Rabbis split over survey revealing loss of faith

A survey suggesting that British Jews are becoming increasingly secular is deeply disturbing, say rabbis.

Three hundred Jews were among the respondents to two national YouGov polls conducted earlier this year.

The results, reported in last week’s JC, revealed that one third of British Jews said they had no religion.

Of the two thirds who did identify themselves as Jewish, 28 per cent denied or doubted the existence of God, while only a quarter attended weekly religious services.

This research must serve as a wake-up call to the leadership of the community

Rabbi Naftali Schiff, of outreach group, Aish UK, labelled the figures “deeply troubling” but acknowledged that they did not come as a surprise “to those of us who have long recognised the urgent need to address the alarming rate of assimilation”.

He said: “Identity remains strong, but religious commitment is weakening. Continuity is the first duty of every community but this time we must invest in far more than cultural identity.”

Fellow Aish rabbi Daniel Rowe said the survey “must serve as a wake-up call to the leadership of our community.”

But Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis took a more balanced view, calling the results “fascinating”.

“People identify with their Judaism in many different ways and we must be alive to this,” he said. “There is significant potential across our community for growing our engagement with our Judaism and that is extremely exciting.”

Other leading figures echoed the Chief Rabbi’s optimism, arguing that YouGov’s findings offered little insight into the true involvement of Jews within their communities.

Reform Movement Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner said: “The surveys are asking questions with language that is not applicable to Jews. We are a religious civilisation, so there are many ways that people express their Judaism.

“One of the most fantastic things about Judaism is that you can be Jewish in so many ways — going to synagogue is not the only one.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi Charley Baginsky of Kingston Liberal Synagogue argued that the surveys left little room for debate or proper analysis.

She said: “I think it depends on how you ask the question. If you ask somebody ‘do you believe in God?’, then you’re not giving them the option to explore what that really means.

“Scratch beneath the surface and I think you’d find the majority of people do believe in some way or another — they are just feeling more empowered to explore what the definition might be.”

Last updated: 8:45am, October 18 2013