How Spiritual Are America’s Jews?

The first-ever comparative national study of spirituality among American Jews and Christians demonstrates that young Jews are more spiritually inclined on every available measure than their elders. The historic large gap in spiritual orientation between Jews and others is narrowing, especially among younger adults, those 35 and under. The S3K Synagogue Studies Institute report, written by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Lawrence A. Hoffman, both of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, draws upon a web-based national survey of 1596 Jews and 1520 respondents drawn from the general population.

This growth of spiritual receptivity among young adult Jews can be attributed to 3 factors:

  1. The growth in the number of Orthodox Jews, especially among people under 35.
  2. The parallel, and even more substantial, growth of intermarried families and Jews by choice, both signifying the growth of Jews with Christian parents, husbands and wives. These family members appear to render their Jewish relatives more open to, and comfortable with, the ideas, expressions and language of spirituality.
  3. Even non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents (a shrinking population sector, albeit still a majority) are more receptive to spiritual language than older counterparts.

As ethnic ties among American Jews diminish — with more non-Jewish parents, spouses, children, friends and neighbors — American Judaism is becoming, in broad terms, less ethnic and more religiously and spiritually oriented.

These findings have serious implications for Jewish communal policy makers, rabbis, educators, and planners. More American Jews are expressing interest in the study and experience of spirituality. The two population segments showing especially elevated spiritual concerns are precisely the two major demographic growth sectors of the Jewish population: the Orthodox, and Jews with at least one non-Jewish nuclear family member.

As spiritually oriented American Jews grow in number, seminaries will have to educate students to show comfort with spiritual language, and help congregants with their spiritual search. Congregational rabbis, especially those serving large numbers of intermarried families or the Jewish children of the intermarried, will find greater demand and greater receptivity to spiritual language and concerns in the years to come.

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Discuss the S3K Report

Shmuel Rosner from the Jerusalem Post comments

Ed Case, comments on the study

J.J. Goldberg’s take on the study from the Forward

Sandy Sasso writes about the spirituality of children

JTA write up of the study

Rami Shapiro weighs in

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