Survey Confirms Trend Toward Reform Embrace of Ritual

Shabbat Observance Greater in Those Under 40 and Jews-by-Choice

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 15—A recent survey of Reform Jews affirms the trends toward a greater observance of Shabbat and the embrace of traditional rituals, with the trend most visible among those who are under 40 and in Jews-by-choice.

The trend is in keeping with the major initiative announced today by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, at its Biennial convention, namely, an effort to encourage Reform Jews to observe a full 24 hour day of rest.

“Our research indicates that we have more closet Shabbat observers than we realize,” Yoffie said. He noted that many of the new trends in worship—reflected just this year with the introduction of a new prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah—were introduced to young Reform Jews by the Union.

“At our camps, Shabbat comes alive; it is a tangible, visceral experience that our kids love. In fact, ­our camps, youth groups and Israel trips have created a whole cadre of young people who are open to observing Shabbat as Reform Jews,” he said.

The online survey, taken in preparation for the Biennial convention meeting here this week, reflects the attitudes and practices of the more committed. Synagogue board members, committee chairs and professionals, and also everyone who subscribes to the daily Ten Minutes of Torah, were invited to participate. More than 12,000 people completed the survey, which was conducted by The Research Network of Tallahassee, FL.

Yoffie’s challenge is two-fold: a transformation of Shabbat morning worship, and an increase in individual observance. While the research shows that Reform Jews are generally ready to enhance their personal observance, transforming Shabbat morning worship from a private ceremony for the family and friends of the bar or bat mitzvah into a communal worship experience will likely be more difficult.

While half of those surveyed said they attend all or most erev Shabbat services, only 25 percent said they worship in their congregations on Saturday morning. In fact, even among the clergy, only 57 percent said they worship every Saturday morning.

Yoffie urged a greater observance of Shabbat because, “In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating.”

Reform Jews need to “put aside those Blackberries and stop gathering information, just as the ancient Israelites stopped gathering wood, he said. “We are asked to stop running around long enough to see what God is doing.”

According to the survey, there’s openness to his message, particularly among those who attended the convention.


Biennial attendees

I usually refrain from money-earning work on Shabbat



I try to make Shabbat a special day



I usually refrain from shopping on Shabbat



I usually attend a Torah study group on Shabbat



I attend most erev Shabbat worship



I attend most Shabbat morning worship



In addition, there’s been a marked trend toward more observance since 2001, the first year Biennial attendees were surveyed.



I usually light Shabbat candles



Being Jewish involves studying Torah



Being Jewish involves having a rich spiritual life



Virtually everyone (90 percent or more) affirmed the principal tenets of Reform Judaism, namely, that being Jewish involves leading an ethical and moral life, making the world a better place, being part of a Jewish community and marking life cycles events Jewishly.

When it came to Shabbat observance, however, differences between the age groups became more apparent. For example, 53 percent of those under 40 “try to make Shabbat a special day,” as opposed to only 36 percent of their elders. And twice as many (21 percent vs.13 percent ) say Birkat Ha-Mazon at most or some meals.

The survey also shows some interesting contrasts between those who are Jews-by-birth vs. those who are Jews-by-choice.

“We know that those who convert to Judaism are among the most committed and the most involved in our synagogues,” said Rabbi Dan Freelander, vice president of the Union. “So, as we would expect, we see a much greater tendency to be open to the ideas that Rabbi Yoffie presented today,” he said.



I usually refrain from money-earning work on Shabbat



I try to make Shabbat a special day



I usually refrain from shopping on Shabbat



I usually attend a Torah study group on Shabbat



The Biennial convention, the largest gathering of Jews in North America, brought close to 6,000 Reform Jews to San Diego. The five-day meeting concludes on Sunday.