Pew Polls Jews highlights the characteristic duplicity of jewish identity, particularly the meaning of “religion”.
One of the first decisions that had to be made in conducting this study and analyzing its results was to answer the question, “Who is a Jew?” This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer. On the one hand, being Jewish is a matter of religion – the traditional, matrilineal definition of Jewish identity is founded on halakha (Jewish religious law). On the other hand, being Jewish also may be a matter of ancestry, ethnicity and cultural background.
Pew’s report makes the primacy of ancestry plain in many ways, and yet in various ways maintains that it is instead about “religion”.
The very labels of the two categories Pew considered jews – “jews by religion” and “jews of no religion” – indicate that religion doesn’t matter except to distinguish different types of jew. The importance assigned to “jewish parents” is also telling. The most obvious, yet muted statistic:
Nearly all Jews say they had at least one Jewish parent, including 96% of Jews by religion and 97% of Jews of no religion.
All in all, 98% of Jews (and, by definition, 100% of Jews of no religion) were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent; 2% of Jews had no such background but indicate they had a formal conversion to Judaism, while 1% did not formally convert.
Pew did not disclose statistics of half-jews/part-jews, but their significance was addressed, indirectly, by the hyperbolic sky-is-falling spin with which some jews reacted to Pew’s report.
Charlotte Alter’s piece at TIME, titled Jewish Identity Crisis Revealed In New Pew Survey, is a brief mainstream jewsmedia example:
Seventy-nine percent of non-religious Jews have married outside the faith, while only 36 percent of religious Jews have intermarried. And 90 percent of religious Jews plan to raise their children at least partially Jewish, while two-thirds of Jews who say they have “no religion” do not plan to raise their kids Jewish at all.
“Intermarriage” produces half-jews, which jews regard as an existential threat to jews.
A major theme of this spin is that older jews are more concerned to maintain the “faith” pretense than younger jews are. Of course, this neglects that younger jews eventually become older jews, and in the process often become more overtly obsessed with all things jewish.
There is no real demographic threat to jews. The fertility rates indicate that more jewy correlates with more fertile. The fertility rate for the jewiest jews, the “orthodox”, is twice what it is for the general (non-jew) population.
Another example of jewish alarm is Pew poll on Jewish identity: Jews are intermarrying, aren’t raising their kids Jewish, and don’t believe in God., by Jessica Grose, Slate, 1 Oct 2013.
Jews Are Leaving Faith Behind. Is That Bad for the Jews?
I ended up marrying a non-Jew (an Episcopalian to be exact). While our baby daughter is Jewish by lineage, I’m still not sure how Jewish we are going to raise her.
The notion that American Jews are eschewing religion so broadly makes me a little sad, or worried for Jewish continuity (or guilty for being part of the problem). But I can’t see myself bringing my daughter to temple every Friday to honor a God I don’t believe in.
Grose was reacting to this New York Times article in which fellow jews also worried about “jewish continuity”. Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews, by Laurie Goodstein, NYT, 1 Oct 2013:
“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.
“It’s very stark,” Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew religion project, said in an interview. “Older Jews are Jews by religion. Younger Jews are Jews of no religion.”
The trend toward secularism is also happening in the American population in general, with increasing proportions of each generation claiming no religious affiliation.
But Jews without religion tend not to raise their children Jewish, so this secular trend has serious consequences for what Jewish leaders call “Jewish continuity.” Of the “Jews of no religion” who have children at home, two-thirds are not raising their children Jewish in any way. This is in contrast to the “Jews with religion,” of whom 93 percent said they are raising their children to have a Jewish identity.
Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist of American Jewry at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York, and a paid consultant on the poll, said the report foretold “a sharply declining non-Orthodox population in the second half of the 21st century, and a rising fraction of Jews who are Orthodox.”
The survey also portends “growing polarization” between religious and nonreligious Jews, said Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, senior director of research and analysis at the Jewish Federations of North America.
The Jewish Federations has conducted major surveys of American Jews over many decades, but the last one in 2000 was mired in controversy over methodology. When the federations decided not to undertake another survey in 2010, Jane Eisner, editor in chief of The Jewish Daily Forward, urged the Pew researchers to jump in.
As noted in Part 2, the polarization and controversy is over part-jews, over purity. The “orthodox” regard the “reform” bloodlines as tainted. Their “religious” concern is biological purity, not ideological purity.
At the bottom of the article which Jessica Grose concluded by expressing her guilt about jewish continuity was a link to another (serendipitously related) article Slate published on the same day – expressing horror that Germans, however briefly, had similar concerns.
Newly Discovered “Nazi Bride School” Curriculum Includes Lesson on How to Be “Sustainers of the Race”, by Katy Waldman, Slate, 1 Oct 2013:
At Least You’re Not at Nazi Bride School
I defy you, this Tuesday, to dream up something more horrifying than the phrase “Nazi bride school.” As The New Yorker reports, these training academies for Reich wives-to-be cropped up throughout the late 1930s to usher young maidens toward their spiritual and reproductive destinies. Classes designed to “mould housewives out of office girls” covered cooking, ironing, gardening, child care, appropriate cocktail conversation, how to polish boots and daggers, and more.
From their reactions to the Pew poll we can see two other phrases that horrify jews: “people of jewish background” (jews who delude themselves that they aren’t) and “people of jewish affinity” (non-jews who delude themselves that they are). These phrases should also horrify non-jews, and especially Whites, though for different reasons. Though jews may generally regard such quasi-jews as non-jews, they have an overall affinity for jews which best serves jewish interests.
What else did they do? Oh, “acquire a special knowledge of race and genetics” so that they might fulfill their calling as “sustainers of the race.”
In this sick, judaized reality in which we live jews openly fret about sustaining their race behind a veil of dissembling about “religion”, while pathologizing and demonizing Germans who tried to go about it forthrightly.
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