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Study Finds US Jewish Community Larger than Previously Thought

Study claims US Jewish population stands at 6.8 million, far higher than previous estimates; definition of "Jewish identity" contentious.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 9/30/2013, 3:11 PM

(Illustration) Hareidi-religious Jews in Manhattan
(Illustration) Hareidi-religious Jews in Manhattan
Flash 90

A study released by the Steinhardt Social Reseach Institute (SSRI) and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University has yielded some interesting and somewhat unexpected information about the size of the Jewish community in the United States.

According to the study, in 2012 there were an estimated 6.8 million Jews in the US - significantly more than previous estimates, which put the American Jewish population at less than 6 million.

As noted in the 32 page report itself, the study paints a portrait "of a population, at least numerically, in ascent rather than decline" - good news for a community leadership which has grappled for decades with gloomy predictions of a decline in population due to assimilation, emigration and a low birthrate outside of the Orthodox community, among other factors.

However, upon deeper inspection the increased estimate may have something to do with the study's fairly loose definition of Jewish identity. Asserting that "Jewish identity is complex and fluid," and noting that "individuals express their Judaism in a variety [of] ways," it is not restricted to the Halachik (Jewish legal) definition of a Jew as someone with a Jewish mother, but includes those who self-identify as Jewish through religious or cultural affiliation.

Among other facts, the study shows that over 40% of American Jews are concentrated in just six states, with slightly over 20% in New York State, 14% in California, 12% in Florida, 8% in New Jersey, and 5% each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

There are approximately 1.6 million Jewish children in the US, and around 4.2 million adults "self-identify as Jewish" when asked about their religion.

See here for the full report.

The SSRI has also released an interactive map charting Jewish population centers in the US.