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2018 Annual Assessment

In the ongoing effort to strengthen the intensity of Jewish identification, positive and negative trends continue to balance each other. Therefore we are leaving the needle unchanged.

In Diaspora Jewry we find several groups (most notably the demographically-increasing Orthodox) whose Jewish identity is strong and whose commitment to Judaism and to the Jewish people is high. At present, nearly a third of U.S. Jewish children are being reared in Orthodox families and, consequently, in environments where the tendency toward Jewish identification is strong. However, a large proportion (two-thirds) of this group consists of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews who are less involved in the communal affairs of American Jewry as a whole.

At the same time, one can discern large groups of young (non-Orthodox) Jews in the United States whose sense of Jewish identity is not strong – and who are not involved in Jewish frameworks. As we explained in earlier assessments, a high percentage of those identified by researchers as Jews “of no religion,” as “cultural” Jews, or as “just Jews” are notable for their low degree of affiliation with the Jewish community. Evidence amassed over the past year indicates that this group is growing as a percentage of all American Jews. However, numerous educational efforts are being directed at this group; initial findings suggest that these efforts are helping to raise the level of Jewish identification, though it is too early to say for sure.

For Israeli Jews, the Jewish-identity indicators need to take into account that the Jewish environment itself produces a significant degree of identity and identification, though these can be interpreted in different ways (surveys show that 46% of the Israeli Jewish population sees itself as Jewish first, while 35% regards itself as Israeli first). All of the Israeli groups, secular included, have ties to religious tradition and practice, though at differing levels and mediated by differing interpretations. Israeli Jews also identify strongly with the Jewish people. This identification is higher among the traditional-religious public, and lower – though still quite high – among secular Israeli Jews. However, this identification does not necessarily translate into agreement on how the State of Israel should express its ties to the rest of the Jewish world, or on how Israel’s Jewish identity should be manifested within the state’s borders. There is still controversy on both the ideological and the political planes regarding the relationship between religion and state, the status of the Chief Rabbinate, and other questions pertaining to Jewish religious expression in the public and political realms. This controversy, a large share of which relates to the dominance of the Orthodox religious approach in the Israeli political sphere, is eroding the positive image of Jewish culture and generating opposition (to religious coercion) both in Israel and abroad. Diversity and pluralism regarding approaches to Jewish identity in Israel help make Israeli society more resilient. Controversy on this issue, however, is generating, at times a destructive and exclusionary discourse, in which each side tries to delegitimize the other’s standing in Israeli society.

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