Who Are the Modern Orthodox? A Survey of Studies

Growing Cincinnati's Modern Orthodox community one family at a time

Who Are the Modern Orthodox? A Survey of Studies

In my initial rounds of meetings with people on the job, I largely had been meeting with either Modern Orthodox people in Cincinnati, rabbis, and other well-involved Jewish community leaders. However, recently, I have begun meeting with people beyond those cohorts and have been receiving the question of who are the Modern Orthodox? What are they like? As a matter of responsible market research for my position, it is clearly important for me to be knowledgeable of the relevant studies of our target demographic.

Fortunately, there have been recent studies that considered this segment of the American Jewish population. Along with the 2013 Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews (henceforth, Pew 2013), the Pew Research Center also ran a follow-up study from the same survey results, A Portrait of American Orthodox Jews: A Further Analysis of the 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews (henceforth, Pew 2015), and there is also last year’s study of specifically just the Modern Orthodox, The Nishma Research Profile of American Modern Orthodox Jews (henceforth, Nishma 2017). One of the advantages of this last survey is not only that it is more recent, but also that it is the only such survey focusing solely on the Modern Orthodox.

Drawing upon the results from the 2013 Pew study, Rabbi Elli Fischer succinctly describes Modern Orthodox Jews:

No group puts more of a premium on ethical life, intellectual curiosity, Israel, or community. In the aggregate, Modern Orthodox espouses more “essentials” of Jewish identity than any other segment, and by a wide margin. Its adherents are most likely to understand Judaism as both ethnicity and religion (a mature and correct understanding of reality). This is all in addition to the large families and high rate of day-school attendance that characterize Orthodoxy in general. As its name indicates, a multiplicity of emphases and core values is characteristic of Modern Orthodoxy.

Modern Orthodox Household Income (Nishma 2017 study, page 83)

Modern Orthodox Household Income (Nishma 2017 study, page 83)

In terms of their socioeconomic status, the Modern Orthodox tend to be well-educated, as 65% of them possess at least a bachelor’s degree (Pew 2013, 43) and 29% possessing a graduate degree (Pew 2015, 14). The striving for professional training has yielded more than a third of the community to bring in annual income of $150,000 or more (Pew 2013, 43), with the median amount being $158,000 (Nishma 2017, 83). However, the biggest issue for the Modern Orthodox is the cost of education (Nishma 2017, 73-76), especially since the income mentioned above may be barely enough to keep Orthodox families afloat.

Modern Orthodox Jews in America are primarily located in the Northeast – basically, between Boston and Baltimore: “Most Modern Orthodox Jews (61%) also live in the Northeast, although roughly a third live in either the South (20%) or the West (12%)” (Pew 2015, 16).

Modern Orthodox Marriage and Children (Nishma 2017 study, page 81)

Modern Orthodox Marriage and Children (Nishma 2017 study, page 81)

With its emphasis on family, Modern Orthodox Jews highly value marriage and raising children, with nearly 4 out of 5 Modern Orthodox Jews being married, and most Modern Orthodox Jews having three or more children (Nishma 2017, 81).

Modern Orthodox Political Leanings (Nishma 2017 study, page 83)

Modern Orthodox Political Leanings (Nishma 2017 study, page 83)

Modern Orthodox Jews in America tend to be politically moderate, with more than 60% claiming to be either independent or moderate Republicans or moderate Democrats (Nishma 2017, 83).

Having focused on sketching a broad thumbnail of who Modern Orthodox Jews are in this post, I hope this post was helpful in gaining an understanding on who Modern Orthodox Jews are. I may return to this topic more in-depth on another occasion, especially with regards to their religious practices and more specifically what may differentiate them from both those on their socioreligious right and socioreligious left.