The determinants of Jewish identity in the United States

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2015-05

Authors

Sheridan, Carly Gabrielle

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Abstract

Researchers and religious adherents alike have witnessed decreasing affiliation rates and the rise of the "nones", or Americans who do not affiliate with any religion. The American Jewish Community has become increasingly concerned with the decrease in participation, commitment, and influence the Jewish community has imbued on the Millennial generation of American Jews. Thus, literature on identity and its constructs, geography and religion, and Jewish identity in America are presented. I analyzed data from the 2013 Pew Portrait of Jewish Americans and aggregated institutional data to explore individual-level, spatial, institutional, and religious economy characteristics that determine the strength of Jewish identity in the United States. These variables have their own effects on the four discrete measures of Jewish identity: religious identity, cultural identity, denominational switching, and conversion into and out of Judaism. Crucial findings are specified in congruence with one another, such as Millennials aged 18-39, are the most affected in both positive and negative ways, thus supporting the hypothesis that identity formation is the most formative in adolescence and young adulthood. In addition, going to Israel has a huge positive impact on conversion, religious and cultural identities, and intermarriage. With regard to intermarriage, there is a negative impact on every measure of identity, although this impact is diminished by visiting Israel. Lastly, the presence of Jewish congregations, and in some cases Jewish schools and camps, increases several measures of Jewish identity, and as such, it can be concluded that at least some institutions have a significant impact on identity. The paper concludes with a final discussion on the possibility for future research and implications for Jewish identity in the United States.

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