Are the Jewish people in America losing their religious beliefs? A new study by the Pew Center shows that one in five American Jews say they have no religion, but they feel they are Jewish because of their culture and ancestry, not their religious beliefs.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project released the report on Tuesday and it tracks how Jewish people living in the United States have changed the way they look at their identities in the last few decades. The report also shows that 22% of Jews say they have no religion. These findings are similar to a 2012 study done by Pew which said about 20% of Americans in general said they belonged to no particular religion.
Why are Jewish people straying from their faith? Or are they? The first thing which has to be done is the word “Jew” needs to be defined, as the Pew Report states this is not an easy thing to do.
”This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer. On the one hand, being Jewish is a matter of religion – the traditional, matrilineal definition of Jewish identity is founded on halakha (Jewish religious law). On the other hand, being Jewish also may be a matter of ancestry, ethnicity and cultural background. Jews (and non-Jews) may disagree on where to draw the line.” – Pew Sidebar “What is a Jew?”
This problem certainly isn’t unique to Jews as lately the same problem is occurring with US Catholics as well.
In both Pew studies the results of the various age groups are similar. The younger the person the more likely they are to have no religious affiliation. A review of the numbers shows that as the age group rises, so do the likelihood they will identify with a religion. This could be caused by three factors.
First, the younger a person, the farther he or she will be from the traditions and customs of their religion. Each succeeding generation tends to practice their religion less and less. Some people call this being “Un-churched” which refers to parents not bringing their children to church and teaching them their religious teachings and rituals.
Second, religion has slowly been taken out of the American society. Through challenges in the courts most public display of religion, as well as prayers in schools, have been removed. This could possibly contribute to a lessening of awareness of one’s religion.
Third, there is too much competition for one’s time and energy today. In this age of technology and too hectic schedules, there is not much time in the day, and something like religion is likely to be the first cut from the list of things to do.
Jane Eisner, publisher of “The Jewish Daily Forward” wrote in today’s “Forward Thinking” blog, referring to something her Grandmother said when asked what a Jew was. Her answer was “A Jew is, what a Jew does.” She then wrote this:
“For the religiously observant, Yiddish-speaking immigrants of her generation, the outlines of what “doing Jewish” meant were clear and defined. But no such clarity existed for my generation, and my children’s.” – Jane Eisner
Not only is this true for the Jewish people in America, but for all other religions as well. Whether this is good or bad is surely a topic which will be debated for months to come.
Commentary by: Paul Roy