Professor Gross: Surveys Asking American Jews If They're Religious Miss the Point

Wednesday, May 12, 2021
J. (SAN FRANCISCO)/JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY -- Rachel B. Gross is an assistant professor and the John and Marcia Goldman Chair of American Jewish Studies in the Department of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University. This opinion piece is distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service. “Some may wring their hands over what they see as dwindling participation in Judaism as a religion, as commentators did after the last survey,” Gross writes. “But what I see in this survey is evidence of the innovative and ever-changing ways Jewish religion is practiced, not grounds for panic. “Although the authors inform us ‘religion is not central to the lives of most U.S. Jews,’ the concept of religion, as most Americans use it today, is a modern, Protestant creation, and Jewish practices fit uncomfortably in the category. Despite the best efforts of Jewish thinkers to separate religious and cultural aspects of Jewish practice, the boundaries have never been clear. Traditional understandings of ‘religion’ have rested uneasily with Jewish realities, which have a greater focus on communities and practices. Only 20 percent of survey respondents said that their ‘religious faith’ provides a great deal of meaning and fulfillment, perhaps because American Jews rarely use the language of faith.”