American Jews less religious, more likely to intermarry, survey finds

The White House is seen during the annual national Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremony on the White House Ellipse, Dec. 1, 2010, in Washington. Hanukkah marks the eight-day Jewish celebration of the Festival of Lights. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

A majority of American Jews believe being Jewish is a matter of ancestry and culture as opposed to religion, an extensive survey out Tuesday finds. At the same time, a full 94 percent of American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish.

The Pew Research Center report, titled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," finds that one in five Jews describe themselves as having no religion, a proportion similar to the general population and a reflection of the broader trend of declining religious affiliation in America.

The report notes though, that "by several conventional measures, Jews tend to be less religious than the U.S. public as a whole." While 56 percent of the general public say that religion is very important in their lives, the same is true for only 26 percent of American Jews. According to the report, the percentage of U.S. adults who respond as Jewish when asked their religion has fallen by half since the 1950s.

"A key aim of the Pew Research Center survey is to explored Jewish identity: What does being Jewish mean in America today?" the report's authors write. To answer the question, Pew surveyed 3,475 Jews via landlines and cellphones from February through June of this year. The survey examines, among other things, Jewish denominational affiliation, politics, intermarriage rates, views on Israel, as well as character traits and actions deemed "essential to their Jewish identity."

Among those traits, remembering the Holocaust a ranked high, with 73 percent of respondents saying it's key to their sense of Jewishness. Majorities said the same of leading an ethical and moral life -- 69 percent -- and working for justice and equality -- 56 percent.

Smaller percentages of respondents said observing religious law -- 19 percent -- or eating traditional foods -- 14 percent -- is essential to being Jewish. Forty-two percent said the same of "having a good sense of humor."

The study finds that intermarriage rates appear to have significantly increased over the past fifty years. Nearly 60 percent of Jewish respondents who have been married since 2000 say they have a non-Jewish spouse. Just over 40 percent of those married in the 80s have a non-Jewish spouse. That number is just 17 percent for those married before 1970.

"Whatever the causal connection, the survey finds a strong association between secular Jews and religious intermarriage," the report states.

The survey did not find a discernible waning in emotional connection to Israel over the past decade -- seven in ten Jews say they are very or somewhat attached to the country. According to the report, that attachment is weaker among American Jews of no religion and younger Jews in general, than among religious Jews.

In terms of politics, 70 percent of American Jews favor the Democratic Party, compared to 22 percent who are Republicans or lean Republican. A majority of Orthodox Jews, however, are Republicans or lean Republican.

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus three percentage points.

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