Too few Jews, Pew! What about the secular maximalists?


(JTA) — The Pew Research Center new typology of religion puts Americans into seven broad categories, ranging from “Sunday Stalwarts” (active in their faith and congregations”) to “Solidly Secular” (“hold virtually no religious beliefs”).

In between are the “Relaxed Religious” who say religion is important but don hold much with traditional practices; the “Diversely Devout” who believe in that old time religion but also psychic crystals and other new age enchantments; and the “Spiritually Awake,” who seem to believe in heaven and hell the way I believe in Marie Condo: I know I should declutter my house but it’s ain’t gonna happen.

Of course, I consider my category “professionally Jewish,” which isn’t one of Pew’s categories but really should be. I’d define it as “draws a paycheck for passing judgment on the lives of co-religionists.” And what I found most interesting about the typology is the way Jews seem to blow the whole thing up. According to Pew, “Jewish Americans are the only religious group with substantial contingents at each end of the typology.” In other words, while most Evangelicals are deeply religious, and Catholics and Mormons tend to cluster towards the believer side things, about one-in-five U.S. Jews are, ahem, Shabbat Stalwarts, and 45 percent considers themselves non-religious.

No surprise there: Every recent study shows that Jews are divided among the affiliated and the unaffiliated, the engaged and unengaged, the Alan Dershowitzes and the Adam Sandlers.  That’s a quirk of Jewish identity itself, which allows Jewishness to be defined by belief, by peoplehood, by nationality and by pursuing careers in sports-writing and becoming lawyers for the Trump Organization.

It’s why we call Judaism a family: There are people you’d really prefer weren’t in your family, but, you know, probate law makes it hard to disown them. I was told.

The Pew typology misses at least one other important Jewish category: the kind of Jew who is both highly engaged and solidly secular. I’d call this kind of Jew the “Shabbat Ironist” —  the person who goes to synagogue every week but does a lot of eye-rolling. The kind of Jew who doesn’t believe in God but will quit her synagogue board if they don’t serve potato kugel at kiddush. The kind of Jew who shows up in a ton of jokes, including this one:

Cohen’s son asks his atheist father why goes to shul. “You never pray!. You don;t even believe in God!””Because Goldberg goes to shul,” says his father. “What difference does that make?” “Goldberg goes to shul to talk to God,” says his father. “I go to shul to talk to Goldberg!

The late sociologiust Charles Liebman even had a name for this: “secular Jewish maximalist.”

Who else are we missing? Just like the SJM’s deserve their own category, allow me suggest a few more:

Seder Perennials: Attend a seder every year but insist on not enjoying it

Bagels and Lox-smiths: Fiercely traditional about choosing where they go for Sunday brunch

Media Resisters: Spiritual life is focused on finding fault with the New York Times’ Israel coverage

Spiritually Woke: Re-Tweet devastating take-downs of a political foe and call it tikkun olam

Un-Relaxed Religious: Nervous that someone will answer אמן after the beracha of הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה since it would constitute an interruption.

Diversely Frum: Thinks he lives in a multicultural neighborhood because men can be seen in leather, velvet and knitted kippot.

Jewish-Adjacent: Doesn’t identify Jewishly but enjoys suspension of alternate side of the street parking on Jewish holidays


What am I missing? Send your suggestions   elp you in your family relationships?

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