August 26, 2015

A Portrait of American Orthodox Jews

A Further Analysis of the 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews

Credit: Alexander Spatari via Getty Images
Credit: Alexander Spatari via Getty Images

One-in-Ten American Jews are OrthodoxAmerican Jews tend to be more highly educated and politically liberal than the U.S. public as a whole, as well as less religiously observant, at least by standard measures such as belief in God and self-reported rates of attendance at religious services. The U.S. Jewish population also is older than the general public and has fewer children.

But within the U.S. Jewish community, one important subgroup clearly does not fit the picture of a relatively secular, liberal-leaning, aging population with small families. Unlike most other American Jews, Orthodox Jews tend to identify as Republicans and take conservative positions on social issues such as homosexuality. On average, they also are more religiously committed and much younger than other U.S. Jews, and they have bigger families.

This report uses data from the 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews to look closely at the Orthodox. Information about Orthodox Jews was scattered throughout the initial survey report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” It has been brought together here and supplemented with additional statistical analysis and more detailed charts and tables.

The 2013 survey found that Orthodox Jews make up about 10% of the estimated 5.3 million Jewish adults (ages 18 and older) in the United States.1 A survey is a snapshot in time that, by itself, cannot show growth in the size of a population. But a variety of demographic measures in the survey suggest that Orthodox Jews probably are growing, both in absolute number and as a percentage of the U.S. Jewish community.

To begin with, the median age of Orthodox adults (40 years old) is fully a decade younger than the median age of other Jewish adults (52). Despite being younger, more than two-thirds of Orthodox adults are married (69%), compared with about half of other Jewish adults (49%), and the Orthodox are much more likely to have minor children living in their household. On average, the Orthodox get married younger and bear at least twice as many children as other Jews (4.1 vs. 1.7 children ever born to adults ages 40-59).2 And they are especially likely to have large families: Among those who have had children, nearly half (48%) of Orthodox Jews have four or more offspring, while just 9% of other Jewish parents have families of that size.

Moreover, nearly all Orthodox Jewish parents (98%) say they are raising their children in the Jewish faith, compared with 78% of other Jewish parents. Orthodox Jews are much more likely than other Jews to have attended a Jewish day school, yeshiva or Jewish summer camp while growing up, and they are also more likely to send their children to these kinds of programs.

If the Orthodox grow as a share of U.S. Jews, they gradually could shift the profile of American Jews in several areas, including religious beliefs and practices, social and political views and demographic characteristics. Generally speaking, people who describe themselves as Orthodox Jews follow traditional interpretations of Jewish law, or halakha, and 79% of the Orthodox say that observing Jewish law is essential to “what being Jewish means” to them, personally; just 13% of other U.S. Jews say the same. On numerous measures of religious belief and practice, Orthodox Jews display higher levels of religious commitment than do other Jews.

Indeed, in a few ways, Orthodox Jews more closely resemble white evangelical Protestants than they resemble other U.S. Jews. For example, similarly large majorities of Orthodox Jews (83%) and white evangelicals (86%) say that religion is very important in their lives, while only about one-fifth of other Jewish Americans (20%) say the same. Roughly three-quarters of both Orthodox Jews (74%) and white evangelicals (75%) report that they attend religious services at least once a month. And eight-in-ten or more Orthodox Jews (84%) and white evangelicals (82%) say that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God – more than twice the share of other American Jews (35%) who express this belief.

Other U.S. Jews lean heavily toward the Democratic Party, but the opposite is true of the Orthodox. As of mid-2013, 57% of Orthodox Jews identified with the Republican Party or said they leaned toward the GOP. Orthodox Jews also tend to express more conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and the size of government; that is, they are more likely than other Jews to say that homosexuality should be discouraged and that they prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a bigger government with more services.

But just as not all Jews are alike, not all Orthodox Jews are the same. The Pew Research Center survey was designed to look at differences within the Jewish community, including between subgroups within Orthodox Judaism. About six-in-ten U.S. Orthodox Jews (62%) are Haredi (sometimes called Ultra-Orthodox) Jews, who tend to view their strict adherence to the Torah’s commandments as largely incompatible with secular society.3 Roughly three-in-ten Orthodox Jews (31%) identify with the Modern Orthodox movement, which follows traditional Jewish law while simultaneously integrating into modern society.4

The rest of this report details some of the key differences both between Orthodox Jewish groups and among Orthodox Jews overall and other American Jews.

Who is a Jew?

