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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 Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Judaism • Polls • Trends

soundoff (1,967 Responses)
  1. Frank

    The less religion in the world, the better. Faith only corrupts the truth.

    October 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      Ok

      October 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  2. Miss Texas

    Well I just think it is terrible ya'll. These young girls losing their religion at such a tender age. As Miss America I would campaign to keep these girls from giving it up. Thank you, thanks ya'll.

    October 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  3. senioreditor2

    Isn't that what always happens in a fully integrated society.....we all start to look and act the same. A thousand years from now we'll all pretty much be the same.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  4. The Anti-Pope

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPxVm8663Zo&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  5. drturi

    Study: U.S. Jews losing their religion Google "11/2015-02/2017 End of the Middle East and All Religions dr.turi" be amazed. http://www.drturi.com

    October 1, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  6. Roger

    No need to look further than who owns the media, who owns wall street, who owns our government and who cries that they are the victims.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

      I bet you wear a mighty fine tinfoil yarmulke.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • sly

      Ho ho ho ... a little jealous huh?

      Yes, let's just look at all those Jewish Tea Party members in the House. Oh, and all those Jewish Senators. And all those Jewish President's we've had.

      Gosh, Roger, you are right – we've had as many Jewish Presidents as we've had women Presidents!

      Wow ... nice to see some real bright lights on this blog.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • BigSir

        No real power in government in the US. Power is where there is private capital.

        October 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • spocksbrain

      No need to look further than you to see that bigotry and hatred is alive and well.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Shayna

      Don't forget we're communists, socialists, capitalists, we drain the blood of Christian children for Passover matzoh and are busy planning the New World Order! Trouble is, no one has ever told me, or anyone I know, where to find those meetings. We've never been invited!

      October 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
      • BondJamesBond

        You tell him Shanya! He's an idiot.....

        October 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Call me Bwana

      Still stuck in the 20s?

      October 1, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow, the "victim" thing sounds an awful lot like christians

      October 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • G to the T

      You mean Rupert Murdock?

      October 2, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  7. JOSH P.

    I bet that they are still SAYANIM.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  8. Ivanhoe

    To understand major religions today read the novels - king of Bat'ha by Hashim; and Tales from the East by Ivanhoe. Gives further insiight into all the major religons and current events.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Alien Orifice

      Ok.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  9. Fred

    Seriously, have you seen what it costs to be a member of a synagogue?

    October 1, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

      True that! But there are grants and dues adjustment to offset said costs ...

      October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
      • Fred

        Hah! Our local synagogue wants W2's and tax returns so that they can decide if you are worthy or not of any discount. Not happening!

        October 1, 2013 at 11:55 am |
        • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

          Why not just fill out the app and give 'em what they require? I work at a temple and I've seen the process – just jump through the reasonable hoops and then monies will be applied accordingly. There are families that abuse the TDA system, hence the request for info/data. I hope it works out for you, but as someone else on the boards said – so long as you are being a good person, that's what matters most, whether you are affiliated or not.

          October 1, 2013 at 11:58 am |
        • Aimal Rosenburg

          lol

          October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
        • Dick Tater

          This is where the IRS recruits new auditors. LOL

          October 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • SeriouslyThough

      +1

      October 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  10. BDD

    I started making teshuva last year. The time is coming .... our people will survive

    October 1, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  11. John Calvin II

    Most of the Jews I've met said that they have never read one sentence, nor have they heard, of sacred scripture in their entire lives. That means that, practically speaking, they are theologically as ignorant as an aborigine. And that is a tragedy, that the people who were originally entrusted with “the oracles God,” as the Apostle Paul wrote, and who were once made “the light of the world,” – “the shining city on a hill,” are now as ignorant of God simple pagans. And what came of it? Both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had Jewish roots and they brought atheistic communism to the world. When these men held the government, they brought untold and immeasurable murder and suffering. And what else have they brought to the world? When Jewish people have had the power of influence – Hollywood – they have used it to bring down the morals of nations. While there are religious and moral Jews, a select group of irreligious Jewish people run the studios of Hollywood, and Hollywood is always “pushing the envelope,” which is a code phrase for dragging down morals and values. I’m sure that will raise the ire of many, but such rebukes always have. People didn’t even like it when Bill Cosby told the truth about the responsibility of black people to take advantage of opportunities.

