Wearing black hats or donning small yarmulkes, Orthodox Jews represent a distinct subgroup within the Jewish community — more observant, more conservative and more insular.
But the revelation in a report released today by the Pew Research Center is that Orthodox Jews vote, believe, worship, act and raise their children more like white evangelical Protestants than like their fellow Jews.
Another key finding in the report, which analyzes data collected for Pew’s 2013 survey A Portrait of Jewish Americans indicates that while their beliefs and unique lifestyle set apart Orthodox Jews, their growing numbers may affect the way the entire Jewish community is perceived.
“If the Orthodox grow as a share of U.S. Jews, they gradually could shift the profile of American Jews in several areas, including religious beliefs and practices, social and political views and demographic characteristics,” the report cautiously predicts.
Sarah Bunin Benor of Hebrew Union College –Jewish Institute of Religion offers a more blunt prediction: “When Orthodox Jews will be a bigger percent of the Jewish community, people’s thinking will have to shift,” she said. “Who we think of as typical Jews will have to change.”
The snapshot of the Orthodox community provided by the Pew report portrays a group made up of two separate communities — the Modern Orthodox, who are involved in secular American life, and the more numerous Haredim, also referred to as ultra-Orthodox, who are more insular. Among the many aspects these two groups share is their rapid growth, their emphasis on marriage and families, their relative political and social conservatism, and their preference for Jewish education for their children.
When it comes to beliefs and practices, the differences between Orthodox Jews and all others — including Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and those who consider themselves Jewish with no religion — become stark.
Asked about the importance of religion in their lives, 83% of Orthodox Jews say it is a very important factor, while only 20% of non-Orthodox Jews say so. By contrast, 86% of white evangelicals replied positively to this question.
There are other ways in which Orthodox Jews are more similar to evangelicals than to their non-Orthodox co-religionists. Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals attend religious services frequently (74% and 75%, respectively), while only 12% of non-Orthodox Jews go to synagogue at least once a month. The report shows that 89% of Orthodox Jews and 93% of Christian evangelicals believe in God with absolute certainty, while only 34% of all other Jews share this belief.
On Israel, 84% of Orthodox Jews and 82% of evangelicals believe Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, while only 35% of non-Orthodox Jews hold this view.
This pattern also plays out on the political level. Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals share an affinity with the Republican Party (57% and 66%, respectively, support or lean toward the GOP), as opposed to a mere 18% of non-Orthodox Jews who back Republicans.
This distance from the broader Jewish community, said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, is neither a concern nor a source of pride for Orthodox Jews.
“We don’t take any joy in being on the other side of many issues, but to the extent that some of our positions are firmly based on the Jewish religious tradition, we feel we are standing up for what Judaism meant to all Jews for millennia,” Shafran said.
Similarly, evangelical Christians are also far apart from most denominations in their faith, according to Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center.
“There’s more unity between evangelicals, conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews than there is between evangelicals and other Christians,” he noted, pointing especially to social and moral views.
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