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• Of the three major branches of Judaism, the Reform movement — the least traditional — claims 35 percent of American Jews, followed by unaffiliated Jews (30 percent), Conservative Jews (18 percent) and the Orthodox (10 percent).
• More than four in 10 American Jews (43 percent) have been to Israel, and about the same proportion (44 percent) believes Israel’s continued building of settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians is harmful to Israel’s security.
• More than four in 10 Jews (42 percent) said having a sense of humor is essential to their Jewish identity.
Pew interviewed 3,475 Jews in America to produce its 213-page report, which pins the number of adult American Jews who say Judaism is their religion at 4.2 million. That number rises to 5.3 million if cultural Jews are included.
Add to these figures the approximately 900,000 children being raised exclusively as Jews, or the 1.8 million living in households with at least one Jewish adult.
Another report on American Jews, released by Brandeis University in September, found similar numbers and pegged the overall number of Jews in the U.S. at about 1.8 percent of the population. But the Brandeis study drew on previous studies for its estimates and did not include the original research like the new Pew survey does.
"The main difference in approach, I think, is that the Brandeis team uses one (and only one) definition of who is a Jew," Pew’s Cooperman wrote in an email.
"Our approach … is to point out that the estimated number of Jews in the United States depends on your definition of who is a Jew, and we provide tables that allow readers to see how the estimates vary if you choose different definitions."
On the controversial question of Jewish intermarriage, the rate has risen substantially during the past five decades, according to the Pew study. Now, of Jews surveyed, 44 percent have married non-Jews, compared to only 17 percent before 1970. Since 2005, that figure has jumped to nearly six in 10 (58 percent) Jews.
But Cooperman notes that the current intermarriage rate is not so different from the rate between 1995 and 1999: 55 percent. "Is the rate leveling off? That’s something to look for in the future," he said.
The survey, which cost more than $2 million and was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Neubauer Family Foundation, was conducted between Feb. 20 and June 13, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Its authors took pains to define precisely who took part in the survey, since the question "who is a Jew?" is hotly debated.
Traditional Jews, for example, say Jewishness is passed from a Jewish mother to her children, while Reform Jews hold that either a mother or father must be Jewish to produce a Jewish child, as long as that child is raised as a Jew.
The study and this story focus on the 3,475 surveyed who said they are Jewish by religion, or have at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and still consider themselves Jewish in some way.
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