    Nevertheless, if the Jewish people really became biblically literate and once again “loved Thy law,” (reference to a Psalm of the Hebrew King David) they would become the greatest blessing to the world. Now they are not the only ones doing harm to the world. There is plenty of culpability to go around. But right now, they are causing more harm than good. And the ones they are hurting the most are themselves.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • sarah

      Shut up.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Roy

      "Loving the Law" wouldn't make a shekel's bit of difference.

      Nation-wrecking be deep in da' jewish bone. Word.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

        You're trying waaaaaaaaaaaay too hard, son.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Hasek39

      A brave, but honest posting. Res ispa loquitur ... "the facts speak for themselves".

      October 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • ME II

      @John Calvin II,

      ummm... Didn't Hitler and Mussolini have Christian roots? and look what they did.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • KLARGAR

      Yeah Calvin like your repulsive namesake you are a disgusting bigot and an micro encephalitic imbecile.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  12. Disenchanted

    The most hurtful treatment I have ever received as a Secular Jew has not been by Christians, but by the Jews in my son's Orthodox congregation. I feel that at this time we may be becoming our own worst enemy.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • BDD

      Funny how you think its the orthodox that are your biggest enemy. From observant jews perspective arent you the biggest enemy? I'm sure you don't have the rosiest picture of the orthodox. From our perspective aren't you the one who doesn't practice any of the rituals of our people? Aren't you the ones who were the Kapos and the informers? The enemy from within argument doesnt really fly.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
      • CosmicC

        If that's true, why are the Orthodox exempt from service in the IDF?

        October 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  13. joe morgan

    People usually don't answer truly to such personal questions. I would take these poll results with a grain of salt. it is like asking somebody if they are racist. Of course the question is not in the same category.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • sybaris

      and you have conducted your own poll to add credence to your answer, right?

      October 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • worldlypatriotusaveteran

      Mr. Morgan: I disagree, 100%.

      Contrary to your hypothesis, many are afraid to express their true feelings about religious faith due to fear of retaliation from supervisors, co-workers, family, friends, etc. Hence, many who are agnostic, atheist, or non-believers do not answer such questions in a way that reflect their TRUE belief.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  14. sly

    No surprise – Jewish people are generally well educated. The higher the education the less religious people become.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Greg

      Says who? Some subjective bias of yours?

      October 1, 2013 at 11:49 am |
      • Shayna

        It is totally true – look it up.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:51 am |
      • sybaris

        If you were educated you would know this, Greg

        October 1, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • sly

        ... and 99% of scientists believe in evolution.

        Folks with Masters degrees are pretty intelligent.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • Me

        Says the people who study this stuff. E.g., http://freakonomics.com/2011/04/25/does-more-education-lead-to-less-religion/

        October 1, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • BE

        A study from 2010 showed that atheist knew more about the bible than belivers. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0928/In-US-atheists-know-religion-better-than-believers.-Is-that-bad

        October 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
        • JenniferC

          Not surprising. When I was in tenth grade, then a devout Catholic, I decided it would be "good" for me to read the Bible start to finish. My mother warned me that was a bad idea without the Catholic catechism as an intermediary. She was right! Reading that inexplicable nonsense was the beginning of the end of my faith.

          October 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
        • Commenter

          Yes, Jennifer, the Catholic Church is very selective (and sparing) in what they feed their general flock from The Bible:

          "Over a three-year cycle Sunday Masses include 3.7% of the Old Testament (plus Psalms) and 40.8% of the New Testament.

