For Many US Jews, Religion Not Tied to Belief

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A new survey of U.S. Jews has confirmed some of the community's worst fears: One in five American Jews say they have no religion, and their ranks appear to be growing.

Jews in this category feel pride in being Jewish and a strong sense of belonging to the greater Jewish community. But they say their connection is based mostly on culture and ancestry, not necessarily on belief in God or observance of religious law. A large majority said remembering the Holocaust, being ethical and advocating for social justice formed the core of their Jewish identity.

The report, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, is an in-depth look at how American Jewish identity has changed in recent decades. The findings track closely with a 2012 Pew report that found about 20 percent of Americans in general said they had no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years.

Secularism has long been part of American Jewish life, which includes movements such as the Society for Humanistic Judaism founded in Detroit in the 1960s. However, the Pew survey found the percentage of American Jews who say they are atheist, agnostic or have no particular religion is highest among younger generations.

Written By: Rachel Zoll
continue to source article at abcnews.go.com

18 COMMENTS

  1. Thinking back on my life with my Jewish relatives and Jewish friends and acquaintances, and my Jewish upbringing, I see Judaism, as practiced in America by the majority of people who call themselves “Jews”, as not so much a religion as a mixture in varying proportions of victim mentality and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    • In reply to #1 by 78rpm:

      Thinking back on my life with my Jewish relatives and Jewish friends and acquaintances, and my Jewish upbringing, I see Judaism, as practiced in America by the majority of people who call themselves “Jews”, as not so much a religion as a mixture in varying proportions of victim mentality and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

      Interaction with and observation of Jews outside of the US, including Israel would appear to suggest that holds true there as well. Though the victim mentality is understandable it appears less manifest in the generation who was actually directly victimized than in the following generations who had victim-hood inculcated in them as a sort of catechism. A phenomenon explored in part in this often wryly funny award winning documentary by Yoav Shamir an Israeli filmmaker.

      What the article describes – “the pride in being Jewish and a strong sense of belonging to the greater Jewish community based mostly on culture and ancestry, not necessarily on belief in God or observance of religious law” – was reflected even in Christopher Hitchens’ as well as A. Einstein’s public and enthusiastic embrace of their (cultural) Jewish roots paired with the most withering rejection of the religion.

      A kinder and still accurate interpretation of the obsessive-compulsive “disorder” might be: Very disciplined application of high intelligence resulting in extraordinary achievements in, well, pretty much anything.

  2. Based on those numbers, it would appear that there are a lot more Jews who have stopped believing, but participate “at a lower level” in order to retain a connection with a community, or maintain a presence. The idea that 50% have dropped out of orthodoxy, and yet Orthodoxy has the fewest drop-outs would explain this discrepancy – there are those who remain because they must, out of an emotional need, not because of belief, and their are those who lose belief, but move to a “lower level” of association in order to keep some emotional connection. Based on the data, the atheist ranks should be growing from this pool! (One can hope!)

  3. Cultural beliefs tend to be fairly safe: e.g. special foods, special clothes, special language, special music. These are things fun to share with the entire community. In Vancouver, each culture gets a weekend in the summer to invite the whole city to share food, dancing and music. It works out great for businesses with all kinds of people coming to sample their wares and foods. This shoulder rubbing, feeling comfortable, leads to future business.

  4. Replying to godsbuster (comment 4) saying “A kinder and still accurate interpretation of the obsessive-compulsive “disorder” might be: Very disciplined application of high intelligence resulting in extraordinary achievements in, well, pretty much anything.” Well, that’s different. I have some Korean in-laws, and they surely do have “high intelligence resulting in extraordinary achievements….”, but they don’t come on as obsessive-compulsive. Just damn smart and hard-working. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is that it’s OK to eat a sardine, but not a shrimp–not even eat an orange off a plate that once held a shrimp.It’s getting into “learned” discussions as to what constitutes leavened bread and what doesn’t. There are degrees of this, of course, and many don’t go to these extremes, but it is the basis for their calling themselves Jews, and they feel themselves a part of this goofiness.

    • In reply to #5 by 78rpm:

      Replying to godsbuster

      Well, that’s different. I have some Korean in-laws, and they surely do have “high intelligence resulting in extraordinary achievements….”, but they don’t come on as obsessive-compulsive. Just damn smart and hard-working. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is that it’s OK to eat a sardine, but not a shrimp–not even eat an orange off a plate that once held a shrimp. It’s getting into “learned” discussions as to what constitutes leavened bread and what doesn’t. …

      Yes, but see, its precisely the obsessive-compulsive component that takes you from one (1) Korean’s Nobel Prize (for Peace) to the innumerable prizes awarded Jews. Just substitute gluons, quarks and quantum electrodynamics for sardines, shrimp, and leavened bread….;-)

  5. I am an atheist Jew. I was raised reform but largely because of my brother– an atheist practically from the moment of conception– I questioned the existence of God at an early age. We only went to services on the High Holidays and my father said he only went to toe the line for my mother. The ironic thing is that my dad has an Ashkenazi Jewish background but my mother was not raised Jewish until she was ten when her mother remarried a Jew. Before that she was raised Catholic. Anyway, I knew as a kid that my dad didn’t like going to synagogue even though he didn’t say anything about it.

