Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Back to Opinion

Time for Rethinking What It Means To Be a Jew

Traditional Jewish sources place clear restrictions on counting people. Ironic, then, that we tend toward the obsessive about the numbers, beliefs and behaviors of our community. The Pew survey nourishes this tendency in healthy, responsible and fascinating fashion. A read of the report will find Jewish leaders drinking in the results from cups half-empty and half-full.

Discussions will undoubtedly focus on the standout finding that six out of 10 Jews see being Jewish as mainly a matter of culture or ancestry, compared with 15% who say it is a matter of religion. The population of “Jews of no religion” — now up to 22% — is less likely to belong to synagogues and to Jewish organizations. These “Jews of no religion” are less likely to make donations to Jewish causes, and less likely to say they feel particularly connected to the Jewish community. Perhaps more significantly, they are much less inclined to raise their children Jewish.

A central question for emerging adults in the Jewish community is less “Who is a Jew?” and more “How do I Jew?” If not clear prior to this report, connection to the organized Jewish community as built by the past generation will require significant rethinking, deconstruction and openness.

We will need to consider pathways that will meaningfully engage these so-named “Jews of no religion” free from blame and from defensiveness about what we already offer. My hope is that this report triggers new energy and intentionality in creating a collaborative spirit yet to be realized among our leaders and the organizations we represent.

Elka Abrahamson is president of the Wexner Foundation.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.