Almost half of U.S. Jews don’t associate with religion, study finds

Nearly half of US Jews do not identify with organized religion, a new study by the Pew Research Center finds.

More than one in five, however, are considered “Sunday stalwarts” (or Saturday): those who “actively practice their faith, but they also are deeply involved in their religious congregations.”

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The study published Wednesday defines how people practice their religion. It only includes Jews who define their religion as Judaism, or “Jews by religion.”

Conducted last December, the study of more than 4,700 respondents has a margin of error of 2.3%.

Among the seven categories, 45% of American Jews are listed in the two for the least religious: “religion resisters,” who believe in a higher power but have negative views of organized religion, or “solidly secular,” those who don’t believe in God and do not self-define as religious. The breakdown is 28% as “solidly secular” and 17% as “religion resisters.”

On the other end of the spectrum, 21% of Jews are “Sunday stalwarts.” Eight percent are “God-and-country believers,” who express their religion through political and social conservatism, and 5% are “diversely devout,” who follow the Torah but also believe in things like animism and reincarnation.

The somewhat religious are defined as either “relaxed religious” (14%), those who believe in God and pray but don’t engage in many traditional practices, or “spiritually awake” (8%), those who hold New Age beliefs and believe in heaven and hell.

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Americans as a whole are more or less evenly divided among the seven groups. The largest three groups are “Sunday stalwarts,” “relaxed religious” and “solidly secular” at 17% each. The smallest are “God-and-country believers” and “religion resisters” at 12% each.

“Jewish Americans are the only religious group with substantial contingents at each end of the typology,” the study says.

Author, professor and political commentator Gil Troy said that the results of the Pew study showed that the model of looking at the US Jewish community as divided into Reform, Conservative and Orthodox is breaking down and that large numbers of US Jews are now identifying with other aspects of Jewishness.

“For many US Jews, their identity is based on Jewish culture, heritage, nation, family and other concepts,” Troy told The Jerusalem Post.

He noted that other observers of the Jewish people have pointed out that only in Israel has a model been found to pass on a vibrant, secular Jewish identity, and that sustaining a Jewish identity outside of Israel in a non-religious framework has proven extremely difficult.

Troy said, however, that American Jews who do not participate in organized religion but identify with non-religious aspects of Jewishness have a parallel community in Israel of secular Jews whose identity is similarly bound up in culture, heritage and nation.

“There is a non-theological basis of Jewish identity and this opens the way for a conversation about what unites US Jews and Israeli Jews,” Troy opined.

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