Recently the Pew Research Center released its latest major demographic study of U.S. Jews. (See Mosaic’s in-depth discussion of the 2013 survey here.) Some of the news is familiar: the rapid growth of the Orthodox, who make 3 percent of those older than sixty-five but 17 percent of those between eighteen and twenty-nine; the rapid decline of the liberal denominations; and the expanding proportion of “Jews of no religion.” But Jacob J. Schacter, a historian and an Orthodox rabbi, sees above all reasons for worry:
Some pundits have been optimistic about the results of the study because it “is evidence of the innovative and ever-changing ways Jewish religion is practiced, not grounds for panic.” While I welcome different ways Jews connect to their Jewishness, I am concerned for two reasons. First, the study showed that many, even self-identifying, Jews are not at all involved in any way “Jewish religion is practiced,” even most broadly [defined]. Fully one-third of those who were raised Jewish are not Jewish today, either because they identify with a religion other that Judaism (19 percent consider themselves Christian) or because they do not currently identify themselves as Jews in any way.
I also wonder how meaningful even practices identified as religious can ultimately be absent any non-negotiable commitment to the notion of mitzvah, or commandedness, a concept more and more problematic in a contemporary world governed by personal autonomy and individual choice.
But most disturbing and upsetting to me is the finding in this study that 33 percent of Jews raised as Orthodox do not continue to identify with Orthodoxy as adults. . . . I personally am aware of a number of such cases and in each one of them the parents of these children are wonderful and positive role models; they have done all they could possibly do to raise their children as committed and observant Jews. But, communally, we [Orthodox Jews] need to devote much more attention to this [problem] than we have been giving it until now.
At the link below, find further analysis of the Pew study by Erica Brown, Eric Fingerhut, Efrem Goldberg, and Steven Weil.