Pew Research has a new study on Jews in America, polling their attitudes on jewish identiy among other things.
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, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.
While the Pew study makes much of the increased secularism among American jews, what’s more interesting is the seemingly correlative increase in non-religious jewish identity, or what we would call jewish ethnocentrism.
The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.
The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.
This shift in Jewish self-identification reflects broader changes in the U.S. public. Americans as a whole – not just Jews – increasingly eschew any religious affiliation. Indeed, the share of U.S. Jews who say they have no religion (22%) is similar to the share of religious “nones” in the general public (20%), and religious disaffiliation is as common among all U.S. adults ages 18-29 as among Jewish Millennials (32% of each).
Secularism has a long tradition in Jewish life in America, and most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.
Counterfactuals to my impromptu thesis include:
Compared with Jews by religion, however, Jews of no religion (also commonly called secular or cultural Jews) are not only less religious but also much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish. More than 90% of Jews by religion who are currently raising minor children in their home say they are raising those children Jewish or partially Jewish. In stark contrast, the survey finds that two-thirds of Jews of no religion say they are not raising their children Jewish or partially Jewish – either by religion or aside from religion.
And there is the degree of increasing jewish exogamy:
Intermarriage is a related phenomenon. It is much more common among secular Jews in the survey than among Jews by religion: 79% of married Jews of no religion have a spouse who is not Jewish, compared with 36% among Jews by religion. And intermarried Jews, like Jews of no religion, are much less likely to be raising their children in the Jewish faith. Nearly all Jews who have a Jewish spouse say they are raising their children as Jewish by religion (96%). Among Jews with a non-Jewish spouse, however, 20% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion, and 25% are raising their children partly Jewish by religion. Roughly one-third (37%) of intermarried Jews who are raising children say they are not raising those children Jewish at all.
Moreover, intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades. Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse. Among those who got married in the 1980s, roughly four-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse. And among Jews who got married before 1970, just 17% have a non-Jewish spouse.
Of particular significance to MacDonald’s thesis (and Nietzsche’s, for that matter) is the still-lingering legacy of jewish ethnocentrism’s historical embrace of universalistic ideologies:
A key aim of the Pew Research Center survey is to explore Jewish identity: What does being Jewish mean in America today? Large majorities of U.S. Jews say that remembering the Holocaust (73%) and leading an ethical life (69%) are essential to their sense of Jewishness. More than half (56%) say that working for justice and equality is essential to what being Jewish means to them. And about four-in-ten say that caring about Israel (43%) and having a good sense of humor (42%) are essential to their Jewish identity.
And, buttressing MacDonald’s thesis of jewish ethnocentrism having long been ‘at war’ against Christianity (as a natural, historical vehicle of white identity), particularly the Protestant character of England and early America, is this most interesting finding:
[M]ost Jews say a person can be Jewish even if that person works on the Sabbath or does not believe in God. Believing in Jesus, however, is enough to place one beyond the pale: 60% of U.S. Jews say a person cannot be Jewish if he or she believes Jesus was the messiah.
American jews are significantly more secular than America as a whole:
By several conventional measures, Jews tend to be less religious than the U.S. public as a whole… And just 26% of U.S. Jews say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% of the general public. (Orthodox Jews are a clear exception in this regard, exhibiting levels of religious commitment that place them among the most religiously committed groups in the country.) But while relatively few Jews attach high importance to religion, far more (46%) say being Jewish is very important to them.
Consider how it came to be that 3% of the general American population sit at the top of media, culture-production, and academia, foisting constant ridicule upon (and otherwise antagonizing through targeted jurisprudence, legislation, and harassment) Christianity.
Finally, the following sociological facts — the jew as an urban soul, not a volkish ‘man of the land’, and jewish liberalism — pack a wallop when seen through the lens of MacDonald or through Yuri Slezkine’s book The Jewish Century:
- Jews are heavily concentrated in certain geographic regions: 43% live in the Northeast, compared with 18% of the public as a whole. Roughly a quarter of Jews reside in the South (23%) and in the West (23%), while 11% live in the Midwest. Half of Jews (49%) reside in urban areas and a similar number (47%) reside in the suburbs; just 4% of Jews reside in rural areas.
- As a whole, Jews support the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by more than three-to-one: 70% say they are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 22% are Republicans or lean Republican. Among Orthodox Jews, however, the balance tilts in the other direction: 57% are Republican or lean Republican, and 36% are Democrats or lean Democratic.