Demographic and Religious Dimensions of Jewish Identification in the U.S. and Israel: Millennials in Generational Perspective

In: Journal of Religion and Demography
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  • 1 Trinity College, USA
  • | 2 The Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The mutual relationship between demography and religion is explored in this paper through a comparison of the two largest Jewish populations worldwide: the U.S. and Israel. Special attention is devoted to the younger adult population – the Millennials – operationalized here as ages 18 to 29 and divided into three sub age groups. Data come from the Pew Research Center’s surveys of Jewish Americans in 2013 and of Israelis in 2015. After a short review of the main demographic differences between the two Jewish populations, the paper focuses on the multiple possible meanings and contents of Jewishness. The paper explores age-related differences regarding indicators of contemporary Jewish identity: religiosity, peoplehood and nationalism. We discover that young Jewish adults – the Millennials – in Israel and in the U.S., especially those 18–21 years old, are more likely than their elders to view their Jewishness mainly as a matter of religion rather than as a culture or ethnicity. Emerging similarities and differentials between Jews in Israel and in the U.S. are interpreted in the light of general theories of demographic change and religious identification, and are related to specific events and developments that have affected Jews in the two countries and their mutual relationships.

Abstract

The mutual relationship between demography and religion is explored in this paper through a comparison of the two largest Jewish populations worldwide: the U.S. and Israel. Special attention is devoted to the younger adult population – the Millennials – operationalized here as ages 18 to 29 and divided into three sub age groups. Data come from the Pew Research Center’s surveys of Jewish Americans in 2013 and of Israelis in 2015. After a short review of the main demographic differences between the two Jewish populations, the paper focuses on the multiple possible meanings and contents of Jewishness. The paper explores age-related differences regarding indicators of contemporary Jewish identity: religiosity, peoplehood and nationalism. We discover that young Jewish adults – the Millennials – in Israel and in the U.S., especially those 18–21 years old, are more likely than their elders to view their Jewishness mainly as a matter of religion rather than as a culture or ethnicity. Emerging similarities and differentials between Jews in Israel and in the U.S. are interpreted in the light of general theories of demographic change and religious identification, and are related to specific events and developments that have affected Jews in the two countries and their mutual relationships.

Religion and demography are significantly linked (Voas 2003). Levels of religiosity are considered a primary factor explaining demographic behaviors in many countries (Keysar 2014b), including the United States and Israel (Keysar et al. 1992; DellaPergola 2009; Okun 2013), which are the focus of this paper. In general, higher birth rates among the more religious may increase their share within a population, thus affecting the overall religio-cultural profile of society. In turn, a population with a larger share of religious people with high fertility may develop a more youthful age structure, possibly affecting population growth rates in subsequent years.

Mutual relations between religion and demography are explored in this paper regarding Jews in the U.S. and in Israel – the two largest Jewish populations (Pew Research Center 2015; DellaPergola 2018). We address ideational and demographic changes that have occurred across age groups among Jews in both countries, we focus on the younger adult population aged 18 to 29 – defined as the Millennials because of their coming of age at the turn between the 20th and the 21st century. A related question is whether changing Jewish identification patterns can contribute to distancing between the two Jewish populations or their rapprochement (Cohen and Kelman 2010; Sasson et al. 2010; DellaPergola 2010; Keysar 2010).

Jews constitute a small minority of the world population (Pew Research Center 2012a). Beyond the generic Jewish label, a multiplicity of meanings of what it means to be a Jew in contemporary societies has been recognized by social scientists (Herman 1977; Ben Rafael and Peres 2005; Levy et al. 2002; Kosmin and Keysar 2013; Hartman 2014; Aronson et al. 2018). Such multiple options involve similarities and dissimilarities across Jewish communities in different countries and societal contexts globally. Historians have contributed histories of the Jewish people stressing its global and transnational character, hence the need of a comprehensive interpretative approach (Baron 1952–1983). Social studies however, more often than not, have not focused on the many historical threads that link Jews in different parts of the world and have for the most dealt with situations at the local and national level. This has prevented a keen assessment of the net contribution of different country experiences to the religious and otherwise identificational profile of Jewish communities overall (DellaPergola 2014). The critique about a dearth of truly comparative studies of Jewish identity is well founded (Cohen E. 2010). In spite of the transnational nature of Jewish identity, a truly global approach to its study has not yet been fully developed. The issue is not just comparing separate findings from different countries, but rather creating an integrated perspective that would examine the nature and variation of Jewish identity by addressing the same questions to respondents dispersed worldwide. In recent years, however, some important research projects have created the bases for such comparisons (Pew Research Center 2013; Pew Research Center 2015; fra 2013 and 2018), namely, understanding the complexities and transformations of Jewish identities in the U.S. and Israel.

The U.S. and Israel are both home to large numbers of Jews – 5–6 million in the former and 6–7 million in the latter according to a somewhat restrictive definition of the core Jewish population – encompassing together about 85% of world Jewry (Pew Research Center 2015; DellaPergola 2018). These two major Jewish populations are bound together by shared ancestral, social, and religious relationships, as well as parallel or intersecting immigration histories and transnational Jewish organizations (Eisenstadt 1992; Chanes 2005; Sasson et al. 2010; DellaPergola 2013). A major difference is that Jews and their families constitute about 79% of Israel’s total population while Jews in the U.S. constitute less than 2% of the total population (Israel cbs; Pew Research Center 2013).

In the U.S. the multi-faceted nature of Jewishness has been captured in large national surveys that targeted the Jewish population and allowed respondents to check multiple choices about the meaning of being a Jew: as a member of a religious group, an ethnic group, a cultural group, a nationality, a people, a part of a transnational entity, and more (Glazer 1957; Sklare and Greenblum 1967; Liebman 1973; Cohen 1983; Waxman 1983; Goldscheider 1986; Medding 1987; Kosmin et al. 1991; Fishman 2000; Mayer et al. 2001; Kotler Berkowitz et al. 2001; Berman 2009; Bokser Liwerant 2013; Pew Research Center 2013; Rebhun 2016). In Israel, too, Jewish respondents were investigated through several national surveys that offered multiple group identification options stressing religion, ethnicity, relational networks, and participation in civil society namely through learning in separate educational networks and voting in political elections (Levy et al. 1993, 2002; Arian and Keissar-Sugarman 2012; Pew Research Center 2015; Winreb and Blass 2018).

Within the general national context, members of younger generations are often harbingers of societal shifts whose consequences might arguably be reflected in the general population years or tens of years later (Keysar 2014). Here we operationally define the Millennials as younger adults aged 18 to 29 at the date of the respective Pew surveys, i.e., those born 1984–1995 in the U.S. and born 1986–1997 in Israel and who became teenagers and young adults around the year 2000. Specifically we focus on demographic, religious and other important group identification differences among Millennials versus other older age groups in the two main centers of world Jewry. We also stress subtler cohort differences within the broader Millennial age group in the two countries.

Data sources

In this paper, we utilize representative national data sets, the Pew U.S. Survey in 2013 and the Pew Israel Survey in 2015 (Pew Research Center 2013 and 2015).

Pew Research Center 2013 and 2015 Surveys

The 2013 Pew U.S. Survey was based on a nationally representative sample of U.S. Jews, utilizing random digit dialing on both landlines and cell phones. Focusing on telephone exchanges for counties where previous surveys indicated that at least some Jews reside, it is estimated to have covered more than 95% of the U.S. Jewish population.

