By Terry Mattingly Modified: October 17, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: October 17, 2013

-- Among "Jews of no religion," 79 percent have a non-Jewish spouse, compared to 36 percent of religious Jews. This is crucial, since 96 percent of Jews married to Jews raise their children in the faith, while only 20 percent of intermarried Jews do so. And Orthodox Jews continue to have much higher birthrates than other Jews.

In addition to raising demographic questions about the future, the growing divide between secular and religious Jews can cause sparks in daily life, said Naomi Zeveloff of the Jewish Daily Forward. In a recent article, she noted that when Chabad-Lubavitch activists go "bageling" -- approaching New Yorkers to ask if they are Jewish -- they have an unusual way of verifying that they are on target.

One "surefire way" to know someone is Jewish, she wrote, is that "they react to your question with anger," like one subway rider who replied, "I'm not religious" when approached by Jews in typically Orthodox garb.

"If you are a secular Jew, anything goes," said Zeveloff in a telephone interview. "Many secular Jews assume that religious Jews, especially the Orthodox, don't think they are Jewish enough and that their Judaism is somehow invalid or inferior."

Jewish community leaders, said Cohen, must face a growing hole in the middle of American Jewry as "nones" surge on one side, and the Orthodox hold firm on the other. However, they can take comfort in the fact that Jews have "invented new ways to be Jewish" through the ages.

"You can be Jewish by being religious, but you can also say that you are a Jew because your politics are liberal," he said. "We have Zionists. We have secular Zionists and we have religious Zionists, we have left-wing Zionists and we have right-wing Zionists. ... Judaism has always been a kind of cottage industry."

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the project to study religion and the news.)

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at

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