Religious and ritual observance constitute one way Pittsburgh Jews express their Jewish identities. Synagogues have long been the central communal and religious “home” for American Jews, and membership in a congregation is one of the key ways Jews affiliate with the Jewish community.
Synagogue membership notwithstanding, many Jews participate in rituals on a daily or intermittent basis at home. Some Jews perform rituals for religious reasons, while other Jews are motivated by civic, familial, and cultural reasons.
In the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, 35% of households (approximately 9,400) belong to a synagogue or another Jewish worship community of some type. Thirty-eight percent of Jewish adults live in synagogue-member households, comparable to that of the rest of the country (39%) but lower than rates found in 2002 (53%).
Synagogue affiliation models appear to be changing. In many cities, even as overall synagogue membership rates are declining, alternatives to “brick-and-mortar” synagogues such as independent minyanim have grown in popularity, and voluntary contributions have replaced dues in some congregations.
For this study, respondents indicated whether they were members of “a Jewish congregation, such as a synagogue, temple, minyan, chavurah, or High Holy Day congregation.” Members were asked to name each congregation (up to five) and, for each one, to indicate whether they pay dues, consider themselves members without paying dues, or dues are not required for membership. Using this information, all congregations that could be identified were coded with a type and denomination. One-fifth of Jewish households (19%) indicate that they are dues-paying members of a brick-and-mortar synagogue.
Historically, denominational affiliation has been one of the basic indicators of Jewish identity and practice. Overall, two-thirds of Pittsburgh’s Jewish adults identify with a formal Jewish denomination, and the remainder indicate they are secular, just Jewish, or have no specific denomination. The largest denomination, Reform, includes one-third of Jewish adults.
Table 2.5 Age by denomination(% of Jewish adults)
Overall 18-34 35-49 50-64 65+ Orthodox 9 12 12 9 6 Conservative 22 27 11 25 21 Reform 34 24 33 30 39 Other 5 5 4 6 3 Just Jewish 15 18 11 21 10 Secular 15 14 29 9 21 100 100 100 100 100
The proportion of Pittsburgh Jews who identify as Reform or Conservative has declined since 2002. Fourteen years ago, these two groups accounted for nearly three-quarters (73%) of Pittsburgh Jews. Today, they are 56%. By contrast, those who claim no denomination—that is, those who are secular, culturally Jewish, “just Jewish,” or have no specific denomination—have increased from 17% to 30% of the population. Notably, there has also been an increase in the Orthodox population, from 7% to 9%. Pittsburgh Jews are equally likely as US Jews overall to claim a denominational affiliation.
Table 2.6 Denomination of Jews in 2017 compared to 2002 and the national Jewish community(% of Jewish adults)
Pittsburgh 2017 Pittsburgh 2002 Pew 2013 Orthodox 9 7 10 Conservative 22 32 18 Reform 34 41 36 Reconstructionist/Renewal 3 2 n/a Secular/Just Jewish 30 17 30 Other 2 1 6 100 100 100