They believe in God, earn well, want greater roles for women in clergy, are increasingly open to gays, may be less attached to Israel
Rabba Sara Hurwitz, right, is the dean of Yeshivat Maharat in New York and the “Rabba” at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in Riverdale, Bronx. (Uriel Heilman)
NEW YORK (JTA) — The Orthodox Jewish world is even more fragmented than you think.
That’s the key takeaway from a study published Thursday of Modern Orthodox Jews in the US, a group that adheres to traditional Jewish law while engaging with the secular world.
Some of them think women should be rabbis and others think they shouldn’t be synagogue presidents. Some say God controls their day-to-day lives, while others doubt God wrote the Torah.
Some oppose West Bank settlements, others the two-state solution. And they’re about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Although Nishma Research, the Jewish polling firm that conducted the survey, did not provide an explicit definition of Modern Orthodoxy, the term tends to indicate Orthodox Jews who attempt to synthesize Orthodox observance with modernity, and more often than not have connections with Yeshiva University and its related institutions. Respondents were reached through synagogues “primarily” associated with the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization.
(Haredi Orthodox Jews, who tend to be more insular and less likely to engage in secular education or culture, were excluded from the survey. The survey, citing a 2013 Pew Research Center study, says that among the country’s 500,000 Orthodox Jews, 220,000 identify as “Modern” in one way or another.)
Nishma conducted the survey of nearly 4,000 Modern Orthodox Jews in June. It divided the respondents into five sub-groups according to the respondents’ self-definition, from left to right: Open Orthodox (12 percent), Liberal Modern Orthodox (22), (just plain) Modern Orthodox (41), Centrist Orthodox (14) and Right-Centrist Orthodox (11). The survey has a 1.7 percent margin of error.
Despite the differences among Modern Orthodox Jews, there are some points of commonality: The vast majority believe in God, send their kids to Jewish day schools and make incomes well above the national average.
Here are five key takeaways from the survey.
More than 90 percent keep kosher and Shabbat.
Unsurprisingly, Modern Orthodox Jews observe Jewish ritual at high rates. More than 90 percent observe the sometimes Byzantine rules of kosher and Shabbat, with nearly two-thirds saying they observe both strictly. Nearly three-quarters of men put on tefillin all or most days, and four-fifths of married couples observe the Jewish laws surrounding sexual relations and menstruation.
Nearly all men, and most women, attend synagogue almost every Saturday morning. Moreover, the study found that 40 percent of respondents became more observant over the past decade, while only 23 percent became less observant.
Modern Orthodox Jews also have the traditionalist beliefs to match their practices. Ninety percent either believe fully or tend to believe that God created the world, and more than three-quarters believe God intervenes in everyday life. Large majorities also believe God authored the Torah and the Jewish Oral Law, an expansive set of rabbinic writings and dictates that includes the Talmud.
Children sitting at the Park East Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation in New York City, March 3, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, via JTA)
But adherence to traditonalist beliefs and observance decline on the liberal side of the spectrum. Only 58 percent of Open Orthodox respondents believe God wrote the Torah, and less than half of Open Orthodox men regularly put on tefillin. And there’s a widening gulf between the left and right: The study found Open and Liberal Modern Orthodox Jews tended to become less observant over the past decade, while centrists and those on the right increased their observance.
They make almost three times the median US household income.
Modern Orthodox Jews are affluent. The study found that the group had a median household income of $158,000, nearly triple the American median of $59,000 in 2016. The highest earning were the Open Orthodox at $185,000.
A large portion of the income is dedicated to day school tuition, which in some places can top $40,000 per child per year. The survey found that 83 percent of Modern Orthodox parents send their kids to Orthodox day school; 90 percent of respondents called the cost of tuition a “serious problem.”
The group is also highly educated. More than 90 percent attained a bachelor’s degree, and more than 60 percent have a postgraduate or professional degree. And nearly one-fifth attended Yeshiva University, the flagship academic institution of Modern Orthodoxy.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, October 9, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)
And while Orthodox Jews may have gotten a reputation recently for political conservatism — another study found a majority supports President Donald Trump — this study found that Modern Orthodox Jews are evenly split, 52-48, between Republican and Democrat. The vast majority of non-Orthodox American Jews, by contrast, vote Democrat, and 71 percent of all Jews voted for Hillary Clinton last year, while the Orthodox community leaned toward Trump.
Most want an expanded role for women in the clergy.
Perhaps no issue has roiled the Modern Orthodox world in recent years as much as the debate over whether women can serve as clergy. A liberal Modern Orthodox seminary, Yeshivat Maharat, began ordaining women in 2009, and five Orthodox synagogues have hired its graduates as clergy (nearly all eschew the title “rabbi” and are referred to by other designations). But there’s been a backlash: In February, the Orthodox Union issued a ruling barring women from holding a title such as “rabbi,” or even from serving without title in a role in which she would be performing “common” clergy functions such as ruling on legal matters, officiating at life-cycle events, delivering sermons from the pulpit during services, leading services and serving as a synagogue’s primary authority. The same ruling urged an expanded role for women as teachers and pastoral counselors, and as lay leaders and professionals.
A Dec. 28 session at the Orthodox Union’s 2014 convention featured, from left to right, Rabbanit Chana Henkin of Israel’s Nishmat seminary; Chani Neuberger of the National Security Agency, Rona Novick of Yeshiva University’s Azrieli School and Marian Stoltz-Loike of Touro’s Lander College for Women. (O.U./ via JTA)
According to the survey, a majority of Modern Orthodox Jews, 53 percent, either fully or somewhat agree that women should have “expanded roles in the clergy.” More than one-third either fully or somewhat support a woman holding a position with “rabbinic authority.” Sixty percent of Open Orthodox respondents strongly supported women clergy, while only 14 percent of the rest of the Modern Orthodox did.
