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The Nishma 2017 Research Profile of American Modern Orthodox Jews

Sponsor(s): Micah Foundation, West Springfield, MA

Principal Investigator(s): Nishma Research, Mark Trencher

Study Dates: 2017

Population Estimates:

The study utilized the Pew, 2013 estimate of 220,000 Modern Orthodox  Jewish adults as the population estimate context for the study.  The 220,000 Modern Orthodox adults represent 4% of all American Jews.

Key Findings:

2017 Internet Survey of over 3,800 Modern Orthodox respondents from over 40 states and the District of Columbia focused on the U.S. Modern Orthodox Jewish community. 

The study explored diversity among the Modern Orthodox, including the fragmentation of left vs. right, contrasting views on the role of women (including as clergy), shul life, Jewish study and children’s education, Israel connection and sexuality issues (and many other topics).

Nishma's Research Profile of American Modern Orthodox Jews has two complementary reporting components: (a) a quantitative Internet survey summarized in the Profile reports, and (b) a qualitative "verbatim" quote summary from responses to open-ended questions in the survey.  

Materials available for downloading from the Berman Jewish DataBank: (a) Summary Report, (b) Main report, includes questionnaire, (c) Verbatim comments for several open-ended questions edited by Nishma Research, (c) Questionnaire, (d) Press release, (e) Data Files in SPSS format.

Key quantitative findings highlighted in the study:

♦ Levels of belief and observance among the Modern Orthodox are relatively high, and the
sense of community provides much joy and meaning to people’s lives.

♦ Shabbat observance, active shuls, connections to Israel and continuing Jewish study all transmit Jewish values and practices to future generations.

♦ The biggest concern is the cost of Jewish schooling (89% rate this a serious problem).

♦ Other major areas of concern are agunot – “chained women” (69%), the overall cost of maintaining an Orthodox (56%) life, and combating anti-Semitism.

♦ Debates about the role of women are divisive among the Modern Orthodox, even as opportunities for women have grown in communal leadership (75% favor women as shul presidents), Torah teaching, study and scholarship.

♦ In terms of clergy positions, 53% agree that women should have the opportunity for expanded roles, and 19% strongly support women having clergy roles accompanied by some type of title signifying their “rabbinic authority.” 

♦ Younger women, in particular, are looking for progress on the issue of women in clergy positions. Among women ages 18-34, two-thirds (66%) agree that women should have the opportunity for expanded roles in the clergy, and one-third (32%) strongly support women having such expanded roles accompanied by a title signifying “rabbinic authority.”

♦ Modern Orthodoxy overall is “moving to the right,” but significant numbers are becoming less observant. Over the past decade, 39% became more observant and 23% became less observant. But polarization is increasing: while “the
right” has moved very strongly further to the right, “the left” has moved slightly further left.

♦ Improving the meaningfulness of tefillah [prayer] remains an opportunity. among the Modern Orthodox. People feel welcomed in shul and more than two-thirds say going to shul is an important of their life, but fewer than half (42%) agree fully that tefillah is meaningful to them.

♦ Across all of Modern Orthodoxy, children are pursuing their own religious identities. One-third of children are more observant than their parents and one-third
less observant (although at the liberal end, higher percentages say their children have become less observant).

♦ 58% of Modern Orthodox support shuls in general accepting gays as members, with only 12% opposed.

The Spectrum of Modern Orthodoxy:

Respondents were asked to classify themselves within the broad spectrum of Modern Orthodoxy.

♦ 41% of respondents were classified as Modern Orthodox 

♦ To their "left" religiously, 12% identified as "Open Orthodox," the most liberal, and another 22% were "liberal, Modern Orthodox."  

♦ To the "right," 14% were "Centrist Orthodox," and another 11% "Right Centrist."

Survey results were analyzed with this Modern Orthodox spectrum lens throughout the report.


Qualitative Insights.

