Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study

Janet Krasner Aronson, Matthew Boxer, Matthew Brookner, Leonard Saxe

November 2016

2015 Boston Report CoverThe 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study provides an up-to-date description of the size and character of Boston-area Jewry. Included in the study are demographic findings and information on the religious background and geographic profile of Greater Boston’s Jewish population.

In addition to describing the demographic characteristics of the community, we emphasized the different ways that Jews enact their Judaism and Jewish identities. Some of us are deeply immersed in religious life, while others express their Jewish connections through involvement in communal organizations. Rather than viewing Jewish engagement as a continuum spanning those not at all engaged to those very engaged, we created a typology (the Index of Engagement) to represent the five clusters of engagement we found in the Greater Boston Jewish community.

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Among the Findings

  • Greater Boston is home to the fourth-largest Jewish community in the country with 248,000 Jews. Of these, 190,600 are adults and 57,400 are children. The quarter-million Jews in Boston reside in approximately 123,400 households. This represents a population increase of approximately 4.6% since 2005. There are also 61,200 non-Jews living in Jewish households.

  • Greater Boston’s Jewish community is demographically diverse. Boston Jewry includes members of the Israeli (8% of adults), Russian-born and Russian-speaking (7% of adults), and LGBTQ communities (7% of adults).

  • Half of Greater Boston’s Jews do not identify with a specific Jewish denomination. The largest denominational affiliation is Reform, followed by Conservative and Orthodox. Denominational affiliation has declined since 2005 and, increasingly, Boston Jews describe themselves as “Just Jewish.”

  • Nearly two in five households belong to a synagogue, but forms of synagogue involvement have changed. Thirty-seven percent of Jewish households belong to a synagogue or another type of congregation.

  • Two-thirds of households donate to Jewish organizations and one-quarter volunteer.

  • One-fifth of the community’s households are members of a Jewish organization and three-fifths of Jewish households include someone who attended a program.

  • Participation in Jewish life extends beyond institutions. Three-fifths (61%) of Jewish households participate in at least one informal Jewish activity, such as a Shabbat meal or Jewish book club, and 17% do so monthly.

  • Holiday observance and ritual/cultural practices are widely observed by significant numbers of Greater Boston Jewry.

  • Three-quarters of children in Jewish households are being raised exclusively Jewish. Among inmarried parents, 94% of children are being raised exclusively Jewish. Among intermarried parents, 57% of children are being raised exclusively Jewish.

  • Two-thirds of Greater Boston’s Jews have been to Israel at least once. One-third have travelled to Israel multiple times.

  • The Greater Boston Jewish community is affluent and highly educated, but some segments may be economically vulnerable.

  • The “Index of Jewish Engagement” reveals five distinct patterns of participation in Jewish life. The Index was the result of a statistical analysis of more than a dozen Jewish behaviors. The Index represents a summary of that analysis and reveals five behavior patterns among Boston area Jewish adults. The names of the five pattern groups are intended to capture the unique characteristics of each group. Although the groups reflect different degrees of engagement with Jewish life, the categories make clear that dichotomies—engaged/not engaged and religious/not religious—are inadequate descriptors of contemporary Jewish behavior.

  • The Minimally Involved (17%) have low engagement in all dimensions. The Familial (24%) engage primarily through family and home-based behaviors. The Affiliated (26%) engage through family and communal organizations. The Cultural (18%) engage through family and cultural activities. The Immersed (15%) engage in ritual activities, cultural and communal organizations, and family-based behaviors. Along with differences in Jewish behaviors and attitudes, the engagement groups are associated with distinct sociodemographic attributes and Jewish background characteristics.