Pew Stands By Sweeping Findings on #JewishAmerica in Face of Criticism

Pushes Back Against Forward Columnist J.J. Goldberg


By Alan Cooperman and Greg Smith

Published October 15, 2013.

(page 2 of 3)

The category called Born Jews With No Religion in the 1990 NJPS is considerably broader than the Jews of No Religion category in the new Pew Research survey. The new survey defines Jews of No Religion as U.S. adults who identify themselves, religiously, as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular but who have at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who say they consider themselves Jewish or partially Jewish aside from religion.

This question – do you consider yourself Jewish? – was included in both the 2000-2001 NJPS and the Pew Research survey. But it was not asked in the same way, at least not of all respondents and about all Jewish adults in surveyed households, in the 1990 NJPS.

Because of the lack of comparability on this key question, there is no way to construct, retroactively, a narrower category in the 1990 dataset that can be compared with the Jews of No Religion category in the new survey. But there are at least two ways to try to see what has happened, over time, to the NJPS 1990’s Born Jews With No Religion category.

One is to take the Jews of No Religion category in the Pew Research survey and expand it to include people who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion and who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who do not currently consider themselves Jewish aside from religion. This is, admittedly, a very rough comparison that ignores methodological differences between the NJPS 1990 and the new survey, but at least it creates categories that are similarly defined.

Using this definition, people Born Jews With No Religion made up 20% of all Jews in the 1990 survey (and about 19% of Jewish adults) and about 26% of all Jewish adults in the Pew Research survey. If we also include those who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who decline to specify their religion or who report practicing a religion other than Christianity (as the Born Jews With No Religion category in 1990 seems to have done), then the Pew Research figure rises still further, to 31%.

The second (and we think much better) way to try to discern how this category has changed over time is to compare the 1990 NJPS with two subsequent surveys that were designed to replicate its research design – the 2001 and 2008 American Jewish Identification Surveys conducted by Barry A. Kosmin of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Using his methods and definitions, the share of Jewish adults in the U.S. with a Jewish parent and “no religion” rose from 19% in 1990 to 28% in 2001 and 32% in 2008, as calculated from the adult counts shown in Table 2 on page five of the 2008 AJIS report. Both of these comparisons indicate – contrary to Goldberg’s assertion – that there has been substantial growth in the share of U.S. Jews who do not identify with Judaism as a religion.



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