about to start his U.S. tour pretty soon, and it will take him to discuss the findings to important groups around the country from New York to Florida to California. I’d also want to acknowledge Greg Smith here to my left, who is our Director of U.S. Religion Surveys. He was the lead researcher on the survey and I cannot overstate his contributions to this project, so thank you, Greg. Now although Greg and Alan were the dynamic duo, as we call them, on this project, this was truly a team effort here at the Pew Research Center. I could go on for some time with all the names of people who contributed to this project, but with apologies to the others, many of whom are here, I’ll only mention one. That’s our former president, Andrew Kohut. Andy was a strong supporter of this project from the beginning and he helped convince the funders very importantly that the center was willing and able to undertake this difficult project. So, Andy, our thanks to you. The format for this event is very simple. We want to keep it informal. Alan, Nathan and David will speak for about 10 minutes each, and then we’ll invite the rest of you to join in the conversation. I should point out that this event is on the record. We are taping it and plan to post an edited transcript on our website in about a week or two. Now, each of you should have, as I mentioned, a copy of the report in front of you. It is hot off the press and you are the very first to receive printed copies of the full report. If you can use more for your organizations, please let us know. We’d be glad to be of assistance to you. Alan? I’ll hand it over to you.
COOPERMAN: Thank you, Luis. Thank you very much. I think I’m miked up here, so I’m going to stand and it may be that in order to see the slides, the people up front may also want to slide over just a little bit. This was a huge survey, a massive survey by any standards. In order to do it, we completed more than 70,000 screening interviews. These were made by random digit dialing, by cellphone and landlines, in Russian and in English, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. On the basis of the screening interviews, we conducted longer interviews averaging about 25 minutes with approximately 5,000, a little more than 5,000 people, who could be considered Jewish in some way, and about 3,500 – I’m sorry – yes, just under 3,500 that we, for analytical purposes, describe as Jewish in the survey, deliberately preserving for other readers and analysts the ability to choose a different definition of who is a Jew. I’ll talk a little more about those definitions as we go along.
One reason why surveys like this are so essential is that the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask individual Americans about their religion and, in fact, the one and only time when the Census Bureau did ask Americans about their religion, individual Americans, was in 1957, and it was on a Current Population Survey at that time, and that survey, which was about 35,000 people in all, found that among Americans ages 14 and older, those who identify their religion as Jewish made up 3.2%, or approximately in 1950 numbers, 3.9 million American adults. Now, since  the number of American adults who identify their religion as Jewish almost certainly has increased. In fact, in our survey, which accords with other studies, roughly speaking it appears that the absolute number of people who identify their religion as Jewish has increased by about 15% over the last 56 years, but over that same period, the size of the total U.S. population has more than doubled. The result, of course, is that as a share of the American population, people who identify their religion as Jewish have been declining. It’s fallen by approximately half over the last half century. At the same time, those who identify their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, yet who say that aside from religion they consider themselves Jewish or partially Jewish and who have at least one Jewish parent – this is a group that we call in our survey Jews of no religion. It’s a clunky term. You may think of them as secular or cultural Jews. This group clearly has been increasing and in our survey, we find that today fully a fifth, 22%, of all Jews in the United States are what we call Jews of no religion. “Jews of no religion” doesn’t mean they have no religious beliefs or practices. It means that when you ask them in a survey, “What is your religion?” they say, “None,” effectively. They say they’re atheists or agnostics or nothing in particular but again, they also identify as Jewish aside from religion and they have direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing.
Now, it’s difficult for us to compare this survey with previous surveys of Jews for a variety of reasons. The main one is methodological, and you’re all probably familiar with the National Jewish Population Survey, so I just want to stipulate that this was not a repeat of the National Jewish Population Surveys, which have had some difficulties and been criticized in various ways yet also provide very valuable data. We are very cautious about making comparisons, direct comparisons, between the findings in this survey and the National Jewish Population Surveys, and we make a few of those cautious comparisons in our report, but I would like to say don’t try this at home, because what you have to do to do that is go back into the National Jewish Population Survey data set and rejigger the categories they use to make them comparable to our categories. So, mainly, to try to see change over time in our survey, we look to data internal to the survey itself. One of the most interesting, I think, ways we can see the growth of the Jews of no religion is by looking at generations. And among the Greatest Generation, the World War II-era generation, 93% of Jews in that generation identify as Jewish by religion. Asked, “What is your religion?” they say, “Jewish.” Only 7% say they have no religion but identify as Jewish nonetheless. In the latest generation – the youngest generation of American adults, the Millennial generation – fully a third identify as having no religion yet say they feel Jewish aside from religion and have direct Jewish ancestry. And it’s a cascading pattern along the way. I think this is pretty good evidence of the growth – dramatic growth – of Jews of no religion, over time.
We also asked in the survey whether Jews think of being Jewish as mainly a matter of religion or mainly a matter of ancestry or mainly a matter of culture, and a majority of Jews overall tell us that they consider being Jewish mainly to be a matter of either ancestry and/or culture. Only about one-in-six, about 15%, say “religion.” And that’s true even for Jews by religion, even those who identify their religion as Jewish — of them, only 17% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion.
The secular Jewish community has long been accepted in Judaism. Many people will say that Judaism is inherently a religion of practice – of orthopraxis – rather than orthodoxy, a religion of belief, and I think to some extent, this is an important finding here. It accords with what Jews have often thought and said about Judaism, or confirming it, and it’s an important one to bear in mind for some other findings in the survey that may seem paradoxical, and I’ll get to that in a moment. Since the Jewish by religion population has been declining over time and Jews of no religion have been increasing, people who are concerned with Jewish continuity or assimilation could look at these figures and say, “Well, nu, what’s the problem? One’s going down, but the other’s going up.” I think it’s important to see the differences between Jews by religion and Jews of no religion. One of those important differences is in the way that they are raising their children. Among Jews by religion who have a minor child in the household, more than 90% say they are raising their children Jewish in some way: 71% are raising their children Jewish by religion; an additional 15% partly Jewish by religion; an additional 7% in some kind of mix; and only 7% are raising their children not Jewish at all. While among those who do not identify their religion as Jewish but say they feel Jewish in some other way and have direct Jewish ancestry – the Jews of no religion – fully two-thirds say they are raising their children not Jewish at all. Not only not in the Jewish faith, but not at all. Not culturally. Not in any way.
Intermarriage is a related and, we say in the report, perhaps even a kind of a circular, reinforcing factor. Among Jews who are married to a Jewish spouse in our survey – respondents who have a Jewish spouse – fully 96% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion. Among those who are not married to a Jewish spouse, and I want you to hear this very carefully, more than half are raising their children Jewish in some way. So if you add these numbers up: 20% Jewish by religion, another 25% Jewish partly by religion, and another 16% in some sort of mix; more than 60% of respondents in our survey who have a non-Jewish spouse say they are raising their children Jewish in some way. But more than a third, 37%, are not raising their children Jewish in any way, which is a pretty sharp contrast with the 96% of those who are in-married who say they are raising their children Jewish by religion. Intermarriage also appears to be growing. Again, I’m looking primarily not to comparisons with previous surveys but to internal data in this survey to try to show this. We can see that among respondents in our survey who were married before 1970, only 17% of them have a non-Jewish spouse, whereas among those who’ve been married more recently, more than half have a non-Jewish spouse. And you can look at these figures and see that for the last two five-year periods, it’s held fairly stable. I would not say that clearly it’s leveling off, but I would say it could be leveling off. That would be a possibility. I should also point out that this is based on current, intact marriages. There is some research that suggests that intermarriages in general break up at higher rates than in-marriages. If that research is accurate – it’s not our research – then it could be that these numbers back some decades ago somewhat understate the percentage of intermarriages in those times. Nonetheless, I think it’s pretty convincing evidence that over time, intermarriage has been increasing.
