Survey Numbers Show American Jews To Be Less Religious on Many Measures

By Anthony Weiss

Published September 29, 2008, issue of October 10, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Religiously speaking, Jews are joiners but not necessarily believers, according to a new look at the data from a massive survey of religion in the United States.

Compared with the major Christian denominations in the United States, American Jews are affiliated but remarkably secular, according to a report that draws on figures from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Although Jews join synagogues and send their children to religious school at rates that rival or outstrip their Christian counterparts, Jews are far less likely to pray, read the bible or believe in God.

The picture that emerges is one of a Jewish community that is either less religious or differently religious, depending on how one defines the terms.

“In Protestant terms, Jews are less religious. In Jewish terms, Jews are very religious,” said Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Cohen, who also serves as research director of the Florence G. Heller/JCCA Research Center, assembled the new report along with his Florence G. Heller colleague, Lauren Blitzer, with data from the Pew survey. “But it’s not a matter of personal religious belief, it’s a matter of group belonging, which includes secular reasons for belonging.”

According to the survey results, Jews are far less likely than most Christians to believe in God or to say that religion is “very important” to them. They are less likely to attend religious services regularly or to pray on their own, meditate or read the bible. In fact, on a number of these measures, the answers given by Jews more closely resemble those of people who described themselves as “unaffiliated” than those of most Christians.

But Jews are still invested in Jewish institutions, particularly those dealing with Jewish education. Jews are more likely than Catholics to send their children to a religious school and are more likely to send their children to religious day school than almost any American religious denomination.

Making the results more striking is that the survey includes only those who classified themselves as Jews by religion, meaning that statistics do not include Americans who consider themselves Jewish but not religiously so. As a result, the group surveyed is, if anything, more religiously Jewish than the whole of American Jewry.






Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.