June 2015 - Pew Survey and Jewish Identity

Dear Friends,

The most recent study by the Pew Research Center iterates its 2013 findings that Americans are increasingly unidentified by religion.  For example, and most dramatically, Christian identification fell from78.4 percent to 70.6 percent between 2007 and 2014.  At the same time, Americans who call themselves atheists or agnostics, grew from 16.1 percent to 23 percent.  But while the 2013 study determined that 22 percent of American Jews surveyed said they had no religion, the new study indicates an increase in America’s Jewish population from 1.7 to 1.9 percent.  More remarkable than this slight statistical increase is that, comparatively speaking, at 75 percent, American Jews have one of the highest rates of identity retention among the country’s faith communities.  Only Hindus (80%) and Muslims (77%) have higher retention numbers.

But then Jewish identity is broader than faith affiliation.  Mordecai Kaplan got it right when he defined Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish People.  How many of us RSNS members define ourselves as ‘cultural’ Jews, or as Zionists (or post Zionists), or as one of any number of categories outside of ‘religion.’  Being able to define ourselves apart from belief has enabled Jews to positively identify with Judaism without adding God into the mix as required by adherents of other religions.  Moreover, many Jews under age forty proudly define themselves as Jews outside the context of Jewish organizations.  In an age when meaning has become more important than community, or, to use a word from Kaplan, than Peoplehood, an increasing number of Jews may well come to identify themselves as Jews without any synagogue or communal institutional affiliation. I do not know what form this collection of unassociated individual Jews will take moving in the next quarter of a century; I only know that it will be completely different from the synagogues and JCCs that exist today.  The only certainty is that Judaism will continue to evolve.  I can’t wait to see where it will take us.  No matter what, I’ll sign up for this next leg of the Jewish journey.