Religion & Beliefs

Social Work Professor Vern L. Bengston Has The Key To Jewish Continuity

Former Evangelical Christian knows a thing or two about Jewish moms. Read More

By / February 4, 2014

It’s the million shekel question every Jewish parent, teacher, and communal leader wants the answer to: how do you get your kids—and their kids, and their kids—to keep the faith and remain in the tribe?

Vern L. Bengston, a former Evangelical Christian, is the man with the answers. Over at the Times, Mark Oppenheimer has a fascinating piece about the 72-year-old social work professor, who has spent over 50 years studying faith, families, and religious attrition rates. Bengston’s findings—the results of interviews with over 350 families from 1969-2008—were recently published in Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations.

So what’s the secret to inculcating a love of religion and tradition in your offspring? Well, it’s important that parents model endogamy, piety, and non-hypocritical observance. (Piece of cake, huh?) But more than that, it’s about Dads cultivating positive relationships with their kids. (Which pretty much explains Mitt Romney.) “For religious transmission,” says Bengston, “having a close bond with one’s father matters even more than a close relationship with one’s mother.”

But here’s the twist: with Jewish families—perhaps because of the tradition of matrilineal descent—the mother’s influence matters more. Writes Oppenheimer: “Among Jews with a close maternal bond, 90 percent considered themselves Jewish, versus only 60 percent of those who weren’t close to their mothers.”

Whatever you’re doing, Jewish moms, keep doing it.

Read the full story here.