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When Judaism Meets Science

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Posts Tagged ‘Pew Research Center’

Jewish Sociology: Chicken Little, Chicken Soup and the Reform Moment

Thursday, December 26, 2013 @ 05:12 PM
posted by Roger Price

Almost half a century ago, a cover story in Look Magazine described “The Vanishing American Jew.” Extrapolating from demographic trends on intermarriage, birth rates and generational assimilation, the author predicted that the Jewish community in America would blend in and disappear before the end of the century.

One year later, 1965, the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations in North America, invited Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to speak. This was the first time that Heschel had been invited to address the GA. Among other things, Heschel reportedly urged that two words be banned from future dialog: survey and survival.

These events are important to remember a half century later as the Jewish American community seeks to digest the meaning of the data collected by the Pew Research Center in its recent study of Jewish Americans (the “Pew Portrait”).  The study has been criticized here and elsewhere on its methodology.  But with rare exception, nobody doubts the importance and value of the data collected by Pew. Yet, informative as the data are regarding the state of the Jewish American community, as telling are the many and diverse responses to the Portrait. In just a few short months, Pew has become a sort of Rorschach test. read more

JEWISH SOCIOLOGY: PEW’S IMPRECISE AND MISLEADING CONSTRUCT OF “JEWS OF NO RELIGION”

Monday, November 25, 2013 @ 04:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

Credit: Pew Research Center

Of the many interesting aspects of the recently released survey of Jewish Americans by the Pew Research Center (the “Pew Portrait”), perhaps none is more troubling than the distorted bisection  of American Jews into two primary sub-groups, one labeled “Jews by religion” and the other “Jews of no religion.” Once those designations were established, Pew, among other things, then sought to determine whether members of the two sub-groups had different attitudes or characteristics, whether, for instance, a person assigned to one sub-group was more likely or less likely to believe or behave differently than a person assigned to the other.

How large is the group of “Jews of no religion?” Pew found that about one fifth of adult American Jews (totaling approximately 1.2 million individuals) were Jews of “no religion” and that among Jews born after 1980 (“Jewish Millennials”) the fraction increases to one in every three. (See Portrait, at 7, 23, 32/214.) Pew’s survey director reportedly said that the rise in the number of Jews “of no religion” was the most significant finding of the study.

Just as one might expect, as soon as the Pew Portrait was published, the commentary class waxed wise on Pew’s findings about the Jews of no religion. Much of the concern expressed was about related findings that Jews of no religion were less connected to the Jewish community, less likely to be involved in Jewish organizations and less likely to raise their children as Jewish. (See Portrait, 60-62, 67-69/214.)

In all the hubbub, an important fact seems to have been overlooked: not only is the label “Jews of no religion” awkward, nowhere in the more than two hundred pages of the Pew Portrait does Pew precisely define what it means by “religion.” Pew’s failure to do so has created unnecessary ambiguity and confusion and muddled its survey results. At one point Pew says that Jews of no religion are “also commonly called secular or cultural Jews.” (See Portrait, at 8/214.) But those characterizations were not offered as primary choices in Pew’s survey questionnaire.  (See Portrait, at 177, 186/214.) A look at the survey, beyond the executive summary, reveals some of the problems of Pew’s binary construct which is, perhaps, more provocative than probative. read more