If you’ve been following the news about that new survey of American Jews from the folks at the Pew Research Center, you’ve probably heard the basics. The New York Times summed it up nicely: “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish.”
There’s one more thing you need to know: It’s not true. None of it.
A “rise in those who are not religious”? Wrong. More Jews marrying “outside the faith”? Wrong. More Jews “not raising their children Jewish”? Wrong.
No, not wrong as in “I think there’s a better way to interpret those numbers.” Wrong as in “incorrect.” Erroneous. Whoops.
Mind you, most of what’s in the study seems solid, from what this reasonably informed layman can tell. It just so happens that Pew made an honest mistake in one highly visible spot, and that is what grabbed the headlines. Then the reporters made a few mistakes reading the material. The result was what you saw: a dark portent of doom.
Take away the errors, and you get a very different narrative. It would go something like this: Despite decades of warnings that American Jewry is dissolving in the face of assimilation and intermarriage, a major new survey by one of America’s most respected social research organizations depicts a Jewish community that is growing more robustly than even the optimists expected.
Over the past quarter-century (it continues), the data show a community that has grown in number. Intermarriage leveled off in the late 1990s after rising steadily through much of the 20th century, and has remained stable for the past 15 years.
By some measures, Jews appear to be increasing overall levels of Jewish practice and engagement. Most surprising, significant numbers of children of intermarriage have grown up to become Jewish adults, far exceeding even their own parents’ intentions.
If things are so good, why do they look so bad? Simple. After calculating its data, Pew compared its findings with an earlier survey to see where things were headed.