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Jews Are "Trading Peoplehood For Faith," Confirming ACJ View, Declares Leonard Fein

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 1998

Surveys of Jewish attitudes indicate that the majority of, American Jews view themselves as a faith community, not a "People" or ethnic group, confirming the long held view of the American Council for Judaism, writes columnist Leonard Fein in The Forward (March 20, 1998).  

A survey sponsored by the Jewish Community Centers of America found that respondents decisively agree that, "My being Jewish doesn’t make me any different from other Americans." They decisively disagreed with the statement, "I relate easier to Jews than to non—Jews," and that "I feel I can count more on my Jewish friends than on my non-Jewish friends."  

Sixty-three percent of respondents described themselves as "spiritual," 83% profess a belief in God and 68% believe that "God watches over you in times of danger." Eighty per cent "get upset when Orthodox Jews in Israel try to limit the practice of Conservative and Reform Judaism in Israel" and 83% say they are bothered "when people tell me that there’s a right way to be Jewish."  

Professor Steven Cohen, who conducted the survey, argues that measures of Jewish ethnicity decline dramatically by age whereas measures of religiosity are either stable or increase as one moves down the age ladder.  

Leonard Fein writes: "We are manifestly a changing community. People will, of course, differ regarding whether the change is positive or negative. But if Mr. Cohen is right—and the data seem to support his conclusion—the change is potentially profound, for it involves our transformation from a peoplehood into a faith community....After all these years, it seems to be the American Council for Judaism that has won the ideological argument that we are ‘members of the Mosaic persuasion’..."  

The available data, Fein notes, "cannot, comfort those of us for whom Jewish peoplehood remains a crucial ingredient of the Jewish experience, for these are precisely the items where there’s a precipitous decline by generation. If God is indeed watching over us, perhaps God will repair the developing imbalance before it is too late. Or, perhaps, we ourselves will figure out how to be equally emphatic about the full available range of Jewish understanding and expression."  

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