That may be surprising to some — being Jewish and practicing Judaism might seem tied together, but more Jews are identifying themselves because of ancestry, rather than religion, according to the study.
“It’s really a way of living, a way of treating others,” said Rena Schoenberg, congregation member and secretary at Temple Beth El in Anniston. The religious aspects of Judaism are so deeply intertwined with the cultural and traditional aspects, she explained, that one doesn’t necessarily have to attend synagogue or temple to be “Jewish.”
The trend of identifying as a non-religious Jew leans toward younger people — 32 percent of Jewish Millennials, those born after 1980, report no religious affiliation. Only 7 percent of Jews born between 1914 and 1927, the “Greatest Generation,” identify as non-religious Jews. According to Schoenberg, no adult members of Temple Beth El are under the age of 33.
Part of that skew may be due to the gradual rise in interfaith marriages over generations. Intermarried Jewish families, according to the Pew report, are much less likely to raise their children in Judaism. The incidence of non-religious Jews may continue to increase, as 79 percent of Jews of no religion say that their spouse isn’t Jewish.
Schoenberg’s two sons, Evan and Joel, were both raised in the faith — and both married outside of it. Both weddings included Jewish traditions, and both sons still maintain their connection to Judaism despite their interfaith marriages.
“Their spouses understand that Jewish traditions and ways of life are very important to them,” said Schoenberg. “They incorporate those values into their lives.”
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.