In my San Jose Jewish Examiner column, I recently wrote about the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. It reported that the number of American Jews who consider themselves religiously observant has declined by more than 20 percent over the last two decades while the number of Jews who consider themselves secular has risen. This survey, which included 900 self-identified Jews, found that out of a general Jewish population of about 5.4 million around 3.4 million American Jews call themselves “religious.” (To read this particular San Jose Jewish Examiner article, click here.)
It seems this survey has gotten a lot of people talking about the differences between religious and secular Jews and religious and spiritual Jews. I noticed to day that my column was cited in a blog written by Ed Case for InterfaithFamily.com, a site I have often written for in the past. I suggest you read his blog, which includes a comment from me as well, and check out some of the other sources he cites, such as the recent Synagogue 3000 study by Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Larry Hoffman that found increased interest in spirituality among young adult Jews, and an article in Jewkey.com that includes some interesting quotes from Rabbi Brad Hirshfield of Clal.
As I commented, I’ve often said that I’m more spiritual than religious, plus I firmly believe that there are ways to make spirituality — religion, if you will — work in our lives. I’ve been known to say that Judaism has experienced a modern “exodus,” but in this case it consists of Jews leaving Judaism in search of what I call “something more.” They don’t realize that what they seek can be found within their own religion. They don’t realize that Judaism can work for them and in their lives. I was once like them…was lost and now am found.
the Jewish religion itself should not be faulted for this exodus. People leave Judaism or become secular Jews because of what is lacking in how Judaism is presented and practiced organizationally. (No problem inherently exists in the religion itself.) This affects how they practice — and live — their Judaism personally. You don’t have to be overly religious, however, to retain your Jewish identity or practice; you can become a spiritual Jew who lives their Judaism practically every day in many ways. Nor do we have to throw up our hands and simply become secular Jews with no religious or spiritual practice. We can renew our Jewish practice with creativity accompanied by respect for tradition and laws. We can find ways to make it work for us and in our lives so that we live Jewishly not only in a secular manner but in a spiritual manner.
After all, that’s what all the commandments and laws in Judaism are about anyway. Commandments are simply “connectors,” ways to connect us with God. And when we live in constant connection with God, we live a spiritual life, not necessarily a religious life. We can each find creative, energetic and practical ways to make Judaism that connecting link in our lives. We need only have the desire to do so.
Judaism long has been a religion that has changed to meet the times. Jewish Renewal offers that type of change within the religion, but you don’t have to affiliate with a Jewish Renewal organization to find that “something more” either. You can renew your religion to meet your spiritual needs. Each of us can find a practical spiritual approach to our religion so we can turn around and walk back into Judaism to find what we seek. Indeed, as I discovered, it was there all along.