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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. ed dugan

    When organized religion finally meets it's well deserved fate of obscurity, there will be no more war.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • ME II

      Nice thought, but very unlikely.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      yeah, right. we can tell the truth of that by noticing what people of no religious faith do now. are they more peaceful, less aggressive than those with religious faith? no. are they more likely to turn the other cheek naturally when confronted with aggression? no.

      maybe you're not correct. maybe it isn't JUST religion that causes war (though certainly religion has and does cause war), maybe it's human ignorance, lack of understanding of what a life is and is for, and so much more.

      no one can deny religion's role in war, but let's not be simplistic. take all the religions and dump them in the toilet, and you will still have war. do you think the soviet union caused no war? do you think america, which does not have religious wars, does not cause war.

      take a good hard look. what you see may rock your shaky boat of an argument.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Mel Stricker

        Sorry to bust your bubble but if you look at conflicts large and small over the millennia most were fought directly or indirectly over religion. How many wars were fought in Europe over religious beliefs (Catholic verus Protestantism). How about that fine event called the inquisition. Then we have the Crusades that not only killed many people in the Middle East (including Europeans killing women and children) but the Crusaders killed Jews in Europe on their way to killing Muslims. Then we have the 'troubles' in Ireland and the current Middle Eastern conflicts that consume many of the countries in that region. How many Muslims have killed Muslims because of some slight difference in the way these people worship that religion.

        This could go on for quite a bit longer but, you get the point.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  2. ed dugan

    Jews, like other thinking people, are rejecting those fairytales the religious hucksters foist upon us. Religion has no meaning and, if you want to add up all the hours people spend in those temples of hate called churches, an incredible waste of time. Some people have wasted countless hours adding up to years of their lives listening and believing in that BS. Finally, people are beginning to think for themselves and the era of talking snakes and swallowing whales is fading into obscurity. Which is exactly where it belongs.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  3. southernwonder

    i think this report is inaccurate.
    what they lost was their foreskeen after which they got the religion. it is an irreversble process. unless some stem celll therapy is available to regrow it.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  4. joe

    Of course Jews are losing their religion, same as all educated people and their religions. All educated people lose their religion–pretty much by definition. Religion is the answer to the uneducated and ignorant. It's invisible sky fairies providing answers rather than science, thought, logic and reason.

    As soon as a nation becomes educated, whatever religion it mainly followed falls by the wayside.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  5. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    Study: Humans no longer believing World Flat!

    Study: Humans giving up leeches in favor of actual medicine!

    Study: Humans saving salt by not throwing it over their shoulder in the Devils eye!

    Study: Humans giving up belief in earth centered universe!

    October 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Squirmy

      Leeches are back as therapy in certain instances... and so is bloodletting. The rest of your points are A-OK.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • pa jesseson

        i still throw salt over my shoulder and so far it works. prove it doesn't.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  6. Jeebusss

    Huh the Jews are faltering in their belief of pretend sky wizards. Maybe they are smarter after all.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      the 'smartness' of jews was never a question. they don't need to abandon religion to establish their track record on smartness. same with the scottish, the germans, the chinese, the blacks, the.....hey, wait a minute. we can't have every group included or it won't make the groups special. damn! what's next? american exceptionalism? double damn. Please, God, tell me what to think.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Overlord

    They are not losing it, they are just not believeing everything their parents try to brainwash them into believing. It's that simple, the majority of children grow up to be members of the religion their parents are, it's brainwashing, whether intentional or not. How many children decide to be Jewish, Christian or Muslim at 4 years old? The answert is easy, none. It's their parents choice for them. When they get older they can choose (in some countries but not all) but by then most are tainted with religious bias. Human behvior is very easily tracted on a whole.
    Anyway
    BOW!!!!!!
    YIELD!!!!!
    KNEEL!!!!
    AND GIVE ME YOUR MONEY, ERR UMM, I MEAN DONATIONS!!!

    October 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      come to my group. no bowing, kneeling, yielding required. just give me your money. it's called capitalism.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  8. Sara

    By the time you don't thin it's necessary to believe in God to be Jewish, you've really moved outside what many people mean by religion...not that a god is necessary for a religion, but it really is for Judaism. The number of people who are really "religious" in any classical sense of the term is going to be a lot lower than the number that responded that they were out of a sense of loyalty. I have lived in a predominantly Jewish community where these issues were regularly discussed, and just maybe one in ten believed in personal god. Afew more were Spinozans.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Realist

      ..........

      Inbreeding will be the demise of your race!

      October 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Sara

        And my race is...?

        October 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Realist

      ............

      Your Judeo-Christian-Islamic ...

