I know I’m about a bajillion years late to the Pew party, but sometimes you see stats in a new format and it just grabs you in a different way. Ya know? I saw this little chart in the OU (as in Orthodox Union) magazine. And I was like, huh? Let’s go through the categories one by one.
I know anecdotally that for many non-Orthodox Jews, identity as kids was all about the Holocaust. I get that. But Orthodox kids are far more likely to be children and grandchildren of European Jews than American ones, and therefore more directly affected by the Holocaust. So I wonder how this question was posed for the study. Was “remembering the Holocaust” measured only when expressed in societally-organized, institutional ways? For me, having survivor grandparents means I am cognizant of my transiency in the USA in a way that seeps into daily life, although my Jewish identity and schooling as a child wasn’t really about the Holocaust.
LEADING ETHICAL LIFE
Again, I’m not really sure what an “ethical life” is measured by. Volunteerism outside of the Jewish community? Not surfing the web at work? Returning the extra change at Nordstrom? Creating chessed organizations? In any event, the Modern Orthodox community leads the way here, at a whopping 90%. Reform does pretty well as compared to Conservative which is probably due to their emphasis on tikkun olam as a value and as a form of Jewish expression and observance.
How this overlaps and differs from the above, I’m not sure, but there wasn’t a huge disparity in the numbers – only 16 percentage points, which is the smallest range, aside from “having a sense of humor” (at 13 percentage points). Nevertheless, Reform performs best here, and I’m assuming we are talking about justice and equality on a communal, societal and global level (classic tikkun olam). In general, this category shows a pretty steady upward progression from Ultra-Orthodox to Reform, aside from a small dip at the Conservative station, but again, the differences are truly slight. My guess is that the more Orthodox you get, the more likely you are to perform these acts of tikkun olam specifically for Jews. I am not sure if that weighs in as heavily in this category.
BEING INTELLECTUALLY CURIOUS
Modern Orthodox wins this one, and this backs up a very interesting observation I’ve made over the years. The Modern Orthodox community definitely shows a strong bias toward classes and programs that focus on the intellectual, whereas “regular” Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox would be more likely to offer classes and programs that are motivational, spiritual, or emotional. In general, I think our community needs both, but I’ve noticed Modern Orthodox people attending spiritual/motivational programs that we’ve offered at our outreach center, as these themes are not as available in their community. I think some Modern Orthodox scholars consider a reliance on the spiritual or mystical to be backward or a sellout. In my opinion, we as a community are thirsting for these offerings, and need them badly to remain inspired in our faith. For the record, I don’t think it indicates that other kinds of Jews are NOT intellectually curious – frankly, I think it’s a human drive – but the focus on it in the Modern Orthodox community is unmistakable.
The 25% in the Ultra Orthodox gives me pause. What does this mean? Torah scholarship in these communities is the highest in all categories – even among women. Your average Ultra-Orthodox woman is far more likely than your average Conservative woman to know texts, to have learned rationales behind Jewish practices, and to be conversant in Hebrew. Does “intellectual curiosity” mean outside of Torah? Does it reflect interest as opposed to knowledge?
CARING ABOUT ISRAEL
If you’re talking about Zionism, of course the Modern Orthodox community is most likely to be Zionistic, to make aliyah, and to financially support the State of Israel. But if you’re talking about loving the Land of Israel for its holiness, visiting it, praying for it, and sending its kids to study there, the Ultra-Orthodox community is doing pretty darn well. In fact, JWRP, a Jewish women’s organization, subsidizes women to travel to Israel – but not if you’re Orthodox. Because research shows that Orthodox women are far more likely to travel to Israel on their own and thus do not have to be subsidized. This is true across the Orthodox spectrum.
SENSE OF HUMOR
Really? This category confused me. Why is it here? Whatevs. Seems we’re not all that funny in the final analysis. Apparently Seinfeld is an outlier. Although it makes sense that he has no denomination. It seems the less observant/religious you are, the more likely you are to be funny. Harrumph. I’m officially offended! Us Orthodox are hilarious. We make fun of ourselves all the time. Moving along.
BEING PART OF JEWISH COMMUNITY
No major surprises here, other than the slight rise within the Orthodox world from Ultra to Modern, with the greatest emphasis on this value existing in Modern Orthodoxy. I think this may have something to do with the social aspect of belonging that is of high importance within Modern Orthodoxy, hence spawning “social Orthodoxy.”
OBSERVING JEWISH LAW
Again, pretty predictable here, with a downward progression from Ultra-Orthodox to “no denomination.” See the second footnote where it says that 8 out of 10 Orthodox Jews say that observing the law is the essence of being Jewish. I imagine a Reform Jew might say tikkun olam?
EATING JEWISH FOODS
Really? But yes, I’ve learned that people really care about this in terms of identity. Ironically, what I have seen partially contradicts the above report. I’ve found that while “more Orthodox” people are more likely to have Jewish foods on a regular basis (mostly because of Shabbat), it is more important to Reform Jews as a form of identity and connection.
What do you agree/disagree with?
What would you say is the essence of Judaism for you?