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The Pew Research Center Responds to Tablet

Says Theodore Sasson’s article strengthens, not contradicts, survey results

The Editors
November 13, 2013

On Monday, we published Theodore Sasson’s examination of the recent Pew Research Center survey. The Pew Center’s Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Religion & Public Life Project, and Gregory Smith, director of U.S. Religion Surveys, submitted a response to Sasson’s article, which we have published below in full.

We read with interest Theodore Sasson’s Nov. 11 article in Tablet on intermarriage and Jewish identity. We are grateful to Professor Sasson for having shared with us, in a collegial exchange of emails, his hypothesis that younger adults who come from intermarried Jewish backgrounds might be more likely to identify as Jewish than older adults from similar backgrounds. We were pleased to provide him with all the data and tables on which his article was based, and to allow him to publish them first. We agree that this analysis is new and important, and we want to publicly express our appreciation to Ted Sasson and other researchers who are continuing to analyze data from the Pew Research Center’s recent survey, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” We hope this fruitful examination will continue for years to come.

We are, however, a little puzzled by certain aspects of the Tablet article, including its overall framing as a refutation or corrective of our Oct. 1 survey report. We do not view the further analysis of data on intermarriage as contrary to anything in our report. We continue to be struck by the parallels between the rising share of “Jews of no religion” in the Jewish population and the increase of “religious nones” in the broader U.S. population. The finding that intermarriage helps to explain disaffiliation among Jews does not make the parallels with the general public any less striking. And we don’t understand why the article claims that we “neglect[ed] the role of parental intermarriage” in our initial report on the survey’s findings when, in fact, the report discusses intermarriage and its consequences at great length. In the overview, for instance, the report states:

“Whatever the causal connection, the survey finds a strong association between secular Jews and religious intermarriage. In some ways, the association seems to be circular or reinforcing, especially when child rearing is added into the picture. Married Jews of no religion are much more likely than married Jews by religion to have non-Jewish spouses. Jews who have non-Jewish spouses are much less likely than those married to fellow Jews to be raising children as Jewish by religion and much more likely to be raising children as partially Jewish, Jewish but not by religion, or not Jewish at all. Furthermore, Jews who are the offspring of intermarriages appear, themselves, to be more likely to intermarry than Jews with two Jewish parents.”

Professor Sasson’s suggestion that we analyze Jewish identity by parentage and generation helps to strengthen this picture, not contradict it.

The impact of intermarriage on the Jewish community remains a subject of much debate, and the Pew Research survey of U.S. Jews may provide evidence for differing points of view, as we have explained elsewhere. As a non-advocacy organization, the Pew Research Center takes no position on how the Jewish community should respond to the survey’s findings. In our experience, our reports are often just a starting point for researchers, advocates and decision makers; it is seldom the case that all the potentially illuminating findings from a major survey are uncovered at once. We share the data, encourage others to explore it and continue to mine it ourselves. We remain grateful to Professor Sasson for suggesting a valuable line of analysis. And we encourage everyone to read our full report for a broad overview of the survey’s findings on Jewish identity in America.

Alan Cooperman is the deputy director of the Religion & Public Life Project, and Gregory Smith is the director of U.S. Religion Surveys, both at the Pew Research Center.

From the editors of Tablet Magazine.