      ........ http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ..........

      ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

      ....... http://www.EVILbible.com

      .............

      October 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Yakobi

      Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III once claimed he could quote Spinoza.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Sara

        I would hope any Harvard graduate could quote at least a little Spinoza.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
        • pa jesseson

          spinoza, eh? didn't she invent the spin cycle?

          and, sara, come on. we all know your race. why make trouble with such a question? do you think spinoza would even allow it in the classroom discussion? come on, sara. sara! please.

          nice try, though. and, hey, for me it's the same.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jake

      A god is necessary for religion. Any definition of religion that does not include god makes EVERYTHING a religion.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • Sara

        Is nontheistic Buddhism a religion?

        October 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • pa jesseson

          yes.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  9. Non Percticing and Allienated

    So much of what has been written is part or totally true. My situation is different. Raised in the metro NY area as a conservative Jew. Attended services most of my life on Saturdays and Friday night, always at the High Holidays. Then it happened, I started a family and was raising them Jewish, lost my job and was barely making ends meet. The Temple I had attended for years and paid the appropriate dues advised me that I couldn't retain my seats for the High Holidays since I didn't pay my membership dues. Situation was explained several times and I was informed you are welcome to sit in the back but seats are very limited so come early, which I did. Then came time for my sons Bar Mitzvah and was advised again that not only must I finish catching up on my dues but must also pay a large sum for the Rabbi to properly train my son, if not he would not have a Bar Mitzvah at the Temple. I still practice at home and have trained my sons in the religion, but maintain no affiliation with a temple any longer. I can worship when ever and where ever I choose as do my children, but refuse to be held captive to any organization that hides in the disquise of religion, and regrettably I changed temples several times and the same issues occurred. I am back on my feet again but am still angry that the religion I cherish to this day has become a business rather then what it was intended to be. I doubt I am the only one who feels this way, not all Jewish people are well off and to be ostricized because eyou can't afford membership and or building does is appalling.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Realist

      ............

      Your Judeo-Christian-Islamic ...

      ........ http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ..........

      ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

      ....... http://www.EVILbible.com

      .............

      October 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • J.A. Miller

      Find a Chabad house near you.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • pa jesseson

        is that a Chinese store that sells bad tea?

        October 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
        • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

          Hehe. Hen hao de joke!!!

          October 2, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Matthew 23

      October 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  10. Realist

    ............

    The Judeo-Christian-Islamic ...

    ........ http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ..........

    ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

    ....... http://www.EVILbible.com

    .............

    October 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      .....which was influenced by wikipoops.com.....

      October 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  11. Badly-Bent

    So, are they turning into fun-loving atheists? (yet)

    October 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      sorry for your badly bent penis, but it can work out with the right partner. as to fun loving atheists, sure, why not, no matter how they're bent. everyone loves the bagel and the hole.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  12. Apple Bush

    I am in favor of the Middle East because I like rugs. Heavy investment in rugs over here. To Jewish folks make rugs?

    October 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Roland ROth

    an interesting article about american jewry... with photos of ultra-orthodox jews in israel. that makes a whole lotta sense.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • pa jesseson

      and a whole lotta kenya, too.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  14. donald

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    October 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  15. sly

    All the same to me – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Wiccans ...

    All power to you – enjoy your hobby!

    Religion is not for everyone, but if it brings people pleasure and doesn't hurt people I don't have any problem with religion staying around. Doesn't impact my life one little bit, never has, never will.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      You are incorrect.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
      • pa jesseson

        no way, he's incorrect. I'm incorrect. you have to make him something else or I won't be special.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • heyujackhass

      agreed.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
      • heyujackhass

        agree with sly that is.

        October 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          You too are incorrect. Religion touches your life every day from politics to war to the price of gas, etc., etc.,

          October 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          I agree with Apple

          October 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
        • pa jesseson

          lookout there buddy. applebush is about to slay yr argument, and an apple a day keeps the nutcakes away. but apple is correct, by the way, and nothing sly about it.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Realist

      ............

      Their Judeo-Christian-Islamic ...

      ........ http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ..........

      ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

      ....... http://www.EVILbible.com

      .............

      October 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • lol??

        What's with all the hyphens?? The socies performed a shotgun wedding?? What a vain imagination!

        October 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Sara

      "Doesn't impact my life one little bit, never has, never will."

      I guess your marriage, benefits and health care options were never affected, and no one you care about was hurt my constraints on medical research. It must be nice to live such a lucky, privileged life.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • sly

        Sara, I wasn't aware that my marriage was related to religion. I had a justice of the peace marry us in an old B&B.

        My health care options seem controlled by the large Health Insurance and Drug companies, and they don't even ask if I have a religion.

