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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. jg19

    To those claiming this is a US phenomena or even a Western Phenomena, I have been to Israel and have a large group of Israeli Jew friends, and they are as agnostic if not more so than their American counterparts. When i first visited there and met them, I was actually SHOCKED by how incredibly similar our cultures and beliefs really are. I will say though Israel can party way harder than Americans, Tel Aviv was the most off the wall party cities I've ever seen, it was AWESOME.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  2. Lewis Black: Creationsism & the OT

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHFW8cun4ZA&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Jews remain Jews, if they choose to be called Jews, when they shed their religion. Christians, not so much. I was never impaired by religion, so I'm only curious. Is there a crisis of identity after you are no longer identified as Christian?

    October 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  4. Drew

    As the Jewish writer Michael Medved observed – the only thing it really means to be Jew today is to argue that Jesus wasn't the Messiah....that's kind of it...and kind of sad.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Gregory Adamson

    Religion needs to be removed and people need to simply start following the good things that the bible teaches – love your neighbor, do not judge others, be peacful and try to understand others. as long as religious people are not doing this and not being held accountable for it, organized religion, i hope, will keeo declining.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ben

      That list of "good things" can be found in all religions, not just the Bible. Wouldn't that indicate that these things are just human values, and not any particular god's?

      October 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  6. Observer

    If Judaism is a race, because one allegedly has the bloodline of Judea, then the Palestinians indigenous to Judea are Jews.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Nina

      I don't think the Palestinians are Jews...I think they are the cousins of the Jews. When the two brothers went their separate ways (Sorry, cannot remember their names), that's when it became Arabs and Jews. The shared lineage goes a long way back, but I don't think even Palestinians consider themselves historical Jews.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  7. Barry G.

    Losing one's religion can actually be a good thing.

    When God called Abraham (when his name was still Abram), he initiated a relationship with Abraham, not religion. This relationship was also established with Abraham's son, Isaac, as it was with his son, Jacob.

    When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, he went for the sake of relatioonship with God–a relationship with had been severed, due to sin.

    Moses thus went to establish a covenant (or agreement) between the people and God, the terms of which were bound up in the Ten Commandments; he went as a mediator between the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so that they too could have a relationship with this living God.

    Religion wasn't the issue here.

    All God asked of the people was that they were faithful to him, and that they showed this faithfulness by loving one another and treating each other well.

    (Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength; and, love your neighbor, as yourself. The Torah: the Book of Deuteronomy)

    The benefit of this relationship was that the people would be blessed, and life would "go well with them".

    That’s not religion–that's relationship.

    When Jesus, the messiah, came, he came as the ultimate mediator, and he came to make pay past and present debts, which we could not pay, and he came to make things right and new.

    Jesus didn't care much for religion either. He taught us to love one another.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      All this from a work of fiction. Losing your religion is ALWAYS a good thing. It means that you're moving toward a life based on logic and reason instead of delusion.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • cdub2k

      Great point sir.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      So what you are saying is that God, who punished everyone with the mark of an eternal sin due to Adam and Eve, decided to forgive us by being reborn through the Virgin Mary, requiring that we kill him (crucify) in order for him to forgive us for the eternal sin he placed on us. Does that really make sense?

      October 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        Only if you're insane.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • jeff

      Religion. GOD. I think we can do without religion.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Ben

      But it takes religion to believe you're in a relationship with an invisible, ancient, super being.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  8. cnnlicksit

    They're certainly not using losing their wealth.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • cnnlicksit's fourth grade teacher

      I'm sorry, you must repeat fourth grade.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Brian

      Born Jewish and broke. Each generation of my family has been further down the economic ladder just like most Americans. Don't believe your anti-semetic stereotypes. If only we DID have kind of secret society of wealthy Jews, I'd love to apply to them for help. Don't suppose your skinhead propaganda pamphlets have a phone number or anything? Didn't think so.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        It's such a secret society that even the members don't know they're a part of it. Shhhh.

        October 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • dgoren1

        Exactly, Brian. I'm Jewish and haven't even once been asked to attend one of those secret "taking over the world" meetings. Thy must be going on right under my well-endowed nose, because I've never been able one.

        October 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
        • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

          Same here – Jewish and broke (but rich in love). I've been growing my horns extra long, hoping to be recognized and invited into the secret circle ... to no avail ....

          October 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  9. Sheed

    I still can't see the difference between a White person and a jew, except for religion. Without religion are not they just europeans?

