Pew news: You don’t have to be religious to be Jewish

 Readers (and bloggers) “of a certain age” will recall the famous advertising campaign for Levy’s “real Jewish Rye” bread showing photos of people who are distinctly non-Jewish enjoying a sandwich on the famous bread.

Now, a study from the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life — reportedly the first major Jewish demographic survey in more than a decade — reveals that many American Jews feel people don’t have to be, well, religiously oriented to be Jewish. Several religion reporters were apparently briefed on the study’s results at last week’s Religion Newswriters Association convention in Austin, Texas, and numerous stories broke this past Tuesday, the day the research results were formally released.

The New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein kicked things off:

The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox.

The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith. Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.

“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, found that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”

While Wertheimer might be feeling grim, the survey respondents appear happy enough, both collectively and individually.

Scribe Emily Alpert at the Los Angeles Times focused on someone who appears to fit the “demo” of the survey:

Growing up Jewish, Marilyn McLaughlin loved lighting the braided candle and singing to mark the end of Shabbat. She relished studying the Talmud and weighing its ethical questions.

But sitting in synagogue left her cold. “I was stuffed with religion,” McLaughlin said. “But I had no deep connection to it.”

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that more than a fifth of Jewish Americans say they have no religion. Yet like McLaughlin, they still identify themselves as Jewish.

Scholars say that the Jewish people have long seen themselves as more than a religious faith, also defining themselves as Jewish through culture or ancestry. Only 15% see being Jewish as “mainly a matter of religion,” the new survey of nearly 3,500 Jewish Americans shows. Less than a third of Jews — even religious Jews — think someone can’t be Jewish without believing in God.

As more Americans of all faiths turn away from religion, Jewish secularism seems to be booming too. Pew found that the share of “Jews of no religion” appears to have surged, compared to a somewhat different survey a dozen years earlier. Younger Jews are much more likely to shrug off religion than their elders.

Alpert’s article puts the Jewish “nones” question in perspective: lots of people in America allegedly are turning to secularist views, so why not in the Jewish community?

[Read more...]


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