The Pew Research Center’s recent independent survey of Jewish America is the most comprehensive national poll of the U.S. Jewish population in more than a decade, and we are pleased that it has captured the interest of the American public, and beyond.
Our survey builds on the Jewish community’s long and proud tradition of conducting pioneering research on the size and characteristics of U.S. Jewry. However, there are many differences between previous surveys of Jews and the new survey, which means that direct, exact comparisons between previous surveys and the new Pew Research study are not possible.
In his op-ed, Forward columnist J.J. Goldberg suggests, wrongly, that the Pew Research survey of American Jews should be compared to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey rather than to the 2000-2001 NJPS and that using this earlier comparison point would result in a very different picture of demographic trends. Goldberg’s analysis is mistaken in several ways.
First, all of the National Jewish Population Surveys (conducted in 1970-71, 1990 and 2000-2001) differ from the Pew Research survey – as well as from each other – in their sampling methods, question wording and categorizations of Jews. As a result, it is highly misleading to take findings from any of the NJPS studies and, without further analysis, simply stack them against figures from the Pew Research survey. The importance of paying attention to different methods, questions and definitions is highlighted in some detail in our report.
In particular, Goldberg appears to take the category labeled “Born Jews With No Religion” in the report on the highlights of the 1990 study and compares it with the “Jews of No Religion” category in the Pew Research survey.
The 1990 study found that of the “core” Jewish population of 5.515 million people, 1.120 million, or 20%, were “Born Jews With No Religion.” Since the numbers look similar (20% in the 1990 study vs. 22% in the new survey), he mistakenly concludes that there has been no increase in the share of Jews of No Religion. His error is to assume that the two categories are the same. They are not.