More than 70,000 screening interviews were conducted in English and Russian to identify Jewish respondents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The screening incorporated four criteria: Jewish-religious identification, Jewish parent(s), raised Jewish, and considers self to be Jewish. In all, interviews were completed with 3,126 Jews, including 2,786 Jews by religion and 340 persons of no religion but attached exclusively to Judaism. These 3,126 constitute the Jewish sample for the purpose of this study. Moreover, there were another 2,006 persons with some Jewish background, attachment or affinity who were also investigated and are labeled here as persons with other background. These included: 349 persons of no religion who identified as partially Jewish; 1,190 people who were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, but at the time of the survey had a religion other than Judaism or said they do not consider themselves Jewish either by religion or aside from religion; 467 adults with a Jewish affinity who were not raised Jewish, did not have a Jewish parent, have a religion other than Judaism or have no religion and no direct Jewish ancestry, and consider themselves Jewish or partially Jewish. An incentive of $50 was offered to eligible respondents (Pew Research Center 2013). The reported response rate for the overall sample was 16%, cooperation rate 33% and contact rate 56%, taking into account the combined landline and cell phone sample.1

The Pew 2015 Israel Survey conducted 5,601 face-to-face interviews with adults of all religious groups in Israel: 3,789 Jews, 871 Muslims, 468 Christians, 439 Druze, and 34 adults who belong to other religions or are religiously unaffiliated. Five groups were oversampled: Jews living in the West Bank, Haredim (very religious, in Hebrew literally: “the fearful”), Christian Arabs, Arabs living in East Jerusalem, and Druze.

The sample design was a multi-stage stratified area probability sampling based on Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics’ 2008 Census. The reported survey response rates varied by religious group and within each group. For example, 53% of over 5,000 in the Jewish base sample who were contacted completed the interview, while 71% of the contacted Haredi oversample did (Pew Research Center 2016). The margin of error, reported at the 95% level of confidence, was ±2.9 percentage points for all Israeli Jews (based on a sample of 3,789). The margin of error was larger for smaller subgroups, such as Haredim, ±6.9 percentage points (sample size of 707). Table 1 shows the sample composition in the two countries, by age groups. It should be noted that even the finer age divisions among the Millennials have enough cases to allow detailed analyses of their characteristics. In the U.S. we distinguish between the samples of those raised Jewish and of other Americans with some Jewish background. The latter are mostly descendants of Jewish intermarriages in the two previous generations. Among those born after 1987, the relative share of other background rose as compared with those raised Jewish – as indicated by the percentage of others out of all U.S. sample, by age. The Israel sample is more strictly comparable with the U.S. raised-Jewish sample. Therefore most of the comparisons in this article are circumscribed to these two groups (see also DellaPergola, Keysar and Levy forthcoming).

T000001

Demographic background

Basic Trends

Israel looks like an anomaly from a demographic point-of-view. It has consistently featured high population growth rates fueled by large-scale immigration during its initial years and by high gaps between a stable birth rate and a low death rate more recently. The Jewish population grew from 650,000 in 1948 to 3,383,000 in 1980 to 6,558,000 in 2018 (DellaPergola 2018). In the U.S., the estimated core Jewish population grew from less than 4.5 million in 1945 to 5.7 million in 1980 and to virtually the same figure in 2018 (DellaPergola 2005 and 2018). The U.S. Jewish population growth reflects continuing immigration moderated by much lower birth rates and growing death rates due to population aging, and by a negative balance of religious accessions and secessions (Pew Research Center 2013). These estimates pertain to a core Jewish population definition that is mutually exclusive with holding other religious identities. By adopting other broader definitions, higher estimates obtain such as the net Jewish population of 6.7 million figured out by the Pew 2012 survey, or approaching 7 million Jews or above as suggested by other investigators (Sheskin and Dashefsky 2018; Saxe and Tighe 2013; DellaPergola 2018 [overall population with at least one Jewish parent]).

In Israel fertility patterns have been unusually stable as compared to other developed countries, and achieved family size has been close to the family expectations expressed by the same persons when they were 10 or 20 years younger. In 2017, Israel’s Jewish total fertility rate was 3.1 children, the highest of any developed country (Population Reference Bureau 2018). This has been the case despite conspicuous postponing of the age at childbearing, peaking at 20–24 until 1960, at 25–29 until 2005, and at 30–34 in subsequent years (DellaPergola 2011a). In 2005, the number of children reported as ideal was higher than that actually achieved by couples. Women had higher ideal fertility targets and expectations than men. Younger married women, mostly born in Israel, tended to hold larger completed family size expectations than older women who comprise larger proportions of foreign-born – after controlling for religiosity and socioeconomic characteristics (DellaPergola 2011a). In other words, high fertility is not the consequence of unplanned births but rather reflects the consciously divergent choices of different sections of the Jewish population. Fertility gaps by religiosity quite accurately reflect family size goals and expectations among all groups.

In this respect, the demography of Haredi (very-Orthodox) Jewish minorities is most conspicuous. Despite exposure to a wider modern society both in the U.S. and Israel, and despite high Jewish and general educational attainment and of a not negligible participation in the labor force, Orthodox women exhibit highly traditional family behaviors. They get married early and have a large number of children (Waxman 2001; Barack Fishman and Cohen 2017). In 2017 Israel’s Jewish tfr ranged from about 7 among Orthodox Jews to slightly over 2 among the seculars, with intermediate levels among the traditional (Hleihel 2017 and 2018). These figures compare with attained (though not completed) fertility among Jewish women 25 to 45 in a 2005 survey of 4.7 children among the most religious and 1.7 among the least religious – on a scale of seven degrees of religiosity (DellaPergola 2009).

Among explanations for higher fertility in Israel, according to Anson and Meir (1996) the biblical command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ – assumedly a pro-natality norm – is not a sufficient explanation. High Israeli fertility instead reflects an activist nationalist ideology (Anson and Meir 1996, 11). Evidence of populations where pro-natality norms did not translate into high fertility exists for Muslims in pre-transition Thailand (Goldstein 1970), and among Filipino Americans in Los Angeles (Jiobu and Marshall 1977). On further examination, however, religiosity emerges as the main determinant of fertility at the individual level, whereas nationalism may have an effect on fertility only due to its high connection with religiosity (Bystrov 2016). After controlling for the evident relationship with religiosity, high Jewish fertility in Israel responds to improved economic resources and to an optimistic worldview. Strikingly positive correlations emerge over time between income, satisfaction with life – the latter strongly correlated with religiosity (Israel cbs annual), and current fertility levels (DellaPergola 2015). Relatively high and stable personal family size preferences in Israel, controlling for religiosity, may indirectly influence the institutional system and its support of reproductive health, especially in cases of infertility (Okun 2013). Pro-natality policies in Israel, however, were more prominent at the declarative than at the operational level (DellaPergola 2011b; Kaufmann 2010).

In contrast, Jewish fertility in the U.S. was consistently lower than the average for total whites, while following quite similar fluctuations over time (Goldscheider 1965; DellaPergola 1980). As to completed fertility of the U.S. Jewish population, in 2013 it was 1.9 children on average for women age 40–59 (versus 2.2 among the U.S. total population), of which 2.1 children for Jews by religion, and 1.5 children for the secular Jews of no religion (Pew Research Center 2013). Completed fertility by religious denominations was 4.1 children for the Orthodox, 1.8 for the Conservative, 1.7 for the Reform, and 1.4 for those with no denomination. Among the married, the religiously in-married had 2.8 children, versus 1.8 children among the intermarried (of whom 1.1 Jewish when taking into account the children’s religious identification, see Mott and Patel 2008). The never-married had 0.2 children on average, pointing to a very low tendency among Jews to bear children out of marriage. Fertility levels of total U.S. Jews are similar or even lower compared to the most secular in Israel and similar to those in many European countries. The most religious Jews in the U.S. are similar to the moderately religious in Israel. Explanations for low fertility have taken into account the different socioeconomic profile of Jews, generally better educated and more urbanized than others, and the additional psychological constraints and reproductive strategies related to minority status (Goldscheider 1965; Frejka and Westoff 2006).

