Judaism is vibrant and more accepted than ever in U.S. society, while it is experiencing a growing pluralism in Israel, according to a special report on Judaism and the Jews in the magazine The Economist (July 28).
Forty-three percent of the world’s Jews now live in Israel. Among Jewish Israelis, 46 percent define themselves as secular, but only 16 percent do not observe any tradition, according to a survey conducted in 2009. Around 70 percent of all respondents would eat only kosher food and only 6 percent considered circumcision as not important.
The arrival of immigrants from Russia marked a certain decline in attachment to religion and traditions, but as they became increasingly assimilated into Israeli society, it has started to increase again after 1999. After Israel and its 5.7 million Jews, the United States with nearly 5.3 million is the country with the second-largest Jewish population in the world. “Jewish is cool in America,” remarks writer J. J. Goldberg. People no longer want to hide their Jewish background or legacy; on the contrary, they are finding new ways to discover it. While Jews are prospering elsewhere too, nowhere is their sense of belonging as complete as in America.
There is no doubt that drifting out of Judaism is widespread in the diaspora, but there is, on the other hand, a comeback of Jewish Orthodoxy, with more than 10 percent of the worldwide Jewish population being haredi, to which 10 percent more of “modern Orthodox” should be added. About 1.1 million Jews in the United States are Reform, and an additional estimated one million would identify themselves as such.
But despite efforts to grow (such as through increasing acceptance of mixed couples), both Reform and Conservative congregations are losing members (more than 1 percent per year, according to sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College). Samuel Heilman (City University of New York) explains that Conservatives are especially vulnerable, being middle of the road and thus having members switching either to Reform or Orthodox.