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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. Not The Messiah

    I was raised Jewish, nuclear family, bar mitzvah, confirmation, etc. I think a lot of kids did this out of duty to their parents and not out of duty to religon. As someone who was either having it forced down their throat or trying to avoid conflict by going, I cannot stand to be in a synagogue for any length of time. The last time I did so was again for my parents, and I am 46 years old. I live on a street in the West Side of my hometown and know with absolute certainty I am the only Jewish person within miles. I do not go to high holiday services as a lot of the people I see there are not people I like. I actually dislike the vast majority of them. I have no interest in expressing my beliefs because with the way the world is now, religon is the main cause of everything negative going on. THis is especially true for radical Islam, but also any other extremists which seem to be obsessed with pushing their beliefs on everyone no matter what the cause. I think the world is a cruel, unfair, unjust place, and there is nothing in terms of my religon that would benefit one way or another. Just everyone getting along and accepting one another would be much better than the world we live in. As Rodney King said "can't we all just get along?"

    October 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  2. marsha

    I don't understand how a nation of ppl who claim to be Jews can live a lie throughout their lives and then teach the same throughout their generations..... The Bible states in Rev. 2:9 I know your afflictions and your poverty (Which the so called Jews as of 2day are not in affliction and poverty)-yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Now listening to the words from the KJV Bible that someone is telling a FIB and I know my Lord words speak in TRUTH but the others (so called Jews) that say they are the JEWS? Like the Bible states again in Rev 3:9 I will make those who ARE of the synagogue of SATAN, who CLAIM to be JEWS though THEY ARE NOT, but are LIARS – I will make them COME and FALL down at your feet and ACKNOWLEDGE that I have loved you. Who is YOUR referring to? The Israelites/Tribe of JUDAH...

    October 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • psych ward staff

      Put down the computer dear and eat your applesauce. You don't want to become like that angry old fart over there who goes by lol?? do you?

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

      Marsha, I am Jewish and work 3 jobs. I'm certainly not rich. That's a stereotype. My parents weren't rich and worked very hard for what they had. Don't make generalizations and quote the Bible as a back up. It would be wrong everytime.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  3. Doris

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnF3iSrrIWY&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • regarding the video...

      Published on Jan 14, 2013

      In 2001, scientists announced an amazing discovery: the oldest skull of a human ancestor ever found. The 3½ million year old fossil was remarkably complete, and unlike any previous fossil find. Its discovery – by a team led by Meave Leakey of the famous Leakey fossil-hunting family – has revolutionised our understanding of how humans evolved.

      The great mystery of our evolution is how an ape could have evolved into the extraordinary creature that is a human being. There has never been another animal like us on the planet. And yet ten million years ago there was no sign that humans would take over the world. Instead the Earth was dominated by the apes. More than 50 different species of ape roamed the world – ten million years ago Earth really was the planet of the apes. Three million years later, most had vanished. In their place came something clearly related to the apes, but also completely different: human beings!

      October 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        The 6th day will always be our favorite.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • ME II

        @regarding...,

        1) Individuals do not evolve, populations do, i.e. "an ape" doesn't evolve into anything.
        2) Nearly all species were, at one time, unlike any other animals on the planet.
        3) Where did you get the idea that in the past "the Earth was dominated by the apes"?

        October 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          There is nothing new under the sun. Things change, but there were always animals and humans, since day 6.

          October 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
        • ME II

          @Robert Brown,
          Not since the 6th day of Earth's existence, no.
          There is no way that 1) an animal could have survived such a volatile environment as existed on a new coalesced Earth or 2) any animal could have evolved in a 6 day time frame.
          In addition, there is no evidence to support your position.

          October 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          RB, I get it you're making a ridiculous statement for effect.

          October 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          I don't know how long the earth has existed, but I believe the universe and all life on earth were created in 6 days.

          October 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
      • Kevin M

        Blasphemy!!! Everyone knows that we were created in the image of the invisible sky genius just 6,000 years ago. LMFAO. We are truly unique for our ability to create and destroy. Evolution is an undeniable fact. Because of mindless religious indoctrination many people still do not accept it. Great video.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          I don't know about the 6000 year part, lots of room for speculation. Evolution is based on a bunch of unprovable a.s.s.umptions, creation is also, so I guess we are even, as far as that goes.

          October 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          RB, Evolution is not based on unproveable assumptions – there are many verifiable components. I agree that we couldn't experimentally recreate humans with either creationism or evolution. Evolution is clearly how humans came into being. An experiment would take a long time and maybe there would not be enough time before the sun expands and wipes us all out anyway but also evolution could take a different path or the dinosaurs might not get wiped out – too many variables over too much time.

          October 1, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          Santa,

          I used to think evolution was a possibility, now I don't. No offense intended to those who believe it.

          October 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • lol??

      Will you knock off the Janet Reno schtick??

