In Praise of Jewish Atheism

Paul Beatty’s 2001 novel, Tuff, features many memorable moments, not least of which is the following exchange between an African-American … Continued

Paul Beatty’s 2001 novel, Tuff, features many memorable moments, not least of which is the following exchange between an African-American Rabbi and the story’s 300-pound, drug-dealing, art-house-cinema-loving protagonist:

“God ain’t never spoken to you?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“You’re a rabbi, how can you not believe in God?”
“It’s what’s so great about being Jewish. You don’t have to believe in a God per se, just in being Jewish.”

With these words, the underappreciated Mr. Beatty calls attention to a truism that is itself underappreciated by many observers of contemporary Jewish life. A small, but not inconsiderable number of Jews have either critically questioned or denied the existence of God, all the while maintaining a thoroughgoing, self-conscious identification with Judaism.

Many of these Jews are associated with “God-optional” varieties of the religion (to use Rabbi Judith Seid’s phrase). It would be an error, however, to assume that all Jewish atheists and agnostics are concentrated within small (and quite intriguing) denominations such as Secular Humanistic Judaism. Nonbelief lurks not just in the highly evolved appendages of the Jewish social body, but within its central nervous system, if you will.

Are there atheist orthodox Jews? Sure. I have met a few. Speaking off the record, one explained his godlessness to me by reference to the slogan “All you need is Torah love.” (The use of Beatles’ lyrics is, apparently, the most effective way to enlighten dimwitted secular co-religionists)

Larger numbers of atheists and agnostics, needless to say, are to be found in Conservative and Reform Judaism. They are–let me be clear about this–a very small minority in both denominations. Still, every Jew knows of congregations (usually those in major urban centers with more affluent memberships) that harbor pockets of nonbelievers and other assorted contrarians.

Explaining the Jewish affinity for nonbelief is no simple matter. It could be argued that a handful of well-known biblical and Talmudic passages have provoked wayward heretics to speak the unspeakable (e.g., Ecclesiastes’ tendency to make God so utterly inscrutable as to raise the question of whether one should even bother living in accordance with His ethical precepts. Or, the Talmudic tractate Bava Mezia’s playful tale of rabbinic interpreters who delight God by deciding to ignore His “heavenly voice” in favor of their own powers of analysis).

Then again, maybe Jews gravitate to nonbelief because they can. Judaism has always had the damndest time silencing wayward heretics. The prolonged experience of Diaspora has prevented the far-flung Jewish people from establishing effective, centralized orthodoxies. Put differently: there is no Vatican of Judaism.

But I am less interested here in why Jews gravitate to nonbelief, than in why Jews who gravitate to nonbelief persist in identifying themselves as Jews. Some, I gather, cling to their Judaism to honor their parents. Some may remain as a way of maintaining solidarity with Jews persecuted and martyred across the millennia. And some nonbelievers may feel quite at home in a civilization that can claim Spinoza, Freud, Emile Durkheim, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and countless others, as its own

For all I know, some may stay because they can’t lay off the post-Sabbath service Manischewitz. Whatever the case may be, the persistence of Jewish Atheism points to
the existence of a laudable ethic of tolerance within modern Judaism. And it reminds us that not all organized religions are threatened by freedom of conscience.

Next Up: How Jews will Vote in 2008.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
November 6, 2007; 9:09 AM ET


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  • Mark

    “But I am less interested here in why Jews gravitate to nonbelief, than in why Jews who gravitate to nonbelief persist in identifying themselves as Jews.”Because they view being a Jew more in terms of an ethnic/cultural identity than a religion. Can the two really be seperated though?

  • Tonio

    Although I’m not Jewish, I have always read that Jewish identity involves culture and ethnicity as much as it does religion. I deeply appreciate the “laudable ethic of tolerance within modern Judaism. However, I have a public relations concern about Jewish atheism. It might be misinterpreted as confirming the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish intellectuals being hostile to religion.

  • Ray

    Wolfowitz, Perl, and itty bitty Billy Kristol are all Jewish atheists. They are also committed neo-cons who view the Middle East as the last great battleground of civilization.There appears to be an emerging Zionist movement that extends beyond Israel and includes a weird alliance of neocons, fundamentalist Christians, and traditional Zionists. I can’t wait to see all of these clowns gathered in one room (the Republican national Convention).

  • Pending

    Are we trying to pretend here that Jewish is just a religion? NOT an ethnic or racial thing?

  • Jonathan Markoff

    Yay! Finally something to call myself!

  • Jonathan Markoff

    Yay! Finally something to call myself!

  • ama

    It’s time to start thinking of Jews as members of an ethnic group, not as members of a religion. Jews lived together for many years, generally marrying within their population. During this time, Jews developed the religion known as Judaism. That does not mean that all Jews are, or have been, adherents of the religion. Similarly, Irish people can be Catholic, Protestant, or non-religious. But whatever their individual religious preferences, they are still Irish. The same can be said for Jews, another population within which you’ll find a variety of religious preferences. Once you make this adjustment in your categorization of the Jewish people, you will be better able to understand what it means to be Jewish.

  • Gaby

    Just because you renounce a religion doesn’t make you ethnically/culturally/racially anything other than you are. Being Jewish by no means makes you any more religiously aware than being American makes you a practicing Christian.

