Politics, religion and Pew


Everyone knows that in order to keep peace in polite company, religion and politics should be avoided. But the two are intertwined in the Pew Research Center’s new report, “Jewish Americans in 2020.” One finding even suggests that, among Jews, politics is becoming the new religion, as a majority of Jews said it is more important for future grandchildren to share their political convictions than to marry someone who is Jewish.

Despite that jolt, the new study mostly refines the conclusions of Pew’s earthshaking 2013 study that brought to the Jewish world the concept of “Jews of no religion” and established that more Jews (73%) say that remembering the Holocaust is more important to being a Jew in America than observing religious law or any other factor.

Among the significant takeaways from the study is that Orthodox Jews are growing as a percentage of American Jewry, and that they are growing apart from the rest of the Jewish community. One sign of that divergence is the Orthodox community’s increasing support for the Republican Party.

Historian Tevi Troy posits that based upon the results of the Pew study, the mystery of why Jews “live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans” — which is to say that Jews are generally wealthy but identify with groups who have attained far less of the American dream — has been solved, since the study “shows that secular Jews vote like other secular, highly educated, and urbanized populations” — Democratic. But the new mystery, according to Troy, is why Orthodox Jews, who live primarily in blue states in proximity to liberal Jews, “live near hipsters but vote like Mormons.”

Pew calls these changes “religious divergence.” Jews ages 18-29 have the highest share (17%) identifying as Orthodox of any age group, as well as the highest share (40%) identifying as Jews of no religion — a seeming movement in that age bracket to the edges of Jewish identity.

At the same time, the Jewish community has become more diverse and more accepting of Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews and intermarried families. And in the area of intermarried families (with numbers continuing to rise among non-Orthodox communities), there are some interesting findings. For example, if Jewish babies is your goal, Pew reports that nearly all in-married Jewish couples are raising their children as Jews. But, at the same time, the fear that children of intermarriage are lost to the Jewish people appears to be less of a concern. Pew found that more than two-thirds of children of intermarriages are being raised with some Jewish identity, ranging from a fully Jewish upbringing to “partly Jewish.”

Pew found 7.5 million Jewish adults and children in the U.S., up from 6.8 million in 2013. Some are already contesting that number. But no matter what our numbers, the report shows that the Jewish community was right to leap into a period of introspection and experimentation after the explosive results of Pew’s 2013 study. We need to do the same thing in reaction to this year’s results.

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