In our survey, among all Jewish respondents – both the secular, if you will, the Jews of no religion, and the Jews by religion – 35% identify as Reform. This isn’t synagogue membership. It’s just, “With what denominational stream do you identify?” A third identify as Reform, 18% is Conservative, 10% is Orthodox and 30% no particular denomination within Judaism. The Orthodox figures, this is 10% of all Jews again. The Orthodox make up 12% of Jews by religion. They make up 22% of the individuals in our survey who said that they are synagogue members. Also, this is only adults. The Orthodox, very dramatically in our survey, have much younger average age – median age – and many more children per household than other Jews. So if this were a figure including children, the Orthodox would make up undoubtedly a higher percentage of the Jews of all ages. And the survey would indicate they should be growing, the Orthodox should be growing, fairly rapidly based purely on demographic factors. But religion isn’t just a matter of demography. There’s also, among other things, religious switching. I think a number of you have probably seen already – I know they’ve attracted a lot of attention – the charts in our survey report that talk about denominational switching. I’m going to just go through them very quickly because I really want to get to some other measures that are more pertinent today, but I want you to see that in our survey . . . of all respondents who say they were raised Orthodox, 48% are Orthodox today; 52% have switched. Most of them are still Jewish by religion; a very small number have left Judaism. Among those raised Conservative, 36% – an even lower retention rate – are still Conservative; 30% have moved into the Reform movement, and a few are no longer Jewish or are Jews of no religion. And among Reform, 55% of those raised Reform are still Reform. Overall, the pattern that we see is movement down what you might think of as the ladder of traditionalism. Small numbers are moving in the opposite direction. For example, 1% of those raised Reform have become Orthodox and 6% of those raised Reform have become Conservative, but overall you can see there’s a lot more movement down the ladder of traditionalism than up the ladder of traditionalism, and presumably this is one of the things that ultimately is resulting in more Jews of no religion. I should mention, and we might want to get into this, that if you look at these data by age, you see some very interesting patterns, and the retention rate among the Orthodox, for example, of the younger ages is far higher than among older Orthodox, and we can talk about why that might be, if that’s of interest.
The real heart of this survey in many ways was Jewish identity. What does it mean to be a Jew in America? We asked a battery of questions about this. One of the questions we asked was, we gave people a list of nine items and we said, “Please tell us which of these is essential to what being Jewish means to you, which is important but not essential, and which is not important.” This chart shows only the percentage who say that various things are essential to what being Jewish means to them. And, overall, both Jews by religion and Jews of no religion rated the Holocaust or “remembering the Holocaust” as the top item. More of them rated the Holocaust as being essential than any other item we asked about, followed very closely by leading an ethical and moral life, working for justice and equality, and so on down the list. Couple of things to note here: One is a finding that has tickled some people’s fancy, I should say, and that is that roughly twice as many Jews say that having a good sense of humor is essential to what being Jewish means to them as say that observing Jewish law is essential to what being Jewish means to them. But another finding that’s of some consequence, I think, is that caring about Israel is lower among Jews of no religion. Kind of an interesting pattern here. While lower percentages of Jews of no religion rank almost all of these things as essential, the rank order is roughly the same with the exception of where “caring for Israel” falls, and so you’ll see that there’s a kind of an anomaly here, a significant difference – “caring about Israel” is lower among Jews of no religion. When we look at age differentials on this question, we also see that younger Jews are less likely to say that caring about Israel is essential to them. I’m just showing this one question, but we have more than a dozen questions about Israel in the survey, and on several of the questions, the same pattern is seen – younger Jews express less emotional attachment to Israel. Younger Jews are more likely to be critical of Israel in various ways. We have a question, for example, about U.S. foreign policy and we ask: “Is U.S. foreign policy too supportive of Israel, not supportive enough of Israel, or about right?” Among Jews 50 and older, 6% say U.S. policy is too supportive of Israel. Among Jews between the ages of 18 and 29, fully 25% say U.S. policy is too supportive of Israel. So this leaves a question that I think is something we all may want to discuss today, which is whether younger Jews are going to become more supportive of Israel as they age, or whether the U.S. Jewish population is going to become less supportive of Israel over time.
We also asked some questions about what is compatible with people’s sense of what it means to be Jewish. You could think of this as the inverse [of the previous battery]: one set of questions is about what qualifies people to be a Jew. This set of questions, in a certain sense, is about what disqualifies people from being a Jew. One of these is, you’ll see that two-thirds of Jews, roughly speaking, including two-thirds of Jews by religion, say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. This, again, accords with the earlier question – being Jewish to most Jews is not mainly a matter of religion. It’s mainly a matter of ancestry or culture. We also see, contrary to what you might sometimes hear about the strength of the “Jewish lobby,” that most Jews overwhelmingly say you can be strongly critical of Israel and still be Jewish. We also see most Jews say you can work on the Sabbath and still be Jewish. But we did find, on one question, that most Jews draw a limit: 60% of Jews say that if you believe that Jesus was the messiah, you cannot be Jewish. On the other hand, 34% say you can. And, again, that 34% may [reflect the fact that many Jews] think of being Jewish as mainly a matter of ancestry or culture, rather than a matter of belief or religion.
OK. Very quickly, just a couple more points – and there’s much more in this survey, but I know these are issues we want to discuss – this [slide] is [about] politics. And it won’t come as a surprise to any of you to know that the Jewish population in the United States leans Democratic and considers itself liberal by a substantial margin. In fact, the only substantial religious group in the United States that is more Democratic-leaning than Jews is black Protestants. But the pattern interestingly does shift, and this is something I think that many Jews have suspected but not really known, and not really known what the number was. The pattern really shifts when you look at the Orthodox. Among the Orthodox, a majority, 57%, are Republican or lean Republican and 36% tell us that they’re Democratic or lean Democratic. Among Reform, the Reform is, if anything, even more Democratic-leaning than Jews as a whole. That’s it. I think I stayed pretty close to my time.
LUGO: Well, more or less. [Laughter] Thank you, Alan.
COOPERMAN: Thank you.
LUGO: I’ve always told Alan that if he hadn’t become a journalist, he certainly would’ve become a college professor and you saw Professor Cooperman at work there. Thank you. OK. Nathan, please.
NATHAN DIAMENT, ORTHODOX UNION ADVOCACY CENTER: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here with you all and I want to – since I’m going first between myself and David, I’m sure he’ll echo this as well. I want to first start off by thanking Luis and Alan and Greg and Pew [Research] for just the remarkable investment of time, energy, resources and who knows what else in producing what is really a landmark piece of work, which is going to be studied and torn apart and put back together again who knows how many times, but is a really landmark piece of work and we’re just grateful for your having done it. We really, really appreciate that. So there are a lot of ways – this is a very complicated survey as was already said and there are a lot of ways to come at this. Just days after Pew [Research] released this report, one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals I thought presented its distilled essence to the entire nation on broadcast television and I asked the Pew [Research] folks to queue up the clip, which I really think encapsulates what this is all about. So please.
