Younger Jews are increasingly becoming Secular Jews.
That’s one of the findings in a major new report released today by the Pew Research Center. It seems that the trend away from organized religion has affected Jewish Americans as much as any other faith group.
Overall, about a quarter of U.S. Jewish adults (27%) do not identify with the Jewish religion: They consider themselves to be Jewish ethnically, culturally or by family background and have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, but they answer a question about their current religion by describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rather than as Jewish. Among Jewish adults under 30, four-in-ten describe themselves this way.
Here’s a bit of a surprise, though, at least to me: Among the 60% of Jewish people ages 18-29, a surprising number of them identify as Orthodox Jews (17%) compared to only 3% of Jews 65 and older. It suggests a more fundamentalist strain of faith is on the rise among those who remain in the fold. (The percentage of Orthodox Jews as a whole — 9% — is relatively unchanged since a similar survey done in 2013.)
The survey also found that Americans who identify as Jewish were less religious than the population as a whole in terms of how important faith is to them, how often they go to a synagogue, and how seriously they take descriptions of God. Only 12% of Jewish adults attend religious services weekly while only 26% believe in the God described in the Bible.
How many people are we talking about here? The number of non-religious Americans who identify as Jewish is roughly 1.5 million people.
So what should we take away from all this? I asked Paul Golin, the Executive Director of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, what he made of these numbers. Did he consider them a success for his group? Or was it just part of a larger trend? He said that the massive increase in intermarriage for non-Orthodox Jews certainly played a role in it. A decade ago, 54% of non-Orthodox Jews married someone outside the faith. That number has since climbed to 72%. And when you look at that group of Jews who marry non-Jews, only 28% of them raise their kids in the Jewish faith (by religion, anyway).
… most intermarried couples are not raising their kids to believe one parent’s family has the right theology and the other side got it totally wrong. It’s just more logical to recognize that nobody has absolute answers to the as-yet unknowable questions in life.
He added that there’s also a greater acceptance of the idea that, with the “Jewish historic experience of persecution, expulsion, and genocide,” there’s “no God intervening in human affairs or, if there is, He doesn’t much care for us.”
All of this suggests that Jewish identity isn’t fading away, but belief in the religious aspects of Judaism certainly is.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)