American Jews growing more religious, poll indicates
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American Jews growing more religious, poll indicates

While ‘absolute’ certainty in God on decline among Americans, 36% of Jews polled say religion ‘very important’ to them

A Kol Nidre service at Adas Israel, Washington's largest Conservative synagogue (David Polonsky/JTA)
A Kol Nidre service at Adas Israel, Washington's largest Conservative synagogue (David Polonsky/JTA)

American Jews appear to be growing steadily more religious, faster than most other communities in the United States, according to a new Pew poll published Tuesday.

The survey, conducted in 2014, studied American perspectives on religions across the country’s various sects and communities and compared them to a similar study in 2007. It found that overall, the proportion of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped sharply from 71 percent to less than two-thirds.

Pew released the findings, based in part on a 2014 telephone survey of more than 35,000 people, as religious leaders are grappling with the shifting makeup of American religious life.

The number of American Jews polled who responded saying that religion is very important in their life rose from 31% in 2007 to 36% in 2014. Those who responded “not at all” rose by one percentage point to 29%.

The percentage of Americans who say they pray every day, attend regular services and consider religion very important have also clocked small, but significant declines, the research center said.

However, among American Jews, the number saw a slight upturn.

Among American Jews, 29% said they pray daily, up three points since the first survey, and 24% weekly or monthly.

However, Jews were second only to Buddhists of those who said they mostly shy away from religious services.

Outside of wedding and funerals, 65% of American Jews said they attend religious services a few times a year or less, 19% said they attend weekly or more, and 15% once or twice a month.

Of the American Jews who said they’re religiously affiliated, 17% of Jews said they read scripture weekly, 16% participate in prayer or study groups, and just 11% “share faith with others at least weekly.”

In every category, Jews were markedly lower than the Christian and non-Christian average.

Among all religions, the religiously affiliated are more devoted than they were years before. A higher percentage say they regularly read scriptures, participate in small prayer or study groups and share their faith with others. Forty-six percent said they believe their faith tradition should “preserve traditional beliefs and practices” in the face of changes in modern society, up slightly from seven years ago.

In an initial release of data last May, Pew researchers found that Americans who don’t affiliate with a religion have become the second-largest group in total numbers behind evangelicals, comprising nearly 23 percent of US adults. Within that group, dubbed “nones,” a growing share described themselves as atheist or agnostic, making the country less religious overall.

At the same time, the report found growing strength among evangelicals. The overall number of evangelicals rose to 62 million people, or a quarter of the population, and evangelicals were the only major Christian group between 2007 and 2014 to gain more members than they lost, Pew researchers said.

Across major faith traditions, the level of commitment varies. Still, Pew found broad evidence of a stable or slightly increased commitment to faith among those who identified with a particular religion, including among Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants and Jews.

Overall, the share of US adults who say they believe in God declined from 92 to 89 percent over the same period, from 2007 to 2014, but is still remarkably high compared to other developed countries.

Younger Americans are also less religious than their elders. For example, four in 10 of the youngest Millennials (born from 1981 to 1996) say they pray every day, compared to six in 10 Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964).

The survey also showed that nearly all major religious groups have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality in recent years — even evangelicals and Mormons who traditionally have expressed strong opposition to same-sex relationships.

Changing attitudes about homosexuality are linked to wider acceptance among the younger generation than older adults.

The study also showed that the religiously unaffiliated — the majority of whom still believe in God — are now more numerous among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults than Catholics, evangelicals and Protestants.

The religiously unaffiliated are growing less quickly within the Republican party, where they are outnumbered by evangelicals, Catholics and mainstream Protestants, Pew said.

The poll was carried out among a representative group of 35,071 adults interviewed by telephone from June to September 2014 and has a margin of error of 0.6 percentage points, Pew said.

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