[Video clip shown at the event was from 2:00 to 3:05.]
So there you have the recital of a blessing from Jewish religious liturgy described as a non-denominational Jewish prayer on a comedy show. I think this touches on on Jews of no religion, their relevant ranking of having a sense of humor and so many other aspects of this survey. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. But more seriously, the survey obviously brings up a host of issues which could be very broadly – probably unfairly – divided, though, into internal community issues and external community issues, and I’ll try to touch on both very briefly and I look forward to the conversation. In terms of the internal things that this survey tells us, as if we didn’t know already that we’re confronting in the American Jewish community – big picture, the power of freedom in America, which is so wonderful and has allowed us to flourish more than any other diaspora community in millennia. The power of that freedom is, if you will, a superpower, and all the programs and many millions of dollars spent by federations and foundations and others in the Jewish community over the past decade with the stated goal of stemming the tide of assimilation and intermarriage have failed, I think one can say based on the data, and that is a huge question for American Jewry to confront. Jewish pride is important, but Jewish generations cannot be built on late-night comedy sketches or, more seriously in my opinion, on Holocaust remembrance. The first thought that I had when I saw that Holocaust remembrance was ranked number one on that list of essential elements of being a Jew, while I think the Holocaust is a very incredibly significant event that has to be remembered, in another sense, we sort of built that. We built the Holocaust museums and the programs and all that, which are all very important, and we built that and we yielded a result, at least to some degree as demonstrated by the survey, of Holocaust remembrance and everything else fell behind, as my microphone just did.
While it’s not for me to answer, but the non-Orthodox movements have quite a challenge on their hands. While I have some questions about the survey’s findings about the Orthodox camp, which we were discussing before – who are the Orthodox Jews that have Christmas trees and handle money on Shabbat. Or more to the point, the Modern Orthodox subsample size, as far as I could tell, was 154 people, and that’s – even in a monumental study – that’s good, but that also begs some questions whether that was large enough. The demographic findings, as Alan already said, echo other findings, other studies, including those importantly done by the UJA-Federation of New York last year; 10% of adult Jews self-identify as Orthodox, 23% of Jewish children are in Orthodox homes. In the UJA-New York survey, in New York City and Long Island, in the five boroughs and Long Island, 61% of children in Jewish households are Orthodox, and that’s where the highest concentration of the Jewish population is. But in this survey, the Orthodox birthrate average is 4.1 children vs. 1.9 in non-Orthodox, and as Alan mentioned, Orthodoxy – we seem to be retaining our members, at least at younger ages, better now than we did a few decades ago. And as was already said, the Orthodox segment of the community is younger on average that the rest of American Jewry. I’ll leave it to David but again, it strikes me that the Reform and Conservative movements in particular have a lot to grapple with on their front, and the Orthodox community also has a lot to think about in terms of our engagement with the broader Jewish community and with regard to resource allocation. Orthodox institutions including mine invest considerable time and resources in outreach and trying to engage non-Orthodox sectors of the Jewish community, and so we too have invested time and resources and more and to the degree that this shows that those resources are not bringing people or keeping people in the camp of Jewish affiliation or Jewish identity as we would hope, irrespective of whether or not they are keeping the Sabbath or any other particular ritual act, is really a challenge for that resource allocation.
Also, we can get into this later perhaps as well, it’s also fascinating to me the ranking after the Holocaust issue of where different values were on the spectrum, the notion that where leading an ethical life or pursuing justice and equality was ranked was really fascinating for me. Modern Orthodox Jews ranked living an ethical life higher than Reform Jews did, and David being my good friend, I know how much the Reform movement and the Reform rabbinate puts ethics and ethical life and social justice very much at the top of the agenda, and there’s an interesting differential there. There’s a lot to talk about internally.
Externally, I actually want to start for just a moment on domestic policy issues. So Orthodox Jews are younger than other Jews and have larger families and we build that Jewish community in the Orthodox community through Jewish education. That provides something of a roadmap for domestic policy priorities regarding Social Security and Medicare, which the Jewish community talks about a lot and advocates about a lot regarding education policy and the allocation of government budgets or other budgets for schools and education regarding tax policy and how you deal with childcare credits and family-size issues, etc. The Orthodox community, if you’re just looking through the lens of self-interest, as a younger community, as a community with larger families with younger children, is going to look at that basket of issues differently potentially than from the older cohort of the majority of the rest of the community. On social policy issues, the survey didn’t ask the full menu of social policy issues but one thing that jumps out there, if you look at some other data as well, is that the American Jewish community at large on issues about gay rights and homosexuality is hyper-liberal with regard to that issue in the context of the broader American Jewish community, and the interesting other lens to look at that is that that places the Orthodox community actually more in sync with the American general population at large, which is more evenly divided to some degree on gay rights issues and there are other things to talk about on domestic fronts is there.
On the foreign policy side very briefly, the Pew [Research] data confirms a lot of what we’ve seen in some of the American Jewish Committee polling of recent years or other Jewish community polling that goes on. The Orthodox Jews are far more attached to Israel than other segments of the Jewish community. Orthodox Jews travel to Israel in higher numbers and with more frequency than non-Orthodox Jews. Most Orthodox Jews are negatively inclined, shall we say, toward the two-state solution as a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Orthodox Jews think settlements either don’t have an impact on the prospects of a resolution of the conflict and don’t harm it and most of the Orthodox Jews, at least in this survey, believe the United States should be more supportive of Israel – and that’s not only the older ones, that’s also the younger ones. As I said, this has sort of confirmed what we thought and have talked about has been going on. So to pull back to a big picture perspective, we have confirmation of what Pew [Research] has seen in other religious community studies, whether it’s the Catholic community or the Protestant community, the Jewish community on the external political social policy agenda is having the same divergence between, if you will, traditionalists and liberals. Right? Just like there’s a divide between liberal Catholics and traditionalist Catholics on social policy issues, just like there’s a divide between mainline Protestants and evangelical Protestants on social and domestic policy issues. We’re having that echo in the Jewish community in our own way on our own issues, but with clear divergence on a number of key issues between the Orthodox segment and the non-Orthodox, more liberal or secular segment. We’ve known about these differences for a while and it’s bound to, it seems, continue. So therefore among the challenges for us, particularly those in this room who work in the organizations and in the field, is to figure out, among other things, how to navigate that divergence and hopefully still maintain some amount of Jewish community unity, which is I think is also of value – interesting – it’s not on the list, how much is Jewish unity, I don’t know, a value for Jews, but maybe we can do that in the next poll.
I’ll just wrap up, I look forward to hearing what David has to say, by noting two broad points: One is this isn’t – Pew [Research] was not the first to count the Jews. We have a book of the Bible that’s called the Book of Numbers because it has multiple censuses of the Jews in the Book of Numbers, and the commentators, the most popular comment, “Well, why are all these surveys/censuses of the Jews going on?” The most common explanation or interpretation given is because people count what is dear to them. You count things that you care for very much and want to hold dear to you and certainly besides getting the data and besides getting the demography, we appreciate it and it’s valuable to us because we want to know who’s in our camp, who’s in the family, and this kind of counting is very beneficial and appreciated. And secondly, and relatedly to what Alan was saying before, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote a seminal essay probably 40 or 50 years ago now in which he talked about the Jews really have two covenants. One is a covenant of fate and one is a covenant of faith. The covenant of fate is the Jews [of] no religion, is the Jews who are linked to Jewish destiny whether they choose to be or not choose to be, but they are part of the Jewish camp in one form or another because we’re not only a people of faith. But then alongside that is the covenant of faith, is the Jews by religion. And so this is a dichotomy perhaps unique to Jews and Judaism that’s existed for many, many years. We appreciate Pew [Research] helping us look at it through a new lens and appreciate the questions that you put on the table for us to grapple with as we try to live out these covenants in the times in which we live. Thank you.
LUGO: Thank you Nathan. Well, we’re always very anxious when we put out a report to make sure there’s enough there that’s new to people that the press will cover it, but on the other hand, we want those people who are close observers of the reality that we’re studying to tell us, “Well, what’s new here? We’ve been observing this,” which is great, and that’s the two things we want. We ought to be measuring something that people are sensing out there. It does remind me of the way someone once described the social sciences as the elaborate demonstration of the obvious through methods that are obscure, and so maybe there’s something to that. So, Rabbi Saperstein.
RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN, RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER OF REFORM JUDAISM: Let me join Nathan and Andy, division of this, Greg, Luis, Alan, the implementation of this is something extraordinary. Not only from your standpoint does it add immensely to the richness of our understanding of religion, but I think you know for the Jewish community this is something of enormous practical value. All across the community the news of “Pew’s Jews” is all over the place and is going to be with us for many, many years to come guiding programs, guiding resources, allocation of resources, etc. so we are all in your debt for this. This is something of lasting value and very precious to us.
I want to just address before I forget them out of sequence, just two points, then I’ll go into the brief comments I want to make. One is to Nathan, which is nothing, nothing thrills me more than the fact that ethical/moral living and working for justice and equality doesn’t belong to any stream of the community. I was not surprised by this. We think it’s part of what it means to be a Jew and it is woven into the fabric of Jewish life. And Alan, a similar kind of point about Israel, and I don’t mean to pick on a particular formulation, you were moving quickly there, but somehow contrasting the idea of the Israel lobby and criticism of Israel. Support for Israel takes many different ways, and I think it’s crucially important and reaffirming that we saw, even amongst people who hold critical views of Israel, some deep attachments to Israel there, and I suspect if there were questions asked about the core elements of the Israel lobby, that is, those differing views on the settlements, West Bank, etc., on the core work that AIPAC has been about on behalf of our community for a couple of generations now, support for the special relationship, support for the AIPAC interest in Israel, etc., that critical of policies or not, there would be overwhelming support, but that was beyond what the poll did. Just in terms of how we talk about it, I think it’s crucially important. I would simply add that I think it’s great in terms of understanding conversely that people can be critical of Israel and still pro-Israel. I think looking at some of the groups around the table – APN and J Street and others – this is an important contribution to Jewish life as represented here that you can be critical of Israel and very much part of the Jewish community, the 89% of Jews who said, “Sure, you can be Jewish – no problem at all – and be strongly critical of Israeli government policy.” American Jewish communities able to separate on those things and I think it’s an important source of unity for us in the small segment of the Jewish community who uses it as a source of disunity, as a way to divide us, I think makes a crucial misjudgment in terms of the future of the Jewish community and the health and well-being of the Jewish community.
So there is good news and there is bad news on this. Obviously, the fact that 94% of American Jews say that they are proud to be Jewish. That three-quarters of American Jews say that they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. With all the diversity that we see in the poll, that’s something that links us together and we shouldn’t forget that and it often gets overlooked in the focus on the specific pieces of this. For those of us in the Reform Jewish community, there’s good news and bad news. We face enormous challenges. Those who are part of the Reform Jewish community have weaker ties to the Jewish community in general, are less likely to be involved in Jewish life, more likely to move into the category of no denomination or no religion. This is an enormous challenge for us. On the other hand, we clearly, on another level, dominate the religious landscape of American religious life in terms of how people identify. Nearly twice the size of the Conservative movement, three and a half times the size of the Orthodox movement, even adjusting for undercounting. Significantly larger than those segments of the Jewish community. We have a very high retention rate: 55% is really heartening to us. People who grow up in our movement stay part of our movement, clearly higher than the 36% in the Conservative movement, rivaling and perhaps surpassing the 48% in terms of the Orthodox community as across the age cohorts as this snapshot of this moment, I’ll return to the younger segment of the Orthodox community in a moment. That’s very encouraging to us. If Jews switch movement as you indicated, they’re more likely to come – by a significant margin – to come to the Reform movement, and that opens up all kinds of opportunities for us. Many of the strategic priorities that we’ve undertaken in the Reform movement here, in terms of significant investment of efforts to reach out to the 20s and 30s, and trying to broaden the definition of what it means to be a member of the community.
With all the complexities, this poll kind of affirms for us a strengthening in the efforts to keep kids after bar mitzvah. You saw some of that in the bar mitzvah revolution story in The New York Times. A lot of this of the directions we’ve been moving in and other segments of the community also have been moving in were reaffirmed by that, and that’s helpful for us to know, and of course, to the extent that social justice is a key organizing principle of Reform Jewish life, and that love of Israel combined with criticism on particular policy positions that Israel takes and saying the two are not contradictory represents where a large segment of our community is and where our institutions are. This is encouraging for us – we speak to where a sizable segment of the American Jewish community is. Our institutions speak, in terms of the positions they take, the programs they implement, etc.
In terms of the Orthodox community, there’s a lot to say about it. We, I hope, will get into it in the discussion that we have, but just a word on that and intermarriage before a few comments on the public policy piece of it. Clearly, something has changed in the Orthodox community. When folks of the Baby Boomer generation were growing up, only a distinct minority of Orthodox Jews were at day schools here at that period. Today, almost universally they’re at day school. That clearly has an impact on retention rates, and some of these stats are obscured by the fact that a much higher percentage of Orthodox Jews make aliyah to Israel and kind of fall out of the polling numbers. If you think about kids raised here, Jewishly, it actually would be higher already, and people should keep that in mind. How much of the falloff of people who moved elsewhere in their religious life comes because of people getting older and naturally changing remains to be seen. I mean, there’s some indication of that. If you look already in the Gen X generation here, the people in their 30s, who were raised after many of the shifts in the Orthodox community had already kicked in, there’s significant greater movement out of the Orthodox community than there is with the younger one. Even the younger one is at 17 – the youngest cohort’s at 17% here. It remains to be seen what the changes will be in the demographics of the American Jewish community. Clearly there’ll be some growth here, but it just remains to be seen.
Just one point about intermarriage here just to think about. It’s an enormous challenge for us in the sense of it’s harder to keep people involved in the community who grow up in those families, but it’s also an opportunity for us. You take 200 Jews, 100 of them marry each other and they each have two kids. That’s 100 kids that come at 96% raised Jewish by religion, right? Very, very encouraging. The other 100 who are marrying non-Jews, you now have 100 marriages, not 50. They each have two kids, that’s 200 kids. Only 20% are raised in Judaism by religion, but that’s 20% out of the 100 marriages here, so you’re talking about 40 kids out of that. Is it as good as the 96%? No, obviously, but it’s an opportunity for us to bring people in. Who knows how many of those non-Jewish spouses at some point will actually make a decision to become Jews by choice? There’s no way to easily count that because you’re doing a snapshot at a given moment here. These are enormous opportunities for all of us to work on. I would also argue to make the transition that an enormous opportunity is this commitment to social justice. One of the lessons of this – it’s been affirmed in other polls – I was so glad that this question was asked about social justice work here. It was not asked in the 1990 and 2000 National Jewish [Population] Survey, but every other poll that’s been taken has showed significant, by significant margins, it is a major organizing principle of Jewish identity for American Jews, and this confirms that if we’re going to reach Jews where they are, that social justice commitment, involvement, engagement is an important gateway for us to engage Jews and bring them back into the Jewish community, into Jewish ritual, Jewish study and organized Jewish life. We have to be far more intentional about it, but that clearly is one of the patterns of this. Insofar as those stats are what they are, insofar as Jews disproportionately play important roles as ideologues and public intellectuals, and donors, and staffers, and leaders and board members of almost every cause for social justice in America – and one would point out, across the political spectrum – you could make the same argument in conservative political thought as well. We’re way out of proportion to our numbers. There’s great hope that we will continue to play that role and have an impact on American public life in deeper and profound ways. That, to me, is one of the important insights of this poll. That from the perspective of the positions of my movement and how we apply Jewish values to American life, we are so liberal is encouraging.
I would point out that the Orthodox community ends up kind of moderate conservative, not hard-line conservative. You would compare it to the white evangelical numbers – they’re not where the white evangelical numbers are – and I suspect if we had asked some other questions, some other questions, it would’ve been even more clear that it’s kind of a centrist component. I think a lot of the numbers, my own view is, a lot of the numbers that really push at is every community is affected by leaders being good or bad on survival issues. Whatever you think of President Obama’s policy – prescriptively what it is and what it should be – I think descriptively about the Orthodox community, there is a narrative in the Orthodox community that is not shared in the other segments of the community, according to these polls here, that the president is not friendly toward Israel, not effective in terms of being helpful to Israel. What would happen with a Democratic president who is seen as a real champion of Israel and what would happen with the numbers in the Orthodox community remains to be seen, but I think as you compare the different pieces of the information here, it raises a real question of whether or not it would shift a significant number back. Don’t forget, before 2000, the majority of Orthodox Jews insofar as we knew their vote, did lean Democratic. Not in every election, but in most elections at that time. I suspect that that would be the case if that narrative were a bit different.
I’m heartened by our role on, our attitudes on the sensitivity to homosexuality in American society. I think it’s indicative of an open, compassionate kind of view that most American Jews have in this intuitive sense that we will never be safe and secure in the long run in this country. Think about the anti-Semitism numbers you have, in which almost every poll that actually compares Jews and non-Jews at the same time, find Jews think there’s far more anti-Semitism than non-Jews actually think there is. In the same way, our view about the extent of discrimination to Muslims and Mormons and other minorities in American life, far lower than we think the Jews where I think most people would be astonished to read the same numbers here. But there is a sense that we’ll never be safe and never secure so long as any group can be subject to discrimination, persecution and oppression. That’s kind of borne out by some of the numbers that we see here as well.
Finally, we continue to be involved in American public life and political life disproportionately. Just look at the voting rates. We’re 10% above in terms of registration numbers here. If anything, I’m alarmed by the 10% of the Jews who admit to not registering to vote and we have our work cut out for us. One of the reasons that Jews have been in disproportionate influence is, we vote disproportionately, we give money disproportionately to causes and candidates that we believe in. We tend to express our views disproportionately, we’re public intellectuals disproportionately. I don’t want to see any withdrawal of that, and that 10% seems to me to be a challenge whatever our political views as a community who cares about America and the vibrancy of democracy America here, and the ability to pursue Jewish values in interests across the political spectrum is something we’re all in together. So indeed, there is good news and bad news but as my mentor, Al Vorspan is fond of saying, “The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is an optimist argues that, ‘This is the best of all possible worlds,’ and a pessimist agrees.” [Laughter] We can look at this data and come up with a lot of different conclusions. We, of course, are prisoners of hope and therefore the eternal optimist, and I see a lot of challenges I know we can meet and a lot of reasons to be optimistic in this poll.
LUGO: Thank you, David. I appreciate it. Did you want a quick response, Alan, on anything? OK. Excellent. All right. Well, let’s get the rest of you into the conversation. You will need to push the little button there so that your microphone comes on, and if it’s not close to you, please pull it close to you, and if you put up your hand, I will try to get as many folks down here as possible so you don’t have to keep your hand up. Yes, sir, let’s begin with you.
ORI NIR, AMERICANS FOR PEACE NOW: Thank you. I have a question regarding the question regarding what is the most important problem that Israel is facing. The question is whether this question was open.
NIR: It was open. OK. I find it fascinating because, I think, if you’d asked the same question of Israelis, the proportion of Israelis who would mention domestic problems would be overwhelmingly large. I tried to add all the categories here that have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so on. It comes to about 70%, so it’s very different.
COOPERMAN: I’ll just give a quick answer to that. Thank you, Ori. Good question. Ori’s referring to one of the open-ended questions in the survey. The categorization there is such that each of those answers is not mutually exclusive. So you can’t actually add them up and come up to 70%. Some people said more than one of those things. And you’ve also left us a great opening to note, and I think I’m allowed to say this, that we intend to do just exactly what you suggested. We intend to do a similar survey in Israel, and I fully expect that we will ask that question of the Israeli public. One difficulty with open-ended questions is that they have to be coded by human beings, and there’s always some subjective element of the way that we tote up the various things that people tell us. Nonetheless, I agree with you that it’s very revealing.
RICHARD FOLTIN, AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE: Well first of all, let me echo all the thanks that have been already made for the value and richness of this survey. I have a narrow question and then sort of a larger question, public policy question. The narrow question is, since attention was paid to the question about whether or not one can be Jewish and strongly critical of Israel, whether there were any questions that had to do with questioning the validity of the existence of the state of Israel and the kinds of things that David I think spoke about where many of us would think there is the common ground of the fundamental legitimacy of Israel, even among those that are strongly critical. So whether there was any question at all that tested that or went into that. That’s sort of the narrow question. The broader question I have to ask is the survey looks at the idea of Jews by fate versus Jews by faith. In interactions with other communities, the Western norm is that you have a faith or an ethnicity, and I’ve had conversations with partners in other communities sometimes who just can’t wrap their heads around the notion that we’re anything but a faith group, and this has come out oftentimes in dialogues with other religious communities. I wonder if first of all, in the creation of this survey but also in terms of public policy implications, how this plays out, the fact that there is this wave-particle duality to Jewish nature and whether there’s anything that can be extracted from the finding of the reality of that duality in terms of how we’re to interact with other faith groups and ethnic groups, and I guess I would ask that question of either David or Nathan if they have a comment on that.
COOPERMAN: So very quick, thank you, Rich for the good question. A very quick answer is, there’s no direct question that asks Jews about the legitimacy or right of existence of the state of Israel. There are quite a few questions in the survey, some of which could at least by inversion give people an opportunity to suggest that they don’t care about the state of Israel, that they don’t have a strong emotional attachment to it, that U.S. foreign policy is too supportive, etc., etc. There’s a good deal of opportunity for people, if they want to express that side of things, to express it, but no direct question on “Should Israel exist?”
LUGO: But continue your thought on that, insofar as this internal evidence, is there anything in the survey that would lead you at least to suggest that some segments of the Jewish community – let’s say the Ultra-Orthodox or what have you – may be less committed to that?
COOPERMAN: Very certainly. In fact, interestingly on some of these measures, the comparisons between Ultra–Orthodox – or Haredi – and Modern Orthodox do show significant differences, and Nathan was quite right to point out that the numbers of Modern Orthodox, in particular, in the survey are low. I take great pride that we were able to get enough to analyze at all. Just think for a moment that Jews are, roughly speaking, 2% of the U.S. public. So Orthodox Jews are approximately two-tenths of 1% of the U.S. public, and we’ve divided Orthodox Jews into two main groups. There are some difficulties in doing that. The Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox group is composed both of those who said that they are Hasidic and those who said that they are Yeshivish, and those around the table know that there’s sometimes been bad blood between, or sometimes been some divisions between, those two groups, but we’ve put them together for analytical purposes and we do see that among those who identify as either Hasidic or Yeshivish, there is on some questions much lower attachment to Israel than among the Modern Orthodox.
SAPERSTEIN: On the question of essential – is caring for Israel an essential part of being Jewish – the Modern Orthodox 79% say yes and only 45% of the Ultra-Orthodox community say yes.
COOPERMAN: Right. So even with these small sample sizes, that would be a statistically significant difference.
LUGO: Having said that, this is a question we probably want to tackle more directly when we do the Israel survey. Nathan, did you want to comment anything on that particular question then we’ll get to the broader question that Rich asked?
DIAMENT: On which part? I’m sorry.
LUGO: Oh, I’m sorry. He asked the question about attachment to and legitimacy of Israel in the Jewish community.
SAPERSTEIN: Well let me, if I can, he asked a second question.
LUGO: Yes he did.
SAPERSTEIN: This is so helpful in seeing both the faith aspects of this and the cultural and ethnic component of this. This is in dealing with other religious communities often a mystery. Easier with the Muslim community and in the Eastern religions than it is with mainline Protestants, who just don’t get this idea of, “What does it mean that you have all of these people who are not religious but are Jewish?” I’ll often begin when I’m talking, saying, “Hey, snapshot of when we began – ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Assyria. Were they nations? Every one of them was a nation. Were they cultures with their own language, literature, dance, music? They were all cultures. Were they a religion? Every one had their own religion.” The only difference between Jews and those groups is they’ve all died out and we’re the group that has continued unbrokenly since that time, and we’ve always had a national component to our identity and we’ve always had an ethnic and cultural component to our identity. When you say that, it helps snap into place for people in a way that Episcopalians don’t think about themselves – Lutherans or Baptists don’t think about themselves in the same way. I actually think that this poll can be helpful to us in explaining to others in American life exactly who the Jewish people are and the richness of what it means to be a Jew, rather than in terms many of us see it, as part of our challenges, sources of alarm to us to see the diminution of the religious part. At the same time, it represents something that is authentic about Judaism that I think we can explain, helps explain the national identity, too, and why it’s important, for Israel Is it just a political cause – is it a central part for 3,000 years of who we are? This gives us the ability to do that because in those cultural/ethnic things, although you didn’t break it out and at least I don’t think there’s correlation between these numbers, a lot of people, Judaism is purely their Zionism. Not religious stuff, not study, not ritual or worship. They’re included in the ethnic and cultural stuff as well. It’s important to lift that up.
DIAMENT: Just to mention, if I may, the other side of that coin I think for the internal discussion at least from my point of view, is from halakhic point of view, from a Jewish religious point of view, the question of if you don’t keep Shabbat or you do this or that, is that incompatible with you being Jewish? If you’re giving a purely religious, halakhic question, it’s not a question. Yes, you’re definitely Jewish irrespective of whether or not you observe the Sabbath, irrespective of what – again, another sort of head-scratcher for me was, all these Orthodox or more actually in the Ultra-Orthodox camp had a higher number of saying if you did not do some of those things, you are outside the camp. They’re not actually giving an accurate answer under the terms of halakha.
SAPERSTEIN: You can be authentically Jewish and be a sinner on certain things, which may explain why the Jesus thing is even higher amongst Orthodox Jews than Reform Jews. You’re born a Jew, you’re a Jew for the rest of your life.
DIAMENT: You’re a Jew.
SAPERSTEIN: You’re sinning if you join another religion or you syncretize a religious custom from other traditions. Where Reform Jews, I don’t know any Reform Jews who think, “Oh, you can be a Jew and it’s OK,” because we’re not talking halakhically. We’re talking about something existentially and believing in Jesus as the messiah and Judaism is just irreconcilable at the existential level.
COOPERMAN: One quick point. I’ve been asked a number of times by people do we have analogous measures for other religious groups? What percentage of other religious groups think of themselves as associated with that group but not by religion? The short answer to that is no, and I think it would be even very difficult to ask an exactly analogous question, that is, can you imagine on the telephone with someone who’s just told you, in answer to the religion question, that they’re Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, and then say to them, “Well, aside from religion, do you consider yourself Baptist or partially Baptist?” It would be a very odd question. On the other hand, there is a way in which there is an analogous category, and that’s essentially people who are non-practicing but still have an association with a faith, and this has been done. In fact, it’s been done in a survey by the British census bureau. … In Britain, which is a more secularized society than the United States on a number of measures, the way they ask the question is: “What religion are you closest to, even if not practicing?” And then the follow-up question is: “Are you practicing?” One of the really interesting things…
DIAMENT: So our version of that is, “What synagogue do you not go to?” [Laughter]
COOPERMAN: Yes. In Israel, you’ll find a great many people who say, “The synagogue I don’t go to is Orthodox” – a much higher percentage than would say that in the United States. But in the British survey they find the percentage, for example, of Muslims in England who identify with Islam but say they’re not practicing is as high or higher than the percentage of Jews, and the percentage who identify with Christian traditions in England is as high or higher than the percentage of Jews who say that they are Jewish but not practicing.
LUGO: So this is comparable to asking political independents whether they lean Democrat or Republican, I guess, something like that.
SAPERSTEIN: I do think there is a difference between people who are kind of lapsed whatever. They still have primarily a religious identity, whether they consider themselves lapsed or not, as opposed to having like Muslims, who’d be able to say a kind of cultural, ethnic identity component to which I just can’t imagine British Lutherans saying yes to.
ALAN ELSNER, J STREET: I was struck and I think many of us were by the response to this poll by Abraham Foxman. I’m just going to quote here. He said, “You know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care. This is a poll of everybody. Some care. Some don’t care. I think it’s interesting. We need to be aware, but I’m not going to follow this.” That was as reported in the Forward. And my question is, to what extent is this a sensible guiding principle to respond to this poll from your point of view, and to what extent do you think actually in practice that’s what’s going to happen, where you’re going to continue to represent those who “care” and let the rest kind of drift away?
LUGO: That is definitely not a question for Alan Cooperman. It’s a question for these two gentlemen.
