Jews Are Favorite Group, Says Religion Survey

Jews Are Favorite Group, Says Religion Survey

Religious fluency is elusive but friendship overrides.

Associate Editor

The Star of David, Christian cross and Muslim crescent adorn the front of Beit Hagefen, Arab-Jewish Center in Haifa. Flickr
The Star of David, Christian cross and Muslim crescent adorn the front of Beit Hagefen, Arab-Jewish Center in Haifa. Flickr

In the ongoing Dickensian tale of two Americas, anti-Semitism is surging even as many Americans are continuing to love Jews more than any other religious group, says the Pew Research Survey in a report released this week.

In the study, “What Americans Know About Religion,” nearly 11,000 respondents were asked to rank religious groups on a “feelings thermometer” (zero is coldest, 100 is warmest). Jews topped nine religious groups at 63 degrees; Catholics and mainline Protestants followed at 60; Buddhists, 57; Evangelicals, 56; with atheists and Muslims bundling up at 49.

Pew noted that education is a factor in religious fluency but friendship even more so. Those who knew the most about Judaism were most likely to have good feelings about Jews, and those who actually knew a Jew were more than twice as likely to answer questions about Judaism correctly.

Although Jews scored 63 overall on the warmth scale, said Pew, “Those who answered 25 or more religious questions correctly,” gave Jews an even warmer reading of 70, “compared with just 54 degrees from those who answer eight or fewer questions correctly.” Nevertheless, Jews are still the most popular religious group among both the high and low ends; Jews are leading every group among those who answer the fewest questions correctly, and leading among those who answer the most questions correctly. The only other group to have a 16 degree differential are Buddhists, who even on the high end (65) have five degrees less likeability than Jews do. Evangelicals are the second most popular group (53 degrees) among those who answer eight or fewer correctly, but Evangelicals fall to the “coldest” rank (43) among those who answer the most questions about religion correctly.

Of the survey’s 32 multiple choice questions, not one of the four specifically Jewish questions was answered correctly by a majority: Twenty-nine percent knew Shabbat begins on Friday; 27 percent associated Kabbalah with Judaism; 24 percent knew Rosh HaShanah was New Year; and 13 percent knew Maimonides was Jewish. On the other hand, 11 percent of Jews did not know Shabbat begins on Friday, and 18 percent of Jews did not know Rosh HaShanah was the New Year.

Most Americans said that laws against adultery (99 percent) and stealing (97 percent) were in the Ten Commandments, but fewer (71 percent) could identify “keeping the Sabbath holy” as one of the Ten Commandments, when it is, in fact, the Fourth.

The biblical questions were not particularly difficult — if it can be agreed that identifying Moses is not a difficult Biblical question. Yet, when asked who led the Exodus from Egypt, only 79 percent said Moses; 21 percent said Joseph, Daniel or Elijah; and 7 percent of Jews got the Moses question wrong.

For all of Martin Luther King’s soaring Exodus imagery, and the Civil Rights movement’s “Go Down Moses” anthem, 1 in 4 (26 percent) members of “historically black” churches could not identify Moses as the leader of the Exodus.

One in four Jews (25 percent) did not know that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son; 31 percent of all respondents confused Abraham with Jacob, Cain or Levi.

Mormons (93 percent), Evangelicals (91 percent) and atheists (84 percent) knew that David killed an enemy (Goliath) with a stone, but only 79 percent of Jews knew that story — seventh among religious groups.

Jews, however, knew more about world religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism) than did Christians; 89 percent of Jews could identify Ramadan, as opposed to Catholics (61 percent), or members of black churches (37 percent). Jews (68 percent) knew Yoga is associated with Hinduism, compared to 44 percent of Christians. Jews knew (17 percent) — more than any Christian group — that Vedas is Hindu. Nevertheless, more Jews knew that Sikh men are required to wear turbans (71 percent) than knew (66 percent) Esther’s place in the Purim story.

The most esoteric Jewish question was about Maimonides; 58 percent of Jews knew he was Jewish, no other group scored better than 13 percent (Catholics). But Jews ranked only fourth when it came to a question about Abraham.

Most respondents did not know that Jews are only 2 percent of the population and Muslims 1 percent: 16 percent of Christians thought there were more Muslims; 25 percent thought there were more Jews.

The rules separating church and state eluded most respondents: Only 38 percent of Jews — but more than anyone else — knew the U.S. Constitution had no religious test for holding public office; 15 percent of respondents incorrectly believed that federal officeholders were required to affirm that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”; and 12 percent thought elected officials had to be sworn in using a Bible.

There were no major differences between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans (or leaning that way) correctly answered 14.8 of the 32 questions; Democrats (or leaning) answered 14.1.

The study was conducted online in Feb. 4-19, with a plus/minus margin of 1.5 percentage points.

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