Story of the Year:
Mon, 12/30/2013
Pew Study found that 22 percent of Jews now say they have no religion. Image courtesy Pew Research Center
Pew Study found that 22 percent of Jews now say they have no religion. Image courtesy Pew Research Center

“The centre cannot hold,” Yeats wrote ominously in “The Second Coming,” in the wake of the First World War. That sentiment, applied to the fast-morphing demographics of the Jewish community, may be the chief metaphor of 2013. It’s certainly the takeaway from the Pew Research Center’s endlessly-talked-about survey of American Jewry, released in October. The survey, the first in 10 years (since the federation system stopped financing such once-a-decade surveys) found big growth at the extremes — the secular end and the haredi end. Twenty-two percent of American Jews now say they have no religion, and the “nones,” as these Jews are called, are fast growing. The Orthodox (especially the ultra-Orthodox, with their very high birth and retention rates) are also booming. The Reform and Conservative center, so to speak, is losing ground, which could lead to a very different Jewish community in the years to come. The Pew findings landed like a right cross on the community’s glass jaw. It was akin to the reception after the 1990 finding that 52 percent of all Jewish marriages in the previous 10 years were interfaith ones, which led to a wave of “Jewish continuity” projects. In the wake of Pew, there was much gnashing of teeth, and loud talk of Jews losing their faith and their Jewish affiliations. Are the “nones” lost to the Jewish community? Have the Orthodox won? Can a community with two strong ends and a weak middle long endure? And finally: What “rough beast,” in Yeats’ words, of a Jewish community “slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

Robert Goldblum