One additional crucial factor in shaping the demographic profile of Jewish populations in the different countries is the transmission of group identity through the nuclear family chain. One significant marker of such trends – the frequency of intermarriage – stood among U.S. Jews at minimal rates of 1–2% at the beginning of the 20th century, was still below 10% until the late 1950s, and subsequently rose to levels above 20% in the late 1960s, above 40% in the late 1990s, and an estimated 58% in the early 2010s (Mayer et al. 2002; Pew Research Center 2013; Phillips 2018). It is also true that intermarriage among Jews in the U.S. is high partly because the Jewish population constituted only around 2% of the total population, so many or most of the people with whom Jews come in contact are non-Jews. One important mechanism of diffusion of the overall rising trend was the tendency of the generation of Jewish-raised children of intermarriages to marry out of the Jewish origin group much more often than the generation of Jewish parents (Phillips 2018). But the crucial aspect of the trend was the lack of a Jewish identification among a majority of children of intermarried parents. This ongoing erosion of virtual boundaries between different religious and ethnic groups in the U.S., could be construed as proof of growing cultural Americanization but also secularization of American society (Kosmin and Keysar 2006 and 2013; Pew Research Center 2012b). In 2012, 20% of the children of intermarried couples were raised as Jews, 16% had no religion, 25% were partly Jewish and partly non-Jewish by religion, and 37% were given a definite non-Jewish religion (Pew Research Center 2013). On the other hand, recent evidence points to a growing tendency among younger cohorts of children of intermarriage, namely the Millennials, to be raised Jewish (Sasson et al. 2017).

In Israel the conditions are completely different, because of the existence of a solid Jewish majority in the population, but also due to more traditional social and religious norms and thicker boundaries between the different religious groups. Based on census data of 2008, the total frequency of religiously intermarried Jews was estimated at 3–4% of the individuals and 5–6% of the couples, most of them the product of marriages performed abroad among people who subsequently immigrated to Israel (DellaPergola 2019).

The different marriage and fertility patterns in Israel and in the U.S. are reflected in strikingly different age compositions of the Jewish populations in the two countries (Figure 1). In Israel, the pattern is a distinctly wide-based age pyramid with a regular progression from larger child and younger adult age cohorts to smaller percentages of older adults. Such a young age distribution is unique in contemporary developed societies (DellaPergola 2007; Wilson 2016). In the U.S. the age distribution recalls a reverse pyramid with a modal value at age 45–64 with a declining size of each younger cohort. Age composition has demographic consequences because it affects future population growth or decline.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Age structures of Jews in Israel and the U.S., 2013.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Israel cbs; Pew Research Center (2013)

Life Course Patterns of the Millennials

Beyond the noted differences in family formation patterns, the different demography of Israeli and U.S. Jews is reflected in their life course, especially in late childhood and early adulthood. What is the role played by the Millennial generation in these differences? We subdivided young adults aged 18 to 29 into three age cohorts. Their characteristics and experiences in the two countries are illustrated in rough approximation in Table 2.

T000002

The main discrepancy between the two populations is that between ages 18 and 21 a majority in Israel serve mandatory military service while in the U.S. most Jewish young adults study in college. Most of the Israelis, with the exception of a majority of the Haredi group, are subject to compulsory military service of three years for men and two years for women, with longer periods for those who continue their service voluntarily becoming officers or otherwise. Americans mostly do not live the same experience, although a tiny minority perform voluntary military service. American Jewish teenagers upon finishing high school, instead, typically go to college. Between ages 22–25 – after extensive traveling or other experiences including some temporary work – the Israelis also go to college, while their American peers have already graduated and many have moved to graduate school or their first jobs. Often Israelis will follow suit, so that eventually the proportion having completed higher education will not be so different as it was one or two generations earlier (DellaPergola 2018). However, there are two major demographic differences. Between ages 26 and 29 in the U.S., most young adults (90%) are still single and are in the labor force (Pew Research Center 2013), frequently having completed graduate and post-graduate education, with family formation still as a distant personal goal. Israelis continue their studies, often while working, and many are already married (31%) and have children, even considering the already noted postponement of childbearing. Among Israelis in the civilian population aged 18–24, 67% were in the labor force in 2013 (Israel cbs 2014). Average age at marriage, though increasing in Israel over time, is much lower than in the U.S., and the proportion ever marrying is significantly higher (DellaPergola 2015). Eventually some 90% of U.S. younger Jewish adults will attain academic education versus 71% of the Israelis (Pew Research Center 2013; Israel cbs 2017).

As a result of these different lifestyles and constraints, Millennials of the same age in the U.S. and Israel are facing entirely different life experiences and have at their disposal very different resources to face the challenging years of early adulthood. This should be kept in mind when evaluating the differences in attitudes and behaviors among Millennials discussed below.

Dimensions of Jewish Identity

Peoplehood and Religiosity

Jewish religiosity and peoplehood intersect, and in fact Judaism cannot be reduced to a mere religious phenomenon but is better represented as a cluster of variables that also includes peoplehood or nationhood and other cultural and social elements.

Historically the U.S. had an exceptionally high percentage of people professing a religion (Chaves 2011). The rise of American Nones – people who profess no religion or check ‘nothing in particular’ on surveys (Kosmin and Keysar 2006 and 2009; Sherkat 2014; Pew Research Center 2015) – is a relatively recent phenomenon. American Jews were first in the shift toward secularism (Mayer et al. 2001). Historically American Jews have exhibited low rates of religious belief and low levels of religious behavior and belonging (Wuthnow 1988; Greeley 1989; Hertzberg 1989). In Israel, too, secularism has been a prominent feature in a society where Jewish religious and national options have been competing for cultural and political hegemony (Beit-Hallahmi 2007).

Whether complementary or alternative to religion, Jewish peoplehood is a concept underlying the awareness of an individual as being part of the Jewish people. Long associated with Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1957), the term “Jewish peoplehood” suggests an alternative path to religious aspects in order to measure the intensity of Jewishness, albeit through secular lenses. This caption has become an essential indicator of Jewish identity (Cohen and Eisen 2000; Brown and Galperin 2009). Although Pianko (2015) described Jewish peoplehood as an American innovation and used it as the title of his book, the roots of Jewish peoplehood are unquestionably more ancient and pertain to Jewish history since its inception. The concept involves a transnational perception of cultural and social bonds among Jews regardless of their current geographical location.

Jewish peoplehood is expressed through Jewish pride and the importance of being Jewish in one’s life, by “feeling connected to the Jewish people” and by maintaining a sense of solidarity and responsibility toward Jews in need around the world. These and other aspects of Jewish peoplehood are addressed in national and local surveys of Jews worldwide (Hartman and Sheskin 2012). Levy, Levinsohn and Katz (2004) report an increase in “feeling part of the Jewish people” with each step up the scale of religiosity in Israel. Similar patterns are found in the U.S.: 92% of Orthodox Jews agree to having a special responsibility to care for Jews in need, compared with only 64% of Reform Jews and 39% of those with no Jewish denomination (Pew Research Center 2013).