        I doubt many of my doctors are religious either, and since 93% of scientists believe in evolution, I don't understand how religion would impact medical research.

        I DO think that you accidently are commenting on the Tea Billies shutting down our government ... perhaps the wrong story. It's cool – happens.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          FAIL!

          October 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
        • Sara

          I'm going to assume you weren't trying to marry someone of the same se.x down in Texas? Trying to get emergency contraception after a ra .pe from a pharmacist who didn't approve? Counting on stem cell research to help an ailing family member? Begging to be allowed to end you life peacefully when the next six month's of illness promise to be hell? Again, glad you're living the good life and think no one will ever restrain you. So nice to be so in sync with the culture you don't notice that others are getting scre.wed.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • ME II

        @sly,
        As was said you are lucky. Lucky you aren't gay and can get married, lucky you aren't a woman and/or don't need reproductive health care where it is not fully available in many areas, lucky you aren't in a school system that is trying to compromise science, lucky you don't have a business impacted by blue laws, and lucky you don't have one of the many diseases that might be addressed by stem-cell research.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
        • sly

          Y'know, I guess you and Sara are right. I don't think I would last 2 weeks in the south or in new england, frankly, I couldn't live in most parts of America. I am lucky to live in an area where religion, race, and politics are not shoved down my throat at medical clinics, schools or libraries.

          So, yep, as I said, religion doesn't really touch my life, and yes, I am saddened that in some places it does. Nothing wrong with religion when it is all voluntary and kept within the churches....

          October 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Jake

      But it does hurt people. Look at all the backwards laws and repression the religious folks in the USA want? I hate this idea that "religion is a personal matter that does not hurt or impact anyone." Nonsense.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  16. joe

    beautiful Jewish website

    http://www.aish.com/

    October 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      beautiful Bunny website

      http://www.wikipoops.com/

      October 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  17. JonathanL

    The more we interact with other cultures the more we borrow from each other. In a mixed international community as the entire world is now becoming with faster transportation and the internet, people are willing to discard traditions that others think are strange, and pick up ones the general population thinks are normal. We are slowly absorbing bits and pieces of each others' cultures. If you are isolated, a religion may serve to bring everyone together and add social organization, but in a larger diverse (not isolated) community it can have the opposite effect so it becomes less and less useful. I was brought up Protestant, and I decded not to get confirmed. It all seemed like such a poorly made fabrication, at best a flowery misinterpretation and distortion of history, from the old Testament up through the new one, and even into any scriptures that were piled on top of those by later forming religions (and I have read them all). I went the way of developing a sense of using my better judgement, being logical, and my moral code developed on those terms, and not from myth and fear. Yes you can discard religion and still live a good life, and be good and truthful, loving, virtuous, but that can be based on reality, and an awareness of oneself as a part of a greater whole, such as a family, and if not, then environment, community, and Universe. Overall I think it is a good thing.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  18. massconn72

    Could somebody explain to me why when you ask most people what they are, they will say Italian or German or Polish. All sorts of things along that line. But you ask a Jew, and they never say Russian, Polish, Lithuanian. There is no such thing as Jew Land. Is is that huge chip on their shoulder? I never understood it. Maybe somebody can clarify it for me. It makes no sense.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • bostontola

      Many people of diaspora identify more with their culture than their geographical origins.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • joe

      most jews grew up celebrating religious events as part of their culture, many jews who don't attend synagogue still have a passover dinner, celebrate Hannukah instead of Christmas, and affiliate with otherp arts of the culture. the answer of "i'm Jewish" came about after they were systematically killed across two continents regardless of their country of origin. Since then, Judaism has not only been linked to the religious rite of Judaism, but also being born of a Jewish mother. for instance, I am born of a Jewish mother, however I was raised Christian – I technically am a jew – and could go to israel for free because of my birth right. i geuss after millions of your people are senselessly murdered you kind of come together and make it about more than just being religious. HOW STOOOOPID LOL OLOL RELIGION IS GEHAY – troll.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Yan

      I always identify myself as a Russian(Ashkenazi) Jew. Most others I know do as well. I'm not sure where you got your info from. Must be a regional thing

      October 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • sadieslegacy

      I can think of a number of reasons for that, since I often reply that way myself. Mainly i believe it is because my ancestors came from a variety of countries, many of which rejected them because of their beliefs (hence their immigration which eventually landed them in the US) so they never completely identified themselves as a native of those countries, so I don't either. And since I don't have a particular "country" as my background, I revert to using my "heritage" as a nationality, which I agree with you doesn't make sense but it's all I have.

      October 1, 2013 at 1:48 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.