DIAMENT: I hate to do this to my dear friend David. It’s much more a question for David than for us because if you look at the data in here on the kinds of issues that are debated, I mean if anything, there are circumstances where on the peace process issues, etc., the Orthodox organizations are not sufficiently representing how right-wing our constituents are. So, over to you, David. [Laughter]
SAPERSTEIN: You know, the way that Abe framed it makes it seem like there are two categories. This group over here and this group over here. No one can read the poll and not understand there is a spectrum, with Jews spread fairly evenly across an enormous spectrum. So I wouldn’t even know – even if you wanted to take his formulation, if you pressed him on it, I’m not exactly sure what he’s saying. Who knows where the dividing point on that spectrum would be for him? Again, I think people move throughout their lives – spiritual questing goes on. We know this from other Pew [Research] data that’s happened. The spiritual questing that goes on in people’s lives. People moving in and out of connection. Another huge question we don’t know, and kind of hard to ask – I guess if I could’ve asked for any question to be asked that wasn’t asked, it would’ve been to the “Nones” here. “If you do not yet have a family, when you do if you have children, do you intend to join a synagogue?” I would love to know the answer to that question, because the norm in most mainline Protestants – again, we know this from Pew [Research] – in most mainline Protestants, you graduate high school, you kind of drop out of organized church life. When you have kids, you come back in. That’s been true with the Reform and Conservative movements; obviously much, much less true with the Orthodox community. And that worked fine for three generations when people got married in their mid-20s and had kids in their late 20s. Now when they’re getting married in their mid-30s and not having kids until their mid- or late 30s, the question of whether or not they can leave that kind of commitment for 20 years and come back in any sizable numbers, what the impact will be is a huge question about American religious life, not just Jewish life, that we don’t really know the answer to. But what we do know is there’s enormous movement. So I think that those institutions speak for large segments of it. I think again, the social justice piece of what we do by what the poll says of the number of people who even say, “Yes, we’re Reform but we’re not involved in this or that or the other thing,” shows we have the ability to reach them. It is an opportunity to us. Whether we succeed or fail depends on the creativity and effectiveness of our efforts about it. I wouldn’t want to follow if Abe’s conclusion is, there used to be a great figure in Jewish life who said this, “Just abandon the ones who don’t count. Let’s build the Judaism of those who are involved,” and I just think that doesn’t represent the reality of religious life in America, and would be a disastrous decision for the Jewish community.
NIR: Another semi-methodological question, that is whether the narrative here, that the lead of the narratives reflects the verbatim question. So I mean for example, the one that has to do with settlements, whether continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts the security of Israel, was that the actual question that was asked or…?
NIR: OK. Thanks.
LUGO: Yes. Sometimes we’re just purposely boring and repetitious precisely because of that.
COOPERMAN: I’ll just add two points about that question wording. One reason why we chose that question wording is that that question has previously been asked in a Pew Research Center survey in Israel, so we could compare American Jews to Israeli Jews on that question. The other thing is that we’re sensitive to building rapport with respondents throughout a survey like this and, effectively, this question allows people to be critical of Israeli policy while not necessarily having an interviewer think, or giving an indication – that might indicate to someone that they have some [existential] problem with Israel.
SAPERSTEIN: One existential dilemma for Israel is to ask the question, looking at this data – 44% think settlement policy hurts Israel’s security, as opposed to 70% that thinks that it does, and all of the other data, 36% believing the Israeli government sincerely wants a peace accord – does there come a point where the policies that are being followed – forget about their merits, forget about their substantive merits – really is in danger of alienating American Jews so much that there will be a move away from that strong engagement for Israel? Again, hard to test that premise from the data as we have it here, but if anything, I think one can argue perhaps not, in the sense that you have this strong or fairly strong commitment to Israel despite having those views, but common sense says at some point the Israeli government has to take that into consideration. If so many American Jews are deeply troubled by policies here, are we driving them away? I think that’s a question there’s no answer to from this poll, but the poll raises that question very dramatically.
NOAH SILVERMAN, REPUBLICAN JEWISH COALITION: I guess on that point, on that very point, I would point to the question about support for Israel – “Is American policy too supportive?” American support for Israel is where the rubber hits the road, and you said that they’re deeply troubled by things like settlement policies, where there’s no measure of intensity here, a question of whether it hurts or helps. When it comes down to, “Do you want American policy to be less supportive than it currently is?” you’re talking about an 11% fringe element that says, “make American policy less supportive.” Overwhelmingly, whatever the misgivings or opinions that we might have if we were citizens of their polity, there’s an 85% overwhelming sentiment that we’re where we should be or should be even stronger in terms of supporting Israel from here.
SAPERSTEIN: We agree with each other. As I said, the snapshot of this actually suggests that it doesn’t. I’m just raising the question of, to what extent does Israel have to think about this in the long run?
SEAN THIBAULT, RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER OF REFORM JUDAISM: My name is Sean, I work with Rabbi Saperstein. My question is about language. You conducted interviews in Russian and English. Did you notice any significant differences in the responses from either community? Another question is, were any interviews or conversations conducted in Farsi, which would be a huge proportion of the community in Southern California, who are not necessarily speaking English at home?
COOPERMAN: No. The survey was conducted primarily in English. Russian-language interviewers were available, and we had a couple of hundred, approximately, interviews in Russian. Interestingly, among people from Russian – from former Soviet Union families – the younger generations, those born in the United States, overwhelmingly chose to have the survey in English. Some of the older ones, not surprisingly, chose to have it in Russian. Partly because those demographics are different, I would be loath to attribute any differences in the characteristics to the language. There are differences between Russian Jews and other Jews on a number of counts. We’ve taken a look at that and I expect that we’re going to publish a follow-on report looking more deeply at that, and I hope also looking separately at first- and second-generation – that is, foreign-born and not foreign-born – Russian Jews, but maybe Greg wants to say something very briefly about the differences between what do we see in the Russian Jewish population compared to Jews as a whole?
GREG SMITH, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Well, we are still in the early stages of taking a look at this, but what has jumped out at us in our initial exploration is that immigrants from the former Soviet Union – that is, adults in the United States today who were born in former Soviet countries – are pretty distinctive in some of the ways that you might think. They tend to be not as well-educated as the Jewish community as a whole, they have lower incomes, they face many of the struggles that you think immigrants as a whole might face. But the data also suggest that the second generation – that is, the children of parents who were born in the former Soviet Union, the grown children of parents who were born in the former Soviet Union – tend to look very much like the Jewish community as a whole. So the distinctiveness only seems to exist in that first generation, people who actually were not born in the United States. By the time they have children, their children come very much to resemble the Jewish community as a whole. Now that’s very preliminary. As Alan said, we are continuing to look into that, but that’s at least what our initial look suggests.
LUGO: I’m sorry. I was just going to ask. Any religious differences that might jump out at this point? Maybe you’re not there in your analysis?
SMITH: No, I don’t remember. We’ve mostly looked at socioeconomics at this point.
COOPERMAN: There are some political and some religious differences, but we need to carefully evaluate the statistical significance of those and look carefully at it. We don’t want to talk off the top of our heads about things like that that are really, I think maybe to a small segment of the population, but very, very important. But in answer to Sean’s question, no, we didn’t do any Farsi-language interviewing, nor did we do Yiddish or Hebrew. We had alerted our interviewers to let us know if they encountered language barriers of any sort, and we were prepared to do whatever was necessary. While there are lots of Jews of Iranian background in the greater Los Angeles area, I would be surprised to know that there’s a very significant proportion of them who could not conduct an interview in English, since most of them came some decades ago. A greater concern that some people have raised is whether in our Orthodox stratum, particularly the interviews that we did in [places like] Monsey, in the greater New York and New Jersey area, whether there were significant numbers of people who couldn’t take the survey because they’re Yiddish-only speakers? We did not hear that from our interviewers. I can’t say it’s not at all possible. I suspect largely the same thing – there are many people who speak Yiddish in their homes. I think especially the men, who work outside the home, generally can conduct a conversation in English. So even more particularly, the question would be Yiddish-speaking women of a certain age, and we don’t see it in our data, but I can’t say it doesn’t exist.
