April 6, 2012 | 7:25 am
A couple of years ago I wrote an article about “the Passover test” - what the Seder reveals about interfaith couples. Here’s what I wrote:
Five traditional Jewish practices are usually used as criteria in studies tasked with assessing the viability of a Jewish community: lighting Hanukkah candles, attending a Passover Seder, fasting on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), lighting Shabbat candles, and keeping a kosher home. The first two—Hanukkah-candle lighting and Seder attendance—tend to be those with the highest levels of participation among the vast majority of Jews.
This was not something I invented - it is what I learned from studies of the American Jewish community. According to the National Jewish Population Survey, 67% attend a Seder, 72% light Hanukkah candles, and 59% fast on Yom Kippur. And as I noted in the post:
The correlation between the Hanukkah-candle lighting and the Passover Seder—the two most practiced rituals among American Jews—is interesting. Hanukkah is more popular for most Jewish groups. The reason is clear: The holiday competes with Christmas. However, the more affiliated the group, the narrower the gap between these two practices. The “highly affiliated” is the only group in which Seder attendance surpasses Hanukkah candle lighting (96 percent to 94 percent, according to the National Jewish Population Survey). For the intermarried—couples with one Christian spouse—the gap between the two practices is the widest (85 percent celebrate Hanukkah; 41 percent celebrate Passover).
Enter the new Jewish Values Report 2012, and new numbers make this picture a bit more confusing (here’s my previous post on this study: The best representative of American Jewish values (guess who?). Is the Passover Seder really the most important ritual celebrated by Jews?
When asked about the most important Jewish holiday to them personally, a plurality (43%) of Jews named Yom Kippur, followed by Passover (25%), Hanukkah (10%), and Rosh Hashanah (10%).
In other words: What Jews think is important is not necessarily what they practice. Yom Kippur ranks higher but is observed by fewer Jews than Hanukkah. Hanukkah is ranked fairly low, but is observed by the many. That should not be surprise: It is easier to light a candle than to fast for a day or gather the family for the hours necessary for celebrating a proper Seder. And Hanukkah, as we all know, has the advantage of timing.
Nevertheless, 67%-68% of Jews attend the Seder (67% according to NJPS, 68% were planning to attend a Seder “this year” according to the Jewish Values study). And this is true for “majorities of virtually every demographic group” of Jews – except for one: “Just Jewish” – namely, the Jews that don’t see themselves as affiliated with any Jewish stream or denomination. Of these Jews, just 33% were planning to participate in a Seder, barely half of other Jews. 29% of American Jews, according to this study, are “just Jewish”, and interestingly, while just a third of them plan to attend a Seder, these Jews are the only group to rank Passover – and not Yom Kippur – as the most important holiday of the year.
Lessons? I’m not sure if there are any lessons to be learned from these numbers. Passover is definitely the most important Jewish holiday this week. And as I’m about to attend a Seder in Tel Aviv – in fact, I’m having one at home with a lot of family members – I wish you all a happy Passover, a meaningful Passover. Chag Sameach.
And a note to readers on our next week’s schedule: Pesach is time for family, and for travel (it is spring time). It is time for rest. So the next week will be light on posting – we are going to post some new Rosner’s Guest items, but not much more.
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