Who by Religion? The “Jews of No Religion” Category is Misleading – a response to Herbert J. Gans

By Zohar Rotem I want to thank eJewishPhilanthropy for starting an important conversation on the issue of “Jews of No Religion” (JNRs), and Herbet J. Gans for introducing the issue so succinctly (here, and then here). I agree with the broad strokes of Gans’ analysis, but wish to point out that the distinction between Jews “by religion” and Jews “of no religion” - featured prominently in Pew’s 2013 “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” - is ultimately misleading. It is misleading, first, because many of the so-called “Jews by religion” are not really that religious at all, whereas some Jews “of no religion,” in fact, are religious (which Gans has pointed out too). In turn, the disaffiliated sector of American Jews is larger than just the so-called “Jews of No Religion.” A further confusion is … [Read more...]

Pew and the Jews, Part 2: Experts say Leveraging Poll Data Trumps Numbers

The Jewish Community Festival in Bellevue, Wash. (August 2007). At left is the booth of the Secular Jewish Circle of Puget Sound, which brings people together "to celebrate Jewish culture and heritage in a non-religious setting." Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

By Maayan Jaffe JNS.org Since the Pew Research Center released its U.S. Religious Landscape Study in May, most discussion of its findings has been quickly drowned out by other news. This is in stark contrast to the much-debated Pew survey on American Jewry that was released in October 2013. Why the discrepancy? It’s likely because little new was discovered in the latest poll. According to the study, 25 percent of individuals raised as Jews no longer consider themselves Jewish, 35 percent of Jews who are married or living with a partner are with a non-Jew, and 39 percent of U.S. adults across religions are intermarried. The findings show that the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, that the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated … [Read more...]

Jews of No Religion and the Future of American Jewry

By Herbert J Gans The study "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" issued by the Pew Research Center in October 2013 has been widely discussed and debated. However, one piece of the portrait deserves further, discussion; the so called JNRs, Jews of No Religion who do not identify with or are not connected to any religion. They are probably the fastest growing non orthodox sector of the American Jewish community, and Part Two of this article will speculate about how they might change that community in the next quarter century. Part One - Jews of No Religion JNRs are a familiar category from past national Jewish population surveys, and according to Pew, they now constitute 20 percent of American Jewry and nearly a third of its young people, those born after 1980. This article returns to the … [Read more...]

One Educator’s Response….. on the Findings of the Pew Report and the Jewish Future

By Nancy Parkes I have read the reports and the responses. I have attended meetings and have discussed the findings of the Pew report with many of my colleagues and with experts in the field, all whom I would define as people who care deeply about the future of Jewish life in America. And, like many others, I am concerned about the Jewish future. But not in the way you may think. It is clear from the findings of the Pew Report that we still have work to do in making Jewish learning and life meaningful, engaging, and relevant for American Jews. I don’t believe that anyone would deny that. My issue with the articles and proposal presented by Steven Cohen and Jack Wertheimer is that there is absolutely no mention of the value and importance of supplementary synagogue education. It is … [Read more...]

Who Will You Be Welcoming Into Your Sukkah?

The very people who are reading and talking about the Pew study are by in large, the people who are already engaged and not the ones that we need to try and be reaching. By Sam Aboudara On Sukkot, we remember the several decades that the Israelites spent journeying through a hostile environment in search of a promised land that they believed to exist at the end of their travels. During this time, our ancestors took shelter in temporary dwellings. Essentially, the Jews experienced homelessness. Only a short few weeks after Sukkot ends, we read Parashat Vayera, in which we see evidence of Abraham’s hospitable nature as he welcomes in three traveling guests, who for all purposes are complete strangers. Not only welcoming them into his tent, Abraham rushes to their beck and call, involves his … [Read more...]

Can Pew Help Us Renew?

By Rabbi Hayim Herring We're less than a week away from Rosh ha-Shanah, the peak season for personal introspection and communal reflection. Reflection on the American Jewish community leads me back to almost a year ago, when the Pew’s Study, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, was released. In speaking with two colleagues the other day about a program involving my forthcoming book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education, and how the one-year anniversary of Pew Study might serve as context for the program, they both commented: “Pew is old news, our people have already moved on.” I should have expected their remark - after all, the initial response to the Pew Study a year ago by many observers of Jewish life was, “There are no surprises in it.” Pew may not have … [Read more...]

Ready to Prove a Prediction Wrong?

What does a more perfect Jewish world look like in the eyes of the Conservative Movement? And how does that world intersect with and influence the broader world? [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Rabbi Hayim Herring The Reform and Conservative Movements are accidents of history and will disappear within 50 years.” Michael Steinhardt delivered that death sentence on September 6, 2000, before a group of about 150 people, mostly rabbis, at the formal launch of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Thirteen years later, I want to assess Michael’s prediction within the shadow of the Pew study. Individual Conservative leaders correctly note that “there … [Read more...]

Orthodox “Retention” and Kiruv: The Bad News and the Good News

A mere 22 percent of Jews 65 and older who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox, while 57 percent of people aged 30-49 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox - and the percentage rises as the group gets younger. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Jerome A. Chanes We are swimming - indeed drowning - in the ink spilled on the data from the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jewry. Early reactions from the religious movements have been, predictably, along the lines of the Talmudic “Kol ha-doresh, doresh l’atzmo” - “The one who analyzes, analyzes in his own interest.” There have been a number of analyses of the data, but to date we have seen … [Read more...]