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.


  1. muti4 years ago

    in my opinion, the study is underestimating the current number of Orthodox. It is showing 600,000 Orthodox Jews (10%), when really there are closer to a million (about 17% out of 6.6 million). So, how did the study get it wrong? Firstly, the sample was randomized. However, due to the concentration of the Orthodox Jews in particular areas, randomization is likely to skew the results away from the Orthodox. (And so, for example, I cannot find a single Orthodox person who was contacted by the survey.)

    In addition, the sample includes many non-halachic Jews, and this increases the sample size and dilutes the Orthodox percentage.

    Furthermore, local community studies show a greater increase in the Orthodox population than the Pew study. The population of Orthodox Jews in the New York area grew by more than 100,000 between 2002 and 2011, according to a survey published in 2012 by UJA-Federation of New York.

    [I have another proof that the results are off. The study showed that 79,200 of the 150,000 Baalei Teshuva came from the unaffiliated, while only 47,520 came from the Conservatives. Yet, experience has taught us that most Baalei Teshuva came through the Conservative movement.]

    It was also pointed out[11] that Jews who attend Chabad and other outreach centers probably were counted wrong. There are 875 Reform synagogues in North America (representing the strongest branch of Judaism) while there are 959 Chabad centers. Jews attending these places often will not define themselves as Orthodox because the definition of Orthodox means fully observant. But really they are Orthodox Mechalalei Shabbat, even though they will be identified as Conservative or Reform. (Such Jews may or may not be official members of a Reform or Conservative community, but their primary attendance will be at the Chabad center.)

    In any case, Orthodoxy is showing a vibrancy that should lead to a significant increase over time. Their birthrates are far more than twice those of other Jews, who clock in at 1.7 children per couple (not all of whom are halachically Jewish), below the replacement level of 2.1. The Orthodox age profile is young (as opposed to Conservative and Reform adults (55 and 54, respectively), and their intergenerational retention rates for the younger age groups are very high.

    This answers a question I was asked about the study. If, as the study shows, we gained 150,000 Baalei Teshuva and lost 350,000 born-Orthodox, should we not put more money into retention than into Kiruv? Retention now is high, as I stated above. (In any case, only a tiny percentage of money is allocated to kiruv compared to the broader Orthodox world. Here is not the time to spell this out. But, just as an example, Lakewood Yeshiva has an operating budget of $35 million a year and a capital campaign budget of another few million; that equals or exceeds the total amount of non-Chabad outreach projects on all the campuses of North America combined.)

  2. nancy4 years ago

    I think the above comments are more interesting and telling than the article itself.

  3. Yuri Lavrenov4 years ago

    Also, isn’t it time to stop believing that the Jews are the chosen people?

    1. Schneir4 years ago

      The “Chosen People” means the Jews chose G”D.

  4. Yuri Lavrenov4 years ago

    Jewish this, Jewish that-when will non-Jewish world stop paying attention to such a tiny fraction of its population? Who cares?

  5. The Truth4 years ago

    It’s a religion not a race of people just like Christianity and any other religion.

  6. B. Beech4 years ago

    all too much time/editorials/press is about Jews/Israelis/American Jewry. A small population in the U.S. has a much larger percentage of attention than any other minority.
    Give us a rest.

    1. yankel4 years ago

      Hi: I’am a Jew first, very happy being so; I don’t care about the % you belong to; but be the best Jew that you have placed your % point at.