The 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews focused primarily on those who fell into two main categories.5 They are:

• Jews by religion – people who say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion)
• Jews of no religion – people who describe themselves (religiously) as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way

Orthodox Jews More Likely to Be Jews by ReligionThese two groups constitute, for the purposes of this analysis, the “net” Jewish population. Virtually all Orthodox Jews (99%) are Jews by religion.

To identify Orthodox Jews, the survey relied on two main questions. The first asked, “Thinking about Jewish religious denominations, do you consider yourself to be Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, something else or no particular denomination?” Those who self-identified as Orthodox were then asked a follow-up question: “Do you consider yourself to be Modern Orthodox, Hasidic, Yeshivish or some other type of Orthodox?” The Haredi (or Ultra-Orthodox) category includes Jews who come from at least two distinct traditions – the Hasidic tradition and the Yeshivish (or “Lithuanian”) tradition.

How Were Today’s Orthodox Jewish Adults Raised?

The initial Pew Research Center report on Jewish Americans included a detailed look at religious switching among U.S. Jews, showing that about half (52%) of Americans who were raised as Orthodox Jews have left Orthodoxy, though most still identify as Jewish.6

This report flips the lens: Among adults who currently identify as Orthodox Jews, how many were raised in the Orthodox tradition? And how many became Orthodox after having been raised as Conservative or Reform Jews, or even as non-Jews?

Seven-in-ten adults who currently identify as Orthodox Jews (70%) were raised as Orthodox. Upwards of one-in-ten Orthodox Jews (12%) say they were brought up in the Conservative movement, and 5% were raised as Reform Jews. An additional 8% say they were raised in the Jewish faith but in some other stream of American Judaism (such as Reconstructionist) or gave other answers, such as saying they were raised in a Sephardic Jewish tradition.

By comparison, the other major streams or denominations of American Judaism have smaller shares of adults who were raised in those movements: 57% of adults who identify as Conservative Jews say they were raised in the Conservative movement, and 55% of Jews who identify as Reform were raised in the Reform movement.

Most Current Orthodox Jews Were Raised Orthodox

Family Structure and Age

Orthodox Jews More Likely to Be Married and to Have a Jewish SpouseCompared with other Jews, Orthodox Jews are much more likely to be married. About seven-in-ten Orthodox Jews ages 18 and older (69%) are married, compared with 49% of other adult Jews. Haredi Jews are largely responsible for this gap; 79% of Haredi adults are married. About half of adults in the Modern Orthodox tradition (52%) are currently married, comparable to the shares of adults in the Conservative (55%) and Reform (52%) traditions.

Nearly all Orthodox Jews who are married have Jewish spouses (98%), while fewer married Conservative and Reform Jews (73% and 50%, respectively) have Jewish spouses.

Orthodox Jews More Likely to Marry at Younger AgeOrthodox Jews not only are more likely to be married, but also are more likely to have gotten married before the age of 25.7 Roughly seven-in-ten currently married Orthodox Jews (68%) in the survey were married by age 24, compared with just 27% of other Jews. And while a quarter of currently married non-Orthodox Jews (24%) got married at age 35 or later, the vast majority of Orthodox Jews were married before age 35.

Orthodox Jews Are Younger Than Other JewsWith a median age of 40 (among adults), Orthodox Jews are younger than other Jews. Roughly a quarter of Orthodox Jewish adults (24%) are between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 17% of Reform Jews and 13% of Conservative Jews. Moreover, only 12% of Orthodox Jews are 65 or older, while among other Jews, almost twice as many (22%) have reached the traditional retirement age.

Again, Haredi Jews stand out; 32% of Haredi adults are between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 9% of the Modern Orthodox. Nearly half of Haredi adults (46%) are in the 30-49 cohort, while only 6% are 65 or older.

Child Rearing

Orthodox Jews Have More Children Than Other JewsOrthodox Jews tend to have more children than other Jews. The 2013 Pew Research report noted that Orthodox Jewish respondents ages 40-59 have had an average of 4.1 children in their lifetime, compared with an average of 1.7 born to all other U.S. Jews in that age group (a measure known as “completed fertility”).

Perhaps as a result of their higher rates of marriage, lower median ages and bigger families, Orthodox Jews also are far more likely to have minor children currently living in their household. About half of Orthodox adults have at least one child at home, and 19% have four children or more in the house. Haredi Jews are much more likely than the Modern Orthodox to have at least four children currently living at home (27% vs. 4%). By contrast, most Conservative and Reform Jews do not currently have any children living in their household (78% and 75%, respectively).

Orthodox Jews More Likely to Have Children Under 18 Living at HomeNearly all Orthodox Jewish parents who have at least one child under the age of 18 living in their household (98%) are raising those children Jewish. And an overwhelming majority of Conservative Jewish parents (93%) and Reform Jewish parents (90%) with at least one child at home say they are raising those children Jewish.

Most Orthodox Parents Enroll Children in Jewish Schools, Youth ProgramsMost Orthodox Jewish parents (81%) have a child enrolled in a Jewish day school or yeshiva, compared with 11% of other Jews. And Orthodox Jews are more than twice as likely as other Jews to enroll their children in some other organized Jewish youth program, such as Jewish day care, nursery school, youth group, day camp or sleepaway camp (69% vs 27%).

While most Orthodox Jews who are raising minor children send those children to full-time Jewish schools or yeshivot, other Jews are more likely than Orthodox Jews to enroll their children in other part-time formal Jewish education programs that typically supplement a largely secular education, such as Hebrew school, congregational school or Sunday school (24% vs. 16%).

Childhood Involvement in Jewish Activities

Most Orthodox Adults Participated in Jewish Activities When They Were ChildrenAmong adults, far more Orthodox Jews attended a yeshiva or Jewish day school when they were children than did other Jews. Roughly three-quarters of Orthodox Jews (73%) say they attended a full-time Jewish school when they were growing up, compared with 17% of other Jews.

By contrast, Orthodox Jews are significantly less likely to have participated in the kind of part-time Jewish programs that typically supplement a largely secular education, such as Hebrew school or Sunday school, when they were children.

Upwards of seven-in-ten Orthodox Jewish adults (72%) say that they became a bar or bat mitzvah when they were young, compared with 48% of other Jews.8 And 74% of Orthodox Jews attended an overnight Jewish summer camp while growing up; among other Jews, 34% went to such a camp.

Haredi Jews are significantly more likely than Modern Orthodox Jews to report attending Jewish day school, becoming a bar/bat mitzvah or attending overnight Jewish summer camp, although majorities of adults in both groups say they had these experiences when they were children.

Socioeconomic Status

Orthodox Jews Receive Less Formal Secular Education Than Conservative, Reform JewsOrthodox Jews – especially Haredi Jews – tend to receive less formal, secular education than do other Jews. A third of Orthodox Jewish adults have a high school education or less, compared with just 15% of other Jews. And 30% of both Conservative and Reform Jews have post-graduate university degrees, compared with 17% of Orthodox Jews.

Orthodox Jews as Likely as Other Jews to Earn $150,000 or MoreHowever, in terms of secular education, Modern Orthodox Jews are more similar to Conservative and Reform Jews than they are to Haredi Jews. Three-in-ten Modern Orthodox Jews (29%) have post-graduate degrees, and an additional 36% have bachelor’s degrees; among Haredi Jews, just 10% have post-graduate degrees, and an additional 15% have bachelor’s degrees.

There are only modest differences among Jewish denominations when it comes to annual incomes. Haredi Jews are just as likely as Jews overall to report having household incomes of $150,000 or more per year, and an especially large share of Modern Orthodox Jews make $150,000 or more (37%).9

Geographic Distribution

Majority of Orthodox Jews Live in the NortheastAn overwhelming majority of American Haredi Jews (89%) live in the Northeast region of the country, including New York and New Jersey. Most Modern Orthodox Jews (61%) also live in the Northeast, although roughly a third live in either the South (20%) or the West (12%).

Other Jews, while still more heavily concentrated in the Northeast than the U.S. general public, are more evenly distributed across the country than Orthodox Jews. The Northeast is home to the biggest shares of Conservative (43%) and Reform (36%) Jews, but roughly three-in-ten members of each group live in the South (including Florida), and about one-in-five Conservative and Reform Jews live in the West.

Jewish Friendship Networks

Nearly All Haredi Jews Say All/Most of Their Friends Are JewishOrthodox Jews, especially Haredi Jews, tend to have close circles of friends consisting mostly or entirely of other Jews. This is less common among Conservative and Reform Jews.

About eight-in-ten Orthodox Jews (84%) say that all or most of their friends are Jewish. By comparison, among other Jews, about a quarter (27%) say the same.

A majority of non-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. say that at least some of their friends are Jewish, but 23% say that hardly any or none of their friends are Jewish. That is in stark contrast with the 1% of Haredi Jews and 4% of Modern Orthodox Jews who report that hardly any or none of their friends are Jewish.

