A researcher at the Pew Research Center defends his institution against an Orthodox claim it counts everyone calling themselves Jewish, while almost half of them are not so for Orthodox-Jewish Law. But I’m dissatisfied.
Well taken is his defense that all polling goes by self-definition and that there is no alternative. Also true is that it cannot use one definition or another to replace self-identification. No less right is that self-definition both underestimates and overestimates the numbers, while his opponent cherry-picked the latter arguments—which is a cardinal sin in statistics.
Some are Halachically Jewish, but they might not identify as such for many reasons. They don’t practice any Judaism, they practice another worldview (Buddhism or Christianity, I guess), some don’t want to be counted as Jews (or as part of any group) as protection against Jew-hatred, some might even not know their mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish, etc.
Or some are not Halachically Jewish, but they could identify as Jewish for many reasons. They see it as a faith and they adopted some part of religious Judaism, on their own or in the framework of non-Orthodox congregations, their father or spouse is Jewish, they see un-Orthodox Jews and conversions as nothing less Jewish, they just feel Jewish, etc.
However, the Pew Research Center does not need to go Orthodox or Reform or use any other criteria of who’s a Jew to give better results.
What would stop them from asking their respondents to specify why they do and don’t see themselves as Jews? Conflicting answers (ambivalence) are allowed. (Yes, No, I’m unsure. I don’t know. I don’t want to say.)
Do you consider yourself a Jew because:
You are a Jew according to Orthodox-Jewish criteria?
You are connected to a non-Orthodox stream of Judaism?
You are converted though outside an Orthodox stream of Judaism?
Your father, spouse, child, or other close one is a Jew?
You’re culturally Jewish?
You feel close to Jews?
You feel Jewish?
You feel connected to Israel?
You or a close one was victimized by the Holocaust?
You teach your children much/some Judaism?
Do you not consider yourself a Jew because:
You don’t see Judaism as your faith (any longer)?
You feel uncomfortable identifying as a Jew?
You are anti-Zionistic or anti-Israel?
You feel distant from Jews?
You are not a Jew according to Orthodox-Jewish criteria?
You are not connected to a non-Orthodox stream of Judaism?
You did not convert through an Orthodox stream of Judaism?
You think that (many) Jews will not count you in?
You’re not culturally Jewish?
You don’t feel close to Jews?
You don’t feel Jewish?
You don’t feel connected to Israel?
You have no close one who was victimized by the Holocaust?
You want to leave the past the past and dislike the roots digging?
You refuse to teach your children any/much Judaism?
You were rejected by Jews, Jewish Law, or one or more congregations?
With these answers, the PEW Research Center would respect how people self-identify and show how many in the US do (not) identify as Jews.
Everyone seeing the numbers and correlations can then have an idea how many Jews there are in categories that they find important: (not) Orthodox, (no) non-Orthodox membership, observance, or conversion, (not) a Jewish believer, father, spouse, child, or other close one, (not) culturally, (not) relationally, (not) emotionally, (anti-) Israel/Zionistically, (not) Holocaust, (not) teaching children, uncomfortable to identify, etc.
Don’t just ask them if they identify as a Jew and what kind of section of the religious spectrum they are. More may teach us a lot. Without the details, the results are like swimwear, hiding what could be the most interesting.