Thursday, August 10, 2006

American Jewish Demographics

Hm. Yesterday a friend from high school and I were discussing the influence of Orthodox Judaism in the U.S. and Israel. I did some internet searching, and found out some things that were surprising to me.


An article by Michael Medved (2006) cites that no companies owned or run Jews make the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations. It adds, "at most six (including Home Depot, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers) could classify in any way as 'Jewish companies'". Medved also discusses media influence in Hollywood, which is minor compared to what it used to be.

(As far as new media influence, this is difficult to measure because the American mainstream news media has completely bought into most Arab myths, and often people trying to refute these get bundled into some sort of "Zionist influence" or supposed conspiracy even if they are simply pro-history instead of pro-Israel.)

Yet this article by Lenni Brenner (2003) says that Jewish individuals are 25% of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, and cites sources claiming that for the 1992 presidential election, Jewish individuals contributed between 50% and 60% of democratic noninstitutional campaign funds, and about 25% of Republican noninstitutional campaign funds.

(Democratic and Republican 1992 campagin funds were a total of $130 and $90 million, respectively. I cannot find what percentage of these totals were noninstitutional campaign funds.)

(Messianic Jews are notoriously lacking wealth. Most Messianic Jewish congregations do not even own a building, and I know of only two congregations that have received large donations from members typical of what I saw happen routinely in the Reform Jewish world. I know of only one IAMCS Messianic Jewish congregation that has received financial help from a Gentile church. In contrast, there are a few high-profile look-alike churches that decided to do Jewish stuff which have unintentionally created a myth among American Rabbinic Jews that Messianic Jewish congregations are all pet projects of Gentile churches.)


All the articles I read agree that currently about 2.5% of Americans are Jewish, which equals about 5.3 million American Jews.

Yet according to Brenner's article, Americans, on average, think the country is 18% Jewish.

About 10% of American Jews are Orthodox. This is then about 0.53 million people. And about 200,000 of these are Hasidic Lubavitch.

A 2001 survey found 30% of American Jews were Reform, 24% were Conservative, and 1% (each) belonged to Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism. (This means about 36% of American Jews are not affiliated with any Rabbinic branch of Judaism.)

(That survey measured American Orthodox Jews at 8%, which fits with how the Orthodox have been growing most quickly of these since 2001.)

Brenner's article states that about 46% of American Jews belong to a synagogue, and of these 39% are Reform, 33% are Conservative, 21% are Orthodox, and 7% are of other branches of Judaism. (This is compatible with the first survey, which counted about 320,000 American Reform Jewish families that belong to a Reform synagogue; the math produces a resonable 3 people per family.)

In summary, for non-Messianic American Jews we have about:
  • Reform: 1,590,000 total, of which 951,000 belong to a synagogue (60%)
  • Conservative: 1,272,000 total, of which 804,000 belong to a synagogue (63%)
  • Orthodox, including Hasidic Lubavitch: 530,000 total, of which 512,000 belong to a synagogue (97%)
  • Other, including Reconstuctinist, Humanistic, and non-affiliated: 1,908,000 total, of which 171,000 belong to a synagogue (9%)
(Worldwide, there are a bit over 500,000 Messianic Jews in congregations. There are about 200,000 people in Messianic Jewish congregations in America, but only about half of these are Jewish by lineage.)

(Note that for semantic-demographic purposes all Messianic Jews by definition belong to a Messianic Jewish congregation. Why? Well, very few Jews who believe in Yeshua attend a Rabbinic synagogue. This leaves three groups of people who believe in Yeshua but do not participate in Jewish culture and are only "Jewish" by bloodline: those who have left their Jewish heritage and belong to Christian culture, those who have left their Jewish heritage and belong to secular culture, and those who do not know they have Jewish lineage and belong to either Christian or secular culture. Since nobody is counting any of these three groups, for semantic-demographic purposes everyone ignores them and pretends there is nothing Jewish about them, even though individuals among these three groups may say they are Jewish, and even though others of Jewish lineage who never participate in Jewish culture are counted as Jewish. No one ever said demographics is fair.)

Support for Israel

In a 2005 article, a poll showed that 82% of American Jews support Israel, including 63% who say they do "strongly". Clearly support of Israel's right to exist is high.

The number of "strong" supporters was, interestingly, not highest among the Orthodox. That article says, "Conservative Jews are most likely to be strong supporters (76 percent), followed by Orthodox (62 percent) and then Reform (60 percent)." A different 2005 poll has Orthodox support highest for never dividing Jerusalem, and building the security fence.

(Messianic Jews probably measure in at 75% or more. I have no idea about Reconstructionist.)

(The identification as "Zionist" is quite different. In the past few decades that term has somehow within the American Jewish community shifted in meaning from "supportive of Israel's existance" to either "supportive of everything Israel does" or "believing all Jews should move to Israel". Brenner's article overlooks this while discussing how few of American Jews identify as Zionists.)

My Reaction and Conclusions

The popular idea of most American Jews being part of some sort of wealthy Jewish community that is politically influential is clearly nonsense. Even the idea of Jewish companies being significant is outdated.

Yet among the subset of Americans who are wealthy and policially influential, Jews have disproportionate financial influence (25% of the Forbes 400 list, yet responsible for more than 25% of noninstitutional campaign funds).

As far as I know, I've never met any of these wealthy few who dominate American politics, Jewish or not. But in my personal experience I've seen that Jewish people of my much lower financial bracket are much more likely than average to spend money on politics. So I wonder if the cited disproportionate financial influence is sustainable (i.e., the Jewish political movers and shakers are unusually wealthy among the Forbes 400 list) or not (i.e., they are just spending more on politics than the others on the Forbes 400 list and will thus run out more quickly, and may lose their influence any time other Forbes 400 people become as politically generous).

Also support for Israel is high among American Jews, and Israel is a major (set of) political issue(s). When we combine Jewish political funding and the amount of time politicians spend talking about Israel, it makes sense that a typical American overestimates Jewish influence in politics.

But I was startled to read that the size of the Jewish population was so dramaticall overestimated. (An average guess of 18% means many people thought even higher than that! Where do these people think all those Jews live? Do they think New England is entirely Jewish?)

And I knew most American Jews were Democrats, but I think most Americans would be surprised that financially the Democrats receive way more funding from American Jews than the Republicans (more than twice as much if both parties have a similar percentage of noninstitutional campaign funds).

I had no idea that half of America's Orthodox Jews were Hasidic Lubavitch. Since the Hasidic Lubavotch are growing in size much more rapidly than Orthodox overall, it seems likely that within the next 10 years the Messianic Jews in America will outnumber the non-Lubavitch Orthodox. I know communication is becoming more amiable between non-Lubavitch Orthodox and Messianic Jews; I wonder if this is related.

I knew that the more-or-less 100,000 Messianic Jews of Jewish lineage in America were a much smaller number than other branches of Judaism. But I would never have guessed in synagogue attendance we are only behind Reform Jews by a factor of ten, and non-Lubavitch Orthdox by a factor of three.

UPDATE: The only local statistic I can find is that according to this Jewish Data Bank report (warning: PDF), Eugene had 3,250 Jews in the year 2000.