Jews Bound by Shared Beliefs Even as Markers of Faith Fade, Pew Study Shows

Denominations Shrink, Intermarriage and 'No Religion' Rises

Is Change Good? Adam Weinstein and Kimberly Smith illustrate an increasing trend of Jews marrying outside the faith. Some see that and other changes as threats to Jewish life, but a new generation seems to see it differently.
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Is Change Good? Adam Weinstein and Kimberly Smith illustrate an increasing trend of Jews marrying outside the faith. Some see that and other changes as threats to Jewish life, but a new generation seems to see it differently.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 01, 2013.
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Ten years ago, 93% of American Jews told surveyors that their religion was Judaism. This year, only 78% of those who were raised as Jews and identify as Jews said that their religion was Judaism.

That change mirrors trends among Americans at large in their attitude toward religion, and it’s boosted, no doubt, by sky-high incidence of not having a religion among younger Jews. Just 7% of Jews born between 1914 and 1927 say they have no religion; 32% of Jews born since 1980 say they have no religion.

It’s not clear what the theological difference is between Jews with and without religion. It doesn’t seem to be about God, as only 39% of Jews by religion report that they are certain that God or a universal spirit exists.

What is clear is that Jews of no religion act differently.

Jews of no religion are far more likely to marry a non-Jew. While 79% of married Jews of no religion have intermarried, only 36% of married Jews by religion have done the same.

They also raise their children differently. Of the relatively few Jews of no religion who are parents, 67% say they are not raising their children Jewish. That’s compared with 7% of Jews by religion who aren’t raising their children as Jews.

Jews of no religion also think differently about their relationship to other Jews. Only 36% of Jews with no religion say they feel a “special responsibility to care for Jews in need,” compared with 72% of Jews by religion. That seems to be tied to their philanthropic behavior. Just 20% of Jews of no religion said they give to Jewish organizations, compared with 67% of Jews by religion. Only 10% of Jews of no religion said that being part of a Jewish community is essential to being Jewish.

“Their patterns of connection with Jewish life seem highly attenuated,” Wertheimer said of the Jews of no religion. “They have no religion, yet the majority of them have Christmas trees.”

Pew offers less data on people of Jewish background, but it’s clear that their relationship to the Jewish community is even more distant. Of these, 70% say they are Christian.


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