October 7, 2013

‘You don’t have to be Jewish…’

“You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” rye bread, as the famous ’60s ad campaign proclaimed. And you don’t have to be Jewish to feel a strong connection with the U.S. Jewish community.

A major new Pew Research Center survey of American Jews includes an analysis of the views and characteristics of non-Jewish people with a “Jewish affinity.” This group includes those who identify with a religion other than Judaism (in most cases Christianity) and have no direct Jewish ancestry, but who nevertheless consider themselves to be Jewish in some way. This group represents 0.5% of U.S. adults, or about 1.2 million people.

FT_jewish-affinitySix-in-ten of those in the Jewish-affinity category say they think of themselves as Jewish for religious reasons, including 31% who say they are Jewish because Jesus was Jewish. Smaller portions consider themselves Jewish because they observe Jewish practices and holidays (6%) or have shared beliefs and values (4%).

About a quarter of those in the Jewish-affinity category say they consider themselves Jewish because of an ancestral or familial connection. This includes 9% who say they have a Jewish spouse, 7% who say they are ethnically or culturally Jewish, and 5% who volunteer that they have a Jewish grandparent.

People of Jewish affinity are almost as likely as U.S. Jews to say they feel very emotionally attached to Israel (26% vs. 30%). And they are somewhat more likely than Jews to say that the United States is not sufficiently supportive of Israel (41% vs. 31%).

But compared with people who say they are Jewish by religion, those of Jewish affinity are far less involved with Jewish institutions. Relatively few live in a household where someone belongs to a synagogue (4%) or another Jewish organization (7%). While these levels of organizational involvement roughly match those seen among secular Jews, they pale in comparison with those of Jews by religion.

One-in-four people in the Jewish-affinity group say they contributed to a Jewish charity in 2012. By contrast, two-thirds of Jews by religion donated to a Jewish charity last year, as did one-in-five secular Jews.

When it comes to their political attitudes, those with a Jewish affinity are more conservative and Republican than either secular or religious Jews. 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.

By contrast, the Jewish affinity group is evenly split politically, with 42% saying they are Republican or Republican leaning and 41% saying they are Democratic or Democratic leaning. Four-in-ten people in the affinity group describe themselves as politically conservative, compared with only 19% of Jews.

Topics: Jews and Judaism

  1. is Associate Director, Editorial at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

  2. Photo of Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.