          If you add weekday Masses you'll hear 13.5% of the Old Testament (plus Psalms) and 71.5% of the New Testament."

          –http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm

          In my 12 years of Catholic school, the teachings were probably more heavily weighted in Tradition and The Magesterium - and it was a huge no-no to question or doubt them. Doubt (although normal) was to be prayed away and quickly dispatched.

          October 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • worldlypatriotusaveteran

        There is NO subjective bias in Mr. Sly's statement. Numerous credible studies confirm his hypothesis.

        "Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is." Sam Harris, 2006 – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/10-myths-and-10-truths-about-atheism1#sthash.hVevlKz1.dpuf

        October 1, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
        • lol??

          Science and the educratists are grafted to the Beast at the hip. Pay up.

          October 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
        • lol??

          If they have to give up religion to keep the golden goose's eggs flowin', that's life, errr death.

          October 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @sly : The higher the education the less religious people become.

      A religion is a system of beliefs. If one believes in the Bible, it is recognized that it is a religious view. Yet, if one believes in evolution, this is not recognized as a religion. Yet, it is still a system of beliefs. The only person without a belief system is an omniscient being – they don't believe anything but rather know all things.

      So, the more educated a person becomes the more likely they lean toward the religion they were taught in school.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
      • Pest

        You're mixing up evidence-based belief with faith-based belief. The latter is religion, the former is not. You're basically reinforcing sly's statement.

        October 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  15. ssg

    I would love to affiliate with a synogogue but the cost of membership keeps me from doing so. I am a social worker and my husband's a teacher. We can't afford $1000+ per year to belong to a temple, so I do what I can at home, keep the sabbath, etc....but I feel shut out due to my financial situation.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • BDD

      The fact that you are observant is FAR more important than membership. There are very affordable synagouges but i understand your situation. Keep up the good work

      October 1, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

      Check for grants and temporary dues adjustments. Trust me; the writing's on the wall, and congregations are shrinking all over ... they'd rather find a way to help you stay, than have you leave the community.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • CosmicC

      $1k/year seems cheap.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • doug

      Most synagogues have ways of working with you if dues are a challenge. Look into a Reconstructionist shul.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
      • PaulK

        My wife was raised in a conservative synagogue, I was raised reform. After getting married, we both found ourselves comfortable and welcome in a reconstructionist synagogue, where dues were deferred for financial reasons and in exchange, my wife performed some editorial work on the synagogue newsletter. We recently moved and had to find a new shul. We were since brought into the local conservative temple through familial connections. They are giving us the first 6 months free (which included High Holy Day tickets for services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and are willing to work with us through our financial restrictions. The only thing they ask of us is to be involved with the temple beyond high holy day services, to come to minyan when we can, to attend shabbat services. They also encourage us to join the men's club and the women's circle, but they do not require it.

        October 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • diana horton

      dear ssg, why do you have to pay 1,000 dollars to belong? why can you not just give what you can? not everyone can afford that kind of money in this day and age. I am catholic, however, I do not go to church. like you I pray at home and hold on to the holy days. I feel you don't have to belong to a group to pray. also, I feel alright with that..it does not bother me. I have read some nasty comments on here and it makes me sad. but, your comment, touched me the most. as long as you believe in God that's all that matters. the jew's are Gods chosen people. anyone , who can read a bible know's this. God said, I will bless those who bless you. so please, don't be sad, God hears your prayers. BLESSINGS TO YOU.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  16. Kishmein Touchus

    I remember a revered rabbi in Oakland, CA saying it was quite all right to not believe in god and still consider yourself a Jew. At the time this did not make much sense to me; however, as time as marched on I have found the philosophy of Judaism to be solid at is core while the organized part of the religion, for the most part, not in all cases, to be plagued with a subtle inner rot connected to how much can you pay to get the best seats at the high holidays. I enjoy things Jewish, especially getting in my boat and trying to lure in a gefilte fish. Klezmer (sp.) music still moves me. Chiam Potok speaks to me, but the synagogue does not call me.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Truth

      That's perfectly normal, you identify, you're aware of what's above, what he has done for the Jewish people; you indulge in their wisdom and find joy and belonging in your own way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • CosmicC

      I guess it's a semi-private joke.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  17. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    The #1 reason not to be Jew... Prosciutto. #2 is bacon... But giving credit where credit is due... I love a good pastrami and rye sandwich with spicy mustard... yum.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Delicioso

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsqLuEENNeA&w=640&h=360]

      Enjoy!

