The results of Philadelphia’s latest Jewish population study were released almost four years ago, prompting alarm bells about the high level of intermarriage and low level of affiliation among young adults in particular.
But the results of the 2009 “Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia” — released in January 2010 — were less alarming than the data contained in a new national survey of the American Jewish population undertaken by the Pew Research Center.
The two surveys asked similar questions regarding intermarriage, attachment to Jewish community, the raising of children and attitudes toward Israel.
The local survey was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, while the Pew study got major funding from the Philadelphia-based Neubauer Family Foundation, which has partnered with the Federation to fund incentive grants for Jewish camping.
The most glaring difference between the national and Philadelphia surveys lies in what is perhaps Pew’s most interesting twist on the contemporary conversation about Jewish identity. In a sense, the survey created a new category by identifying people who consider themselves Jewish by ethnicity but not religion.
According to the Pew survey, 22 percent of American Jews, or slightly more than one in five, claim to have no religion.
In contrast, the Philadelphia study said that 18 percent of respondents don’t identify with a particular stream of Judaism: 3 percent were listed as secular, 10 percent “just Jewish,” and 5 percent were just not classified.
Twenty-two percent and 18 percent sound similar. But especially in the category of “just Jewish,” it would be a leap to assume that respondents didn’t consider themselves Jewish by religion even if they didn’t identify with a stream.
“We saw a higher degree of denominational affiliation in our study,” said Brian Mono, director of Federation’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning, who was very involved with the Philadelphia study. “We had speculated that we would see a larger percentage of people as just Jewish, but that was not the case.”
No batch of statistics in such surveys gets more scrutiny than those dealing with intermarriage.
The Pew survey found the overall intermarriage rate among Jews to be 44 percent. The new study also reported that for marriages that have taken place since 2005, the rate is 58 percent.
But among married Jews who said they had no religion, the rate jumped to 79 percent, compared with 36 percent who consider Judaism their religion.
The Federation survey reported that the local intermarriage figure was 28 percent. Among Jews 40 and under, however, the figure rose to 45 percent.
In the Pew study, 20 percent of intermarried families with children said they are raising their children solely as Jews, 25 percent are raising them partly Jewish, and 37 percent aren’t raising them Jewish at all.
The Philadelphia study showed 29 percent of intermarried households were raising their children solely as Jews, compared with 98 percent for in-married households. An additional 30 percent of local in-married households were raising their kids as Jewish and something else.
Nationally, 35 percent of American Jews identify with the Reform movement, including 29 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29, while 18 percent align with the Conservative movement, including 11 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. One in 10 Jews considers themselves Orthodox, 7 percent identify with smaller movements, such as Reconstructionist or Renewal, and 30 percent don’t identify with any particular denomination.
In Philadelphia, once a bastion of the Conservative movement, the drop wasn’t as stark: 30 percent of respondents identified as Conservative, compared to 41 percent with Reform, 6 percent as Orthodox, 3 percent as Reconstructionist, 10 percent with no denomination and 5 percent who didn’t fit any category.
Among 18- to 39-year-olds, 18 percent identified with Conservative, 53 percent with Reform and 9 percent with Orthodoxy.
Regarding attachment to Israel, the national survey overall, found that about seven in 10 Jews surveyed said they feel either very (30 percent) or somewhat attached (39 percent) to Israel.
In the Philadelphia survey, 42 percent of Jewish adults considered themselves very emotionally attached to Israel and 37 percent said they are somewhat attached.
Jewish Exponent staff writer Eric Berger contributed to this report.