    October 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Sam

      What about Middle Eastern Jews? Moroccan Jews? Iranian Jews? Not all Jews are white.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
      • Jew Dunno Whatcha Talkin Bout

        Ethiopian Jews? Chinese Jews? We're a delicious matzah ball melting pot!!!

        October 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • ME II

      I think Jews trace their origins back to Ancient Middle East and the Kingdom of Judah, so technically they are Asian, or Middle-Eastern.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • ME II

        Of course, in the end (or beginning), we are all African.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Susan

      Jews don't consider themselves Caucasians. They consider themselves Jewish.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
      • dgoren1

        That's news to me. Actually, I'm Jewish and I'm also caucasian, like many Jews. I'm also left-handed.

        October 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Brian

      Culture. Heritage. Food. Language. Though, I'll grant you that when you remove the religion it's no different from being say, Italian or Irish.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  10. groinksan

    This perfectly explains why, despite what is going on in Israel. American Jews generally don't pledge allegiance to Israel. It explains why American Jews vote generally liberal, and therefore are actually against the political beliefs of Israel.

    People have to realize that Judaism is both a religion as well as a race, and I don't think this article clearly makes the distinction. To extremely oversimplify, you cannot change your race per-se, since Judaism the religion doesn't recognize one becoming a non-Jew. And, if you have the bloodline of Judea, you will always be a Jew regardless of you beliefs because over the centuries, Jew has eventually become a race, much like any other race. In other words, someone saying he's a Jew is like me saying I'm a pinoy (Filipino.)

    I'm writing this because I get irritated when during the presidential election campaign process, the MSM keep addressing the Jewish population. You might as well go to a McDonald's and survey the people there who are vegans – the comparison between the two makes perfect sense to me. The fact of the matter is that the Jewish population are disconnected with Israel, and it will continue down this road for generations to come. And, because they're immigrants or are descendents to immigrants, they'll always favor liberal political philosophy. So when you see a MSM survey that covers the Jewish population, you have to question whether it is Jew the religion, or Jew the race.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Observer

      If Judaism is a race, because one allegedly has the bloodline of Judea, then the Palestinians indigenous to Judea are Jews.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Observer

      While the word Jew used to refer to people from Judea in Palestine, today, the word mostly refers to the followers of the religion that spread out of Judea. Similar to Nazarenes, which is derived from Nazareth, but means christian.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ben

      You make it sound like it's some ultra-conservative nation, but I've spent a lot of time in Israel, and there are areas and aspects of the culture that are far more liberal than here. Plenty of secular Jews living there as well.

      October 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  11. Grumpster

    More interested in financial gain and running things in Hollywood. Seems that Jews are all I see on TV any more.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Zoticus

      Oh Grumpster, wouldn't you like some financial gain and influence in Hollywood for yourself? These are noble pursuits.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • sly

      Oh Grumpy ... and they are a lot smarter and better looking than you.

      Have you looked at your waistline lately?
      Have you gotten laid in the past 20 years?

      Sorry.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  12. lol??

    How did Obama get a security clearance?? Is that sorta like a Divine Right of Presidents??

    October 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Grumpster

      How did you learn to write...as moronic as you appear to be.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • groinksan

      Leaving out the wisecracks by others, a security clearance of Obama's level covers only the last 10 years of his life at the time he obtained it. Although pretty much his entire past has been locked, sealed and paid for, none of it matters when it comes to getting a clearance.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  13. maths

    Did they try looking under the sapa?

    October 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  14. Rev Mashe

    The study doesn't really address the growing numbers of non observant Jews returning or becoming Bal Teshuva. Believe me.. there are more of them than you think..

    October 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      And with those few words – "believe me" – a rumor is born.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  15. rh

    Sounds like they are more honest than most Christians about their religious beliefs.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  16. Why don't they believe?? The miracle is right there before their eyes! Even healing!!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=360]

    October 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • Chris

      Benny Hinn needs to get back with his divorced wife and quit buying million dollar mansions for his children.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • Topher

        I thought he did get back with her. Oh well. His bigger problem is that he needs to be saved.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
        • ME II

          I'm sure he thinks the same about you.

