For American Jews it’s liberalism, laughter, and Judaism, in that order

The Pew Research Center has released a study of American Jews. It finds that a majority of non-Orthodox Jews (i.e., 90 percent of Jews in America) are not marrying Jews or giving their kids a Jewish education.

The “not marrying Jews” part doesn’t bother me. To the extent that Jews marry non-Jews and raise their children as Jews, with a good Jewish education, American Judaism should prosper. But without a good education in Judaism, the Jewish identity either disappears or loses its core meaning.

The Pew survey reflects this problem. Forty-nine percent of Jews surveyed believe that being “intellectually curious” is an essential part of being Jewish (“intellectual curiosity” may be code for being smart; it’s certainly not code for being willing to entertain unpleasing political views). 42 percent believe that having a sense of humor is essential to being Jewish. Only 19 percent say that observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish.

Intellectual curiosity and a sense of humor are traits, not beliefs. Traits are not content, religious or otherwise.

But this doesn’t mean that modern American Judaism is devoid of content. 56 percent of Jews surveyed believe that “working for justice/equality” is essential to being Jewish. Political content is thus replacing religious content for non-orthodox American Jews.

This won’t surprise anyone who has read Norman Podhoretz’s masterful book, Why Are Jews Liberals?. Norman relied on data showing that only one-quarter of American Jews say that religion is very important in their lives, whereas half of American Jews say that “being Jewish” is very important. Thus, “Jewishness” takes precedence over Judaism.”

But what does “Jewishness” mean to these Jews? Norman argued that it means being a liberal on political, economic, and social issues. Four years later, the Pew survey confirms that his argument is sad but true.

Good thing I have a sense of humor.


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