Judaism and Sociology

Jews today can look to sociology of religion in addressing some of the hard questions facing the Jewish world.

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Sociologists who look at Conservative Judaism, similarly, explore why individuals choose Conservative Judaism among the many options available to them. In the recent volume, Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members, edited by Jack Wertheimer, sociologists look at why the largest number of synagogue affiliated American Jews join Conservative synagogues. How does Conservative Judaism negotiate the balance between maintaining tradition while accommodating the secular world? 

In Israel

While the sociology of American Jewry continues to develop, sociology of Israeli Jewry is much more limited. Sociologists of religion in Israel tend to be either foreign born or Orthodox, and they often do not make use of concepts and frameworks from the wider field of sociology of religion.

Ezra Kopelowitz and Yael Israel, two Israeli sociologists, explain that sociology of religion mostly looks at religion as part of the private sphere, inquiring into the ways individuals make religious choices in their everyday lives. The concepts of sociology of religion, they argue, are less helpful in Israel, where religion is so tied up with the public sphere. Sociology of religion in Israel needs to develop new concepts and frameworks to address the unique challenges facing the Jewish religion in the Jewish state.

As sociology of religion continues to develop, it can provide helpful insights into the different options Jews face today. Sociology of religion can help Jews explore the implications of increasing isolation or increasing openness to the secular world.  

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Rachael Gelfman Schultz

Rachael Gelfman Schultz holds a B.A. in religion from Harvard University, and completed her M.A. in Jewish Civilization at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Jewish educator in Karmiel, Israel.