      October 1, 2013 at 11:42 am |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        I had a BLT for lunch... but those ribs look kickin'...

        October 1, 2013 at 11:46 am |
        • CosmicC

          If you are kosher you can still eat Ba-Co's. In fact vegans can eat them, too. They have absolutely no animal parts; just soy protein and artificial flavors.

          October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      #1 reason: Because thinking you are a "chosen people" is so haughty and prideful there is no where to fall but down.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:42 am |
      • CosmicC

        How is that any different than the Christian assertion that salvation only comes through Christ, or the many languages where the word for foreigners means "less than human". Besides, if you look at what we've been chosen for, it's long past someone else's turn to be chosen.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
        • MIke

          It's not any different . . .

          October 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • diana horton

      Why, did you feel the need to say such rubbish? I can only assume to spew hate.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  18. El Flaco

    I think most people have come to the realization that there is no old man in the sky watching and judging us. Judaism is a social club. Christians are following suit. Muslims are way behind.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  19. Truth

    Even Jews who aren't religious have the Godly spark; I don't believe you have to follow a certain sect as most good people, already follow the basic 10 Dibrot (commandments); as long as you are a good person and a good soul. Most people will find God on their own without him even nearing you, they say free will is the most amazing gift given by God, it is unaffected by anything except, well you of course. To be a Jew is a gift from God; how you observe, the size of the steps you take; all entirely up to you. To day that the religion is fading is a huge understatement. Following 613 commandments is too difficult, there is no real Tzadiks out there; as it is almost impossible to do everything by the book. Just be a good person; give charity, thank God for what you have and once in a while ask for the strength to change what can be. Am Israel chai!

    October 1, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Roy

      Previous post is Exhibit One Million and One in demonstration of jewish self-delusion.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
      • Truth

        You just do what you can, God's will is to be on earth; so Jews believe in doing good things to invite him into their lives. We don't work to cause harm, only spread joy and learn; evolve.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Truth

          No one is wrecking a thing.. I don't understand your argument, logic or reasoning..

          October 1, 2013 at 11:37 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Roy is obviously a Neo-Nazi white supremacist... reason and intelligence is not part of their vocabulary... they only know how to blindly hate everything that is different from them...

          October 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
        • shamsky24

          There's no argument, logic or reasoning to be understood with this individual. He's just a hateful troll venting his anti-Semitic spleen, and is otherwise unworthy of your time or attention.

          October 1, 2013 at 11:43 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Or Roy is a Fundamentalist Christian/Baptist... same thing as a Neo-Nazi now that I think about it...

          October 1, 2013 at 11:44 am |
      • Dave

        at least we're self-delusional, and not just delusional. redundancy is meta.

        October 1, 2013 at 11:40 am |
      • Ted

        I would rather believe I am meant for good rather than hate or prejudice.

        October 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • sybaris

      You do realize that morals and ethics evolved out of the success of the group. They weren't handed down to some bearded old man on a mountain top nor poofed into our brains.

      By your logic any non-abrahamic cultist (Chrsitian, Jew, Muslim) country, state or region would be in total chaos and that is simply not the case

      October 1, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  20. L.Sanfod

    Not unlike the Catholics. Church attendance has dramatically decreased.

    October 1, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Youtube - The Origin of Religion

      Religion and Origin[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88GTUXvp-50&w=640&h=390]

      October 3, 2013 at 4:57 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.