Jewish Values: How much do religious beliefs differ? (clockwise from top): Sabbath candlesticks, handwashing cup, Chumash (Torah printed in book form) and Tanakh (the larger Hebrew Bible), Torah pointer (for use in reading Torah scrolls), shofar (ram’s horn), and a decorative box for an etrog (the large yellow citron used during Sukkot).Like Americans of all faiths, there is considerable variation in the religious beliefs and practices of Jewish Americans.

Just how much difference?
About one third of Jewish Americans (35%) consider themselves part of the Reform movement, according to the just-released survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. This movement regards Jewish law as a set of guidelines that can be harmonized with different cultures. About a quarter (26%) identify with the Conservative movement, where the term “conservative” refers to conserving Jewish traditions (not to political conservatism). Another 29% say they are “just Jewish,” referring to cultural and ethnic identity rather than religious practices and beliefs per se. Only 8% consider themselves to be Orthodox, with 1% saying they are Reconstructionist.

Like American of all faiths, religion is important in the lives of the majority of Jewish Americans. A total of 59 percent say it is the most important thing (5%), very important (22%), or somewhat important (32%).

Belief in God is a core belief in America, as we’ve discussed before, making the United States quite different from most other affluent democracies. Like Americans of all faiths, a large majority of Jewish Americans (66%) say they believe in God. About one quarter of Jewish Americans believe that “God is a person with whom people can have a relationship.” Forty percent see God as an impersonal force.

While not directly comparable, a recent Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans believe in God, with 12% saying they believe in a universal spirit.

Do you believe in God? Or a more impersonal force?

Is it possible to have a personal relationship with God?

How much variation do you see in your religious faith nationwide?

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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue.

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