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Yom Kippur
October 1st, 2013
09:52 AM ET

Study: American Jews losing their religion

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - The number of nonreligious Jews is rising in the United States, with more than one in five saying they are not affiliated with any faith, according to a new survey.

While similar trends affect almost every American religion, Jewish leaders say the new survey spotlights several unique obstacles for the future of their faith.

According to the survey, conducted by Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, non-religious Jews are less likely to care deeply about Israel, donate to Jewish charities, marry Jewish spouses and join Jewish organizations.

Pew says their study sought to explore the question, "What does being Jewish in America mean today?" The answer is quite complicated.

Just 15% of American Jews say that being Jewish is mainly a religious matter, according to Pew's survey. By contrast, more than six in 10 say Jewishness is about culture, ancestry and identity.

The most essential parts of being Jewish, according to American Jews, are remembering the Holocaust (73%), leading an ethical life (69%) and working for social justice and peace (56%).

Almost as many American Jews say that having good sense of humor (42%) is as important to their Jewish identity as caring about Israel (43%).

Even among religious Jews, most say it's not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish, and less than one in three say religion is very important to their lives.

Nearly all American Jews  – religious and secular - say they are proud to be Jewish.

"The fact that many Jews tell us that religion is not particularly important to them doesn't mean that being Jewish is not important to them," said Greg Smith, director of religious surveys for the Pew Research Center.

The most essential parts of being Jewish, according to the survey, are remembering the Holocaust (73%), leading an ethical life (69%) and working for social justice and peace (56%).

Overall, the majority of Jews (78%) call themselves religious, but the survey showed much lower rates of religious affiliation among millennials, one of several trends that trouble Jewish leaders.

Nearly a third of American Jews born after 2000 answered "none" when asked about their religious affiliation, suggesting that Jewish "nones" are not only a large group, they're growing, Smith said.

The rise of Jewish "nones" tracks with wider trends in the American population, where about a third of millennials don't affiliate with organized religion.

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center says its survey is the most comprehensive since the National Jewish Population Survey in 2000-2001.

Pew surveyed 3,475 Jews from across the country from February 20 to June 13, with a margin of error for the full sample of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The study declines to offer a definitive estimate of the size of the American Jewish population, a matter of heated debate in recent years.

Instead, Pew offered several tallies of American Jews, depending on different definitions of Jewish identity.

Approximately 4.2 million American adults - 1.8% of the overall population - identify as Jewish by religion. In the 1950s, the percentage of religious Jews in the United States was nearly twice as high, according to Pew.

Meanwhile, about 1.2 million adult Americans now identify as secular or cultural Jews - they were raised Jewish, had a Jewish parent and still consider themselves Jewish, even though they don't practice the religion, according to Pew.

Secular Jews are much more likely to marry outside the faith, according to Pew, a trend that has worried Jewish leaders in recent years.

Nearly 60% of American Jews who have married since 2000 have a non-Jewish spouse, according to Pew.

Intermarried Jews, like secular Jews, are much less likely to raise their children in the Jewish faith and have weaker ties to the Jewish community, says Pew's report.

But, in a silver lining for Jewish leaders, intermarriage rates have leveled off, Smith said, holding steady at 60% since the mid-1990s.

Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, said she is not surprised that the study found relatively low interest in Jewish religious beliefs.

"We are a people very much defined by what we do, rather than what we believe," she said.

But Eisner said she is concerned that millennials are less likely to donate to Jewish charities, care strongly about Israel or belong to Jewish groups.

"It's great that these non-religious Jews feel pride in being Jewish," Eisner said. "What worries me is their tenuous ties to the community."

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Belief • Judaism • Polls • Trends

soundoff (1,967 Responses)
  1. mrbigjake

    I sure hope that this will be a great opportunity for everyone to see some of "Don's Scenes" from his productions of his classic hits "Tales From Kutcharitaville". You know that Rickles and Johnny Carson together produced those comedy hits about their friend "Mr. Kutchie Pelaez" and their wild and crazy exploits of Kutchie's Key West and The World of Key Lime Pies from the perspective of (Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Kutchie Pelaez and Steve Martins Eyes!) What a Hoot Those Classic Hits Surely Were. Don't miss them, be sure to tune-in next month. We Laughed Our Ass's Off Until We Cried Watching Those Funny Movies. "The Tales From Kutcharitaville", I Think That They May Still Be Available In A Boxed Set.

    ....To "The Don Of Don's, Mr Don Rickles". Kiss The Ring On His Finger, Pat Him On His Head, Give Him A Cookie And Send Him To His Room and Make Don Go To Bed Early!.....Don Buddy, We Know How Much You And Johnny Loved Anita And Kutchie's Key Lime Pies So We Thought We Would Send You A Few For Your 88th. Birthday Next Month.....So Don't Worry Be Happy!....

    April 23, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Jerry Mauter

    Good article about survey of social media advertising and networking article and the description. I appreciate your efforts to put up this topic. A Great one inded.

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    November 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  3. Dian Billiott

    Glad I've found your website, really quality info here.

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    November 15, 2013 at 12:58 am |
  4. Joel

    I certainly am not losing my religion. In fact, I feel closer to G-d than ever before. I also have received Yeshua as Messiah and Savior and now know the peace of G-d that passes all understanding. Shalom

    November 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Offensive. Disgusting.

      November 6, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  5. Oxymorons-R-us

    Glad to see the Jews are finally losing their religion.

    Hindus, Muslims and Christ followers would do well to follow suit.

    Human infancy is ending, the gods of Man must go with it.

    Toddler stage is going to be a bit*h.

    No souls, no deities, no after lives...just this one. Be good. Be well.