In addition to the quantitative data, Mark Trencher, Founder of Nishma Research, has edited thousands of verbatim responses into four verbatim comment files.  The verbatim comments provide enormous insight into the world of Modern Jewish Orthodoxy.

(A) Q43  What gives the most satisfaction, joy or meaning to your life as an Orthodox-Observant Jew?  combined with answers to Q44. What, if anything, causes you the most pain or unhappiness as an Orthodox / Observant Jew

(B) Q28  ...thinking of your oldest child, what areas are there, if any, where his or her Jewish perspectives differ substantially from yours?

(C) Q32  How have your attitudes towards sexuality changed over the past few years?

(D) Q10  Is there anything new or different you'd like to see available to you in areas of Jewish studies


Internet survey completed by a total of 6,119 respondents, including U.S. non-Orthodox who attend an Orthodox shul, Modern Orthodox who reside outside the United States, and Chareidi respondents in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The quantitative study report focused on the 3,819  U.S. "Modern and Centrist Orthodox" respondents to the Internet survey.

Respondents were asked:

Q1. Regardless of your synagogue affiliation, which of the following categories best describes your approach to Judaism? Would you say you are ... – Modern Orthodox or Centrist Orthodox; Yeshivish / Litvish / Agudah; Chasidic, Chabad; Not Orthodox 

Q2. [Asked of those who are not Orthodox per Q1]: Do you regularly attend an Orthodox synagogue? – Yes; No (survey terminates).

Sample Size: 3,819 quantitative responses

Sample Notes:

Nishma Research's Press Release noted: "The survey ... respondents [were] from 41 states and DC. These were obtained via outreach by hundreds of community rabbis throughout the U.S., who asked their congregants to participate. Interviews among Modern Orthodox men and women were conducted in advance of the survey, along with guidance from an advisory group of community experts, to ensure that the study covered the issues, attitudes and concerns that are particularly – and often uniquely – relevant to Modern Orthodoxy. The sample size enables the exploration of differences among sub-groups, such as between men and women, older vs. younger, and among the religious/ideological spectrum from left to right."


DataBank users: Please note that the Quantitative Internet study has a data file and published report N of 3,819 U.S. Modern Orthodox respondents.  The quantitative data file was created at the "cutoff" date indicated in the original request for participation by respondents. 

♦ The data file (see additional details under Study Notes) includes 3,819 U.S. Modern Orthodox, plus another 2,200 survey respondents who were either: (a) not respondents from the United States, or (b) U.S. non-Modern Orthodox respondents.

After the quantitative cutoff date, another 84 respondents completed the survey and included responses to the open-ended questions; given their efforts to explain their views on Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, their verbatim comments were included in the "verbatim" reports, so that the qualitative report summary is based on 3,903 Modern Orthodox respondents.


Study Notes:

The quantitative data file for the study was made available at the Berman Jewish DataBank shortly after the publication of the research reports.  The DataBank thanks MarkTrencher, founder and principal of Nishma Research, for the quick release of the survey data.

There is an SPSS SAV data file for SPSS users (and an SPSS POR file for those who do not use SPSS) which is available for downloading. 

The file has 6,319 respondents -  of whom 3,819 are American Modern Orthodox Jews.  The DataBank-created variable "USModernOrth" near the end of the file (v170) should be used to replicate the Profile reports data, which are based on the 3,819 Modern Orthodox U.S. respondents. 

SPSS users can either select the U.S. Modern Orthodox (=1) as a filter or use as a control variable in cross-tabulation and other multi-variate analyses.  If that variable is not used, the data will typically reflect the responses of all 6,319 survey respondents and not match the Nishma reports.

The DataBank has also recoded respondent U.S. state from an alpha to a numeric variable, and recoded state into the nine U.S. census regions (v171, v172).  Country has also been recoded from alpha (v1) to a numerical "Country_recoded" variable (v169) with categories of 1=US, 2=Canada, 3=Israel and 4=Others.  


Please see the Study Page on the Nishma Research website for links to articles summarizing and analyzing the study.

Language: English