      October 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Joe Mauro

      Their religion,god and master is cash.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  4. Just Saying

    All religion as we know it today has a base in Africa. Hebrew religion is just a rip-off of Egyptian religion. The Elohim were an African tribe. Adam and Eve were not the first people on this planet. Jesus is just the latest version of Horus. Horas is just a sun God. Your Welcome.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinions, none of which I agree with, but thanks all the same.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Dippy

      You're, not your.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        Are you sure?

        October 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  5. Stuart

    First, the photos only reinforce the misunderstanding that Jews are either secular or 'ultra-orthodox.'

    Second, the study cited indicates nothing new to anyone educated in the basics of Jewish history – authentic Judaism survives, and the man-made offshoots disappear. In 50 years, the only people identifiable as Jews will be those who maintain the Judaism given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Call them whatever you want – backwards, ultra-whatever, antiquated. Just rest assured – they'll never disappear. Guaranteed.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • bostontola

      The Jews have been quite persistent, but all religion is man made.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  6. Nietzsche

    Whether you are Jewish or not, we are all human living on Earth.

    We all have the same Creator, and we all must follow Righteous Judgment. You don't need to follow Shem, Moses, or King David to practice the laws for taking care of humanity and our planet.

    To follow our True God is not that difficult. Learn how to take care of humanity and our planet. The False God is dead!

    October 1, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • niknak

      You have absolutely ZERO proof of that statement.
      It is just your opinion, which me and billions of others do not share.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "Whether you are Jewish or not, we are all human living on Earth." Which is the only fact stated by you

      October 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  7. Fan Yu

    "Nearly a third of American Jews born after 2000 answered "none" when asked about their religious affiliation" You actually surveyed kids younger than 13 years old and asked for their religious affiliation? You expect thoughtful answers out of this bunch?? What did the kindergarteners tell you?

    October 1, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • sly

      Yes, it was a typo – but you should have been intelligent enough to read the chart right next to the quote, and you would see that they are defining 'millenials' as born after 1980.

      I'm sure you had more fun criticizing a typo, but the wiser readers try to figure out what the article really meant.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  8. lol??

    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation....................Who does this offend?
    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    The rapture is a false doctrine from the false prophet who wars with the antichrist Beast.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Chris

      That's a default if you post to much or have keywords.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Swayzack

    Shoot, we need to be more like them. Education is strived for, financial solvency and cultural pride

    October 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • NorthVanCan

      (Pride)
      I bet that one gets more people in trouble than any other.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  10. DJR

    A bit misleading, but interesting, Jew's are a race of people. As the article suggest they tend to claim that heritage, although may not be a pure line. Belief? They are the only known social society that existed at the time of Nebecanessar that still is a society. Through all the rages of war and change they continue on as Jew's.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • SRB

      Wrong – they are NOT a race. Judaism is a religion, not a race.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • Katie

        Judaism is more than a religion, but you are correct in saying it is not a race. There is only one race on the planet, and that is the human race. We all belong to the human race. There are many ethnicities, many religions, and many cultures. Judaism is both a religion and culture.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • ME II

      "ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIANS ARE descendents of the first people to leave Africa up to 75,000 years ago, a genetic study has found, confirming they may have the oldest continuous culture on the planet."
      (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/Aboriginal-Australians-the-oldest-culture-on-Earth.htm)

      October 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  11. allenwoll

    Rather than use the term "organized religion", let's get to the heart of the matter and say "commercial religion".

    October 1, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      I don't think that can always be claimed – there are a vast number of smaller churches that are too poor to be "commercial."

      October 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  12. Allison

    I strongly identify as culturally Jewish and I belong to a synagogue, at which I'm very active, but I also have atheistic leanings and issues with organized religion as a whole. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile the two sides but more often than not I'm comfortable with where I am.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      And many Christians believe and do the same thing, because attending services brings connectedness and socialization. Atheism does not bring that.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        Try a Unitarian church – they openly accept atheists into their community. They accept everyone, pagans and wicca included. The Unitarians are more concerned about how you act and what you do than what you believe.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  13. robertholt

    Why not give the Messiah (Jesus) a try? You would be surprised at how much and how well the Old Testament and the New Testament mesh.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Having given the old religion an amicable goodbye, why would you ever want to take up another religion? Particularly one that derives from the old one.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      If the people who voted on the various books that were eventually included in the Bible could have known the problems the Old Testament would cause for Christianity in the future, they would never have included it.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • question for jewish atheists

        Marcion did just that in the 2nd century. sadly his ideas died out.

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

      Considering how many of us have died in His name, it would be the last thing I'd want to do...

      October 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
      • brandine

        Get yerself home, Ellie May is going to have herself a baby!

        October 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
        • Cletus

          I'm impressed. Fools like yourself don't usually know how to engage spellcheck.

          October 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Bernie Margolis

      Maybe, except for the bit in the first of the Ten Commandments that states, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

      October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • sly

      Do you always give other people unsolicited advise about which hobby they should choose?

