Americans less religious; mixed news for Jews

Religious practices nationwide on the decline - but Jewish observance on the rise, report indicates.

Tova Dvorin , | updated: 10:55 AM

American Jews (illustrative)
American Jews (illustrative)

American's love affair with religion has waned, a Pew Research Poll revealed overnight Tuesday/Wednesday - American Jewry included. 

The center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study follows up on a 2007 poll examining religion in the US. 35,071 adults were interviewed by telephone, from June 4-Sept. 30, 2014; there is an 0.6% margin of error. 

Since then, the percentage of Americans who believe in God has declined from 92% to 89%, with a steeper decline in Americans who say they are 'absolutely certain' God exists (71% to 63%). 

Just 77% of Americans describe themselves as 'religiously affiliated,' down from 83%; 23% describe themselves as 'religiously unaffiliated,' up from 16% in 2007. 

Polarization: 'believes' and 'believe nots'

Of those who do identify with a religion, however, the numbers remain steady: 97% believe in God, the same as in 2007, and 66% pray daily - up 1% since 2007. 2% more of the religious population now say religion is 'very important' to them as well, from 64% to 66%.

And 41% of the religiously-affiliated now say they rely on religious principles to guide their moral decisions - a 7% increase. 

Meanwhile, religious practice among non-affiliated Americans has declined significantly. Just 61% say they believe in God, down from 70% in 2007; daily prayer has dropped to 20%, a 2% decrease; and just 13% now say religion is 'very important,' down 3% in eight years. 

The religion gap, overall, appears to be generational: of Millennials, just 28% attend religious services, 39% pray daily, and 80% believe in God - vs. 61%, 38%, and 92% for the Baby Boomer generation. 

What does this mean for Jews?

The Pew poll reveals mixed news for the Jews. 

Just 847 people identified as "Jewish" in the 2014 poll; of those, 35% say religion is 'very important' to them - up from 31% in 2007. Similarly, 29% of Jews attend daily prayer - up from 26%; 17% read Torah daily, up from 14%; and 16% attend religious study or prayer groups, up from 11%. 

40% of Jews believe in heaven, up 2% since 2007; 22% say they believe in hell, remaining the same. 

Belief in God is on the decline, however, standing at just 64% among the Jewish population - down from 72%. 

The winds of political affiliation have changed slightly for the Jews, as 2% more Jews identify as 'Republican' in 2014, growing from 24% to 26%. Simultaneously, 2% fewer Jews identify as 'Democratic', at 64% in 2014, down from 66%. 9% of Jews now identify as Independents.


American Jews think significantly less about the meaning of life than other groups, with 45% of Jews pondering the question - compared to 64% of Muslims, 61% of Protestants, 52% of Catholics, and 59% of Buddhists. 

70% of Jews feel a sense of gratitude daily, compared to 82% of Christians, 77% of Muslims, 73% of Buddhists, 66% of the religiously non-affiliated, and 62% of Hindus. 

Jews are least likely to read the Torah outside of a prayer service, however, with just 17% of Jews saying they do so, vs. 35% of all Americans. 

Likewise, just 11% of Jews believe the Torah is the literal word of God; 26% believe it is the non-literal word of God; and 55% believe it was written by men - rates among the lowest of all faiths.

And just 39% of Jews stated they feel a sense of 'spiritual peace' once per week - significantly lower than the American average of 59%, as well as the averages of 68% of Protestants, 64% of Muslims, and 57% of Catholics. 

However, 79% of Jews believe other religions also lead to 'eternal life' - higher than Christians or Muslims (66% and 65%, respectively).