    November 5, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  6. Josh

    Believing that Yeshua/Jesus is Messiah does not make one less Jewish by any means. I feel completly fulfilled having received my Messiah. This idea that Jews who believe in Yeshua are no longer Jewish is a man made teaching meant to intimidate the Jewish people. It is certainly not the way that G-d sees it, in fact, it is just the opposite. Shalom

    October 27, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      JOSH –
      1. You are right, it doesnt make you any less Jewish – it just makes your sins all the greater.
      2. Your belief in Jesus as the Moshiach belies the "one G-d" edict. Or, do you think that you would be able to order 3 pieces of pie at a restaurant and be charged for only one because they're from the same pie ? YOU pray to Jesus...THAT is not what the 10 commandments teaches us. ONE G-D...not ONE G-d made up of 3 pieces.
      3. That YOU feel fulfilled is of no moment – how YOU feel is irrelevant vis-a-vis Judaism.
      And, it's SO nice that you profess to speak FOR G-d.

      October 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
      • Josh

        Just I said above. Such teachings are of men. All the information you have just provided is also from men, it is NOT from G-d. Tanach provides the truth: Genesis 1:26: "Let US make man in OUR image according to OUR likeness." Why the plural usage? and No, G-d is not referring to angels, since the angels did NOT create anything. Genesis 11:7 "Let US go down and confuse their language." Again, why is the plural used here? The Son of G-d appears at times throughout Tanack: "The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre." It is true the Father does NOT take on a human body, but the Son sometimes does, as we see here. Also in Genesis 3:7 "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.." Shalom

        November 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
        • counselor39@hotmail.com

          "I am the Lord thy G-d" (I, not "we')
          'The Lord our G-d, the Lord is ONE"

          November 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
        • Josh

          Counselor, listen I think you are stating what you believe to be right. I give you credit for that. It looks as though you are making referernce to the Shema, that is Deuteronomy chapter 6: "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord, Our G-d, the Lord is one". While this verse is the number one source cited by Monotheists, that is G-d the Father only, in this very verse the Name of G-d is invoked three times. Why is that? Awesome, we see even here that G-d is revealing to us (for those who have eyes to see) His pluraliy, that is The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are all one in agreement, One in essence, or divinity. What is concealed in the Old Covenenat is Revealed in the New. We see glimpses of this clarity in the old, but in the new it is made clear. His revelation to mankind has always been a progressive revelation. Shalom

          November 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Josh

        More references to the plurality of G-d. That is The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Genesis 18:1 "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven." This is clear. The Lord (Son of G-d) had just appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, and now the Father in heaven is working here with the Son. This coninues in Psalms: 110:1 "The Lord said to My Lord; sit at My right handuntil I make Your enemies Your footstool." Yeshua acribed this Psalm to Himself as David's Lord. We can go on and on throughout Tanakh, but lets look at one more for now in Isaiah 48:16: "..and now the Lord G-d, and His Spirit has sent me." Here we see the Holy Spirit of G-d referred to. Shalom

        November 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Yuck

    Peace,love unity and most of all Respect...."we can never forget the holocaust"those that follow hitlers ideology is practicing BLACK MAGIC

    October 22, 2013 at 12:16 am |
  8. rosenberg

    The issue is that in most Orthodox synagogues Shabbat and Yom Tov attendance pack the synagogues with multiple minyanim. Home practice and observance as a family in addition to regular service attendance sets the tone. Most Jews do not attend services because they have other priorities such as sports events, dance recitals etc. They feel it is more important for their children to be active sports participants on Shabbat than to attend regular services. How many post Bar and Bat Mitzvah students attend services on a regular basis? Many synagogues are bar and bat mitzvah mills where parents drop membership after the last bar or bat mitzvah or just do not attend except for the High Holy Days.RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    October 17, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Rosenberg:
      I dont know how to put this in a more genteel fashion. (lol, NOT "gentile")
      Those Jews, the "lox & bagel" Jews, will not be the ones who save "Judaism". Rather, it will be the orthodox and Chasiddim.
      Sure, the amount of Conservative, Reform, conservodox, reconstruction, etc., etc. will FAR outnumber the Ortho/Chassids – HOWEVER ( and this is....everything), what those reform, etc. Jews will be practicing in, say, 100 years, will be unrecognizable as "Judaism", whereas, in 100 years, you will still find Ortho/Chassids practicing the same Judaism as they do today.
      Thus, if we're talking about he survival of Judaism, it will NOT come from superior NUMBERS, but, rather, superior PRACTICE.

      November 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  9. GOOD NEWS

    What King David prophesied in Psalms (=118/22-26)
    has absolutely come true now!
    Jewish Messiah is about to appear!

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    October 7, 2013 at 4:39 am |
  10. Shoshana

    Human nature is human nature, and there are positive and negative people in all walks of life. It don't allow myself to react anymore to the hostility of the ignorant or the hostility of the educated. I love G-d and our way of life (married and Orthodox) so I'm not interested in people seeking to destroy it. If it is hatred and menace in one's heart, it is no longer a heart. Although I am very learned in Judaism and the deeper meanings beneath it, and I find it scientifically and Divinely the truth, I'd rather be happy in my situation than out there fighting over a topic with people who don't care about the topic. Hating someone for their beliefs alone is the primitive position of a miserable human being. I've never seen the point in forbidding Jews to be Jews, Christians to be Christians, Buddhists to be Buddhists, etc. Violence spews from humans, not ideologies, because as humans we always have the freedom of choice to resist the opportunity to harm others. Shalom and kul tov.

    October 6, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • WestNorthWest

      Religion and gods also spring entirely from humans.

      October 6, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Sharon

      There is no god, nothing happens when you die, Humans have no soul. Get it?

      ...life wasted :(

      November 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.