The Pew Report’s Lesser-Known Cousin: The Phew Report

By Dovid Bashevkin

Much attention has been focused on the largely dire implications to be gleaned from the Pew report, which has led to the neglect of a lesser-known, but perhaps equally valuable, report issued simultaneously: The Phew Report. Commissioned by Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of the Young Israel of Izbica, the report serves as a positive cushion for some of the negative predictions in the Pew report.

“We’re number one! We’re number one!”

-Excerpt from an Orthodox study commissioned to analyze the Pew report.

So that the positively exciting results of the Phew report are not left unnoticed, we have highlighted some of the findings:

• The Orthodox Jewish community, based on the report, is comprised of 29 percent Modern Orthodox, 18 percent Modern Orthodox Machmir, 67 percent Chassidic, 34 percent Yeshivish and 89 percent hopelessly confused. (Overall, just 74 percent realized this is mathematically incorrect.)

• Only 5 percent of Jews under the age of 30 assimilated due to long-winded expositions of the Pew report.

• 70 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews were able to correctly identify the color of the cover to Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

• Though only 11 percent of Modern Orthodox teens knew that Avodos was not in fact a Talmudic tractate, over 96 percent were convinced that floor hockey is a real sport.

• Only 33 percent of those surveyed could name the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, but 84 percent correctly identified each element in the acronym F.L.O.P.

Undoubtedly, some of the results of the report may be concerning. However, overall, the report sheds remarkable light on the Orthodox community’s ability to remain almost eerily calm in the face of escalating assimilation. As part of the study, the Phew report ranked the top ten issues facing Orthodox Jewry. Below are the responses, ranked in order of what respondents thought most important to least important.

1. Tuition

2. Children shouldn’t marry someone, you know, “too Modern.”

3. Israel

4. Do those Kupat Ha’Ir berachos work? Seems enticing.

5. Children shouldn’t marry someone, you know, “too Yeshivish.”

6. Is Starbucks kosher?

7. I heard someone is starting a new Sukkos program. Does it have a web site?

8. Accessibility to sushi

9. Affordable Pesach programs

10. Is Inwood really one of the Five Towns?? Are you sure? Shouldn’t the fifth be West Hempstead?

To be sure, the Phew report paints a very different, perhaps more nuanced picture, of what is essential to Judaism within the Orthodox community.

% saying __________ is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them:

Not owning a television           62%

(but watching on Hulu)

Kiki Riki         52%

Not buying retail jewelry         91%

Dan’s Deals    48%

Flexible use of the word “by”            81%

(i.e. “I’m staying by his house)

Not going to movies    67%

(but watching on Netflix)

Interestingly, the Phew report found few discriminating variables among different Orthodox subgroups. Based on the multiple regression performed by the Bratslav Institute for Statistical Research, the results of which have been reproduced below, the only reliable predictor to differentiate one Orthodox subgroup from the next is percentage of waking hours spent being fleishig.

Subgroup   Aggregate Average % of Waking Hours Spent Being Fleishig

Modern Orthodox       13%

Yeshivish         45%

Chassidic         84%

Surely there is much more to be learned and examined in the Phew report. Whatever your interpretation, it clearly offers a much needed respite from the dire picture of the Pew report. As young and old, rich and poor, milchig and fleishig wipe their collective brow, the Orthodox community is united in its heartfelt sigh: “Phew.”

Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin is the director of education for NCSY. He is pursuing a doctorate in public policy at The New School in New York. Aside from his academic and professional pursuits, he prides himself on usually being fleishig. For more of his ideas, follow him on Twitter @dbashideas.

This article was featured in the Summer 2014 issue of Jewish Action.