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For Jewish Americans, Going to Synagogue Makes a Difference for Health

Does participation in the Jewish religion make a difference for the well-being of American Jews?  According to Jeff Levin, of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, the answer is yes.  JournalofReligionHealthAdults who affiliate with a Jewish religious denomination and attend synagogue report significantly better health than secular or non-practicing Jews.

Data from five large urban community surveys confirm what studies among Christians have shown for many years:  people with a strong sense of religious identity and who participate in their faith seem to do better, on average, than people without an active spiritual life.  The results of Levin’s study, which used data collected throughout the 2000s as part of Jewish community surveys from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston, were published in January in the Journal of Religion and Health.

While there have been hundreds of studies of physical and mental health among Christians and members of other faiths, Jewish studies have been limited mostly to Israelis and to smaller clinical samples in the U.S. or U.K.  These new results are provocative, according to Levin, because they are based on sophisticated surveys of over 15,000 Jewish adults living in four of the largest Jewish population centers in the U.S.  Across these surveys, affiliated Jews of every denomination—whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform—reported better health than secular, non-affiliated Jews.  Likewise, Jews who attended synagogue, at all, whether regularly or less frequently, reported better health than those who never went.

For Levin, an important next step would be to mount a national health survey of the Jewish population.  “This would provide an opportunity to dig lot deeper than what’s possible using data from existing community surveys, which weren’t really designed to assess health,” Levin noted.  “It’s fortunate that a question or two on health was included in these surveys, but we can do a lot better.”  A sophisticated national survey could also serve as a needs assessment that would provide valuable information for Jewish organizations seeking to address the health and life needs of the Jewish community in the U.S.
Levin holds a distinguished chair at Baylor, where he serves as University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, Professor of Medical Humanities, and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health.  The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion is an academic center that specializes in social research and public policy analysis on religion.