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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jews belong without believing

A new study seems to show that Jews define themselves by community, just as I had written elsewhere. They belong to Jewish religious institutions even if they do not believe in god, because that is the only way to be Jewish.
I would think there is an opportunity here for non-religious Jewish organizations, but somehow, it is not happening it seems. It would seem to point out an urgent need for SECULAR Hebrew education and Jewish community institutions.
By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff
"I am an out-and-out atheist. There's no doubt about that," said Madisonian Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, during an interview with The Chronicle this past autumn.
Nevertheless, he also said, his family belonged for many years to Madison's Reform synagogue, Temple Beth El; and his three children received a Jewish education and had b'nai mitzvah ceremonies there.
This situation seems to be contradictory or paradoxical; but many other American Jews apparently live in similar ways.
Or so contends a recent publication of the Florence G. Heller-JCC Association Research Center that is being disseminated by the Mandell L. Berman Institute North American Jewish Data Bank of the University of Connecticut.
The study is titled "Belonging Without Believing: Jews and their Distinctive Patterns of Religiosity — and Secularity." (The full text of the report can be seen online at
Its authors — Prof. Steven M. Cohen and Lauren Blitzer — compiled data assembled by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
During the past year, the Pew Forum issued parts of its "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey." This was based on data from "an unusually large national sample of 35,000 respondents, including a representative sample of 682 Jews nationwide," according to the JCCA report.
That means, according to the report, "the Pew study represents the first time … that we can compare the religious beliefs and behavior of a large national sample of Jews with thousands of respondents from other religious groups. Most critically, all the respondents were asked the same wide array of questions in the same way at the same time."

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