U.S. Jews Now More Likely to Marry Gentiles Than Jews, CJF Survey Finds
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U.S. Jews Now More Likely to Marry Gentiles Than Jews, CJF Survey Finds

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The most comprehensive survey of the American Jewish community in two decades reveals that the way American Jews live and the people they live with have changed dramatically in recent years.

One of the most striking findings of the study, whose highlights were released last week by the Council of Jewish Federations, is that American Jews are now more likely to marry non-Jews than Jews.

Over half of Jews married since 1985 are wed to gentiles. And nearly one-third of all married Jews are wed to people who were not born Jewish.

Twenty-eight percent of married Jews are wed to gentiles, and another 4 percent are married to what the survey calls “Jews by choice.”

But while the pace of intermarriage has picked up in recent years, conversion to Judaism is still not popular. Only 5 percent of marriages since 1985 involved a gentile who became a Jew by choice.

Moreover, there appears to be growing acceptance, if not approval, of intermarriage among American Jews; 87.5 percent of Jews surveyed said they would accept the marriage of their child to a non-Jew.

Among some of the other more significant findings of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey are that Jews are, on average, older and more educated than the general population. And while most Jews give to charity, more give to secular causes than to Jewish ones.

The survey was conducted by CJF, the association of some 200 federations throughout the United States and Canada. It took measure of a wide slice of American Jews and Americans who have some Jewish association.

It measured “core” Jews — those who were born to a Jewish parent or consider themselves Jewish by choice — as well as those who no longer consider themselves to be Jews and those gentiles who are living in households with at least one core Jew, usually through intermarriage.


The core American Jewish population numbers 55 million people. Another 2.7 million Americans have some association with Judaism.

For the purposes of this survey, a born Jew was defined as someone born to a Jewish parent, but not necessarily the mother. Orthodox and Conservative Judaism do not recognize people as Jewish by birth unless the mother was Jewish.

The survey also does not make a religious judgment about the validity of conversions. Some 30 percent of those defined as Jews by choice say they have not undergone formal conversion.

Twenty years ago, there were 5.4 million core Jews in America. Predictions of a rapid decline in the Jewish population have not been borne out.

But intermarriage, divorce and remarriage have spread American Jews into more households than ever before: 3.2 million households in the United States now contain at least one core Jew.

Seventy-two percent of core Jews live in entirely Jewish homes and 26 percent live in mixed households.

But just 17 percent of households with at least one core Jew are the “traditional family” of two Jewish parents and their children.

“The nuclear family we have known is no more, and our services have to be reflective of that,” Martin Kraar, CJF executive vice president, commented at a nationwide news conference televised by satellite last week to journalists and federation executives.

The survey found that the core Jewish community is also older than the broader community with some Jewish association, and than Americans in general.

Of the total core Jewish community, 16.5 percent are age 65 and over. When compared to the general U.S. population, the Jewish community has proportionally nearly one-third more elderly.

There are fewer young core Jews: 18.9 percent are under age 15, compared to 21.6 percent of the American population in general.

And of the total 1.9 million children under age 18 in the Jewish population, as measured in this survey, only 62 percent are in the core group.


Just 28 percent of the children of mixed marriages are being raised as Jews. Some 41 percent are being raised in a non-Jewish religion, and 31 percent are being raised with no religion.

“The current pattern means there will probably be net losses to the core Jewish population in the next generation,” according to the report.

“We must entice the 31 percent into the Jewish fold and convince the 28 percent to stay there,” said Barry Kosmin, CJF research director and director of the Mandell L. Berman Institute-North American Data Bank of the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Kosmin oversaw the population survey with assistance from CJF research consultant Jeffrey Scheckner.

The study also found that the largest number of households, 41.4 percent, identified with the Reform movement of Judaism, while 40.4 percent identified with the Conservative movement, 6.8 percent said they are Orthodox and 1.6 percent Reconstructionist.

Another 3.2 percent defined themselves as traditional, 5.2 percent said they are “just Jewish” and 1.4 percent called themselves “miscellaneous Jewish.”

However, of those who currently belong to a synagogue or temple, 43 percent belong to Conservative congregations. Thirty-five percent belong to Reform, 16 percent to Orthodox and 2 percent to Reconstructionist.

The findings of the survey are based on 2,441 completed interviews in 49 states — all except North Dakota, which has too few Jews to survey randomly. They were drawn from an initial sample of 126,000 randomly selected Americans.

The findings will be used by CJF, federations and other Jewish organizations in their policy-planning considerations as American Jewry approaches the next century.

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