By comparison, only 11% of Jews ages 18-29 are Orthodox. Two caveats. First, only 80% of those 18-29 who were raised Orthodox call themselves Orthodox, so if trends hold the 27% will be more like 21.5%. Second, there is a confidence interval, unknown to me, and the numbers may not be quite so dramatic. But I did check with demographer Steven Cohen, who reported these data, and he thinks the figures are about right. If so, this represents a huge and dramatic shift in American Jewish life. Given that the Orthodox are by definition more actively involved in Jewish life, and most of the rest of American Jewry not-so-much, a huge percentage of what one might call “Jewish energy” in the U.S. will emanate from Orthodox circles.
As an aside, I was thinking how difficult it must be for demographers to do cross-generational comparisons. To take one issue, in past generations, lots of people just vanished from the Jewish world without a trace by adopting a non-Jewish identity and never mentioning their background to anyone. It’s hard to know how common this used to be, but consider that individuals who either didn’t know or claimed not to know about their recent Jewish ancestry include Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, and George Allen. Bush budget director Richard Darman was raised Jewish, but never told his wife and children. In my own family, I know that one of my grandfather’s first cousins changed his name to Burns and never told his children he was born and raised Jewish–and they were quite surprised to receive an invitation to the Bernstein family reunion. I’ve also met quite a few people over time who suspect that one of their parents was raised Jewish, or who are dimly aware of family rumors that a grandparent was Jewish.
But with being Jewish no longer a substantial disadvantage in American life, and intermarriage unlikely in non-Orthodox circles to lead to serious family disruption, the new Pew study finds hundreds of thousands of children of intermarriage identify as Jews of no religion (and about as many as Jews by religion), hundreds of thousands of others who were raised Jewish but don’t consider themselves such but who acknowledge their Jewish ancestry, and, a bit weirdly, hundreds of thousands of additional individuals who have no Jewish ancestry and who have never converted but for whatever reason consider themselves to be Jewish.