The multiplicity of cognitive meanings of what it is to be a Jew is presented in Figure 2, where the possible combinations of three options are outlined: religion, ancestry, and culture. Limiting the comparison to those who were raised Jewish in both countries, we find Israelis more likely to view being Jewish mainly a matter of ancestry (31% as a single option) followed by religion (26% as a single option) and culture (9% as a single option), while U.S. Jews view being Jewish mainly a matter of ancestry (26% as a single option) followed by culture (25% as a single option), and religion (14% as a single option). Thirteen percent of Israelis and 22% of Americans indicated all three options as relevant, while 21% of Israelis and 12% of Americans preferred various combinations of two of the three options. By summing multiple responses, religion obtains 60% in Israel versus 48% in the U.S., culture 43% in Israel versus 59% in the U.S., and ancestry 65% in Israel versus 60% in the U.S.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Cognitive meanings of personal Jewishness – U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

(Survey question: To you personally, is being Jewish mainly a matter of religion, mainly a matter of ancestry or mainly a matter of culture?).Source: Pew Research Center 2013; Pew Research Center 2015

Levels of Religiosity

In order to frame religiosity and peoplehood similarities and differences between Jewish Millennials as compared to older age groups in Israel and in the U.S., let us first look at the entire population. The following data on religiosity for Israel and the U.S. are not homogeneous, as in Israel religiosity is operationally represented through self-reporting, while in the U.S. we use a proxy for religiosity through reported preference for one of the several available Jewish religious denominations. Denominations provide community-based alternatives to people seeking contents and lifestyles better consonant to their own persuasions (Chanes 2005). Such proxy is admittedly very imperfect and in no way should the respective percentage distributions of religiosity in Israel and denominational preference in the U.S. be directly compared. However, the ordinal nature of the respective variables in both countries is proven by the different frequency of adherence of persons in each category to pre-determined sets of Jewish religious beliefs and behaviors (for the U.S. see an early demonstration in Goldstein and Goldscheider 1968). Such ordinal ranking in both cases allows for describing parallel processes related to the meaning of religion in personal life, keeping in mind the different nature of the data. In the U.S. the Orthodox denomination fairly comprehensively covers a population that in Israel would include both the Haredi (very religious) and Dati (religious) categories. At the opposite extreme, those in the U.S. without a denomination are in their near totality seculars, likewise a large share of the Israelis. In between, the U.S. Conservative denomination overlaps to a significant though not complete extent with the Masorti (traditional) sector in Israel. The U.S. Reform denomination mostly covers persons who in Israel would in part fall under the Masorti label and to a larger extent would be included in the Hiloni (secular) sector (Wertheimer 2000).

Haredi Jews in Israel and, respectively, the Orthodox in the U.S. are small minorities– about 10% of total Jews – trailing at the opposite extreme of the range the secular Jews in Israel (49% on a scale of religiousness) and those with no preferred Jewish denomination in the U.S. (30% on a scale of preferred religious denominations).

According to the 2015 Pew survey, the largest group is the seculars (Hebrew singular = Hiloni) with 49% of the adult population, followed by the traditional (Hebrew singular = Masorti) with 29%. The religious (Hebrew singular = Dati) are 13%, and the very religious 9% (Hebrew singular = Haredi; plural: Haredim). This four-fold distribution does not do justice to a distribution pattern that in reality is more complex and nuanced. The annual Social Survey (Israel cbs 2015) reveals the following five-fold distribution for 2015: secular 44%, traditional not-so-religious 24%, traditional-religious 12%, religious 11%, very religious 9%. An overlapping reading of the two studies teaches us that different answering options offered to the public generate similar distributions but also some important distinctions. Of the 49% seculars on the Pew survey, 5% plus another 19% of the 29% Pew traditionalists would fit the Israel cbs traditional-not-religious for a total of 24%. The remaining 10% of the Pew traditionals plus 2% of the Pew religious would fit the Israel cbs category of traditional-religious for a total of 12%. The majority of the Pew religious fit the Israel cbs religious for a total of 11%, and there is no difference between the two surveys regarding the Haredi group: 9% in each case. What remains clear is the unequivocal dominance of the secular-to-moderately-traditional forms of Jewish identity in Israel. In the course of time, since inception of the Israel cbs Social Survey in 2003, there were moderate but discernible changes in the distribution by Jewish religiosity: the Haredim increased from 7% to 9% in 2015, the religious from 9% to 11%, the traditional-religious remained steady at 12%, the traditional not-religious fell from 27% to 24%, and the secular from 45% to 44%. It all boils down to a 4% net transfer from the more secular to the more religious half of the distribution – mostly through the balance of gradual and mutual passages from one category to the next. The increase in the share of the very religious is mostly explained by their already noted higher fertility. Additional evidence presented in the following indicates that such increase would be greater were it not for some lifecycle switches of Haredim to other more moderately religious types (see also Beider 2018).

Turning to the distribution of Jews in the U.S. by preferred religious denomination in 2013, the largest group was the liberal Reform denomination with 36%, followed by those who do not identify with any denomination comprising 30%. The second largest denomination was the Conservative, with 18%, followed by the Orthodox, with 10%, and the sum of several other smaller denominations with 6% (Pew Research Center 2013).

Age Patterns of Religiosity

Turning to changing patterns of religiosity by age in each country, Figure 3 compares levels of religiosity during childhood and currently in Israel for the different age cohorts. We observe two opposite patterns of change operating in Israeli society at the same time. Viewing each cohort according to self-reported religiosity at childhood, we observe a notable and regular progressive increase over time in the percentage reporting higher levels of religiosity. The religious are here defined as the sum of the Haredi and Dati components out of the total age cohort. Of those currently age 70 and over, 34% were religious in childhood, including 12% Haredi. Of those currently 18 to 21, 45% were religious in childhood, including 24% hHredi. All age cohorts in between the oldest and the youngest display intermediate and rising percentage figures of being religious both initially and currently, with the exception of the 30–49 age cohort whose percentage of religious remained stable between childhood and now. At the same time, within the religious camp so broadly defined and with respect to each cohort, the Haredi component strengthened between childhood and the time of current observation, apparently at the expense of the Dati component, which substantially diminished. The rising level of religiosity reported as of at childhood across age cohorts seems to principally reflect the impact of higher fertility among the more religious.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Religiosity during childhood and currently, by age, Israel, 2015.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2015), authors’ processing

Figure 4 presents a synthesis of Israeli adults’ directions of religious change, namely gains and losses in religiosity from childhood to current age for each cohort, based on age-specific cross classifications of all the bi-directional categorical changes underlying the final results in Figure 3. Among the total sample and within each cohort a large majority did not change their religious identification between childhood and present age. Overall, 79% kept their childhood religious orientation, 8% became more religious and 13% became less religious, with an absolute negative balance of -5%. Likewise, among those who underwent change, in all cohorts with the exception of the 22–25 Millennials the share of those becoming less religious was higher than the share of those becoming more religious. The overall negative balance was -19% among the 70 +, -9% among the 50–69, and -1% among both the 30–49. Among Millennials, the net change was -4% among the 26–29, +3% among the 22–25, and -1% among the 18–21. At first sight lifetime secularization has happened less among the younger age cohorts, but the younger have more time to continue the process. It remains to be seen whether or not the process of secularization of their predecessors will actually occur.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Lifetime religiosity changes by age: currently as compared to during childhood, Israel, 2015.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2015), authors’ processing

All in all, during their respective lifetime nearly all cohorts of Israeli Jews undergo a process of secularization. Among those aged 70 and over in 2015, the initial percentage of 34% reportedly religious (by combining the Haredi and Dati groups) during childhood had diminished to 22% in 2015. Among those 18–21 in 2015, the initial percentage of 49% religious during childhood had diminished to 46% in 2015. The Millennials in fact do not deviate from the secularization patterns of older age cohorts, though at a less clearly defined pace of change: in fact the 22–25 look much closer to their slightly older 26–29 peers, than to the immediately younger age 18–21 group. The only exception to this general pattern is the 30–49 age group born in 1965–1985, which displays no loss and if anything, a minimal increase in lifetime religiosity.

The results displayed in Figure 5 assume that the change in the percent of religious within each age cohort followed a linear progression over time overlooking other possible paths. We have no detailed information about those possible lifetime fluctuations, but we do have the information on the starting point (childhood) and ending point (current age), while the intermediate points are obtained through simple interpolation. To summarize, each cohort was born and raised more religious than the preceding one, but each cohort also underwent a lifetime process of secularization (with the exception of the 30–49 age group born 1965–1985). We also note again that the 22–25 group (born 1990–93) has a slightly lower initial and terminal level of religiosity that the two contiguous older and younger cohorts, but it also experienced more passages from less to more religious contrary to other cohorts.

