NEW YORK (JTA) – Do you experience feelings of peace and well-being at least once a week? Did God write the Torah? Do you eat bacon?
If these questions seem a little personal, don’t fret. They’re all part of a new Pew Research Center survey on American religion released Tuesday that shows moderate declines in religious beliefs and behaviour among Americans generally, but growth among Jews in some key religious categories.
Some 847 of the 35,000 Americans in the Pew telephone survey between June and September 2014 identified themselves as Jews by religion – far fewer than the 3,475 Jews interviewed for Pew’s landmark 2013 survey of U.S. Jewry. (Unlike the new survey, the ‘13 study also counted as Jews those of “no religion” who identified themselves as Jewish by ethnicity, parentage or feeling). But there’s still plenty of interesting data on Jewish beliefs, practice and voting patterns in the new survey.
Here are some of the study’s more interesting findings:
Growing prayer and Torah study
Compared with the last time Pew surveyed Americans about religion, in 2007, the percentage of Jews who said religion is very important to them grew from 31 per cent to 35 per cent.
Similarly, the percentage who said they attend religious services weekly or more often grew from 16 per cent to 19 per cent; the proportion of Jews who said they read “scripture” at least weekly grew from 14 per cent to 17 per cent, and the percentage of those who said they participate in prayer groups or religious study groups at least weekly grew from 11 per cent to 16 per cent.
However, it’s important to note that most of those increases are within the survey’s margin of error for Jewish respondents, which is 4.2 percentage points. On the question of the proportion of Jews who attend religious services weekly or more, for example, there is inconsistency between this survey’s finding of 19 per cent and Pew’s 2013 finding of 14 per cent. Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research, told JTA the numbers are within the two surveys’ combined margins of error, but that the questions were also asked slightly differently, so direct comparisons are tricky.
Jews aren’t that concerned with the meaning of life
Jews think about the meaning and purpose of life less than American Christians or Muslims – 45 per cent of Jews compared to 64 per cent of Muslims, 61 per cent of Protestants, 52 per cent of Catholics and 59 per cent of Buddhists. The survey found that 70 per cent of Jews feel a strong sense of gratitude at least once a week.
Did God write the Bible?
Eleven per cent of Jews believe the Torah is the literal word of God. That’s about the same proportion as Orthodox Jews within the U.S. Jewish population overall. An additional 26 per cent of Jews believe the Torah is the non-literal word of God and 55 per cent believe the Torah was written by men. Compared to other religious groups in America, Jews have the lowest proportion of adherents who believe God wrote the Bible (except for Buddhists, who don’t believe in the Bible).
Jews also read the Bible less than other religious Americans. Among Jews, 17 per cent of respondents said they read the Bible outside of services at least weekly, compared to 35 per cent for all Americans, 52 per cent of Protestants and 25 per cent of Catholics.
Meanwhile, belief in God fell slightly among Jews, from 72 per cent in 2007 to 64 per cent in 2014 (37 per cent said they were absolutely certain God exists, and 27 per cent said they were fairly certain).
Right or wrong? Jews use common sense
Where do Jews turn for guidance on questions of right and wrong? Fifty per cent use “common sense,” 17 per cent turn to religion, 17 per cent to philosophy and 14 per cent to science.
Twenty-one per cent of Jews believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, and 76 per cent say it depends on the situation.
Forty per cent of Jews say they believe in heaven, up from 38 per cent in 2007, and 22 per cent say they believe in hell, the same as in 2007. By contrast, 72 per cent of all Americans believe in heaven and 58 per cent believe in hell. Seventy-nine per cent of Jews believe other religions can also lead to eternal life – a higher proportion than among Christians (66 per cent) or Muslims (65 per cent).
Jewish women pray more than Jewish men
Most Jewish survey respondents – 53 per cent – said they belong to a local house of worship (the survey did not break down results by religious denomination). Though 19 per cent of Jews surveyed said they attend services at least once a week, 29 per cent said they pray at least once a day (up from 26 per cent in 2007), 24 per cent said they pray weekly or monthly, and 45 per cent said they seldom or never pray. While there is a significant divide between the sexes among Americans generally when it comes to daily prayer – 64 per cent of American women versus 46 per cent of American men pray daily – among Jews the gender difference is slight: 31 per cent of Jewish women compared to 27 per cent of Jewish men pray daily.
Most American Jews eat pork
When it comes to observing religious dietary restrictions, Jews are less fastidious than Muslims or Hindus. While 90 per cent of Muslims surveyed said they abjure pork and 67 per cent of Hindus said they avoid beef, only 40 per cent of Jews abstain from eating pork. Fifty-seven per cent of Jews surveyed affirmed they eat pork. (One per cent of Jewish respondents said they were vegetarian; the survey did not ask Christian respondents about vegetarianism).
Jews are not at peace with themselves
While 59 per cent of all Americans said they experience deep feelings of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week (68 per cent of Protestants, 57 per cent of Catholics and 64 per cent of Muslims), the figure for Jews was only 39 per cent. But that was still more than agnostics and atheists, who experience those feelings weekly at rates of 37 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.
Are religious organizations a force for good?
Eighty-eight per cent of Jews said their houses of worship and other religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds, but only 63 per cent said those institutions protect and strengthen morality in society. By contrast, 83 per cent of Christians and Muslims said their institutions protect and strengthen morality in society.
At the same time, 54 per cent of Jews surveyed said religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (compared to 52 per cent of all Americans), 59 per cent said they focus too much on rules (51 per cent among all Americans) and 59 per cent said they’re too involved with politics (48 per cent among all Americans).
Jewish Republicans gain, but so do Jewish liberals
Although the increase in Republican Jews is within the survey’s margin of error for Jews, the percentage of Jews who identified as Republican or leaning Republican grew by two points between 2007 and 2014, from 24 per cent to 26 per cent. Concomitantly, the proportion of Jews who identified as Democrats or leaning Democratic fell from 66 per cent in 2007 to 64 per cent in 2014. However, while the percentage of Jews who identify as politically conservative stayed constant during that time, the percentage of Jews who identify as liberal grew from 38 per cent to 43 per cent – mostly defectors from the “moderate” camp.
Among Americans generally, the change between 2007 and 2014 was a 3-point growth for Republicans and a 3-point drop among Democrats. Nine per cent of Jews surveyed in 2014 identified as independents, compared to 17 per cent among Americans generally.
Jews are more accepting of gays than other Americans
Acceptance of “homosexuality in society” grew among all Americans between 2007 and 2014, from 50 per cent to 62 per cent, and among Jews from 79 per cent to 81 per cent. The religious groups least tolerant of homosexuality in society are Mormons (only 36 per cent favor societal acceptance), Jehovah’s Witnesses (16 per cent) and Protestant evangelicals (36 per cent). Buddhists were the most accepting at 88 per cent. Seventy-seven per cent of Jews said they support same-sex marriage, compared to 53 per cent of all Americans.