2014 Religious Trends
Continuing the Jewish Tradition by Enhancing the Welcome
Editors' Note:This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Jewish community here.
In autumn 2013 the Pew Charitable Trust issued a comprehensive research report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, that generated wide coverage in the press and both worry and affirmation among different segments of the Jewish community.
Key headlines of A Portrait of Jewish Americans were that there is a major trend toward secularism among Jews, especially young Jews; that there continues to be a lot of intermarriage; that intermarriage and secularism are related; and that this all leads to less Jewish engagement and fewer children raised as Jews.
The Pew Report does make it abundantly clear that there is a huge amount of intermarriage: 44 percent of all married Jews are intermarried; 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews who married from 2000-2013 intermarried; 1.3 million adult U.S. Jews (25 percent of all adult Jews, 48 percent of Jews born after 1980) have one Jewish parent; 1.8 million children live in households with one Jewish adult.
In our view, the Pew Report's emphasis on secularism and its relationship to intermarriage is questionably based on survey questions about religion that lent themselves to unclear answers. It is not fair to tar the intermarried with the brush of secularism/not-religiosity; they are not less spiritual, or less interested in a relationship with the sublime, or less responsive to meaningful supportive ritual at times of sadness and of joy. Young Jews and interfaith couples are experiencing and interested in that call, but there is a split between spirituality and religion such that current forms of Jewish religious expression may not be satisfying their spiritual interests.
The Pew Report found that 61 percent of intermarried families are raising their children with some Judaism (compared to 96 percent of inmarried who say they are raising their children Jewish by religion); 20 percent Jewish by religion; 25 percent partly Jewish by religion and "partly something else"; 16 percent Jewish but not by religion or "mixed"; 37 percent not Jewish at all.
There is also now data on how the adult children of intermarriage actually turned out: the percentage of adults with intermarried parents who identify as Jewish has steadily increased, from 25 percent in the Jews who are now 65-and-older group, to 37 percent in the 50-64 age group, to 39 percent in the 30-49 group, to 59 percent in the 18-29 group.
A key challenge is what intermarried parents currently raising children are going to do, in particular around Jewish education for children of intermarried families. The Pew Report says only about 22 percent of interfaith families have their children involved in formal Jewish programs (compared to 82 percent of inmarried, four times as much), whether that is yeshiva or day school (5 percent), religious school education (13 percent), or Jewish day care or sleep-away camps (14 percent).
The Pew Report also shows that intermarried Jews have fewer Jewish friends and practice fewer Jewish behaviors than inmarried Jews: less attendance at synagogue services, participation in seders, fasting on Yom Kippur, lighting Shabbat candles, belonging to a synagogue, donating to Jewish organizations.
Edmund Case is the founder and CEO of InterfaithFamily. He is a graduate of Yale (1972) and Harvard Law School (1975), practiced law for twenty-two years, and served as president of his synagogue. He graduated from the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University in 1999 and is co-editor of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook (Jewish Lights). His proudest professional accomplishment is the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, a growing national network of comprehensive services and programs for interfaith families in local communities, with staff now operating in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston, and coming soon to Atlanta and Los Angeles.