The number of adult Jews who identify their faith as Judaism has dropped by about half since the late 1950s.
Currently, the number of Judaic Jews is 1.8%. In 1957 the U.S. Census found that 3.2% of the U.S. adult population identified their religion as Jewish.
The Pew Research Center found that Jews of no religion make up 22% of Jews and .4% of the U.S. adult population. In total Jews make up 2.2% of the U.S. population, about 5.3 million adults.
High intermarriage rate
The proportion of American Jews who intermarry has reached 58% for all Jews, and 71% for non-Orthodox Jews. Among Jews who have no religion less than one third of the children are being raised as Jews in any specific way.
Low religious practice and belief
Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, almost one-third identify with no Jewish religious denomination, and one-quarter (23%) do not believe in God. Even more Jews disconnect faith in God from being Jewish. Reflecting a long tradition of secularism in Jewish life in the United States, two-thirds of Jews (62%) say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture. Even religious Jews mostly do not believe that it is necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.
The older generation interpreted secularism as a bulwark against persecution and discrimination. But perhaps no longer feeling social hostility, the younger generation is interpreting secularism as a reason to be not religious. A majority (55%) of Jews of no religion also don't feel emotionally attached to Israel.
Younger Jews are shifting to “no religion”
Jewish Millennials, those born after 1980s, are the most likely to identify themselves as not religious. 32% say that they would describe themselves as having no particular religion or are agnostic or atheist. Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew Center, called the drop in religious identity a “stunning” development. The shift to “None” in religion reflects a long term trend among American Jews.
The proportion of “Nones” in the U.S. general population has also drifted upward to around 20%, according to the Pew Center. The move toward no particular religious belief has been most distinct among younger males and Catholics. A survey of college students released last Thursday by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut indicate that 28% of U.S. college students are Nones.
Rise of the Messianic Jews
Jews who are Christian now are one of the major components of the U.S. Jewish population. 1.7 million adult Jews identify themselves as Christians. Only the denomination of Reform Judaism has more support among American Jews, with an estimated 1.86 million adherents.
Mitch Glaser, a Messianic Jew and leader of Chosen People Ministries, emailed A Journey through NYC religions that the Pew survey's results are "stunning." Glaser added, "As a Messianic Jew and leader of Chosen People Ministries – it is incredible to think that hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in the United States somehow identify with Jesus the Messiah, according to survey results." But he also cautioned, "However, the number of these individuals who might be considered 'Christians by conviction' remains to be seen."
Although the PEW Center did not count Jews who are Christians as part of their Jewish population count, the researchers used screening questions that identified the number of Jews who identify themselves as Jews and who are “completed Jews,” Christians or Messianic Jews. The center also identified Gentiles (people of no Jewish ancestry) who are “Jews by affinity” and identify themselves by terms like “grafted-in” Jews. A close analysis of the results of the PEW Center's screening questions reveals some surprising hidden dimensions of American Jews and possible revised projections about the adult Jewish population in the United States.. The research center's report includes a chapter on the analysis of people of "Jewish background" and "Jewish affinity."
The multi-million dollar survey screened over 70,000 respondents in English and Russian by landlines and cellphones between February 20 and June 13, 2013 to identify 3,475 Jews by religion (but not Christian) or Jews of no religion. The screening survey has a very small margin of error. The margin of error for sample of Jews by religion and Jews of no religion is plus or minus three percentage points. The survey also interviewed 1,190 people of Jewish background (73% were Christians) and 467 people with a Jewish affinity (70% were Christians).
Judaic institutions usually don’t recognize as Jews those who say that they believe in Jesus or Gentile Christians who identify themselves as Jews. However, one finding by the Pew Center researchers suggests that the greater Jewish community is becoming more tolerant of Messianic Jews. 30% of Judaic Jews and 47% of Jews of no religion agree that believing in Jesus is compatible with being Jewish. Glaser said that the increased tolerance of Messianic Jews is an "amazing" story of the last decades. "The acceptance of Jewish people who believed in Jesus by the mainstream Jewish community has changed dramatically since I became a follower of Jesus in 1970," Glaser said. "I view this as a positive change, but I am also concerned about the survey results because it indicates that many Jewish people are no longer interested in practicing the Jewish religion, or even in being Jewish."
Most of the Jews who identify themselves as some sort of Christian (1.6 million) were raised as Jews or are Jews by ancestry. Another 100,000 come from mixed ancestral background.
A surprising finding is that 720,000 Christians are “Jews by affinity” who identify themselves as Jews understood under the terminology “grafted-in” Jew. The term originates from New Testament descriptions of Gentiles as being grafted in as a branch of Israel by believing in the Jewish messiah Jesus.
The PEW Center’s Jewish population estimate of 5.3 million adult Jews living in the United States only includes their categories of “Jews by religion” and “Jews of no religion.” However, when we include their figures for other types of Jews, particularly those who are “completed Jews,” those believing in Jesus as the messiah, the total adult population of Jews in the United States is 7.0 million plus another 1.9 million “Jews by affinity” and Jews with other religious identifications like Buddhism.
Adult Jewish population of the United States
Jews by religion (Judaism) 4.2 million
Messianic Jews, Christian Jews, “completed Jews”* 1.7 million
Jews of no religion 1.1 million
Total # of adult Jews in major belief groups 7.0 million
Other types of Jews:
Jews by affinity (gentile Christians, “grafted-in Jews)* .7 million
Jews by background with other types of religious beliefs* .7 million
Other Jews by affinity* .5 million
Total # of other types of adult Jews: 1.9 million
*Figures by PEW unadjusted for omission in survey of counties with very low or nonexistent population of Jews, Spanish-speaking only Jews, and Jews in the prison population
PEW also counts 1.3 million Jewish children in the U.S., not including Messianic, Christian, “completed” Jewish children.
On Monday researchers at Brandeis University's Steinhardt Social Research Institute also released their own Jewish population findings. Their report, American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012, finds that there are currently some 6.8 million Jews in the United States, comprising more than 1.8 percent of the country’s total adult population. Their criteria for counting as a Jew included: identification of religion as Judaism; or “consider themselves Jewish by background and other criteria.”
Click here for more information on the Survey of U.S. Jews by the Pew Research Center