British Jews With Higher Academic Degrees Less Likely to Engage With Jewish Community, Be Attached to Israel, New Study Finds
Highly-educated British Jews are less likely to be engaged with the Jewish community and committed to its preservation, and more likely to take a critical stance on Israel, according to new research.
The report — authored by Stephen Miller, emeritus professor at City, University of London (CUL), and a senior research adviser at the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) — assessed the relationship between high academic achievement, which British Jews are disproportionately likely to reach, and involvement in Jewish life. It relied on three surveys carried out by JPR since 1995, as well as a 2015 survey carried out by CUL researchers.
According to the research, as academic achievement increased among Jews, synagogue membership and attendance declined. “The proportion of male respondents who attend synagogue on most Sabbaths (or more often) declines quite steeply with academic level,” it found.
Yet an exception was found among members of progressive synagogues, namely in the Reform, Liberal and Masorti (traditional) movements. In these congregations — which in the UK attract fewer members than Orthodox congregations — postgraduates were more likely to attend weekly than others.
Religious beliefs also seemed to diverge, with 50 percent of non-graduates agreeing that Jews have a special relationship with God — a stance shared by only 25 percent of their postgraduate counterparts, with graduates falling between the two groups.
Non-graduates were also some 1.5 times more likely than postgraduates to say that prayer and belief in God were “fairly” or “very” important to their Jewish identity.
This trend was evident among traditional members of Orthodox synagogues, and more so among progressive congregations. Those who identify as strictly Orthodox maintain high levels of beliefs that do not significantly vary with greater education.
Observance of Jewish rituals — from attending a Seder every year to fasting on Yom Kippur and buying Kosher meat — was also lower among the most highly qualified than among graduates and non-graduates.
The differences extended to communal behaviors, with Jews who did not obtain a degree being about twice as likely to predominantly have Jewish friends as those with a higher degree. Likewise, the report noted, “the likelihood of having a non-Jewish partner increases systematically with level of education and, again, it is roughly twice as high for Jews with a postgraduate degree as it is for those with no degree.”
Jews with a higher degree were also less likely to read a Jewish newspaper regularly, but more likely to participate in other cultural pursuits, such as buying Jewish art or seeing a Jewish film.
They were also less likely to agree that “an unbreakable bond unites Jews all over the world,” or that it’s important for the Jewish people to survive — though 77 percent still agreed with the latter statement (as compared to 91 percent of those with no degree).
Differences were likewise evident in charitable giving, with a plurality (45 percent) of non-graduates favoring British Jewish causes, which only 22 percent of the highly educated prioritized. Instead, the latter group was likely to favor overseas aid (38 percent), followed by general British charities and then Jewish causes.
Those who prioritized Israeli causes (12 percent) did not vary substantially with levels of academic achievement. “These findings make it clear that Jewish postgraduates are considerably more likely to favour universal causes over more parochial ones, while the less highly educated tend to prioritise local Jewish causes,” the research noted.
The report also found a relationship between high academic achievement and the endorsement of “dovish” attitudes to Israel, as well as less attachment to the Jewish state. These two features “coexist with fragile communal engagement and lower levels of religious belief and practice as part of the cluster of features that characterises academically able Jews,” according to the report.
While 18 percent of Jews with no degrees said they would support some sanctions against Israel, as part of an effort to pressure its government to participate in a “peace process,” that percentage increased to 32 among Jews with a Masters or PhD degree. Conversely, 78 percent of Jews with no degree agreed that peace negotiations were pointless as long as Palestinian schools continued teaching incitement against Israel, while only 45 percent of their counterparts with academic credentials agreed.
Nonetheless, a majority of both groups said they supported Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and expressed a “deep sense of pride in Israel’s achievements in arts, science and technology.”
While acknowledging that changes within the community and external social and political factors may change the data in the future, the report cautioned “that the proportion of academically gifted people within the engaged community is likely to decline if present trends continue.”