Another Pew overview of the great split among American Jews.
Overall, about a quarter of U.S. Jewish adults (27%) do not identify with the Jewish religion: They consider themselves to be Jewish ethnically, culturally or by family background and have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, but they answer a question about their current religion by describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rather than as Jewish. Among Jewish adults under 30, four-in-ten describe themselves this way.
This fits the general trend that’s happening in the United States. As I’ve already noted, a majority of white Democrats are, for the first time, non-Christian. America is becoming less religious and the youngest generations are the least religious.
On the other hand…
“…younger Jewish adults are much more likely than older Jews to identify as Orthodox. Among Jews ages 18 to 29, 17% self-identify as Orthodox, compared with just 3% of Jews 65 and older. And fully one-in-ten U.S. Jewish adults under the age of 30 are Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox (11%), compared with 1% of Jews 65 and older.”
So we’ve got a great split forming with very little middle ground. And that also fits the current cultural state of play in America.
American Jews, like all Americans, are dividing into irreconcilable groups with militant atheists on the one hand whose idea of being Jewish is social justice and highly conservative biblical literalists and social conservatives on the other.
Their views on America and Israel follow naturally from that.
Among Jews of no religion, roughly three-quarters were Democrats or leaned that way. But Orthodox Jews have been trending in the opposite direction, becoming as solidly Republican as non-Orthodox Jews are solidly Democratic. In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, 75% of Orthodox Jews said they were Republicans or leaned Republican, compared with 57% in 2013.
This also matches the split in America with religious people increasingly consolidating as Republicans.
American Jews are subject to the same cultural forces that are transforming America. And they’re a microcosm of those forces.
Any kind of middle ground is falling away leaving a sharp split between groups that have nothing in common despite their common origins. And so you’ve got the INNers supporting Hamas on social media and you’ve got Jews voting for Trump and supporting Israel.
Seven-in-ten or more U.S. Jews say that remembering the Holocaust (76%) and leading a moral and ethical life (72%) are essential to their Jewish identity. About half or more also say that working for justice and equality in society (59%), being intellectually curious (56%) and continuing family traditions (51%) are essential. Far fewer consider eating traditional Jewish foods (20%) and observing Jewish law (15%) to be essential elements of what being Jewish means to them, personally. However, the observance of halakha – Jewish law – is particularly important to Orthodox Jews, 83% of whom deem it essential.
That’s the definitional crackup in a nutshell with politics replacing religion. Literally.
The question about future grandchildren captures one element of this divergence. Three-in-ten Jewish adults under the age of 30 (31%) say it would be “not at all” important for their future grandchildren to be Jewish, which is significantly higher than the share who say this in any other age group. At the same time, 32% of the youngest Jewish adults say it would be “very important” for their grandchildren to be Jewish, which is on par with the share who say the same among older age groups. Among the Orthodox, 91% say it is very important for their grandchildren to be Jewish, compared with 4% among Jews of no religion.
Between 60% and 74% say it’s important for their grandchildren to “share political convictions.” That’s what happens when religion goes away and politics becomes religion.