Sense of Belonging and Importance of Religion

Being Jewish Is Very Important to Most Orthodox JewsVirtually all Orthodox Jews in the survey say they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, while 73% of other Jews say the same. Similarly, more Orthodox Jews than other Jews say that being Jewish is very important to them and that they have a special responsibility to care for Jews in need.

Followers of the major streams or denominations within U.S. Judaism are more similar when it comes to Jewish pride. Overwhelming majorities of both Orthodox Jews (98%) and other Jews (94%) say they are proud to be Jewish.

There are, at most, only modest differences between Modern Orthodox Jews and Haredi Jews on these measures of Jewish identity and belonging. Among members of both groups, big majorities say that they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, that being Jewish is very important to them, that they have a special responsibility to care for Jews in need and that they are proud to be Jewish.

Religion Central to Lives of Most Orthodox JewsThe 2013 survey finds that religion plays a far greater role in the lives of Orthodox Jews than it does for other Jews. About eight-in-ten Orthodox Jews (83%) say religion is very important to them, compared with 20% of other Jews. Around the same time period, 56% of Americans overall said religion is very important in their life.

On this question, Orthodox Jews look more like white evangelical Protestants – one of the most religiously committed major U.S. Christian groups – than like other Jews. Fully 86% of white evangelicals say religion is very important in their life.10

Most Orthodox Jews say that being Jewish is either mainly a matter of religion (46%) or a matter of religion as well as of ancestry and/or culture (38%). A majority of other Jews say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture (67%); only 11% say it is mainly a matter of religion.

Most Orthodox Jews Think Being Jewish Is a Matter of Religion

Beliefs and Practices

Orthodox Jews are more likely than other Jews to believe in God with absolute certainty and participate in various Jewish religious practices. For example, 89% of Orthodox Jews (including 96% of the Haredi) say they are certain in their belief in God, compared with 41% of Conservative Jews and 29% of Reform Jews. (Many Conservative and Reform Jews believe in God, but with less certainty.) And most Orthodox Jews (62%) report that they attend religious services at least weekly, compared with just 6% of other Jews.11

Again, by these measures, Orthodox Jews are similar to white evangelical Protestants. For example, 93% of white evangelical Protestants believe in God with absolute certainty and 61% attend religious services weekly or more often.12

Orthodox Jews are almost twice as likely as other Jewish adults to say they fasted for all or part of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in 2012 (95% vs 49%). And they are more than four times as likely as other Jews to participate in such religious practices as regularly lighting Sabbath candles, keeping a kosher home and avoiding handling money on the Sabbath.13 The gap between Orthodox Jews and other Jews narrows somewhat when it comes to Passover – virtually all Orthodox Jews (99%) attended a seder during the Passover previous to when the survey was conducted in 2013, compared with 66% of other Jews.14

While Modern Orthodox and Haredi Jews are largely similar in their high levels of observance, lighting Sabbath candles and keeping kosher are more universal practices in Haredi homes.

Orthodox Jews Much More Observant of Jewish Rituals

Connection With and Attitudes Toward Israel

The survey finds that 61% of Orthodox Jews say they are very emotionally attached to Israel, whereas 27% of other Jews say the same. And there are significant differences between Modern Orthodox Jews and Haredi Jews on views toward Israel. Broadly speaking, Modern Orthodox Jews display stronger attachment to Israel; they are more likely than Haredi Jews to say that they are very emotionally attached to Israel (77% vs. 55%), that caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish (79% vs. 45%) and that the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (64% vs. 48%).15

The 2013 survey also asked several questions about the Middle East peace process. It is important to bear in mind that opinions on this topic may have shifted since the survey was conducted due to events in the region (including the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict and recent Israeli elections). As of 2013, however, there were significant differences between Orthodox Jews and other Jews in attitudes toward the prospects for peace. For example, Orthodox Jews were less than half as likely as other Jews to say that Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully. Non-Orthodox Jews also were much more likely than Orthodox Jews to say that building Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security (47% vs. 16%).

Again, the survey found differing viewpoints within Orthodox Judaism. Roughly three-quarters of Modern Orthodox Jews (73%) said in 2013 that the Israeli government was making a sincere effort to reach a peace settlement, compared with 53% of Haredi Jews who said the same.

Orthodox Jews Have Strong Connection With Israel

Social and Political Attitudes

Compared with other U.S. Jews, Orthodox Jews are far more socially and politically conservative. When the survey was conducted in 2013, 57% of Orthodox Jews said they identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party. By contrast, just 18% of other Jews identified with or leaned toward the GOP. Orthodox Jews were also much more likely than other Jews to self-identify as politically conservative (54% vs. 16%).