      I'm happier giving the 49ers, Giants and Warriors a try.

      No thanks to this Jesus fella unless he can help my fantasy football team. See, I have hobbies also.

      Oh, and GO A's!

      October 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • Joey

        Steph Curry is awesome, but go Grizz!

        October 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  14. shaleefa

    If you have a Christmas tree at Christmas then you are not Jewish. That's the dumbest thing i have ever heard. Celebrate Easter too and just be Ba'hai

    October 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • fizziks

      A Christmas tree is not necessarily seen as a religious symbol. It began as a pagan thing, and even today many nonbelievers have Christmas trees around the holidays. It doesn't mean that one is a believing Christian.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • lol??

        It was illegal on american soil at one time.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • sly

      EVERY American knows that having a Christmas tree has nothing to do with religion.

      I've never been to a church or temple or any other religious building, and I always have a Christmas tree.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Jesus was not born on Dec 25 (if at all). Trees to celebrate the winter solstice occurred for a 1000 years before christian missionary terrorists forced conversions to their insane religion. Christmas is a made up holiday to subvert pagan traditions.

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

        I celebrate the winter solstice by putting on a warmer coat.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Katie

      A Christmas tree is a not necessarily a religious symbol and really has nothing to do with Christianity. Trees are objects of mysticism and worship in many pagan cults. Decorating trees comes from many cultures. For example, candles (lights) are of Germanic tradition and modern tinsel represents the Ukrainian tradition of draping the tree in spiderwebs. Trees were focal points of celebration in December to honor the winter solstice. Christianity has a notorious history of usurping customs and traditions of previous cults and religions – the use of a tree, celebrating in December are just two examples – and just because today's American family has a Christmas tree does not mean the family is religious, Christian or otherwise. It means American values have placed heavy emphasis on celebrating commercialism in December.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  15. SeekingTheTrueGod

    I guess they finally found out that the stories in the Bible are mostly made up. They should tell the Christians and the Muslims that their holy books are just the same–all made up!

    October 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • lol??

      Joseph Smith was a Mason.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  16. Rabinowitz

    Being jewish for the mainstream Jew is about the worship of ....MONEY. I have lived around Jews my whole life. None go to Temple. The to celebrate their holidays and the coming batmitzmahs (bad spelling) big party with lots of money. I don't know any practiicing Jews. They can get very defensive about their stereotype but this is what I have observed. I feel they have some kind of inferiority complex that drives them to attain wealth at all costs.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • fizziks

      You certainly have not met many Jews then. American Jews are mostly focused on contributing to American society and culture in a way that is far disproportionate to our numbers, whether in science, medicine, literature, the arts, music, or business. That's why we are 25% of American Nobel Prize winners while being only around 4% of the population. Next time you enjoy living in a thriving, vibrant society, thank a Jew.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • shaleefa

      At all costs? Just a bigot right here. But this is america where you have to right to be ignorant racist and post at liberty.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • sly

      Actually, what drives them to wealth is intelligence. Going to school.

      This has to be one of the more obvious displays of cause and effect around – anyone who doesn't understand the relationship between education, reading and wealth is rather naive.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
      • lol??

        Yeah, like the fine print, err the footnotes in the annul reports.Footnotes or footlockers, that is the question.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • Cletus

      Sounds like you're the one with the inferiority complex, not to mention a narrow world view.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  17. babooph

    Just shows one what education & less bias can do...

    October 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  18. Ben Gozzey

    Secularism is a great thing.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  19. Zach

    Many Jews like me are mostly agnostic or even atheist. I've believe in science and I believe if the world becomes more and more secular, we will be more peaceful and advance, especially the arabs.

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

      Being Jewish, and believing in science/logic are not mutually exclusive. I am Jewish, attend high holidays, fast for Yom Kippur, hold Rosh A Shannah and Passover dinner. I consider myself to be religious light. Everyone has their own view of how much religion is needed, and there is no wrong/right amount.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • Howard

        This article was about American Jews "losing their religion." But it isn't just Jews in America; all religions in America are seeing a decline in the number of their "faithful." To me, that suggests this is less about the religions and more about our American culture and society. It's easier to be "religious-lite" or even non-religious in a tolerant society than one that is slavishly devote to a particular religion.

        October 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • lol??

      lol??
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      The A&A's will slaughter you on, "believin' in science".It's all 100% slippery facts and why they used the Piltdown man in the Scopes trial.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
      lol??
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Mixing socie science, like Darwinism, as demonstrated in WWII didn't work out so well for you?? The Christians are dumb enough to think it won't happen to them in the US.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  20. John Smith

    So jews are finally waking up to the fact that they are selfish whiners with ridiculous beliefs? Good for them. Maybe now they won't get kicked out of every country they try to live in, and maybe the rest of the world will stop being tired of their bullcrap.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Showing the way for Christians for over 2000 years now, it seems.

      October 1, 2013 at 3:13 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.