Marriage trends, political views undermining the notion of a unified American Jewish identity

May 27, 2021

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


The notion of a united Jewish American community bound together by common beliefs has been eroded by rising interfaith marriages and a growing divide between religious and nonreligious Jews.

That is one of the main themes that emerges from a recent Pew Research Center survey, the first since 2013, that provides an up-to-date portrait of the American Jewish community, including its beliefs, practices, marital patterns, racial and ethnic makeup and political views.

The American Jewish community, it found, comprises 7.5 million Jews, or 2.4% of the U.S. population. The survey headlined four central findings of special interest: American Jews are culturally engaged, increasingly diverse, politically polarized and worried about anti-Semitism. As a scholar of American Jewish history, I was most interested in how much the survey reveals about changes in the American Jewish community.

Jonathan Woocher posited that despite the many religious and other differences that divided American Jews from one another, there were a series of beliefs that the vast majority considered sacred and inviolable. Among these major tenets common to religious and nonreligious Jews alike he listed “unity of the Jewish people,” “mutual responsibility,” “the centrality of the state of Israel” and “Jewish survival.” These core beliefs, he argued, bound Jews together.

Not one of these beliefs, according to the new Pew survey, continues to unite American Jews today. Although the survey does not explain this change, it hints that intermarriage, which it defines as the presence within the Jewish community of a rising number of what it calls “non-Jewish spouses,” is a big part of the change. Fully 72% of non-Orthodox Jews who have married since 2010 describe their spouses as being “non-Jewish.”

A large majority – 68% – of “Jews by religion” have Jewish spouses. But an even larger majority – 79% – of “Jews of no religion,” which represents about a third of the American Jewish community, have non-Jewish spouses. Among Jews under 50, according to the survey, “two sharply divergent expressions of Jewishness appear to be gaining ground – one involving religion deeply enmeshed in every aspect of life, and the other involving little or no religion at all.”

That, I argue, helps to explain why the “civil religion” that once united American Jews has largely disappeared. The chasms illuminated by the Pew survey between religious Jews and nonreligious ones, and between Jews who have married within their faith and those who have not, increasingly divide Jews once brought together by a common set of beliefs.

Read the entire piece at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Jul. 01, 2021