“Thou hast ordained Thy precepts, that we should observe them diligently.” (Psalms 119:4)
A new report by the PEW Research Center suggests Orthodox Jews may have more in common with their religious Christian counterparts than they do with their fellow Jews, the Forward reported Wednesday.
The PEW report analyzed statistics collected in its 2013 survey, A Portrait of Jewish Americans. In addition to singling out Orthodox Jews as a distinct subset, it also noted that their higher birth rate might shift the demographic balance within the Jewish community, and thus the perception of the community within the outside world.
“If the Orthodox grow as a share of U.S. Jews, they gradually could shift the profile of American Jews in several areas, including religious beliefs and practices, social and political views and demographic characteristics,” the report cautiously predicts.
The Orthodox community can also be divided into two smaller entities; the Modern Orthodox are actively involved in the secular world while still astutely observing Jewish ritual, while the ultra-Orthodox or Haredi community shuns the modern world in favor of a more insular lifestyle conducive to its level of religious observance.
However, these two groups share their rapid growth, their emphasis on marriage and families, their relative political and social conservatism, and their preference for Jewish education for their children.
Between these groups and the remaining Jewish communities, be they Conservative, Reform, secular or other, is a vast gulf in the areas of beliefs and practices, the survey finds. while 83 percent of Orthodox Jews consider their Judaism to be an important part of their lives, only 20 percent of non-Orthodox Jews felt likewise. By comparison, 86 percent of white evangelical Christians feel their religion is an important part of their lives.
Regarding worship, 74 percent of Orthodox Jews and 75 percent of evangelicals attend services frequently, compared to only 12 percent of non-Orthodox Jews who attend synagogue at least once a month. 89 percent of Orthodox respondents and 93 percent of evangelical respondents are absolutely certain in their belief in God, while only 34 percent of other Jews are.
Politically, Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians tend to be more conservative, and 57 percent of Orthodox Jews and 66 percent of evangelical Christians support or lean towards the policies of the Republican party. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of non-Orthodox Jews are Republican supporters.
When it comes to Israel, 84 percent of Orthodox Jews and 82 percent of evangelicals believe the land was given to the Jews by God. Only 35 percent of non-Orthodox Jews believe so.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, noted, “We don’t take any joy in being on the other side of many issues, but to the extent that some of our positions are firmly based on the Jewish religious tradition, we feel we are standing up for what Judaism meant to all Jews for millennia.”
According to Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, the gaps go both ways, with evangelicals sharing more in common with their Orthodox counterparts than with other Christians. “There’s more unity between evangelicals, conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews than there is between evangelicals and other Christians,” he said, especially on social and moral issues.
Alan Cooperman, director of religion research for Pew and co-author of the report, noted, “We don’t think that in general, Orthodox Jews are similar to evangelicals, but that they are alike in some particular ways.” As Cromartie points out, there is a pretty big theological gap between the two groups when it comes to belief in the New Testament and Jesus.