Figure 5
Figure 5

Percent religious at childhood and currently, by current age and estimated lifetime stage, Israel, 2015.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

(Sum of Haredi (very religious) and Dati (religious).)Source: figure 3

Regarding the U.S., too, we compare the composition of age cohorts by religious denominations during childhood and currently (see Figure 6). The share of those who at childhood identified with the Orthodox denomination sharply diminishes between those aged 70 + (born up to 1943 – 24%) and those below 70, reaching a minimum of 11% among the 26–29, but recovering to 17% among the 18–21. The share of currently Orthodox is no more than 5% among the 70+, pointing to low retention among the elderly, but slowly and consistently grows among subsequent age groups with a higher value of 13% among the 18–21. The share who grew up in the Conservative movement ranges from 36% among the 50–69 to 13% among the younger Millennials aged 22–25, recovering to 23% among the 18–21. As to current preference, the smallest share of Conservatives is at age 26–29. The share raised Reform grows from 23% among the 70 + to 35% among the 22–25, but shrinking to 22% among the youngest 18–21 cohort. However, current preference goes in the opposite direction, from 36% among the 70 + to a low of 21% among the 18–21. Finally, the cohort most likely to have had no denomination in childhood is those 22–25, at 41%, vs. 38% for those aged 18–21. As for currently having no denomination, that increases from 29% among the 70 + to 47–48% among the Millennial cohorts. The overall picture is that those 18–21 display a propensity toward the Orthodox denomination, significantly deviating from the well-established trends of older cohorts.

Figure 6
Figure 6

Jewish population by main religious denominations during childhood and currently, by age, U.S., 2013.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013), authors’ processing

The net balance of passages between stronger and weaker forms of religious identity is synthesized in Figure 7. Overall a majority of 63% kept to the denominational preferences they held in childhood, 10% passed to more stringent forms of Judaism, and 27% passed to less stringent forms, with a net balance of -17%. The overall negative balance was -31% among the 70 +, -18% among the 50–69, -14% among 30–49 and the 26–29. Among younger Millennials, the net change was -11% among the 22–25, and -6% among the 18–21.

Figure 7
Figure 7

Lifetime religious denomination changes by age: currently as compared to during childhood, U.S., 2013.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013), authors’ processing

Based on the childhood and current denominational preferences shown in Figure 6, we represent in Figure 8 the intervening lifetime changes by age cohorts. The data refer to the combined percentages preferring the Orthodox and Conservative movement – the two upper half categories out of four options displayed here (small percentages of adherents to other very small denominations are not included here). We note again that for each age cohort we know the initial and final level of denominational preference, while the intermediate values are obtained through simple interpolation. In the U.S., and likewise in Israel, all cohorts underwent a transition from more to less stringent religiosity. This can be interpreted as secularization, although the factors at stake in denominational preferences are far more complex.

Figure 8
Figure 8

Percent preferring sum of Orthodox and Conservative denominations at childhood and currently, by current age and estimated lifetime stage, U.S., 2013.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: figure 6

While the lifetime trend toward less religiosity is the same in the two countries, the starting points – religious upbringing – are quite different. In the U.S., each age cohort except the youngest has had a less religious upbringing than the one that preceded it. In Israel, the opposite is true. Each age cohort has had a more religious upbringing than the one that preceded it. The one exception to the pattern in the U.S. is the youngest Millennials, who appear significantly more traditional at childhood as well as currently than their immediately older peers, although like all other cohorts they seem to be undergoing lifetime secularization.

That younger Jews are more likely to have no denominational attachment is similar to other Americans (Kosmin and Keysar 2006). And similar to Israelis, younger American Jews are somewhat more likely to be Orthodox because of the higher fertility of their parents (Pew Research Center 2013). Orthodox U.S. Jews also exhibit higher retention rates when comparing the current denomination preference with the one in which they were raised as children. The total lifetime retention rate of those raised Orthodox was 48%. The rest passed to less stringent denominations, 15% to Conservative, 11% to Reform, and 20% to other and no denomination, while 6% left Judaism. The Orthodox retention rate was only 22% of all those raised Orthodox and aged 65+ in 2013, but significantly grew to 83% among Orthodox raised Jewish adults under 30. Among those raised Conservative, the lifetime denominational retention rate was 36%. Of the rest, 4% passed to Orthodox, and 60% passed to less stringent Jewish denominations, including 10% who left Judaism. Among those raised Reform, the lifetime denominational retention rate was 55%. Of the rest, 7% passed to more stringent denominations, and 37% to less stringent ones, including 11% who left Judaism (Pew Research Center 2013). The group whose net gain was the greater was the one without any denomination preference. Among the latter, 50% reported they were Jews without religion (Pew Research Center 2013).

Clearly through contiguous passages from one denomination to the next, a significant process of personal mobility in terms of designated personal or denominational religiosity preferences occurred both in the U.S. and in Israel. The general pattern portrayed is one of net lifetime passages from more to less stringent forms of Jewish religious identification, but retention rates of childhood orientations are much stronger in Israel than they are among American Jews. The religious bifurcation of young Jews between a highly resilient religious end and a growing secular end is at the heart of our research.

Jewish Identification: Millennials and Others

Essential Meaning of Being Jewish: Israel and U.S.

Beyond generic affirmations about one’s own religiosity, it is important to determine more in depth and detail what is essential to being Jewish. Is there a consensus among Jews in the U.S. and in Israel? Figure 9 displays a selection of eight attributes and activities assumed (along with many others) to be associated with Jewish identification that were investigated in both Pew surveys. The question was how essential these specific identification options are to being Jewish for U.S. and Israel respondents. The figure refers to all ages and for the U.S. distinguishes between persons raised Jewish and others with some kind of Jewish background or affinity. The eight indicators are ranked according to their frequency among the Israeli respondents.

Figure 9
Figure 9

Selected identification indicators considered essential to meaning of being Jewish , U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013 and 2015)

The eight indicators are ranked similarly in the two countries to some extent, but there also are remarkable differences. Remembering the Holocaust and leading an ethical and moral life are at the top in both countries, though the former prevails among the Israelis and the latter among the Americans. Israeli Jews place far greater importance than American Jews on observing Jewish law, and far less importance on working for justice and equality in society, having a good sense of humor, and being intellectually curious. No difference appears regarding the importance of eating traditional Jewish food, which is the least mentioned option in both samples. Regarding the possible impact of the state of Israel as one essential component in defining Jewish identity, one should note that the question had the two different formulations in the two surveys, evidently affecting the levels of inherent commitment and response frequencies. As is, U.S. Jews attribute greater importance to caring for Israel than the Israelis do for living in Israel.

Differences between the U.S. raised Jewish and U.S. with other Jewish background are usually minor and smaller than might have been expected. This may indicate that the American cultural environment may influence identification perceptions, regardless of whether those perceptions concern the respondents about themselves, or about other people.

We turn now to examine the variation across age groups of three of the identificational options just seen, reported by the respondents as essential to defining one’s own Jewish identity: observing Jewish law, leading an ethical and moral life, and working for justice and equality in society. Besides considering broad age divisions (30–49, 50–69, and 70+) we subdivide the age group 18–29 (the Millennials) into three sub-groups: 18–21, 22–25, and 26–29. Age matters to what “being Jewish” means. Yet, the country context of Jewish environment seems more prominent in determining essential disparities between the U.S. and Israeli samples (Figure 10).

Figure 10
Figure 10

Essentiality of three selected options in one’s own Jewish identity, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013 and 2015), authors’ processing

Levels and ranking of the three identificational options are relatively consistent across ages, but they are significantly different in the two countries. In the U.S., ethics is by far the highest, followed by justice in society and by observing Jewish law. In Israel ethics is higher, becoming eventually matched by observing Jewish law, with justice in society significantly lower. Agreement on the importance of observing Jewish law is where younger Americans raised Jewish and Israeli Jews converge. Half of 18–21 Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel think that observing Jewish law is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Much more than older counterparts, the Millennials in each of the two countries perceive religiosity as an essential component of their Jewishness. In Israel, the intensification of religiosity among the younger has been presented above, among other things, as the product of differential fertility and birth rates. Among Americans who were raised Jewish, but among whom fertility differentials constitute less of an explanation, sharp increases among the younger appear too. The progressive increase of religiosity at all ages in both countries is only temporarily interrupted among the Millennials aged 22–25. Clearly increased emphasis on the essentiality of Jewish law observance seems to contradict our previous observations about the long-term secularization trends in the U.S. and their relation to Jewish identity maintenance versus assimilation. These changes probably primarily reflect cohort effects, reinforced by some lifecycle secularization effects.

