The identity of UK Jews rests more on ethical values and ethnic solidarity than belief in God or studying Torah
When respondents were asked what was “very” or “fairly” important to them, the top five answers out of a list of 20 were strong moral behaviour (92 per cent); remembering the Holocaust (91 per cent); feeling part of the Jewish people (89 per cent): combating antisemitism (87 per cent); and supporting social justice causes (81 per cent).
Supporting Israel came only “a somewhat modest” 11th with 69 per cent — two places below enjoying Jewish culture — while religious ideals such as believing in God (52 per cent) or studying religious texts (39 per cent) were at the bottom.
There are also clear generational differences. “Older respondents are more inclined to feel that supporting Israel is a very important aspect of their personal Jewish identity than younger correspondents,” the report states.
Support for Israel was strongest among the 65 plus, with 46 per cent thinking it “very important”; that fell to 41 per cent among the middle-aged and to 32 per cent among the under-40s.
“Some might find this surprising given the centrality of Israel in much of Jewish private and public discourse and findings from previous research,” the report says.
Among the under-40s, supporting social justice ranked higher than Israel activism; although older age groups were more preoccupied with social justice than the young.
Older age groups were more concerned about combating antisemitism and volunteering for charity than the under-40s. By contrast, younger respondents are more likely than older respondents to feel that sharing Jewish festivals with their family and keeping kosher are “very important” to them.
The under-40s are nearly three times more likely to say that believing in God is “very important” (28 per cent) than the 65-plus (10 per cent) — almost certainly reflecting the higher proportion of observant Orthodox among the young.
WHAT THE FIGURES MEAN
The findings show that religious practice is not necessarily tied to belief: in all age groups, far more value celebrating festivals with the family than believing in God.
The data does not explain why festivals are much more important to the under-40s. Among the reasons could be that parents with young children want to teach them traditions: while for singles otherwise busy with careers, spending festivals with families retains their link to Judaism.
Part of the reason is also the higher strictly Orthodox representation among the younger age group.
The “somewhat modest” support for Israel probably reflects political shifts over the past 30 years.