For “Jews of No Religion,” Chabad Hasidism Is the Denomination of Choice

August 9, 2021 | Elliot Kaufman
About the author: Elliot Kaufman is the letters editor for the Wall Street Journal.

In the past decade, demographers have increasingly spoken of “Jews of no religion”—that is, those who identify themselves as Jewish, but claim no devotion to Judaism as such. Elliot Kaufman examines some salient facts about this group from a recent Pew Research Foundation survey:

What about those whom Pew calls “Jews of no religion”? Only 7 percent say being Jewish is very important to their lives, and it’s unlikely that number will grow in the next generation. Among married Jews of no religion, 79 percent have a non-Jewish spouse. Their children intermarry at an even higher rate. A substantial portion of their grandchildren won’t be Jewish at all.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, . . . the media director for Chabad-Lubavitch, a Brooklyn-based ḥasidic Jewish movement known for ministering to less-religious Jews, [says] he has reason for optimism. Whereas the 2013 Pew study treated Chabad solely as an Orthodox sub-denominational identity, this study asks all Jews if they attend Chabad events such as dinners, prayer services, and more. It finds impressive engagement.

Thirty-seven percent of U.S. Jews say they’ve participated in Chabad activities or services, including 16 percent who do so “often” or “sometimes.” The latter includes 25 percent of Conservative Jews, 12 percent of Reform Jews, 8 percent of the unaffiliated, and 6 percent of Jews of no religion. Considering that only 10 percent of unaffiliated Jews and 8 percent of Jews of no religion say they attend a synagogue of any kind even a few times a year, Chabad’s numbers are large.

Rabbi Seligson agrees with progressives that the less-involved “want something different.” But they aren’t looking for a watered-down Judaism. “They’re looking for something authentic,” he says. “The minute you have to go outside of Judaism to answer their questions, you’ve lost them. They don’t need a rabbi for something that’s not Jewish.”

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