Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity

A lot of discussion in recent years has been dedicated to the differences between older and younger Jews on various matters, including – especially in the case of Diaspora Jewry – generational differences in reading identity issues and approaches to Israel. We also know that the composition of age groups is becoming increasingly disparate, as a result of late marriage, low birth rates, and high rates of intermarriage.

The Dialogue survey captures some of the generational differences, and, in some of the discussions we saw these differences come to life. Young participants expressed views somewhat more radical than those of their elders, and young participants answered some of JPPI’s questions markedly differently than older cohorts.

For example, as we look at the ranking of the four components of Judaism, it is clear that younger Jews – even though Dialogue participants tend to be relatively committed Jews – put slightly less emphasis on the national component of Judaism than their older colleagues. Overall, they still consider nationality and peoplehood important components of Judaism, but the younger they are, the less they consider it worthy of the highest ranking (5 on a 1-5 scale). This becomes especially pronounced when we exclude the Israeli respondents from the survey sample, and examine the views of Diaspora Jews by age cohort:

Peoplehood/Nationality as a primary component of Jewishness:

percent of respondents within each age group who choose “5”

A similar result is evident in the relative ranking of “taking care of other Jews and Israel.” As mentioned earlier, this is the Jewish activity most valued by Dialogue survey respondents. However, when examined by age cohort it is yet again clear that the younger the participant, the less his or her tendency to rank this activity highest (again, 5 on a 1-5 scale). While more than half of JPPI participants 65 years old or more ranked “taking care” as 5 – the highest possible – less than a third of the youth cohort (18-29 years old) found “taking care” worthy of a 5.

Of course, one ought to consider the possibility that the difference in ranking is due to inherent “life-cycle” differences – that is, younger Jews may develop a deeper sense of peoplehood as they age – rather than a generational shift – that is, younger Jews will remain less attached to peoplehood throughout their lives. Some past studies have shown that life-cycle changes occurred in previous generations.82 But this is not proof that the same dynamics will occur for the current generation of young Jews as a higher percentage of them come from mixed families which corresponds to weaker connection to the peoplehood-nationality component of Judaism.

Taking care of other Jews and of Israel is essential to being Jewish:

percent of respondents within each age group who chose “5”