Are Jewish men losing their faith?

New Brandeis study finds that Jewish males are significantly less involved with Judaism than their female counterparts

Study co-author Sylvia Barack Fishman

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Just as Jewish women were marginalized from the centers of Jewish life for much of history, American Jewish men now feel displaced from Judaism, according to a new Brandeis University study. “Matrilineal Ascent/ Patrilineal Descent: Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life,” just released by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, finds that Jewish males, from school age through the adult years, have fewer connections with Jews and Judaism than their female counterparts. That lack of male interest shows up not only at home, with the observance of domestic Judaic rituals, but also in public religious leadership as well—making “Imah on the Bimah” the rule rather than the exception in liberal Jewish settings.

“Men invest less of their human capital into Jewishness,” said study co-author Sylvia Barack Fishman, Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis. “This is a matter of deep concern, because minority groups with high amounts of ethnic capital are much more successful at transmitting their culture to the next generation.”

The decrease in male Judaic involvement comes as women continue to take on greater roles, both public and private, within the liberal Jewish community.  “When it comes to gender equality or gender balance, contemporary American Jewish life is caught between a rock and a hard place,” said co-author Daniel Parmer, a Brandeis graduate student. “Boys and men as a group are not attracted to feminized Jewish activities and environments.”

Fishman and Parmer note that, ironically, the women’s movement—responding to great gaps in Jewish life—has created successful materials and programming for female teens, while teenage boys have often been left behind.  The co-authors suggest that initiatives more geared toward Jewish men and boys will help strengthen the frayed masculine Judaic connection.

Supported through a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent features accessible graphs and data tables, as well as a rich selection of verbatim quotes from more than 300 interviews that Fishman and Parmer conducted for the study.

Copies of the study may be downloaded on the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute website at Additional copies are available for purchase for $15, plus shipping. For ordering information please contact the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at 781-736-2064 or

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The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) develops fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender worldwide by producing and promoting scholarly research and artistic projects.
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