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Almost 1 in 3 Jewish Americans had a Christmas tree, poll finds

October 01, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Christmas trees were displayed in nearly a third of Jewish homes last year, according to a Pew survey.
Christmas trees were displayed in nearly a third of Jewish homes last year,… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

At wintertime in a Jewish home in the United States, you’re more likely to find a Christmas tree than a kosher kitchen.

That’s one of the findings in a sweeping new study of Jewish Americans from the Pew Research Center, which polled nearly 3,500 Jewish Americans about their beliefs and practices.

Nearly one out of three Jewish Americans —32% — said they had a Christmas tree in their home last year, Pew found. In comparison, only 22% said they kept kosher at home.

The survey focused chiefly on nearly 3,500 Jewish Americans, including both religious and nonreligious Jews. However, researchers also interviewed nearly 1,200 people with Jewish backgrounds who embraced another faith or do not consider themselves Jewish, along with more than 400 people with “Jewish affinity” — people who do not have Jewish parents or upbringing, and who have another religion, but still call themselves Jewish or partially Jewish.

The study also found that more than a fifth of Jewish Americans say they don’t have a religion, even though they still identify themselves as Jewish. It also included a slew of other interesting findings:

Jews are much less likely than other Americans to say that religion is important in their lives. Religious Jews place less importance on religion than the average American, Pew found, with 31% saying it is very important in their lives, compared with 56% of the U.S. public.

They’re also less likely to believe in God, with 23% of Jewish Americans saying they don’t believe, compared with 7% of the general public. The exception on both counts is Orthodox Jews, 83% of whom say religion is very important in their lives, and only 2% of whom say they don’t believe in God.

Most people with Jewish affinity were Christians, many of whom said they think of themselves as Jewish because Jesus was Jewish. Few people with Jewish affinity belonged to Jewish organizations, but roughly a quarter said that last year they had fasted at least part of the day on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement — more than among nonreligious Jews.

Jews tend to lean left politically, the survey showed. For instance, most Jewish Americans — 82% — said homosexuality should be accepted by society. The U.S. average was 57%. Orthodox Jews were again the exception (32%) along with Jewish Republicans (51%.)

Jews are more likely than the average American to say that the U.S. does not support Israel enough, Pew found. However, they are actually less likely to say so than white evangelical Protestants, with 46% of white evangelicals saying so, versus 31% of Jewish Americans.

The survey also revealed Jewish concern about peace efforts: Only 38% of Jewish Americans surveyed think the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about peace with the Palestinians. Even fewer, 12%, think the Palestinian leadership is trying. In a separate question, 44% said continuing to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israeli security.

Can you be Jewish even if you don’t believe in God? Less than a third of Jews — even religious Jews — think someone can’t be Jewish without believing in God. That makes sense since only 15% see being Jewish as “mainly a matter of religion,” the survey also showed. Most believe it is also or chiefly about culture and ancestry.

Believing that Jesus was the Messiah, however, goes too far for the majority of Jewish Americans. Only 34% of Jewish Americans said someone could believe that and be Jewish.

Nearly half of American Jews do not know the Hebrew alphabet, Pew found. Only 12%  said they could have a conversation in Hebrew, with another 5% volunteering they could “sort of” do so.

American Jews rated “remembering the Holocaust” as one of the most essential parts of being Jewish, with 73% saying it was a key part of what being Jewish meant to them. “Leading an ethical and moral life” and “working for justice/equality” also ranked high on the list. Far fewer chose “observing Jewish law” or “being part of a Jewish community,” the survey showed.

Compared with the American public, Jewish Americans are more likely to have earned college degrees and have higher household incomes, Pew found. One out of four Jewish Americans who were surveyed said they had a household income of $150,000 or more annually.

Yet many Jewish families defy the stereotype of affluence: One fifth of Jewish respondents said their households had incomes under $30,000 a year, according to the survey.

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