          October 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      Yeah, it was pointed out to me just the other day by a believer that the stories of cripples being cured when visiting religious sites was evidence of God. And then I pointed out the fact that some people heal naturally, and then there's televangelists like you have shown above. Interesting thing on the item of people who visit religious sites being cured, there's never an explanation why everyone is not cured – only a few. That overturns that bit of evidence of being a modern miracle.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • It's pretty obvious

      that charlatans like Hinn are dishonest. At Hinn's events, anyone who is seen to be really sick are ushered away from the cameras. He was found out for this long ago.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  17. EL

    Alan Dershowitz called this ~20 years ago. The vanishing American Jew.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  18. Bestauntie

    I am from the Gen X generation and Jewish. I identify as such, but I'm not very religious. I believe that you have to be a good citizen and a good human being, who is respectful of everyone. I don't find that many of the New York temples embrace my philosophy. This is why I am not more religious. When I was a kid, I went to the temple youth group and was constantly reminded that my parents were not members. It didn't matter that my parents paid for me to go to the group. They were outsiders and so was I. If temples are more welcoming and adhere to the basic traditions instead of letting money rule everything then maybe I would join.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Matthew 23

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

      That is a similar story of a Catholic

      October 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    I have always to apologize for what we have done against the Jews. I am extremly aware of the awful As a German events of the Third Reich because DACHAU (concentration camp) is a station on my way to work sometimes when I use the Munich S-Bahn.

    However, Hitler hated the Jews because of their race. That hate had nothing to do with the Jewish religion. As far as I know the hate against the Jewish race can be reasoned by nothing, and Hitler only based on some old Germanic myths which was rediculous.

    I try to love everybody independent from his race or nationality also the Jews whereby I must admit that I have not yet met a Jew in Munich and surroundings.

    Even a German could accept the Jewish doctrine but it is a matter of fact that chiefly people of Jewish race keep the Jewish doctrine. Therefore when I criticise the Jewish doctrine I automatically critcise the racial Jews – I regret.

    The great mistake of the Jews is that they try to keep the law of the Torah by natural power which is impossible. Jesus said that we should not keep the law but fulfill it. What is the difference between fulfilling and keeping? Keeping is the desperate attempt to keep single commandments. Fulfillment is a state of divine life which is not in conflict with the law at all, and therefore the law is fulfilled.

    How can we enter a state of divine life which fulfills the law?

    We need a redeemer, and this is Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. On Mount Sinai he had given the commandments to Israel in order to make possible that they could realize that they had forsaken the state of divine presence, life and health. He had to criticise them for their acting against the tenet of love (towards God and neighbour). On the mount of the Sermon of the Mount Jesus was visible TOGETHER with his disciples. This is the solution of the Jewish problem. Dear Jewish brother, simply enter the confidental community of Jesus, receive the power of love, and you automatically fulfill the law of the Torah which is much more than keeping it.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    Jesus Christ has borne our sins when he died for us on the cross, and he has resurrected for our justification. Simply believe that and get sacramentally baptized, and you will die for the sin, and enter Christ. Christ himself is Love, and thus you will fulfill the law.

    October 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • bostontola

      Why do you state your opinion as though it were facts? Many other Christians don't agree with most of what you are stating.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
      • Hur

        "Why do you state your opinion as though it were facts?"

        Will you be saying this to the atheists on here as well?

        October 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • G to the T

          Yup – personally – I see BS as BS no matter the source.

          October 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • BU2B

      What a load of crap. Why would we need a redeemer? So our "god" made us imperfect. Then he had to sacrifice his son in order to forgive us for being imperfect? Sounds like something that would be made up in the bronze age. Oh wait, that's right, it was.

      The Jewish have just as much reason to believe what they believe, as you have to believe what you do. After all, you both have zero evidence.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        God made us perfect, and we were in Him in the Beginning. But we forsake his life-giving presence (he is the Life), and therefore had to die. A sign of the dead is our hatred against other races instead of loving him.

        Through Jesus we can return into the confidental community of the Lord, the eternal God who has made heaven and earth, the Most High. In Jesus we are able to love God and our neighbour, and thus we fulfill the law.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Jane Mars

      This is more than a little creepy. First, race is a social construction–yes, Hitler conceptualized Jews as a "race," but there are no actual biological races–they are all categories we have made up, so your apparent assumption that Jews are somehow racially different from non-Jews is about 70 years behind the times. Second, did you really just say that the "solution to the Jewish problem" is wholesale conversion? The fact that you think there is a Jewish "problem" is horrifying. The fact that you are advocating wholesale conversion as the solution is less 1930s than medieval Europe (so that's good, I suppose, since you are graciously allowing them to convert and resolve your "problem") is unbelievably archaic and more than a little creepy.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  20. Np

    Breaking news...
    All American religion are are losing their numbers!....

    Who in the hell cares, its an independent country. you follow whatever you want as long as you leave others alone and out of it, no one cares... Peace!

    October 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • lol??

      And make sure you keep those contacts at the TOP of the mob.

      October 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        Either make sense or go away – you contribute nothing.

        October 1, 2013 at 4:15 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.