Opinion

Judaism has got a lot more complex in the age of the millennials

They are rejecting the Judaism of their parents

Dave and Doreen are Jewish parents with a puzzle. They brought up their three children in the same way in a nominally Orthodox home, mixing secular education with Jewish identity.

In the age of the millennials, the Jewish landscape has got more complex.

To their surprise, the three have developed in radically different ways – with one becoming ultra-Orthodox, another rejecting Judaism and the third opting for Reform Judaism. It has led to splits not only between them and their children, but has also divided the siblings from each other.

It is unusual for such a dramatic scenario to occur within the same family, but it reflects with uncanny precision the three directions in which Jewish millennials in Britain are going right now.

The eldest is Robert – who changed his name to the more biblical Reuven and became more religious after going to university. He felt uncomfortable being away from home for the first time and being anonymous within a massive student population. He sought out the Jewish society and met a charismatic chaplain from a Jewish missionary group which tries to persuade lapsed Jews to become more observant. They are not harmful, but do have an agenda to change people, especially those they sense are rudderless. Robert was hooked and became a ‘born-again’ Jew.

The result was he married an ultra-Orthodox woman, eats only kosher food, moved to a Jewish area of Manchester and will not travel on the Sabbath. Some would regard these as sacrifices; he views them as his anchor.

He rarely sees his parents, and when he does visit, he brings his own food, while he is reluctant for his children to be in a home where religious standards are, in his mind, lax. His parents admire his commitment to Judaism, but regret that they have little in common with him any more.

Anna, by contrast, has chosen to marry someone non-Jewish. She is typical of the one in three British Jews who fall in love across the religious divide. They decided to save domestic rows and fights over the children by making their home a religion-free zone. She finds it difficult having a relationship with Robert/Reuven, as his Judaism dominates all aspects of his life, whereas hers is just a background detail, alongside her work, book-reading club and running group.

Dave and Doreen were deeply upset when she announced she was marrying out of the faith, for although they liked her partner, they saw it as an indictment of their upbringing and wonder where they went wrong. They are also very concerned that Anna’s children will not be Jewish and worry that it is part of a larger trend that might threaten Jewish continuity. To their surprise, they find it much easier to get along with Anna and her non-Jewish husband than with Robert/Reuven and his Orthodox family.

Rabbis need to both provide a caring home for those seeking religious security, but also a flexible Judaism

Jeremy has chosen a third path. He wanted to find a way of marrying tradition with modernity and so joined a Reform synagogue, which seeks to adapt Judaism to changing conditions. It is a synagogue where women are considered fully equal and not only sit together with the men (unlike the Orthodox) but can lead services and be rabbis. For him, and many young Jews like him, values such as equality and inclusivity are vital, which also applies to divorcees, single parents, unmarried couples living together and LGBT issues.

He cannot understand why his parents still belong to an Orthodox synagogue, even though they think and practise Reform. They agree that his form of Judaism is more principle-led than theirs, but feel reluctant to switch from the synagogue they feel comfortable hardly attending. The family reflects how British Jewry in general is becoming increasingly polarised, with the common factor of millennials rejecting their parents’ Judaism, but doing it in different ways.

The big question mark is which of these trajectories – becoming more Orthodox, more secular or trying to balance Jewish identity with modern lifestyle – will become the dominant one? In the meantime, rabbis need to both provide a caring home for those seeking religious security, but also a flexible Judaism for those who want to extend the borders or weave in and out. In the age of the millennials, the Jewish landscape has got more complex.

Romain
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is minister of Maidenhead Synagogue and author of Confessions of a Rabbi (Biteback, £12.99) 

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers
car washes have been highlighted as modern slavery hotspots
MAYA ESSLEMONT

We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers

Westminsterism may think it knows best – but dismantling it can help us move forward
Affected families in Westminster after the damning report into the infected blood scandal was published
John Bird

Westminsterism may think it knows best – but dismantling it can help us move forward

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how
Andrew Fennell

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how

How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss
Catherine Swire

How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know