NEW YORK, Oct. 30 (JTA) — An increasing number of Americans raised as Jews are marrying non-Jews and identifying with other religions, according to a new study.
In addition, even Jews who identify Judaism as their religion — not simply their ethnic background — are much less likely to believe in God or describe themselves as religious than are other Americans.
The new study, which followed the methodology and many of the questions of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, aims to provide a “second opinion” for that survey’s official update, National Jewish Population Survey 2000, which is being conducted under the auspices of the federation system’s United Jewish Communities.
Among the findings:
• There are approximately 5.5 million American adults who are either Jewish by religion or of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing, the same number found in 1990. However, 2.8 million, or 51 percent, say their religion is Jewish, compared with 58 percent in the 1990 survey.
• Among adults of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing, nearly 1.4 million say they are members of a non-Jewish religion or profess a different religion. That number has more than doubled since 1990, a change researchers attribute to the “coming of age of the children of intermarried families and the unfolding religious decisions of interfaith couples.”
• Thirty-three percent of Jews — defined as people either raised Jewish or who say Judaism is their religion — are married to non-Jews, compared with 28 percent in 1990. The 1990 study is famous for finding that 52 percent of Jews who married in the previous five years had married a non-Jew; the new study has not yet determined statistics for newlyweds, but researchers say logic dictates that the intermarriage rate has increased for this group.
• Forty-two percent of Jews who say Judaism is their religion, not simply their ethnicity or heritage, describe their outlook as secular, while 14 percent say they do not believe in God. In contrast, just 15 percent of adults nationally describe their outlook as secular, and 4 percent of adults nationally say they do not believe in God. There is no 1990 data on this question.
The new study was conducted by Egon Mayer, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Ariela Keysar, also of the Center for Jewish Studies, and Barry Kosmin, who oversaw the 1990 study and currently is director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London. All three were involved in the 1990 study.
The official update of the National Jewish Population Survey is larger in scope than Mayer, Keysar and Kosmin’s study, but has not yet been released. Based on interviews with 4,500 Jews and originally slated to be released early this year, the UJC study now will not be available until summer of 2002.
The delays are due to a combination of reasons, ranging from debates over methodology to the difficulty of finding enough people willing to be interviewed.
“When we started out we never imagined that our study would be completed before the National Jewish Population Survey 2000 findings were released,” Mayer said. “We never intended this as a substitute for NJPS 2000, but rather as a test of or verification of its findings.”
The new study is under the auspices of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and was funded by the Posen Foundation, a British family foundation. It has a smaller Jewish sample — 1,668 people — and asks fewer questions than NJPS 2000.
It also repeats methodology that was used in the 1990 study, including screening participants through a marketing firm survey that makes some of its calls on Shabbat. That methodology, which was modified for NJPS 2000, has been criticized for potentially undercounting observant Jews.
However, Mayer said it repeated the 1990 methodology to compare current findings to those from 10 years ago.
Asked what the policy implications of the new study are, Mayer said it indicates that religion may not be “the best methodology for attracting the hearts and minds of the masses of American Jews,” Mayer said.
“Whether it’s trips to Israel, summer camping, the day school movement and so forth, we have to address how to deal with that segment of the population that doesn’t see in the religious section of Judaism the path to their Jewish future,” he said.
The new study was smaller, cheaper and conducted in a much shorter time period than NJPS 2000. It also was conducted so quietly that only a handful of people knew about its existence.
Even though Mayer and Keysar are on the National Technical Advisory Committee for NJPS 2000, their study has come as a surprise to most of the people involved with NJPS 2000.
Jim Schwartz, UJC’s research director and the staff person overseeing NJPS 2000, said he had not yet seen Mayer, Keysar and Kosmin’s study and could not comment on it, other than to say that “the researchers are all good researchers.”
Mayer said he and his colleagues “conducted this study very quietly because we didn’t want to stir up any of the controversies that frankly can be very time consuming to deal with when you’re trying to get a job done.”
Privately, some of the members of the advisory committee are annoyed that they were kept out of the loop and that scarce philanthropic dollars had been spent on two similar projects.
But Steven M. Cohen, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who is a consultant to the NJPS 2000, called the new study a “great data source” that “provides another benchmark against which to judge” the accuracy of NJPS 2000.
Asked about the secret nature of the study, Cohen said, “We all go about and do our research, then release results.”
Researchers, he said, have “no obligation to announce that there’s a study on the way.”