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Jewish identity changing in America, study says

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 9:45 p.m. MDT

“Furthermore, Jews who are the offspring of intermarriages appear, themselves, to be more likely to intermarry than Jews with two Jewish parents,” the survey stated.

Bruce Phillips, a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, has studied intermarriage among Jews and found that most Jews who identify as having no religion were raised in intermarriages.

A decade ago, Phillips found 60 percent of children in interfaith marriages were raised in the Jewish religion and he speculates that's down to 50 percent today.

"More of them were raised as Christians and identified as Christians," said Bruce Phillips, a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.

He explained that among the factors at play among those raised in intermarried homes and now claiming they are not religious is taking a secular path to avoid offending either parent.

"Either way, there will probably be fewer Jews by religion for another 20 years," he said.

The Jewish denomination suffering the least from this trend appears to be Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Jews in the United States with 35 percent of those surveyed. The Pew study found 55 percent of Jews who were raised in the Reform movement have remained, while 36 percent raised as Conservative Jews are still among that group and more than half of those raised Orthodox are no longer part of that denomination.

"Those are encouraging signs for Reform Jews," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "But the rate of intermarriage and (those who don't identify with religion) is a major challenge of all communities to maintain Jewish identity into the future."

Jewish identity

But whether religious or not, Jews of all stripes are proud of their identity, the Pew Research study found.

"More than nine-in-ten Jews (94 percent) agree they are 'proud to be Jewish,' the study stated. "Three-quarters (75 percent) say they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and about six-in-ten (63 percent) say they have a special responsibility to care for Jews in need around the world."

There is also general agreement on what it means to be Jewish. Exactly two-thirds of nonreligious Jews and 76 percent of Jews by religion said remembering the Holocaust was essential to being Jewish. Majorities in both groups also said leading an ethical and moral life was essential. And both groups believe having a sense of humor is more important than observing Jewish law or eating traditional Jewish foods as identifying charteristics of being Jewish.

The exception to these patterns is Orthodox Jews, 79 percent of whom say oberving Jewish law is essential to being Jewish compared with 39 percent who said a sense of humor is essential.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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