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God and the Jewish People

Two new, unrelated surveys came out in January of this year, both here and in Israel, with very different and surprising results, to say the least. Taking and examined together, these two studies signal a major change in how American Jews and Israeli Jews believe in God; how they practice religion, and how they view democracy and pluralism. More troubling of all is that these two surveys point out a diverse progress, and a widening of the gap between Jewish people here and there. And in this respect alone, both sides should take serious notice, since this trend indicates a possible chasm in the current relationship, and complications for the future of this “marriage.”

Let’s examine it then. We’ll begin with the more comprehensive survey, as reported in Haaretz on January 7th, which was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center. Its major findings are: Some 80 percent of Israeli Jews believe that God exists, the highest figure found since this review of Israeli-Jewish beliefs began two decades ago; 70 percent of respondents believe the Jews are the “Chosen People,” 65 percent believe the Torah and mitzvot (religious commandments) are God-given, and 56 percent believe in life after death; only 46 percent of Israeli Jews now define themselves as secular, down from 52 percent in 1999, while 22 percent define themselves as either Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, up from 16 percent in 1999; 55 percent said they believe in the coming of the Messiah, while 37 percent said that “a Jew who does not observe the religious precepts endangers the entire Jewish people,” up from 30 percent in 1999; and more shocking of all—to a “sabra” who grew up in a largely secular, democratic Israel—is the finding that less than half of Israeli Jews think that, in a clash between Jewish law and democracy, democratic values should always prevail!

This is only the crux of the study, but certainly the “the rise in religiosity” in Israel, and the tendency toward a theocratic state, is very alarming. I’ve addressed this problem before here, and will address it again at the end of this article, but let’s direct our attention to American Jews first. As reported in Newsweek magazine on January 30th, under the title “Why Jews Vote Like Atheists,” only about 10 percent of Jews actually vote on Israel (in the general elections, HD), a country most American Jews have never visited. Moreover, most American Jews don’t vote as Jews at all. On many issues, in fact, they’re indistinguishable from atheists. They vote as secularists. And—hang on to your hats—according to a polling done by statistician Tom Smith for the American Jewish Committee, Jews practice their religion far less than American Christian congregates. Here are some stats: Only about 25 percent of American Jews believe in God (by far the lowest of any other race, ethnic group, etc.); Only about 5 percent of American Jews attend religious services (by far the lowest of any other race, ethnic group, etc.). I read in the small letters that this survey was conducted in 2005, and my assessment is that, like the Israeli trend but in the other direction, those numbers might be even lower now. Sound unbelievable, almost, yet—if to believe these numbers—true.

What to make of it, then? It seems clear that the majority of Israeli Jews turn their beliefs and hopes toward God and religion these days, while American Jews turn away from the Almighty and his commandments. At the same time, the majority of American Jews value most secularism, democracy, and pluralism; i.e., the rule of human law and reason. In this regard, American Jewry is more modern, European-like in its tendencies, putting the prime on intellect and education and not on God and the Torah. Israelis, on the other hand, turn ancient almost, toward a more theocratic society, similar to some of their Arab, Muslim neighboring states. I don’t worry so much about American Jews and where they are heading, though there is always the concern of complete assimilation, but I do worry plenty about Israel and Israelis, and where the road of God, religion, and belief in the coming of the Messiah will lead them.

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3 Responses

  1. Larry, you’re right: I should probably include religion and spirituality in my mission statement, since I deal with these issues anyhow. A bit unclear to me why you left Israel after so many years, if the American Jew is “spiritually bankrupt,” unless it was meant as a pun. Thanks for commenting, Hillel

    • No pun intended, Hillel.
      75% of American Jews don’t even believe in God- That’s spiritual bankruptcy………my intent is to turn those numbers around.
      There is a God. There was, is, and will be a Messiah, and his name is Yeshua. Just a casual glance of the Messianic prophesies in the Tenach is evidence that demands a verdict!
      By the way, haven’t left Israel yet- tying up loose ends.
      Larry

  2. Hillel Shalom,
    I also maintain citizenship in both Israel & the U.S. I was born in NYC and made aliyah in 1996. After almost 16 years we have decided to return to the States for the very reasons you’ve listed in your article.
    The “Spiritual Bankruptcy” of the American Jew. We leave behind a son who is a combat medic with Givati. We are hoping he will join us in November when his service is complete.
    Your ‘Mission Statement’ mentions your pledge to engage in diverse issues- political, cultural, and military affairs- you didn’t mention religious or spiritual issues, so I won’t hold you to it- BUT, if your interested in TRUTH,my website will speak for itself.
    Since “you are concerned about Israel & Israelis, and where the road of God, religion, and belief in the coming Messiah will lead them”, maybe that’s a good place to start
    Sincerely,
    Larry

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