On the other hand, leading an ethical and moral life and working for justice and equality in society is more essential to being Jewish in the U.S., very stable and showing some renewed increases among the Millennials, mainly those 18–21. Justice in society is essential to American Jewry far more than among the Israelis. There was an evident decline in the essentiality of this aspect in the U.S. with some recovery and stabilization among the Millennials.

Among U.S. persons of other background – whose data are not displayed in Figure 10 – not surprisingly the importance of observing Jewish law is far lower. U.S. persons of other background are nearly identical to the U.S. raised Jewish regarding working for justice and equality in society, and moderately lower regarding leading an ethical and moral life. This provides further evidence for the argument that general societal patterns shared by Jews and others are sometimes stronger than specific identification patterns nuances within the Jewish group.

Synthetic Measures of Jewish Identification

Having reviewed several indicators of the particular contents of Jewish identification, we move to constructing three synthetic measures of the fundamental modes of attachment to Judaism and to the state of Israel, comparing again age variations among Jews in the U.S. and in Israel. These three indexes concern Jewish religiosity, Jewish peoplehood, and Jewish nationalism and refer to responses to selected questions in the cognitive or behavioral sphere:

Index of Jewish Religiosity

  1. Agree: Religion is important in my life
  2. Agree: I believe in God or universal spirit
  3. Weekly attendance at religious services

Index of Jewish Peoplehood

  1. Being Jewish is important in my life
  2. I have a special responsibility to take care of Jews around the world
  3. I have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people

Index of Jewish Nationalism

  1. Settlements in the West Bank help Israel’s security
  2. God gave the Land of Israel to Jews
  3. I do not think a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully

All three indexes are computed based on the percentages of those who agree with all the three specified statements in each instance. The results are displayed in Figure 11.

Figure 11
Figure 11

Indexes of Jewish religiosity, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish nationalism, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013 and 2015), authors’ processing

The ranking of the three indexes is the same in the two countries; peoplehood higher, religiosity intermediate, and nationalism lower. In each instance the index for Israeli Jews is substantially higher than that for the U.S. raised Jewish. Interestingly in many respects Millennials at age 22–25 display levels of support somewhat lower than the linear trends linking older and younger counterparts. The sense of Jewish peoplehood appears in the increase among American Jews, while it is somewhat declining among Israeli Jews. The gap has diminished particularly among the younger Millennials at age 18–21.

Young Jewish adults are more religious than older Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel, especially those at age 18–21. Religiosity levels are higher in Israel than in the U.S. in all age groups. Yet, the Israel-U.S. religiosity gap has narrowed among younger Jews who were raised Jewish. The higher religiosity of the younger in both countries reflects the already noted differential in reproduction levels and demographic growth of different groups by religiosity, and in the U.S., also the selectively stronger resilience of the more religious within the Jewish community as against the alternative of loss of interest in Jewish identity among the more secular.

Israeli Jews and American Jews are quite different with regard to Jewish nationalism. Jewish nationalism, as defined here, appears to be constantly low among the U.S. raised Jewish – less than 10% – and was likewise low among the older Israeli age group, 70+. The distancing becomes most evident among younger Jews, especially those ages 18–21. Among the Israelis nationalism appears to be rapidly growing quite in parallel to the growing levels of the religiosity index. Unlike the convergence that can be observed regarding the indexes of religiosity and peoplehood, a significant gulf seems to be opening between younger Millennials in the two countries. Indeed, Israelis and Americans embrace different perspectives on some controversial political issues (DellaPergola, Levy, and Keysar 2019). Religiosity and nationalism are entangled, as shown by 60% of the Haredim in Israel and 34% of the Orthodox in the U.S. believing that “settlements in the West Bank help Israel’s security” – higher than among Jews with other religious outlooks (36% and 15%, respectively) (Pew Research Center 2015). Young Israelis are more likely to view the settlements as helping Israel’s security. They are skeptical about the likelihood of a Palestinian state and Israel coexisting and believe that the Land of Israel was God-given to Jews. It should be recalled that Israelis age 18–21 are mostly serving in the army, while Americans are mostly attending colleges in the U.S., where anti-Israel sentiment is quite diffused (Pessin and Ben-Atar 2018). Thus, some of the gap may be related to lifecycle circumstances and might diminish at older ages. But this might also be the beginning of a decisive clash in the political outlook of Jews in the two countries. For decades, Jews massively supported center-left and liberal parties, while over the last ten years – but more decisively so in Israel – they have increasingly supported center-right and conservative parties (Pew Research Center 2015).

Among the U.S. respondents with other background (whose data are not reported in Figure 11) not surprisingly the three indexes are extremely low. This group includes mostly non-Jewish descendants of intermarriages, whereas many were raised either in other non-Jewish religions, or as lacking a religion and partly Jewish. After discounting for those who have lost interest for Judaism, those who remain among the younger are measurably more religious. This begins with an index of Jewish religiosity below 5% all across the age range, reflecting a broader underlying process of secularization. The index of Jewish peoplehood, too, is very low, declining from about 15% among the oldest to about 5% among the youngest Millennials. The index of Jewish nationalism is very low, tending to nil.

Finally, the extent to which Jews adhere to overlapping Jewish religiosity and peoplehood, as measured through our indexes, is demonstrated in Figure 12, which illustrates the simultaneous presence of two high indexes or of two low indexes. Extraordinarily similar patterns appear in the U.S. and in Israel. We recall that each index is quite demanding in its own domain because it involves the simultaneous positive answer to three different questions. This may explain why in both countries scoring low on both indexes was frequent in the past. Over time, remarkably, strong indexes of religiosity and of peoplehood increasingly overlap, peaking in both countries among the youngest (18–21) Millennials. Unsurprisingly, young Millennials are the least likely to score low on both indexes, while 70+ are among the most likely to score low on both indexes. Scores on the two indexes track closely. In other words, Paul Ritterband’s essentialist hypothesis that "more goes with more" (Chanes 2001) clearly seems to prevail over the alternative transformationist hypothesis (Goldscheider 1986) that one mode of Jewish identification may gradually substitute for another, while the overall intensity or at least relevance of Jewish identification may remain unaltered. In any case, Jewish religiosity and Jewish peoplehood appear to go together, either in the affirmative or in the negative, among a large and growing majority of the Jewish population in both countries.

Figure 12
Figure 12

Combined presence or absence of high indexes of Jewish religiosity and Jewish peoplehood, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

Citation: Journal of Religion and Demography 6, 1 (2019) ; 10.1163/2589742X-00601004

Source: Pew Research Center (2013 and 2015), authors’ processing

According to further data not shown here, Jewish religiosity devoid of Jewish peoplehood slightly increases among the young age group in both countries but it is significantly more visible in Israel than in the U.S. Jewish peoplehood devoid of Jewish religion significantly diminishes in both countries, more dramatically so in the U.S. than in Israel. This complementary evidence points again to relatively stronger resilience of religiosity than of a secular sense of peoplehood as the informing principle of contemporary Jewish identification, especially among the younger Millennials.

Multiple-variable Analysis: Binary Logistic Regression

What, then, is the role of religion and demography in explaining Jewish identification variations among Jews in the U.S. and Israel? A series of binary logistic regression models are presented in Table 3. They explore the likelihood of adults who were raised Jewish to view their Jewish identity mainly as a matter of religion, rather than a matter of ancestry or culture (see Figure 3). In our analysis, we measure the likelihood that people will think being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion. Odds ratios bigger than 1 show a greater likelihood compared with the reference group. Odds ratios smaller than 1 indicate a lower likelihood compared with the reference group.