LUGO: We have used Farsi before in one of our surveys. That was the survey of American Muslims. So that one was in four languages, but can I just come back for just one second, and this is beyond the Russian Jews, but on the economic and education indicators, again, the view of most Americans, which is correct, is that the Jewish community is more highly educated, more wealthy than the average in the U.S. But there’s still a segment – not insignificant – of the community that in both education and income falls toward the lower levels of the scale. Give us some sense of that, if you would.
COOPERMAN: Well, 20% of all the Jewish respondents in the survey indicate that their household income is less than $30,000 a year. Now, that is lower than the proportion of the overall American population that indicates that, and furthermore, that group is disproportionately large among people either over the age of 65 or under the age of 30. So it’s unclear to us whether that is actually an indicator of true poverty, or whether some of these are people who are retired and have relatively low income streams but are comfortable, or young people who have relatively low income streams but are also comfortable. So we can’t exactly say that 20% of the Jewish population is, say, impoverished, but 20% does fall at the low end of the income spectrum. Similarly, Jews are more highly educated than the general population by significant margins. Interestingly, the Modern Orthodox have very high levels of education.
SAPERSTEIN: And income levels.
COOPERMAN: Yes, and income levels. And the Haredim, in our numbers, stand out for having lower levels of education. Interestingly, though, we do not find that the Haredim are so much lower in incomes than other Jews, which is something that some people had expected in this. A null finding, if you will.
SAPERSTEIN: I’m curious, Nathan, whether you were surprised by that thread about the highest education levels, highest income levels in the community were the Modern Orthodox. I don’t think that would’ve been the assumption that most…
DIAMENT: I was surprised that they were higher than Reform or Conservative, necessarily. [crosstalk]
COOPERMAN: I should just quickly jump in. You’re saying higher. I’m not sure they’re statistically significantly higher, but nominally higher.
RACHEL LASER, RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER OF REFORM JUDAISM: I couldn’t help but notice that 76% of Jewish women chose leading an ethical life as an essential of Jewish identity, as compared to 61% of Jewish men, and then I saw it a little bit again in working for justice and equality, where 62% of Jewish women chose that, and only 51% of Jewish men, which is very statistically significant and quite large, these point differences. I’m just wondering whether that replicates the way these numbers come down in polls of the general population and what folks make of that.
COOPERMAN: It’s an excellent question, and I’m really glad that you’re calling to people’s attention what I’ll call the expanded battery, expanded table of results on this question, which is really very interesting and I’m flipping quickly to try to tell you all the page.
LASER: Oh, page 57.
COOPERMAN: OK. Great. Thank you very much. There are a few patterns in here that I’ll point out to you that are of interest. Men and women, though the numbers are a little higher for leading an ethical life, the rank order of things is still roughly the same. So I would say that “remembering the Holocaust” and “leading an ethical life” are tied for women, when they’re not quite tied for men. And for the age groups as well, and for most of the educational groups, the rank order in which people say these things are essential is largely the same, again with the one exception of “caring about Israel” being lower for younger Jews. And very dramatically, a lot of differences by stream of Judaism, and so it’s really interesting to see, though not surprising in some respects, how much more important observing Jewish law is to the Orthodox as compared to any of the other groups. Now your question about women in the general public is a tricky one, because we haven’t asked such a battery in the general public. There is, in the [broader] study of religion, there are a number of indicators that women, by and large, tend to be more religious by some key measures than men. They tend to be a little more likely to be affiliated with a religion. They tend, in the United States, to be a little more likely to say that religion is very important in their lives. They tend to be more likely to say that they attend [religious services] on a regular basis, etc. So there are some interesting differences between men and women on religious measures as a whole. I don’t actually know, and it’s an excellent question, whether there’s any social science research that indicates that women as a whole attribute more importance to ethics than men do. David may know.
SAPERSTEIN: They’re higher all the way across on every answer.
SMITH: I actually noticed – I think it’s a great question. I had not previously paid much attention to it, but when you raised it, I looked back on page 51, and there you can see that women are also somewhat more likely than men to say that being Jewish is very important to them.
LASER: Yes, I saw that. Yes.
SMITH: So it could be that if women have a somewhat stronger sense of Jewish identity as a whole, then they might have more things to talk about and to offer as to what’s essential overall, and that may be why you kind of see it across the aboard.
LASER: Or, who knows?
SMITH: Or, who knows? That’s right.
COOPERMAN: I can do a search for you. I would bet that there is some sociological literature on this question.
BARBARA WEINSTEIN, RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER OF REFORM JUDAISM: I was actually going to also ask a gender question, so I’m glad Rachel brought that up. If you could just actually drill down slightly deeper. Was there any difference in the number or percent, etc., of respondents between men and women from more liberal streams versus more traditional streams of Judaism? Can you speak to generally the same number of percentage of women in both across?
COOPERMAN: Yes. This is an interesting question. The data that’s provided in this report is weighted data – other than the N’s – and when we weight, we weight the proportions of men and women to be the same as they are in the general population, or even more specifically, the same as they are in the various strata, the places where we made these phone calls. So in the weighted data, differences in the number of respondents would not show up. Greg may know off the top of his head. Is our N for women slightly greater than our N for men in this survey?
SMITH: Actually, we have that.
COOPERMAN: While Greg is looking for that, I’ll tell you that in general, when you’re doing landline interviews, the population that you get tends to be more female and older. When you do cellphone interviews, it tends to be more male and younger, and in a survey like this where we do both, it tends to somewhat cancel out and we end up with really a pretty good proportion of both. We don’t usually end up with a whole lot more women than men, or vice versa. Greg?
SMITH: I did just take a quick look. We do have a few more women than men in the overall sample. We have about 1,800 women and about 1,700 men, but we haven’t actually looked at – we’ve looked at gender differences on a lot of these questions among Jews as a whole, but we haven’t actually looked very much at gender differences or, for example, age differences within the different denominational streams. I think that that’s potentially a very fruitful avenue for something to look at going forward, but we haven’t done that yet.
DIAMENT: I would just add if I may, I think that also tied back to an earlier point that David made, which is, there’s cutting it by age, and there’s also cutting it by where are you up to in your life? Are you married? Do you have children? Because I think, isn’t there – again, in religion surveys in general – David mentioned it with regard to the Protestants, but in general, people are in a much different place when they’re married and whether they’re married at 25 or married at 35, it’s becoming married and starting to have a family that has a big impact.
SMITH: You do see that. There’s been a lot of attention in responding to the report on differences between intermarried Jews and in-married Jews and appropriately so, but there’s also a lot of big differences between Jews who are married and Jews who are not married.
LUGO: Thank you Nathan Diament, Rabbi Saperstein, my left-hand man Alan Cooperman, and all of you for joining us today.