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New study measures religious faith and actions

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John Cappucci

Likely the first study of its kind in Canada has assessed the “religiosity” of Jews in Windsor, Ont., finding a high degree of belief in God, but lower levels of practice and observance.

The study was carried out by John Cappucci, the Stephen A. Jarislowsky chair in religion and conflict at Windsor’s Assumption University, a Catholic institution affiliated with the University of Windsor. Cappucci has widely studied religions, including a major profile of the large Muslim population across the Detroit River in Dearborn, Mich.

Over the past decade, Windsor’s Jewish community comprised about 1,500 people, within an overall metropolitan population of 320,000.

Cappucci began his study in January and finished in March. He interviewed 50 community members using several indicators to determine religiosity. These gauges were: belief in God, prayer, devotion to Shabbat, attendance at temple, observing religious holidays, adhering to kosher law, observing commandments and attitudes toward death and the afterlife.

In findings released this month, Cappucci observed that 60 per cent of Windsor’s Jews had a strong belief in a supreme being, a figure he described as “surprisingly large,” given that those interviewed tended to be well-educated, a group generally less religious within a secular Canadian environment.

But when it came to religious participation in synagogue or prayer, “We didn’t get a strong” number, said Cappucci. Thirty-six per cent of respondents said they didn’t pray and 34 per cent said they prayed “somewhat.”

Likewise, a minority observed Shabbat.

“Most people say ‘I do what I want (on Shabbat),’ ” Cappucci said, with 66 per cent having no restrictions on activity. “The biggest limitation I found was shopping,” he said, adding, “certain types of chores, people won’t do.”

Most of those surveyed said they attended synagogue about 10 times a year.

“People aren’t engaged in (temple life),” Cappucci said. Participants said they can observe commandments at home, but when they attend synagogue, they “want a sense of community” or attend for a major event.

Yom Kippur may be the most holy holiday on the Jewish calendar, but Windsor Jews considered Passover the most significant, with more than 80 per cent attending a seder.

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Cappucci acknowledged there were survey gaps. For example, most of those interviewed were elderly, with few young adults participating.

As for affiliation, the largest group – 31 per cent – identified as Conservative, while eight per cent considered themselves between Conservative and Orthodox on the religious spectrum.

Throughout the study, Cappucci wondered how much belief and observance was based strictly on religion.

“It’s always a very fine line between the religious component and the cultural component,” he said.

Cappucci said it would be interesting to compare Windsor to other similarly sized Jewish communities.

“I would like to do some comparative research,” Cappucci said. “I don’t know if Windsor is an anomaly or not.”

Prior to Cappucci’s study, there had been some previous research on Windsor’s Jews, as Rabbi Jonathan Plaut, former rabbi of Windsor’s Reform temple, Congregation Beth El, wrote the book The Jews of Windsor, 1790-1990: A Historical Chronicle.

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