The traditionalist segment of the community believes in a much more limited public role for women. Only 29 percent of Right-Centrist Modern Orthodox Jews believe women should serve as synagogue presidents. Only 6 percent support an expanded clergy role for women, and only 4 percent among the Centrist Orthodox and right-leaning Centrists support some type of title signifying a woman’s “rabbinic authority.”
Most support admitting gay synagogue members.
The survey did not ask about attitudes regarding same-sex marriage or other LGBT issues. But it did note growing acceptance of gay people in the Modern Orthodox world. Fifty-eight percent of respondents supported synagogues accepting gay people as members, with 12 percent opposed and the rest unsure.
One-third of respondents said their attitudes toward sexuality have changed in recent years. An open-ended follow-up question found that a plurality cited increasing acceptance of gay people and “more openness in general.”
Young Modern Orthodox Jews are less attached to Israel than their elders.
Modern Orthodox Jews form the core of the religious Zionist settlement movement in Israel, and their counterparts in the United States tend to have right-wing views on Israel. But the younger generation in the US is less committed to the Jewish state, according to the survey.
New immigrants from North America land at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport after a Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered flight from New York, July 19, 2016. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Overall, more than three-quarters of respondents strongly support a unified Jerusalem (presumably under Israeli control) and a majority strongly supports West Bank settlement building. Only 17 percent strongly support even considering a negotiated two-state solution, which under most models would entail a withdrawal from much of the West Bank. By contrast, the Pew study of American Jews found that only 17 percent overall feel settlements help Israel’s security, and 60 percent are optimistic about the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
But on the Modern Orthodox front, this study found that younger Modern Orthodox Jews are less attached to Israel than their parents. While 87 percent of those over 55 say their emotional connection to Israel is very important, the number drops to 65 percent for those aged 18 to 34. In the younger group, only 43 percent feel it’s important to be personally active in support of Israel.
A leading Jewish human rights organization has expressed its relief at the defeat of Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari – the Qatari candidate for the post of UNESCO Director General who was tainted by antisemitic links – urging at the same time that “now is not the time for democracies to abandon” the UN’s cultural, scientific and educational organization.
BUCHAREST, Romania (JTA) — When the roof of the Jewish State Theater collapsed during a 2014 snowstorm, its director reluctantly knew it was finally time to abandon the century-old building in this capital city..
Following years of neglect by authorities, the Bucharest Jewish community had fought for decades to keep the storied theater afloat. The Jewish State Theater had been a major cultural institution for Central European Jews prior to the Holocaust. Later, during communism, it was the Romanian Jewish community’s only independent institution.
Audrey Azoulay (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chose Audrey Azoulay, France’s former Minister of Culture, as their Director General on Friday.
UNESCO’s executive board voted 30 to 28 in favor of Azoulay, rejecting Qatar’s Hamad Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Kawari, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. Azoulay must still be approved by UNESCO’s 195 members when they meet in November. If accepted, she will be the second French head of the organization, the second woman, and the first Jewish director general of UNESCO.
I am a Catalan Jew. Even though I’ve been based in Chicago for more than a year now—I moved there, of course, for love—I’ve spent most of my life in lively and lovely Barcelona, a city in which antiquity and modernity walk gracefully hand in hand. Even so, work in Barcelona has been scarce and poorly paid since the Spanish financial crisis started in 2008. This ongoing event has contributed to the rise of the Catalan independence movement among other factors. I have witnessed first-hand how independentism went from being marginal to becoming central.
Dutch documentary about the beloved Israeli fiction writer, a cult favorite in Holland, opens at the 33rd Haifa Film Festival
It seems unlikely to have two Dutch filmmakers behind “Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story,” a documentary about the beloved Israeli writer and humorist, currently premiering at the 33rd Haifa Film Festival.
Yet it is their nationality that offers filmmakers Stephane Kaas and Rutger Lemm the ability to gaze lovingly and critically at Keret, known locally and internationally for his wry, humorous short stories and essays.
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This is a very comfortable situation for Hamas, which has effectively been absolved of any responsibility toward the civilian population. Hamas could not have hoped for a better deal. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be permitted to maintain its own security force, while Abbas’s government oversees civilian affairs and pays salaries to civil servants.
A sigh of relief was heard last week from the New York Times to many newspapers and media outlets around the world, even in Israel, accompanied by a sneer toward the political right: He’s not a Muslim! Wow. It turns out that the mass murder in Las Vegas was committed by “only” a lunatic, Stephen Paddock, and one doesn’t have to be a jihadist to carry out a merciless massacre.
Reporters continue scratching their heads about what President Trump meant when he spoke of the “calm before the storm” recently as he was hosting a dinner for military commanders and their spouses. It seems clear to me that he was sending a powerful message to North Korea and Iran: change your behavior now or prepare to face new but unspecified painful consequences.
Most know the name of Israel’s famed spy group. The Mossad (“The Institute”) has helped protect Israel since 1949. Until recent years, the head of the Mossad was a secret. I well remember interviewing Ariel Sharon in 1998 at his office in Tel Aviv. After going through a maze of metal detectors, we waited in an outer room. Soon, a man walked down a hallway and stood before an elevator. He smiled and got on the elevator.
The New York based Center for Jewish History (CJH) remains embroiled in controversy weeks after it has been revealed that the new CEO, David N. Myers is an active leader of the New Israel Fund, If Not Now, When, J Street and other organizations that are hostile to the State of Israel. While Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has Myers listed in their propaganda as an academic advisor, he claims that this is inaccurate. His writings reveal hostile-to-Israel viewpoints, including the affinity for boycotts of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian “Nakba.”