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Survey Establishes Views of Reform Jews on Religious Education

November 10, 1953
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The 15th biennial convention of the National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods today heard a report on the attitude of Reform Jews in this country toward intermarriage, Jewish education, religious ceremonies and synagogue observances. The report, based on a survey conducted by the National Federation among members of Reform congregations, established the following facts:

1. Virtually all of America’s Reform Jews want religious education for their children. The survey revealed that 66 percent want one day a week; 22 percent two days; eight percent three days, and four percent four days.

2. Almost 75 percent want their children to be taught Hebrew; 51 percent want one day of Hebrew education a week, 34 percent two days, and 15 percent want more. Only one out of 11 American Reform Jews believe in Jewish parochial or day schools.

3. Bar Mitzvah, the traditional rite of inducting a boy of 13 into the congregation, is practiced in varying degrees in 92 percent of the Reform tamples, and 77 percent of the laymen answering the poll endorse this practice. The recently instituted rite of Bas Mitzvah for girls has spread to the extent that it is now observed in 35 percent of Reform congregations and 41 percent of the Reform Jews answering the poll endorse this practice. More than 60 percent of the Reform temples confirm their children at the age of 15 or older.

4. Eighty-four percent of the congregations light candles at Friday evening services, and an even greater percentage of the laymen, 90 percent, want this practice, Eighty-nine percent of the rabbis report that the Kiddush is sung in their temples, and 88 percent of the laymen like this practice.

5. A Friday night Torah service, a non-traditional practice, is conducted by 58 percent of the rabbis reporting, but 77 percent of the laymen reporting approve this practice.

6. Another non-traditional practice, having women assist in the religious service, is observed by 82 percent of the rabbis, and 72 percent of the laymen approve. However, in only 21 percent of the congregations are women called up to share in the reading of the Torah, and only 37 percent of the laymen approve this. A large majority believes that men should assist in the Torah service.

VIEWS ON MARRIAGE, INTERMARRIAGE AND DIVORCE

With regard to marriage ceremonies, the survey showed that 56 percent of American Reform Jews prefer that marriages be held in the temple, as against 29 percent in the home, and 15 percent in public places. Eighty-four percent would sanction a marriage of a Jew with a former Christian who has converted to Judaism. However, 53 percent are opposed to marriage between Jews and unconverted Christians.

Only 24 percent would insist upon the use of a chuppah for a wedding, and only 16 percent would ask the rabbi to wear a hat during the wedding. Forty percent would expect that a glass be broken at the ceremony. Only four percent believe that a religious divorce is necessary, in addition to a civil divorce. Seventeen percent of those replying said they would employ only a mohel for circumcision. Forty-three percent said they would insist upon a rabbi being present if a surgeon was employed.

One of the most interesting revelations of the survey is the large number of people who indicate that they attend temple services weekly. In fact, the same number of Reform Jews now attend services weekly, namely 31 percent, as attend monthly, and the percentage attending occasionally is much smaller, 26 percent, and those who attend solely on the high holidays, only 12 percent. Friday evening services are now conducted in the congregations of 92 percent of those reporting; 48 percent worship on Saturday morning, and eight percent on Sunday morning.

The survey reveals that 59 percent of Reform families say a blessing over the candles in their homes on Sabbath eve; 26 percent make Kiddush; 18 percent say grace before meals, but only four percent after meals. Only 7 percent say a prayer on awakening in the morning, but 33 percent pray at night before retiring. Only two percent use phylacteries. Only eight percent keep kosher households; 20 percent won’t mix milk and meat; 24 percent won’t eat pork, but only eight percent won’t eat shellfish.

On the Sabbath, the vast majority of Reform Jews, 88 percent, keep their businesses open, 90 percent work; 99 percent ride, and 82 percent smoke. Seventy-four percent have a seder in their homes on Passover eve, 93 percent eat Matzoh during Passover, but 59 percent also eat bread. Twenty-one percent of the Reform Jews reported that they have Christmas trees at home, but only 54 percent are opposed to this practice. On the other hand, 81 percent kindle Chanukah lights in their homes and 75 percent exchange Chanukah gifts. Forty-seven percent have m’zuzzahs on the doors of their homes.

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