Nishma Research Releases Two New Studies of the American Orthodox Jewish Community

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Nishma Research has released two new studies of the Orthodox community:

  • The Successes, Challenges, and Future of American Modern Orthodoxy – This study probes the challenges and benefits facing Modern Orthodoxy that result from of its interaction with secular society, its priorities and the societal values that are leading to divisiveness within the community.
  • The Journeys and Experiences of Baalei Teshuvah – This study examines the factors leading non-Orthodox Jews to become observant, their challenges and the nature of their continuing journey. 

Among the study findings:

The Successes, Challenges, and Future of American Modern Orthodoxy

  • Modern Orthodoxy’s worldview involves melding Jewish observance with secular knowledge and participation. While nearly all (88%) experience positive interactions with secular society, nearly all (88%) also have experienced conflict, and more than one-third (37%) compromise to some extent, most often in areas of kashrut and Shabbat.
  • People want change, and the top issues raised by those who advocate for change are increased roles for women and acceptance of LGBTQ. But many are opposed to change, and the two two areas where they do not want change are the exact same issues. Modern Orthodoxy is being stretched by what are seen as both positive and negative views and values of secular society.
  • Fragmentation is growing, and more than one-third (34%) believe “there is no longer a single, cohesive Modern Orthodox community. Modern Orthodoxy should acknowledge this and would perhaps be better off splitting into separate camps.”
  • The historic near-universal attendance at Orthodox Jewish day schools seems to be slipping, as 31% say they might consider public school as an option. 55% agree that their Orthodox community school systems are successful in creating committed Orthodox Jews, while 34% disagree.
  • There is widespread concern about individuals leaving Orthodoxy (63%), and even more concern that communal leaders are not adequately addressing the issue (67%).

The Journeys and Experiences of Baalei Teshuvah

  • 42% of Modern Orthodox identify as baalei teshuvah (becoming Orthodox at or after bar/bat mitzvah age), a number consistent with what the 2013 Pew Study had found.
  • The top reasons baalei teshuvah give for why they became Orthodox are intellectual attraction or curiosity (53%), seeing Orthodoxy as more authentically Jewish (52%) and more truthful (35%), and connection to Jewish roots and heritage (36%).
  • By a very wide margin, the top challenge baalei teshuvah faced in becoming Orthodox was in their relationships with their parents and family (37%). These relationships were far more challenging than learning and knowing what to do as an Orthodox observant person (16%), social aspects and friends (13%), and kashrut (12%).
  • Half of baalei teshuvah have continued to become more observant over time, but one in four says they have become less observant and gradually more lenient. Additionally, the vast majority (83%) say that they have “held onto” things from their pre-Orthodox life, which are not commonly found in the Orthodox world, most often citing left-of-center political views (20%) and socially liberal views (12%).
  • About three-fourths of all Orthodox Jews see their community as very accepting of baalei teshuvah. However, baalei teshuvah’s comfort levels with davening (prayer), Jewish learning and day-to-day Orthodox living are significantly lower than those of people raised Orthodox, even after many years, 

Both studies are available for download at: