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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. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Topher: "Jews have the Old Testament ... The OT points directly at Jesus Christ." It is striking that the Jesus character of the NT gospels seemed to follow a checklist of prophecies that he was well-aware of – and the NT gospels certainly make the reader well-aware of them. I thought there was supposed to be an inevitability about fulfillment of prophecy – and an ineffability about prophecy, not "OK I'll enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey because it says here that that's what I'll do."

    And about those prophecies, Topher, Isaiah 53 doesn't cut off in the middle of verse 10. You do not believe that Jesus had offspring or lived a long life.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • G to the T

      Indeed – the prophet in OT were almost always speaking about their current situation and what god would do if the hebrews didn't "straighten up and fly right". It's only through some very heavy reinterpretation that these verse would be considered to be in reference to Jesus.

      October 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  2. Scott

    The real question for Jews, are you American, or Isreali? To me that is the biggest question. Same as for the Muslims. Where do your loyalties lie?

    October 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  3. Inquiry and verification in the fundy mindset.....how does it work?

    Pretty much like this:
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YIj4rLYo0c&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Don't be so mean...

      You have to let them down easy. Here is a great discussion on problems associated with breaking the news...

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7IHU28aR2E&w=640&h=360]

      October 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
      • lol??

        lol??
        Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        Now you know why you should REALLY tip the bartenders handsomely.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Donna

    "Nearly a third of American Jews born after 2000 answered "none" when asked about their religious affiliation"...What? These would be people 13 & under. Some poll.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Dan

    Yeah, this pretty much sums me up. Secular Jew, disgusted with Jewish Hasids, disgusted with Christian fundies, disgusted with Muslim jihadists.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  6. ac

    This is a misleading story since the pictures do NOT reflect the vast majority of the 'Jewish' experience in Israel, where most Jews describe themselves as "secular." In fact, religious practice is declining across denominations and internationally.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Scott

      The last two decades Isreal has been converting South American Bush"men" to the faith and as a requirement, they must live in the West Bank for a period of 2 or more years. That story, from liberal NPR, has been quashed, despite the interviews of officials.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  7. Claude

    Israel is running out of time and supporters in the US. Without US support Israel is bound to fall to the Arabs. If not by force, then by cultural assimilation.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  8. larry

    They now worship Obama.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  9. mygodmydick

    There must be a goddess.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  10. DP

    How can anyone expect modern day Jews to be 'spiritual' or 'religious'? They've hit a brick wall, since their religion can't possibly go any further. Their religion points to a messiah(' mashiach'), yet, they've not accepted The Messiah. Stalemate!

    Jews are "secular" because they don't have any spiritual hope or guidance. They invest their resources, material or human, in things of this world because that's the only world they know. You ask ANY Jew, even the most studied, about God's Kingdom and they will have no clue as to what that would be. Yet, their holy scriptures and history are replete with references to a Kingdom established by God; but they've no clue about the details. How can that be?

    Jewish rabbis and spiritual leaders are reading and teaching from the Hebrew scriptures without any regard or understanding of what the prophet Daniel wrote about the eminent presence of the Messiah. To fully understand Daniel's prophecy one must read and accept the fulfillment of said prophecy which is outlined in the Greek Scriptures(the gospels, Book of Acts and letters of the apostles).

    Jews don't believe that the Greek Scriptures are inspired by God; hence they've not understood the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy. The precision and accuracy of the dates of Jesus' birth and his enthronement as King over God's kingdom, as provided by Daniel's prophecy, are considered by Jewish 'scholars' as either coincidence or a hoax. These men spend countless hours deciphering how their scriptures pointed to the Holocaust, 9/11 and other atrocities, yet cannot explain a single thing about God's everlasting Kingdom; even though it's fully revealed in the second chapter of Isaiah(among other places in the scriptures).

    Jesus' own words in Matthew's gospel could't be any clearer about the future of the Jews as a religion:

    (37) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her, how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it (38) Look! Your house is abandoned to you.

    What "house" was abandoned? The blessings that Jews once enjoyed as God's people. The Jerusalem of the BC era was synonymous with the name of Yahweh, or Jehovah, or however you want to translate God's personal name into a modern language. The surrounding nations feared the Jews because of the mighty acts of their 'great God'. In the Hebrew Scriptures it was considered an act of disloyalty toward Yahweh for the Jews to seek help from other nations when entering war or for self defense. Yet, today, the "secular" Jewish state couldn't survive without the help of US dollars, UK Euros and other nations that funnel resources to Israel for military and economic purposes. A far, far cry from the Israel that enjoyed rich spiritual blessings and protection during the BC era.

    When the first century Jews denied Jesus as the Messiah there was no other recourse but for God to pull his blessings away from the Jews. Once again, in that same chapter of Matthew we find the following denunciations against the Jewish spiritual leaders:

    (13) “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.

    Should we expect Jews to be growing or declining spiritually with each passing generation?

    October 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • bacbic

      Too much BS.. too long.. too boring.. too much unnecessary capitalization.. way too much BS

      October 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Ben

      Jesus didn't fulfill all the expectations Jews had of their Messiah. You could sell him as the Messiah to the hicks living up in the Galilee because they didn't know the Law as well, and you could sell it to gentile converts because they didn't know it at all, but the conservative Jews living around Jerusalem weren't fooled.

      Did Jesus?

      A. Build the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).

      B. Gather all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).

      C. Usher in an era of world peace, and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)

      D. Spread universal knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: "God will be King over all the world—on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One" (Zechariah 14:9).

      October 1, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • myquest

      Your post assumes too much from a Christian perspective when it comes to Jewish views on the matter. A majority of modern Jews, and I believe a majority historically, do not necessarily believe in a "personal" Messiah, or at least do not place undue emphasis on it. That's really a Christian concept. Most Jews instead recognize a Messianic period (a state of the world) in times to come. This period is marked by several characteristics, including worldwide peace. While many believe that period will be ushered in by a leader, they believe him/her to be a leader of mankind and not divine.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  11. Hillcrester

    I am one of those secular Jews. I have not been in a synagogue/temple since my sister married in 1965. I have married twice–the second a non-Jew–observe no Jewish holidays or traditions, have had an xmas tree for years, etc. Of course my parents belonged to an ultra-liberal Reformed temple where social justice and the cultural tradition was more important than deity or worship. If I am any one thing, I am an atheist who went through the formalities of Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation to please grandparents without an ounce of belief on my part.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  12. Doris

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxiLnC7ikw8&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  13. Bob

    Jews are also the most URBAN population in the U.S. The more you live in super liberal urban centers like New York, New Jersey, southern Florida and L.A., the more likely you are to be liberal and secular too. (I somehow managed to remain moderately religious though). It's not just a jewish phenomenom.I've lived my whole life in the NY/NJ area and been friends with hundreds of Catholics, and virtually NONE of them are religious. Especially the ones who got sent to Catholic school. The only exception to this rule are the Orthodox Jews who practically cut themselves off from their liberal surroundings. If Jews lived out in the country, they would probably be more religious.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • lol??

      Ol' Abe wasn't much on urban considering his two choices, Sodom or Gomorrah.

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

        (Gullible's Travels – Part 1)

        October 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  14. Ricky

    Jews are smart. It was only question of time until they outgrew the fairy tales.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • are122

      Yeah. Time they realize their ancestors were gobs of cosmic snot that miraculously grew into male and female at the exact same time along with 5 million other species!

      October 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • Earthling

        How do you manage to maintqain that level of ignorance while still being (apparrently) able to operate a computer? Doesn't your head hurt when you deny reality?

        October 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
        • klaus

          Shut the "F" up Earthling

          October 1, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
      • joe

        Time they realize their ancestors were gobs of cosmic snot that miraculously grew into male and female at the exact same time along with 5 million other species!
        -------–
        Wow, you are sadly clueless. Get thee to a science class pronto!

        October 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  15. manicdrummer

    Get thee all to Israel! Revival of the Jewish faith as it was in the beginning. Rebuild the Temple!

    October 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • lol??

      Sounds like a trick.
      Mar 14:58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

      If you hate temples you have to kill Christians who are the temple of God.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
      • Doris

        Oh look, this year's winner of the Butthurtedness Award decided to pay the blog a visit. (Poor thing might not be so butthurt if it would take some exlax so there isn't so much pressure on the tiny brain that resides down there.)

        October 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
        • lol??

          lol??
          Your comment is awaiting moderation.
          Did you run that past yer hubby before posting??

          October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  16. Apple Bush

    It would be fun to go on a road trip to find the funniest, weirdest, nicest, etc. churches in the country.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Ryan

      Have you been to National Cathedral?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        No, but my wife and oldest child went two years ago.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
        • Doris

          Highly recommended. I also recommend going on the tour offered there.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Ryan

      Crystal Cathedral?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        I have been there. In fact, my Father used to be one of the Herald Trumpets at Christmas for their giant passion play.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
        • Ryan

          Isn't it lovely? An amazing work of art!

          October 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Well, it is unique and nothing says evangelical pocket picker like a giant crystal cathedral.

          October 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • Ben

          Ryan
          Not as lovely as the Great Pyramid of Egypt, and I doubt that it will last as long either.

          Guess that makes those gods better than yours, if that's what you're arguing?

          October 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • Dave

        It's now called Christ Cathedral. When the Crystal Cathedral went bankrupt, the local Catholic diocese stepped in and bought it and the land. It's now a Catholic church compound. The remnants of the post-Robert Schuller congregation now use the former Catholic church.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      If you want to have a fun time bring a black friend to the First Babtist Church in Shannon, Alabama.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        I am sure there are plenty of unfriendlies out there. It would be very cool to see the variance types of churches in different parts of the country.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • lol??

      Bush, the socies want you dead, too,
      lol??
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      You might get caught up in the socie dragnet. Not a gud plan.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  17. Byrd

    What religion? Or do you mean that nuclear bomb making manual they call the Old Testament?

    October 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. CaliforniaAC

    Jewish as a religion lost its way with the rejection of Jesus, but the Jews in Israel are still believers. It is what the bible calls a "sliver" which remain true to the old testament. Jesus did not come to establish a new religion, but to fulfill the promises of God in the old testament. It is written they will recognize Jesus as what He is in the last days, but remain God's chosen until then.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      So can a Jew get to Heaven without believing Jesus died for thier sins?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Sara

      Actually, most Israelie Jews are not religious:

      http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/148286#.UksRs8u9KSM

      They try to fudge the numbers by mixing non-religious "traditionalists" to just get over half, but the reality is most do not consider themselves relgious.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • lol??

        The city of peace is gay friendly. They say more about gays than Jesus did.

        October 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were the dead raised?
      Is the messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Me.ssiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Mess.iah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • ME II

      @California[]AC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Te.mple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temp.le rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • ME II

      @CaliforniaAC,
      Were all the de.ad raised?
      Is the Messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • ME II

      @Cali...,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Messiah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • ME II

      @Cali...,
      Were all the dead raised?
      Is the Mes.siah the ruler of this world?
      Was The Temple rebuilt?

      October 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • lol??

      CAAC sayz,

      "............they will recognize Jesus as what He is in the last days, but remain God's chosen until then." Recognize Jesus?? The whole wurld will, silly. Chosen?? Are you pullin' an Esau and dissin' the born again birthright?? Not a wise plan.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • ME II

      Sorry for all the postings. I thought it was blocking my posts due to some banned string that I couldn't find.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • joe

      Jewish as a religion lost its way with the rejection of Jesus, but the Jews in Israel are still believers
      -----–
      Get real. Your Jesus is a fairy tale. It's no more true than the OT or the Koran. Primitive, illogical, simplistic fairy tales. All of them.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • G to the T

        More like Christian lost their way when they believed the words of Paul over those of Jesus.

        October 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  19. Apple Bush

    It's good to lose your religion. It's a right of passage like shedding your foreskin for example.

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

      I don't think "shed" is the corect word.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  20. sick of christian phonies

    Good news. I always wondered how most Jews, who are generally intelligent, could go for the hogwash that is the Old Testament. A murderous, vain god, women treated like crap, death sentences for speaking back to your parents, slavery allowed, a god that desires animals to be burned in sacrifice, ridiculously intricate directions on how to carry out the rituals and stuff- come on! It's obviously a product of it's times.
    Most Jews I know and am friends with are non- religious. As I said, smart people.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:11 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.