Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Spiritual are America’s Jews?

A recent study by Steven Cohen and Lawrence Hoffman is titled:

How Spiritual are America’s Jews?

There is a good summary of the study done by Ed Case and I won’t repeat it. You can read it here

Let’s turn to the key findings that relate to our work in interfaith outreach:

* Unlike young non-Jewish Americans, young Jewish Americans are more spiritual than their elders.

* Two growing populations that are more spiritual – Orthodox Jews and “Extended Jews by Choice.” This second group, Extended Jews by Choice, is made up of Converts, individuals who did not convert but identify as Jewish, and the Adult children of interfaith couples who identify as Jewish. The combination of these three distinct groups as a single group is problematic if you are working with each of them. However, for the purposes of the study, they do share some interesting characteristics.

* Extended Jews by Choice have a greater comfort with spirituality perhaps because of their greater exposure to Christianity – a religion that is significantly more comfortable with and accustomed to God talk

* Mainstream Judaism lacks words for spirituality and spiritual experiences.

* Jews want their rabbis to talk about God, afterlife, meaning of life, individual meaning

What can we add to these conclusions from our own experience? We must ask, what does Orthodox Judaism have that we can learn from?

* Orthodox Judaism has spiritual words & comfort with God talk.

* Orthodox Judaism is not focused on pediatric Judaism but continues Jewish education through life with increasingly sophisticated views of the meaning of life and the role of human beings.

* Reflecting on the Interfaith component:

A growing segment of our population, interfaith families, want to learn more about the spiritual aspect of Jewish life as they consider how they will choose to live. We can and must engage them at a sophisticated, adult level. We are overly focused on educating the children at the risk of ignoring the needs of the adults. When we fail to reach out to people as individuals we give the impression that we only want their children. We need to value every human life beyond a person’s capacity to have babies.

Additionally, we must let Jews and non-Jews see that Judaism can have personal meaning for those who seek a life of the soul/spirit. Jews do have a God concept; in fact, a very interesting and complex array of God concepts. Jews do have ideas about the afterlife, reincarnation, resurrection, heaven – as well as acceptance of those who believe there is no afterlife, no heaven, no resurrection. As a Jew, you can believe pretty much anything and still fit within the diverse teachings of the rabbis. We do no interpret the bible literally and Judaism expects you to bring your brain to the discussion.

We have a lot to offer when we choose to provide adult education to individuals who did not receive a Jewish education as a child – whether they are Jewish or not.