As on some measures of religious belief and observance, when it comes to political attitudes, Orthodox Jews resemble U.S. white evangelical Protestants. For example, 66% of white evangelical Protestants identified as or leaned Republican as of 2013, and 62% are politically conservative.16

About six-in-ten Orthodox Jews (58%) say they would prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services over a bigger government providing more services, compared with 36% of other Jews who take the same position. Orthodox Jews also are far more likely than other Jews to say that homosexuality should be discouraged by society, with more Haredi Jews (70%) than Modern Orthodox Jews (38%) saying this.

Politically, Orthodox Jews Are More Conservative Than Other Jews

  1. The estimate of the size of the adult Jewish population depends on the definition of who is Jewish. See Chapter 1 of “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” for a discussion of various possible definitions of Jewishness and for figures on various estimates.
  2. The median age of marriage is based on current, intact marriages. It is not necessarily the age of first marriage because it does not account for divorce or the number of times respondents have been married. The share of divorced respondents is comparable across all Jewish denominations, roughly 8%-11%.
  3. See Cohen, Steven M. and Jacob B. Ukeles and Ron Miller. 2012. Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011. UJA Federation of New York. http://d4ovttrzyow8g.cloudfront.net/494344.pdf, pages 211-224. See also Waxman, Chaim I. 1998. “The Haredization of American Orthodox Jewry.” Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints. http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/downloadPublication.cfm?PublicationID=2373.
  4. See Berman, Saul J. 2001. “The Ideology of Modern Orthodoxy.” Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas. http://shma.com/2001/02/the-ideology-of-modern-orthodoxy/.
  5. See “Who is a Jew” sidebar from Pew Research Center’s 2013 report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” for more details as to how researchers categorized respondents when analyzing the survey data.
  6. It appears, however, there has been less switching out of Orthodox Judaism among younger adults. Among Americans raised as Orthodox Jews, 83% of those ages 18-29 are still Orthodox Jews, compared with just 22% of those 65 and older. Some experts believe that this gap is explained in part by a “period effect” (i.e., a surge in switching away from Orthodox Judaism from the 1950s to the 1970s, followed by higher retention within Orthodox Judaism in recent decades), as explained in the Jewish Identity chapter of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”
  7. Age of marriage is based on current, intact marriages. It is not necessarily the age of first marriage because it does not account for divorce or the number of times respondents have been married.
  8. Among Orthodox Jews, men and women do not have bar/bat mitzvahs at equal rates. An overwhelming majority of Orthodox men (93%) report having undergone this rite of passage, compared with 52% of Orthodox women.
  9. It should be noted that the survey asked about household, rather than individual, incomes. It is possible that larger household sizes among Haredi Jews could contribute to higher reported incomes.
  10. Data on white evangelical Protestants come from a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 21-April 8, 2013.
  11. Among Orthodox Jews, men and women do not attend religious services at equal rates. Nearly three-quarters of Orthodox men (73%) report attending synagogue weekly, compared with 50% of Orthodox women.
  12. Data on belief in God among white evangelical Protestants come from a Pew Research Center survey conducted June 28-July 9, 2012. Data on religious service attendance among white evangelical Protestants come from aggregated data from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center between February and June of 2013.
  13. The Pew Research Center’s question about handling money on the Sabbath was taken from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, which found that 81% of Orthodox Jews said they refrain from handling money on the Sabbath. However, the wording of the question – “Do you personally refrain from handling or spending money on the Jewish Sabbath?” – may have been confusing to some respondents because of a double negative: A “no” answer means the respondent does not refrain from handling money on the Sabbath. It is possible that in both the 2000-2001 NJPS and the 2013 Pew Research survey, some respondents (particularly those with limited English-language ability) may have answered “no” when they really meant to indicate that they do not handle money on the Sabbath.
  14. Some researchers suggest that non-Orthodox Jews participate in Passover at higher rates than other Jewish observances because they see the Passover seder as a sentimental, or even secular, family gathering rather than a religious obligation. For example, see Pleck, Elizabeth H. 2000. “Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals.” Harvard University Press, pages 95-116.
  15. The differences between Haredi and Modern Orthodox Jews may reflect the ambivalence that some Haredi Jews have felt about the state of Israel ever since its establishment. Some opposed the formal creation of a Jewish state before the arrival of the messiah. Modern Orthodox Jews, in contrast, integrated support for a Jewish state with their religious beliefs, seeing the formation of Israel as the beginning of religious redemption for the Jewish people.
  16. The figures for white evangelical Protestants come from aggregated data from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center between February and June of 2013.