By Uriel Heilman
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, Nov. 3, that shows moderate declines in religious beliefs and behavior 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 percent to 35 percent. Similarly, the percentage who said they attend religious services weekly or more often grew from 16 percent to 19 percent; the proportion of Jews who said they read “scripture” at least weekly grew from 14 percent to 17 percent, and the percentage of those who said they participate in prayer groups or religious study groups at least weekly grew from 11 percent to 16 percent.
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 percent and Pew’s 2013 finding of 14 percent. 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 percent of Jews compared to 64 percent of Muslims, 61 percent of Protestants, 52 percent of Catholics and 59 percent of Buddhists. The survey found that 70 percent of Jews feel a strong sense of gratitude at least once a week.
Did God write the Bible?
Eleven percent 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 percent of Jews believe the Torah is the non-literal word of God and 55 percent 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 percent of respondents said they read the Bible outside of services at least weekly, compared to 35 percent for all Americans, 52 percent of Protestants and 25 percent of Catholics.
Meanwhile, belief in God fell slightly among Jews, from 72 percent in 2007 to 64 percent in 2014 (37 percent said they were absolutely certain God exists, and 27 percent 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 percent use “common sense,” 17 percent turn to religion, 17 percent to philosophy and 14 percent to science. Twenty-one percent of Jews believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, and 76 percent say it depends on the situation.
Forty percent of Jews say they believe in heaven, up from 38 percent in 2007, and 22 percent say they believe in hell, the same as in 2007. By contrast, 72 percent of all Americans believe in heaven and 58 percent believe in hell. Seventy-nine percent of Jews believe other religions can also lead to eternal life — a higher proportion than among Christians (66 percent) or Muslims (65 percent).
Jewish women pray more than Jewish men
Most Jewish survey respondents — 53 percent — said they belong to a local house of worship (the survey did not break down results by religious denomination). Though 19 percent of Jews surveyed said they attend services at least once a week, 29 percent said they pray at least once a day (up from 26 percent in 2007), 24 percent said they pray weekly or monthly, and 45 percent 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 percent of American women vs. 46 percent of American men pray daily — among Jews the gender difference is slight: 31 percent of Jewish women compared to 27 percent 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 percent of Muslims surveyed said they abjure pork and 67 percent of Hindus said they avoid beef, only 40 percent of Jews abstain from eating pork. Fifty-seven percent of Jews surveyed affirmed they eat pork. (One percent 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 percent of all Americans said they experience deep feelings of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week (68 percent of Protestants, 57 percent of Catholics and 64 percent of Muslims), the figure for Jews was only 39 percent. But that was still more than agnostics and atheists, who experience those feelings weekly at rates of 37 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
Are religious organizations a force for good?
Eighty-eight percent of Jews said their houses of worship and other religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds, but only 63 percent said those institutions protect and strengthen morality in society. By contrast, 83 percent of Christians and Muslims said their institutions protect and strengthen morality in society. At the same time, 54 percent of Jews surveyed said religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (compared to 52 percent of all Americans), 59 percent said they focus too much on rules (51 percent among all Americans) and 59 percent said they’re too involved with politics (48 percent 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 2 points between 2007 and 2014, from 24 percent to 26 percent. Concomitantly, the proportion of Jews who identified as Democrats or leaning Democratic fell from 66 percent in 2007 to 64 percent 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 percent to 43 percent — 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 percent of Jews surveyed in 2014 identified as independents, compared to 17 percent 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 percent to 62 percent, and among Jews from 79 percent to 81 percent. The religious groups least tolerant of homosexuality in society are Mormons (only 36 percent favor societal acceptance), Jehovah’s Witnesses (16 percent) and Protestant evangelicals (36 percent). Buddhists were the most accepting at 88 percent. Seventy-seven percent of Jews said they support same-sex marriage, compared to 53 percent of all Americans.