Jews and the American Religious Landscape

By McGinity, Keren R. | American Jewish History, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Jews and the American Religious Landscape


McGinity, Keren R., American Jewish History


Jews and the American Religious Landscape. By Uzi Rebhun. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. vii-x + 236 pp.

Over the past decade since the Pew Religious Landscape Survey was published, scholars and communal leaders have continuously argued over whether the American Jewish population is increasing or decreasing in numbers and strength. Too often, however, these debates take place in a demographic vacuum that lacks assessment and comparison with the Christian majority's denominations and other religious minorities. Uzi Rebhun's Jews and the American Religious Landscape offers a refreshing perspective by giving readers a brilliant analysis that illustrates how American Jewry is neither gaining in vigor nor facing its sunset.

Rebhun accomplishes this feat by comparing Jews' affinities with those of other religious groups, examining different dimensions and indicators in relation to each other and culminating in a multivariate analysis. For example, the three main social dimensions of geographic patterns, level of education, and income are studied along with other indicators in the context of the one preceding it. As Rebhun explains: "level of education by geography, and income by geography and education. The description of relations between religious affiliation and levels of education and income is accompanied by investigation of the determinants of each of these dimensions" (54). The result is a comprehensive overview of the ways in which American Jews are much like their non-Jewish counterparts and the ways in which American Jews are exceptional. Hence, commentators who argue for a lack of distinctiveness will have to face the ways in which Rebhun's analysis pokes holes in their argument; likewise those who believe that Jews are unique. Readers are left with a finely detailed portrayal that illustrates just how well integrated American Jews have become while maintaining their particularities.

How similar to other Americans are Jews, and how Jewish are they? That seems to be the overarching question that this worthwhile volume answers. The wealth of data, detailed tables and figures will intrigue seasoned demographers and junior social scientists alike. The interpretation of voting patterns will be very useful to many inside and outside academia. While a full list of the similarities and differences between Jews and their non-Jewish counterparts is beyond the scope of any review, there are several worth highlighting. Rebhun's careful analysis finds that demographically Jews are quite different from Americans generally, with lower fertility, a smaller proportion of foreign-born, a larger out-flux of adherents, and an older age composition. He surmises that Jews "may not be the ever-dying people" but are "the ever-graying people." Jews' geographic dispersion is also significantly different from other Americans: more Jews live in the Northeast, while more non-Jews live in the Midwest and the South. The West is the only region claiming comparable populations of both. Another important difference is that Jews are better educated than non-Jews. Also, whereas Jewish men and women have similar educational attainments, in other faiths more women than men have academic education, Mormons being the exception. …

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