I never thought about it much, but as a gatekeeper for Jewish identities in several Jewish population studies over the years, I’ve bounced more than a few Christians who seemed theologically inclined to describe themselves as Jewish, but beside their beliefs, nothing else pointed in that direction. I just wouldn’t count them or told the interviewers to thank them, drop them and go on to the next interviews. I wasn’t going to waste precious Jewish communal population research resources on “false positives.”
Brushing the phenomenon off, I never really collated the numbers or went back to do any special statistics or study about this. I just grouped these Christians calling themselves Jews as non-Jews.
Well, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1928
” In Utah Mormons Call Themselves Jews and Jews Are Considered “gentiles”
Then, of course, there are Messianics who define themselves as Jews and in their worldview is expressed in Yahoo Answers:
“Basically there are two kinds of Jews. Messianic Jews and Non Messianic Jews.”
Then we go on to Christians who stop believing in the New Testament and Jesus
Plenty of full-on Christians call themselves Jews - “Completed” Jews, “Messianic” Jews, “Grafted” Jews, etc.
Then there are Christians who believe that Christianity IS NOT a repudiation of Judaism. But Christianity is a fulfilling of Judaism and so as one respondent told me, he was the true Jew.
People can call themselves anything they like, but as a standard bearer and enforcer for the organized Jewish community, I have to draw the sociological line somewhere. There are also many people who would be considered Jews by other Jews or the State of Israel, but I don’t include them in the Jewish count because they they refuse to consider themselves to be Jewish by religion or other means.
All of this would be of interest as dinner party conversation, but it turns out that is could be a component of rather large error in the newly published estimates of the the size of the American Jewish Community by a group at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. Their estimate at 6.4 million is about a million Jews higher than previously accepted estimates.
In a previous blog I have put forth the arguments of where they may have made some methodological missteps and perhaps overreached in their ability to make accurate estimates with the demographic materials they have on hand. Since they are relying on large survey datasets which haven’t been “cleaned” of Christians calling themselves Jews, its now a topic that may have to be researched and explored in order to find the prevalence of this phenomenon in order to control for it in this type of Jewish population research.
Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography, Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work, Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (I was recently notified that with 40,000 visitors this year the 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population was third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: firstname.lastname@example.org To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih