Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Pew Survey Shows Major Change in Jewish Identity

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2013

The first major survey of American Jews in more than ten years finds a  
significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are  
not raising their children Jewish. When it comes to Israel 48 percent of those  
polled don’t think Israel is making a sincere attempt to make peace. A quarter  
of all Jews ages 18-29 believe that U.S. is too supportive of Israel.  
The percentage of Jews who identify as Jewish solely by culture or ancestry  
rather religion has jumped from 7 percent to 22 percent since 2000. So many Jews  
feel strongly about their identity as Jews but don’t define themselves as “by  
religion” that Pew started using the academic term “Jews of no religion.” Thirty  
four percent said you could still be Jewish if you believe that Jesus was the  
Messiah. The intermarriage rate has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews  
and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews.  
The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, found  
that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews  
said they are proud to be Jewish and have “a strong sense of belonging to the  
Jewish people.”  
According to the Washington Post (Oct. 1, 2013), “In most areas, young Jews and  
older ones were similar. The largest gap between young and old was about caring  
about Israel. Among those 65 and older, 53 percent said caring about Israel is  
essential to being Jewish. Among Jews younger than 30, 32 percent feel this way  
… The organized Jewish community has been very concerned about whether Jews are  
maintaining their connection to Israel and the poll will further stir debate.”  
Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College and  
a consultant to the Pew poll, says, “Younger Jews are considerably less  
supportive of Israel’s policies and less supportive of Israel and the  
differences are very large. I think we’re seeing a shift, not just a gap.”  
The lead article in the November 2013 Commentary, discussing the Pew Study,  
seems to lament that a lack of anti-Semitism in America is not keeping Jews  
within the group. The cover headline: “Loving Us To Death: How America’s Embrace  
Is Imperiling American Jewry.”  
Author Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor for Commentary, notes that, “...the  
acceptance of Jews at every level of American life might be the ultimate proof  
of American exceptionalism. America is not insisting in any way that Jews  
assimilate, give up religious practice, or do anything differently. It is Jews  
themselves who are choosing this path.”  
Discussing the Pew study in The Forward (Oct. 26, 2013), Rebecca Vilkomerson,  
executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, writes: “The irony here is a  
subset of Jewish Americans who are in fact strongly connected by every measure  
to Jewish life, but are being actively pushed out of it. Let’s take my own story  
as a case study. I was raised in a Conservative synagogue. I grew up to marry an  
Israeli and lived in Israel for three years. I belong to a synagogue … and I am  
actively raising my children Jewishly … But part of my Jewish identity … has  
always been political activism and has ranged from economic justice to fighting  
for an Israel that would value the equality, dignity, freedom and security of  
all people in the region, Israeli and Palestinian. Because of these views, I and  
others like me, are being shut out by the self-appointed leaders of the Jewish  
community — solely because our political perspective on Israel and Palestine  
falls outside the acceptable parameters they have unilaterally decided on.”  
Vilkomerson notes that, “This voluntary jettisoning of politically engaged Jews  
is creating a huge loss to the Jewish community, one it can ill afford. Over and  
over again, I have seen how betrayed young people feel when the same Jewish  
community that nurtured them and taught them values such as justice and tikkun  
olam, rejects them when they apply those principles to Israel and the  
Palestinians … Jewish leaders are claiming to speak for a community that doesn’t  
agree with them … Any organization that cares about Jewish continuity needs to  
understand that for a growing number of us, holding Israel to a standard of  
equality, justice and security for everyone — whether Jewish or Palestinian — is  
one of the most important ways of expressing our Jewish values … It is time to  
end the litmus test on Israel.”  
The evidence that established Jewish organizations do not represent the men and  
women in whose name they speak is made abundantly clear by the Pew research,  
particularly with regard to the confusion of religion and politics with regard  
to Israel.  
Prof. Marc Ellis, author and theologian, writes (Mondoweiss, Oct. 19, 2013):  
“Take every survey you want. Multiply them until the end of time. The reason for  
Jews going out is because the Jewish establishment can’t stretch beyond empire.  
This is the fundamental flaw inside the establishment. It’s been there for a  
long, long time. Mainstream Judaism is the wrong turn we have to declare our  
freedom from. The surveys tell us that is exactly what Jews do. … The surveys  
don’t poll conscience. They don’t survey those who leave because the system is  
so hypocritical there’s no way to remain and retain your ethical sanity.” •

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.