    My Jewish identity became solid when I went to a secular Jewish camp. It was always about the culture for me– the food, the music, the Friday night folk dancing, and the Hebrew.

    78rpm, what’s this about “victim mentality?”

    Julie

    • In reply to #6 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

      I am an atheist Jew. I was raised reform but largely because of my brother– an atheist practically from the moment of conception– I questioned the existence of God at an early age. We only went to services on the High Holidays and my father said he only went to toe the line for my mother. The iron…

      78rpm, what’s this about “victim mentality?” Well said- that remark baffled me, too.

  6. For years, bigoted people have been complaining that “The Jews Run Hollywood.” The irony is that if a Jew is defined as someone who keeps kosher, observes the sabbath, and regularly attends synagogue, then to the best of my knowledge, there is only one Jew in Hollywood. THIS schnook.

  7. Answering the question about what I meant by “victim mentality”: Please let me first describe myself. I have nothing to do with the synagogue scene, or any of its beliefs, such as they are. I am what might be called a cultural Jew. My neonatal chemoreceptors have imprinted on them the ethnic foods, which I will walk miles for, and I have a great nostalgia for the moribund Yiddish language which was the mother tongue of my immigrant grandparents. I know it seems a cop-out to say “You have to be there,” but other non-practicing atheist Jews like me recognize this pervasive victim mentality that Jews who practice Judaism all too often exhibit. Even though we are in the 21st century, they detect crypto-antisemitism everywhere, as Woody Allen incisively depicted in the movie “Annie.” I have (practicing) Jewish acquaintances who love classical music as I do, but who eschew and even inveigh against the works of Richard Wagner. There are young Jews, born in the 90s, who are generations removed from Nazi Germany, but still and all they make the Holocaust an important part of who they consider themselves to be. They study it, not as history, but as something to get worked up over. Really, it is hardly more relevant to their lives than the slavery in the U.S. is to the descendants of the slaves, but they won’t leave go of it. (But bravo! to Elie Weisel for chasing down those old Nazis–they deserve the worst.) Slavery and Naziism were hideous beyond description, but there comes a time to see it as a part of history, not at all to be forgotten, but not to be personally dwelled upon either.

    • In reply to #10 by 78rpm:

      My neonatal chemoreceptors have imprinted on them the ethnic foods, which I will walk miles for, and I have a great nostalgia for the moribund Yiddish language which was the mother tongue of my immigrant grandparents.

      My mother and father were both Jewish. My sister is orthodox. I, on the other hand, am an Atheist, and have none of these “neonatal chemoreceptors” (is that even a real word?) you are talking about. I hate gefilte fish, can’t stand klezmer (or any other type of repetitive) music, and to me, like most Germanic languages, Yiddish sounds like somebody trying to cough up phlegm. It’s only useful for it’s rich variety of pejorative epithets (Schlameel, Schlamazzel, Schnook, Schtunk, Nudnick etc).

  8. To IDLERACER (comment 10) mentioning the Jews who “run” Hollywood: An Englishman who worked in Hollywood once commented, “After a few years in this town one’s foreskin falls away.”

  9. In reply to #10 by 78rpm:

    I know it seems a cop-out to say “You have to be there,” but other non-practicing atheist Jews like me recognize this pervasive victim mentality that Jews who practice Judaism all too often exhibit. Even though we are in the 21st century, they detect crypto-antisemitism everywhere,…

    Would it be an accurate generalization to say that the generation who were actually directly victimized (death camp survivors) are less likely to behave like crypto-antisemitism hypochondriacs because they actually experienced the worst manifestation of the real thing and don’t want to trivialize the memory of that monumental horror with, say, agonizing over some isolated swastika graffiti detected in an alley somewhere in a US city?

  10. To godsbuster (comment 12): You asked

    “Would it be an accurate generalization to say that the generation who were actually directly victimized (death camp survivors) are less likely to behave like crypto-antisemitism hypochondriacs because they actually experienced the worst manifestation of the real thing and don’t want to trivialize the memory of that monumental horror with, say, agonizing over some isolated swastika graffiti detected in an alley somewhere in a US city? I never asked myself that question, and I don’t know anyone who was a direct victim, but yes, it probably would be an accurate generalization. Good point.

    But those crypto-antisemitism hypochondriacs (damn good phrase, Godsbuster) are wrapped up in it,and their pervasiveness is part of what I perceive as making Judaism less of a religion and too much of a victim mentality.

  11. In comment 13 Godsbuster says Just substitute gluons, quarks and quantum electrodynamics for sardines, shrimp, and leavened bread….;-) OK, another good point. But if only more of them would, instead of all that bitching they do!

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