'Jews of No Religion': Haaretz Contributors Unpack the Pew Survey

A round-up of the opinions and analyses on the groundbreaking survey of American Jews.

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On October 1, 2013, the Pew Research Center published the results of its first-ever independent study of American Jews. The findings show that American Jews are overwhelmingly proud to be Jewish, but that the definition and expression of their Judaism is increasingly fluid and consists of markedly weaker ties to faith and community.

According to the Pew study, Jews in America are on the brink of a massive generational shift in identity and practice. Young Jews are increasingly likely to say that they have no religion, despite identifying as Jewish. In doing so, they are rewriting the norms of behavior of American Jews, the survey reports. These "Jews of no religion" are far less likely to marry other Jews, raise their children Jewish, give to Jewish charities, belong to Jewish organizations, feel connected to Jewish community, or care about Israel

According to Samuel Heilman, politically conservative Orthodoxy is shaping up as the sharp alternative to a Jewry that is liberal, assimilated and largely intermarried. Whereas there is still an American Jewish "center" between these two extremes, the evidence is that these Jews will ultimately move towards one of the extremes, the vast majority to the secular and assimilated stream.

When paired with an Israel Channel 10 poll in which 51 percent of a cross-section of Israeli Jewish respondents said they had recently considered moving abroad, Bradley Burston writes that the Pew study data highlighting a growing number of American Jews leaving Judaism may be pointing to a commonality between Israeli and American Jews: Post-Rabbinic Judaism.

Arnold M. Eisen believes the Pew findings constitute an urgent wake-up call to reengage American Jews by allocating more time (and money) to making sure that high-quality Jewish experiences are widely available in forms attractive to millennials and baby boomers, singles and couples, Jews who want spirituality, and Jews engaged by pursuit of social justice.

Ori Nir writes that a new generation of American Jews are growing alienated from Israel due to their discomfort with Israel's policies on the conflict with its neighbors.

The unusual and complex nature of Jewish identity makes religion and culture two inseparable strands of a single cord, Rabbi Leon A. Morris writes.

According to Avi Shilon, Israel's founding fathers believed the establishment of the state would also strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora. However, the Pew survey findings show that the result has been the opposite: 58% of American Jews are assimilated, with the ratio soaring to 71% among non-Orthodox Jews. It is important to put the complex issue of assimilation at the center of the Israeli agenda.

Michael Felsen argues that the million-plus American Jews who identified as being "of no religion" in the Pew survey don't want dogma or liturgy but are still hungry for community and Jewish identity.

The "Jews of no religion" who do not fit into the Jewish world's neat binary categories – affiliated/unaffiliated, religious/cultural, committed/uncommitted, lovers of Israel/critics of Israel – must be reached out to and welcomed rather than written off, Rabbi Rick Jacobs writes.

Rather than see the Pew survey's "Jews of no religion" as disconnected and a lost cause, David Katznelson and Rachel Levin argue that these "cultural Jews" show us how Jewish identity is evolving.

Is Judaism a religion or a culture? Does it matter?Credit: Nir Kafri

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