Constructs: Building Knowledge of Contemporary Jewry
December 2010

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Dear Friends,

Leonard Saxe
Leonard Saxe


The Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) was born at Brandeis in 1969 and has grown into a prestigious international academic society with nearly 2000 scholar members. At the just-concluded 2010 meeting in Boston, a dozen researchers from the Cohen Center and Steinhardt Institute presented papers, chaired sessions, and served as discussants. Our work was a central part of discussions with scholars from around the world who appreciate Brandeis' high standards for content and methodology.


In the coming months as our work is published, you will hear more about the topics of the presentations. For now, I'd like to highlight the presentation I gave updating our estimates of the U.S. Jewish population. By suggesting a different narrative about American Jewry than has been accepted up to now, this new study will undoubtedly generate controversy. But I am confident that we have finally gotten a handle on the way in which the American Jewish population has evolved over the last 20 years.


On a sadder note, the Boston Jewish community and all of us have lost two more beloved members. Just prior to Thanksgiving, Bernie Olshansky (z'l)--the first Doctor of Social Work to graduate from Brandeis and the former CEO of Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies--passed away. (My tribute to Bernie can be viewed here.) And this past week, Millicent Jick (z'l), scholar, artist, and widow of Rabbi and Professor Leon Jick (zt'l), passed away. Both Bernie and Millicent were key to the vibrancy of the Jewish community. We offer condolences to their families even as we remember  the many accomplishments of these remarkable figures. 

As the fall semester draws to an end, on behalf of all of us at Brandeis, best wishes for a peaceful and healthy new year.


Len Saxe

Leonard Saxe, Director
Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
Steinhardt Social Research Institute
AJS presentation
U.S. Jewry 2010:
Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Population

The Jewish population in the United States is significantly larger than previously estimated. In the presentation "U.S. Jewry 2010: Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Population," given at the Association for Jewish Studies meeting in Boston on December 20th, Leonard Saxe reported that rather than declining, the Jewish population has grown from about 5.5 million individuals in 1990 to an estimated 6.5 million as of 2010, an increase of nearly 20%.

The new population data  were drawn from a synthesis of data from more than 150 nationwide surveys conducted by the U.S. government and other agencies as well as national polling organizations. All of the surveys included standard questions about religious and ethnic identity and had national samples of respondents. Together, the surveys included responses from more than 400,000 individuals.

The Steinhardt Social Research Institute also conducted a parallel study of a sample of 1400 Jews who are part of a panel of nearly 50,000 Americans developed by the respected polling firm, Knowledge Networks. The results of this survey reveal that more than 80% of those who indicate that they are Jewish identify as Jewish by religion. The remaining individuals identify as Jewish by some other criteria.

Among the findings:

  • The number of adult Jews (age 18 or older) who identify as being Jewish by religion is slightly more than 4.2 million, while those under 18 in the same category number 1.27 million. The number of Jews who identify as Jewish by other criteria is almost 975,000.
  • Forty-four percent of those who consider themselves Jewish by religion reported that they or someone in their household belongs to a synagogue compared to only four percent of those who are Jewish not by religion.
  • Those who are Jewish by religion participated in greater numbers in Jewish lifecycle events than those Jewish not by religion. The percentages of attending a brit or Jewish baby naming ceremony were 15 versus 3 percent; 33 versus 10 percent for attending a bar/bat mitzvah; 22 versus 12 percent for attending a Jewish wedding; and 35 versus 9 percent for making a shiva call.
  • The chance of marrying a Jewish partner was significantly greater among those Jewish by religion compared to those who identify as Jewish by other criteria. Among 18 to 29-year-olds, 50 percent married a Jew. None of those Jewish not by religion in this age group married a Jew. Among those 30 to 34-years-old, the figures were 62 versus 12 percent; among 45 to 59-years old, 56 versus 31 percent; and over 60-years-old, 72 versus 19 percent.
View the powerpoint presentation.

Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and Fisher-Bernstein Institute.
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