T000003

Model 1 looks at demographics, first at six age groups (reference group: 18–21) and gender (reference group: male). Model 2 puts in the effect of country (reference category: Israel). Model 3 introduces the peoplehood index (reference group: low level). Model 4 adds the nationalism index (reference group: low level) and Model 5 inserts the religiosity index (reference group: low level). Each subsequent model enhances the explanatory power of the logistic regression analysis, reaching a high of R2 = 0.27 in Model 5.

The differences between Americans and Israelis who were raised Jewish persist in all models. The Israelis’ likelihood to view their Jewish identity mainly as a matter of religion is double that of Americans (1/0.5). The age gaps remain statistically significant especially between the youngest and the oldest, 18–21 versus 70+. Young Jews age 18–21 are significantly more likely than all other age groups to view their Jewishness as a matter of religion even when other factors are controlled for. Gender differences point to a stronger religion orientation among males – significant in all models except for Model 5.

As expected, high religiosity level is associated with greater likelihood to view Jewishness in religious terms (odds ratio = 6.2 in Model 5). Jewish peoplehood also increases along with religious Jewish identity (odds ratio = 3.96 in Model 3), but when religiosity is introduced too, it takes away considerably the effect of peoplehood (odds ratio = 2.03 in Model 5). Jewish nationalism, too, seems to be largely embedded in respondents’ level of religiosity, as shown by the decreased significance of its effect (odds ratio = 1.5 and significant in Model 4), but not significant once religiosity level is introduced. An odds ratio of 1.09 indicates that those with high and those with low nationalism orientation share similar views on Jewishness after controlling for religiosity (Model 5).

Wrestling with the finding that the age effect mostly goes away once controlling for other factors, we introduce an interactive variable, age group by country, creating 12 categories: 6 age groups for each country in Model 6, and adding gender and the three indexes: peoplehood, nationalism and religiosity. The dependent variable is again the likelihood of viewing Jewish identity mainly as a religion (Table 4).

T000004

Three important patterns are discovered: first, the lack of significance related to age differences in Israel; second, the consistently significant very low odds of religious Jewish identity among American Jews, mainly among those above age 25; and third, the most surprising finding of the lack of significant differences between 18–21 Israelis and Americans even after controlling for their level of belief in Jewish peoplehood and level of religiosity. This was already evident in Figure 10 regarding the essentiality of Observing Jewish law. In the U.S., in passing from older to younger age groups, the absence of focus on religion tends to become less and less significant. In other words, passing from older to younger cohorts the focus on secular aspects of identity weakens, hence the focus on religion increases. Were the same trend to continue over time, we might venture predicting that in the longer term the odds of religion in determining Jewish identity in the U.S. would turn from initially negative into positive and significant. A caveat is that the cohort effects which tend to strengthen religiosity may be counteracted and compensated by the lifecycle effects which tend to weaken it. Similar to Model 5, in Model 6 greater likelihood to view Jewishness in religious terms is obviously and strikingly associated with high religiosity level (odds ratio = 6.21), and additionally with high Jewish peoplehood (odds ratio = 2.04), but not with Jewish nationalism. The explanatory power of the interactive Model 6 remains as in Model 5 in Table 3: R2 = 0.27.

Summary and Conclusion

Being Jewish is complex and it encompasses many historical and contemporary, religious and secular connotations. As a small minority (2 per 1,000 of total population worldwide) (DellaPergola 2018), Jews struggle to preserve their Jewishness while grappling with the meaning of their ascribed identity (Mayer et al. 2002). The challenge is particularly demanding in the Diaspora, where Jews must negotiate their identities amongst other hegemonic segments of society. In Israel, on the other hand, Jews are a significant majority, but that majority – hence the state’s predominant cultural identity – is challenged by the more rapid growth of the Arab/Palestinian population.

Regardless of where Jews are, Jewishness is recognized as an assortment of multiple meanings. In this respect it is interesting to read again the standard interpretation of what happened in the Jewish experience since the late 19th century:

Some of the greatest Hebrew writers of the early twentieth century rebelled against Jewish collective identity marked by religion. It was a mutiny against that all-embracing abstract noun, yahadut (Judaism). In so rebelling, they felt Jewish to their bones. They did not wish to convert to another faith, or to belong to another nation. Rather, in a plagued modernist way, they strove to tear their existence as individual modern Jews from the bonds of traditional orthodoxy (Oz and Oz-Salzberger 2012:150).

As against this reading, we seem to be observing a significant religionization of Jewish identity in Israel and in the U.S. This involves not only return of younger Jews to more religious forms of Judaism, but also a reconfiguration of Jewish peoplehood as more strictly overlapping with Jewish religion and a growing belief that the principal essence of Judaism is religion and not its more secular alternatives. Most contemporary young Jews who prefer to express their Jewish identity in religious terms still continue to hold onto strong Jewish peoplehood, and frequently in Israel also to rising Jewish nationalism. Other more secular and humanistic options for Jewish identity that were frequent and influential in the past seem to lose weight – due partly to the more rapid reproduction of the more religious sections of Jewish population, partly to a higher retention of younger Jews within the more religious Jewish strata and denominations in which they were raised, and partly because some secular and humanistic Jews are no longer counted because they have abandoned Judaism entirely.

Our comparative study through both conventional and Multiple-variable analysis indicates that young Jewish adults – the Millennials – in Israel and in the U.S., especially those 18–21 years old, are more likely to view their Jewishness mainly as a matter of religion rather than as a culture or ethnicity. At the same time, the secular end of the distribution holds its position and points to two polarities within the overall Jewish collective while the middle is shrinking. Propensity towards a religious identity among younger Jews in the U.S. and in Israel apparently deviates from a distinct secularization process which is visible in both cases and also prevails among young people around the world (Pew Research Center 2013). Such apparent deviation and the multi-directional or transactional nature of religiosity patterns appear to be consistent with broader trends detected in comparative research (Kuczynski 2003; Boyatzis and Janicki 2003). In the case of U.S. Jews an additional factor at work may be a growing individuation of beliefs and behaviors, and disenchantment with the institutions of Jewish religious denominations (Kosmin and Keysar 2013).

Haredi and Orthodox Jews remain a relatively small minority in Israel and in the U.S., respectively, though a growing one over time. Changes in the religious composition of age cohorts are visible among the Millennials. In addition, religion tends to increasingly overlap with a more secular, ethnic, perception of Jewish identification. Many questions remain: Is the religious increase among younger Jewish Millennials we observed sustainable in the longer term? Will the U.S. and Israel continue to converge in Jewish religious observance as these young people become older? In this respect we plausibly disentangled the cohort and lifecycle effects of change in religiosity. We demonstrated that over time the share of total Jewish population in Israel that defines itself as religious grew from cohort to cohort, reflecting the higher fertility and birth rates of the more religious population sections. An additional factor at work in Israel, at least initially, may have been the growing proportion across cohorts of immigrants and children of immigrants originating from more traditional Jewish communities in Asia and Africa, versus the predominantly secular European origin among older cohorts. In the U.S. the opposite patterns emerged: each cohort was less religious than the preceding one at childhood. This reflects a widespread process of secularization in America, although the U.S. is counted among the western societies more impregnated with religious values (Inglehart et al. 2004). At the same time, of twelve age cohorts examined – six in Israel and six in the U.S. – eleven became less religious over its own lifetime with the exception of the 30–49 in Israel. This dialectical tension between becoming more and becoming less religious played an important and constant role in defining the identificational profile of the two populations investigated here. However, this well entrenched pattern looks weaker, somewhat less consistent, bound to reversal, and not finally adjudicated among the Millennials.

