(Feb. 1998) Religious Beliefs of Teenagers and Their Parents

I was struck by a number of findings in the newly released Jewish Identity and Religious Commitment The North American Study of Conservative Synagogues and Their Members, 1995-96, a project of the Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In particular I was surprised by the following concerning belief in God:

When they were asked, "How important is believing in God to your sense of Jewishness?" and overwhelming 78 percent of the b'nai and b'not mitzvah group responded that it is very important. Another 18 percent felt that it is somewhat important. Only a tiny 4 percent claimed it is not important at all. Boys and girls responded similarly.

Their parents responded differently. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "Belief in God is not central to being a good Jew," only 17 percent strongly disagreed, 37 percent disagreed and a striking 45 percent agreed or strongly agreed.

What accounts for such a strong gap between the generations on this issue? The researchers could only speculate. My guess is that today's adults never had the opportunity as students to develop a concept of God beyond that of a bearded, grandfatherly figure who awards points for being nice and who zaps folks for being naughty. So it is no surprise that this juvenile notion of God is easily discarded. But what takes its place? Apparently for at least 45 percent of adult American Jews, nothing.

A Judaism without God is a Judaism devoid of purpose and meaning, unworthy of perpetuation. Temple B'nai Abraham is striving to meet the challenge of God through the Torah studies and discussions that take place on most Shabbat mornings. In addition, our b'nei mitzvah students and their parents meet regularly to discuss religious issues together. If Judaism is to survive the 21st century, our children and grandchildren will need to have intelligent views about God. They will be looking to all of us for guidance. Will we be prepared?

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