Two main exceptions to these predominant patterns involved those aged 30 to 49 in Israel, and the 22 to 25 Millennials in both countries. It should be further investigated whether these deviations reflect certain particular factors related to the respective periods of socialization, or rather represent lifecycle effects. In the case of the 22–25, more independent patterns of religious behavior and self-assessment may be related to heightened self-expression regarding beliefs and values, including religiosity and spirituality when moving forward toward more mature adulthood (Barry et al. 2010). In the case of the 30–49, the cause might be temporary adaptations related to the lifecycle peak of childbearing and early childrearing. It may be interesting to note that during the years since persons in this cohort were born, Israel experienced the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war, and the first Lebanon war. In our study gender differentials, if any, pointed to a stronger connection of males with a religious focus on Jewishness (see also Schnabel et al. 2018).

There are ramifications to a surge in religiosity in Israel. Jewish nationalism is infused with religious motives. The notion that God gave the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants is rooted in Biblical scriptures (Genesis 15:18–21; Genesis 26:3; Genesis 28:13), a claim that often inflames the Middle East and divides Jews around the world, including Jews in Israel. Our findings demonstrate that such perceptions are associated with religiosity levels. Among Jews in the U.S., however, the rise in religiosity among the youngest is accompanied by a diffuse identification with general, more universal ethical and behavioral values and a growing rejection of nationalism. A significant ideological cleavage thus apparently emerges between the two Jewish communities, and especially among the respective Millennial cohorts. One example is the much higher sensitivity of U.S. Jews in comparison with Israelis toward perceptions of discrimination against Arabs or against the lgbt (Pew Research Center 2013, 2015). Another example of internal but also transnational import is the overwhelming opposition mutually manifested by Haredi and Hiloni (secular) respondents in Israel against marriage of one of their children with one of the opposite persuasion (Pew Research Center 2015). These different attitudes may also bear powerful consequences for the process of mutual recognition and solidarity between U.S. and Israel Jewish communities: ongoing distancing related to assimilation and loss of interest may compound with a different mode of distancing reflecting diametrically opposed ideological preferences.

In spite of the exceptionalism often claimed about trends affecting Jewish society, on the one hand, and American society, on the other, the relationship between religion, religiosity and nationalism is not unique to Jews, or to Americans. Changes in the demographic and ideational composition of societies can powerfully affect their nature and stability. Further research on the multiple dimensions of religious identities and their ethno-cultural correlates, as well as their shifts over time and across generations – like our investigation has shown – can elucidate the plausible future direction of the mutual interplay between demographic trends and religious, cultural and political identities. The possible consequences can be far reaching for future national and transnational societal equilibria.

The authors are indebted to Alan Cooperman and Neha Segal of the Pew Research Center for facilitating access to a special merged file of the two Pew surveys of the U.S. (2013) and Israel (2015); to Peter Coy for comments on a previous version of the manuscript; and to two anonymous reviewers for valuable suggestions. Responsibility for the paper’s contents is of the authors only.

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1

Response rate is the proportion of completed interviews with eligible respondents of all completed and non-completed interviews (including refusals). Cooperation rate is the proportion of all cases interviewed of all eligible units ever contacted; Contact rate is the proportion of all cases in which some responsible member of the housing unit was reached by the survey (aapor 2015).

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  • DellaPergola Sergio . 2014. “Measuring Jewish Populations.” In Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2014, edited by Grim B.J. , Johnson T.M. , Skirbekk V. and Zurlo G.A. , 97110. Leiden: Brill.

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • DellaPergola Sergio . 2018. “World Jewish Population 2017.” American Jewish Year Book 2017, edited by Dashefsky Arnold and Sheskin Ira , 285377. Dordrecht: Springer.

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    • Export Citation
  • DellaPergola Sergio . 2019. “Ethnoreligious Intermarriage in Israel: An Exploration of the 2008 Census.” Journal of Israeli History, https://doi.org/10.1080/13531042.2018.1532565.

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    • Export Citation
  • DellaPergola Sergio , Keysar Ariela , and Levy Shlomit . Forthcoming. “Jewish Identification in Israel and in the United States: Structural and Cultural Differentials.” Contemporary Jewry.

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • Fishman Sylvia Barack . 2000. Jewish Life and American Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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  • fra–European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 2018. Antisemitism. Overview of Data Available in the European Union 2007–2017. Vienna: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

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    • Export Citation
  • Frejka Tomas , and Westoff Charles F. . 2006. “Religion, Religiousness and Fertility in the U.S. and in Europe.” MPIDR Working Paper WP 2006–2013.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Glazer Nathan . 1957. American Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Goldscheider Calvin . 1965. “Nativity, Generation and Jewish Fertility.” Sociology of Religion 26: 137147.

  • Goldscheider Calvin . 1986. Jewish Continuity and Change: Emerging Patterns in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Goldstein Sidney . 1970. “Religious Fertility Differentials in Thailand, 1960.” Population Studies 24: 325337.

  • Goldstein Sidney , and Goldscheider Calvin . 1968. Jewish Americans: Three Generation in a Jewish Community. Ethnic Groups in American Life Series, edited by M. Gordon Milton . Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hartman Harriet . 2014. “Studies of Jewish Identity and Continuity in the United States: Competing, Complementary, and Comparative Perspectives.” In Studies in Contemporary Jewry, edited by Rebhun Uzi , 74108. Volume 27. New York: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hartman Harriet , and Sheskin Ira M. . 2012. “The Relationship of Jewish Community Contexts and Jewish Identity: A 22-community Study.” Contemporary Jewry 32 (3): 237283.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Herman Shimon . 1977. Jewish Identity: A Social Psychological Perspective. Beverly Hills: Sage.

  • Hleihel Ahmad . 2017. Fertility among Jewish Women, by level of religiosity: 1979-2014. Working Paper 101. Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hleihel Ahmad . 2018. Total Fertility Rates (TFR) by level of religiosity for the years 1979-2017: Jewish women. Unpublished data. Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Inglehart R. , Basanez M. , Daez-Medrano J. , Halman L. , and Luijkx R. . 2004. Human Beliefs and Values: A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook Based Upon the 1999–2002 Values Surveys. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Israel cbs-Central Bureau of Statistics. Annual. Statistical Abstract of Israel. Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics.

  • Jiobu R. , and Marshall H. . 1977. “Minority Status and Family Size: A Comparison of Explanations.” Population Studies 31: 509517.

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    • Export Citation
  • Kaplan Mordecai M. 1957. Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life .New York-London: Reconstructionist Press-Thomas Yoseloff.

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  • Kaufmann Eric . 2010. Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Religion, Demography and Politics in the 21st Century. London: Profile Books.

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    • Export Citation
  • Keysar Ariela . 2010. “Distancing from Israel: Evidence on Jews of No Religion.” Contemporary Jewry 30 (2–3): 199204.

  • Keysar Ariela . 2014a. “From Jerusalem to New York: Researching Jewish Erosion and Resilience.” Contemporary Jewry 34 (2): 147162.

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    Age structures of Jews in Israel and the U.S., 2013.

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    Cognitive meanings of personal Jewishness – U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

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    Religiosity during childhood and currently, by age, Israel, 2015.

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    Lifetime religiosity changes by age: currently as compared to during childhood, Israel, 2015.

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    Percent religious at childhood and currently, by current age and estimated lifetime stage, Israel, 2015.

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    Jewish population by main religious denominations during childhood and currently, by age, U.S., 2013.

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    Lifetime religious denomination changes by age: currently as compared to during childhood, U.S., 2013.

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    Percent preferring sum of Orthodox and Conservative denominations at childhood and currently, by current age and estimated lifetime stage, U.S., 2013.

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    Selected identification indicators considered essential to meaning of being Jewish , U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

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    Essentiality of three selected options in one’s own Jewish identity, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

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    Indexes of Jewish religiosity, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish nationalism, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

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    Combined presence or absence of high indexes of Jewish religiosity and Jewish peoplehood, by age, U.S. 2013 and Israel 2015, percentages.

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