  • Henry James

    Jews are, of course, not unique in this regard.There are atheist methodists, catholics, hindus, etc.Though 90% of americans say they believe in “God”, 40% aren’t REALLY sure god exists, or EXACTLY what he (or she) does.Conceiving of the Divine is, and should be, as easy as Conceiving of Infinity. Try it. Doesn’t your mind start to hurt?

  • BGone

    Isn’t Jewish atheist a contradiction. Jewish is a religion that says there’s a God? Shouldn’t that be Israelian atheist or something like that? Hebrew maybe? Israeli/Hebrew isn’t religion while Jewish is a religion? Israel isn’t a theocracy is it? Wasn’t planned that way but that’s how it’s turned out?Israelite – builder, pyramid in particularMaybe religion is beside the point, some kind of social ailment?

  • BGone

    Thinking about god/God, infinity and If I didn’t know better I’d swear the drug manufacturers are behind religion. Create a market and fill it, the tried and true road to financial success. You don’t suppose insecticide makers farm bugs for distribution to their customers. Dope dealers pass out free sample so I’ve heard.

  • Will

    Maybe we should make a distinction between believing in god and believing that it is a good thing to believe in god. People in the latter category may or may not believe in God, but they think it is a good thing if you can do it. Not that this is what all practicing Jewish Atheists are doing. I think they miss the cultural aspects and the community too much to give it up.I went to Catholic School for 13 years and come from a Catholic family. I don’t believe god exists, and am agitated by the roadbloacks religion has placed in front of scientific understanding. But when I’m home for Christmas I go to Christmas Mass with my family, sing Christmas songs, etc. because that is what I always did as a child and it reminds me of that time in my life. It also makes my mother so happy (of her five catholic-educated children, four are now atheists). Who knows what my wife and I will do when we have kids.

  • E Favorite

    I always thought a lot of Jews are atheists because a lot of Jews are smart. Reading through the Hebrew bible (aka the Old Testament), it’s hard not to see those stories as myth. Also, who would want to worship a bellicose, vengeful God like that?Still, I see even some atheist Jews clinging to the Exodus myth as real, even though it’s been refuted by respected archeologists and the complete lack of evidence in Egypt and the Sinai is accepted by the Jewish hierarchy. I think it would take just one generation of Jewish parents and clergy telling kids that this story is myth, not fact, for this misperception to be cleared up.

  • E Favorite

    Will: “Who knows what my wife and I will do when we have kids.”here’s an idea – celebrate the good parts of the holidays – sing songs, decorate trees if you want, eat cookies, give gifts, kiss under the mistletoe (not christian in the first place) and just leave belief in a supernatural being out of it. not needed to enjoy traditions with family.

  • BGone

    Will:I’m giving odds you send your kids to Catholic school. It’s easier to shake the god thing than “public schools are no good.” And your kids will want to go to Notre Dame too.

  • Chris Everett

    The Jews are an ancient Arab tribe that have persisted as a tribe due to their relentless tribalism. I see nothing of value in tribalism. It is one of the great evils of the world. It is the basis of an us vs. them mentality (seen in spades in Judaism) which in turn is a prerequisite for war.It’s much better to identify with humanity as a whole, embracing the contributions made by people regardless of origin. This way, although one may take special pride in the accomplishments of one’s direct ancestors or ancestral community, but one need not feel any compulsion towards apologia for their ills. One need not carry any kind of ancestral chip on one’s shoulder. One need not feel deserving of someone else’s land. One need not consider others as less human. One need not reject love, marriage or family on the basis of tribal identity. One need not foster resentments.I’m not Jewish, but I admire the contributions to an atheist world made by atheist Jews. I’m a huge fan of Einstein. But Jewish identity is a poison. Not because its Jewish (I anticipate accusations of antisemitism) but because it’s exclusionary, separatist and narrow. Identify with principles. With accomplishments. Not with tribes. That’s the lowest form of identity. It’s identification for no good reason at all.

  • ama

    “BGONE” says that “Israeli/Hebrew isn’t religion while Jewish is a religion?” I think that the adjective “Jewish” ordinarily refers to the ethnic group or community. It only refers to Judaism when the context of the discussion is about religion, e.g., Jewish prayers, rituals, holidays, etc. Otherwise, “Jewish” refers to an ethnic group, which should be viewed as distinct from the religion of Judaism. It is non-Jews, rather than Jews, who are so focused upon this one “manifestation” of Jewish culture, its religion, that it is sometimes hard to see that Jews are a distinct people.

  • ama

    For “Chris Everett”:So what do you want members of the world’s identifiable ethnic groups to do, ignore their ethnicity? If all ethnic groups did so, and identified with “principles” instead, would that eliminate the bad things you associate with “tribalism”?

  • BGone

    Chris Everett, ama:If Jews are a race and not a religion then how can people convert to Judaism. Do like the comedian who went to Tiajuana and got a “race change” operation, Italian to Japanese only French for example to Jewish?The mangling of the three words, Israelite, Hebrew and Jew has led to a great deal of misunderstanding to say nothing of making Jews unique by being three races, like the trinity, three races in one divine race or something.Not only that, Jews have lived all over the world and intermarried with other races. Check out the broad spectrum of skin coloration and other racial features at the synagogue. Calling Jews a race is like calling Americans a race but not quiet so pronounced. Then there is the “star of David” required by law on the blouse to identify Jews in Nazi Germany. Why if they’re all that different?

  • Thomas Baum

    TO HUMANITY:The Jews are a people, the chosen people. They are not a race or a religion. They were chosen by God, I AM WHO AM, for God to make an entry into this world and for Him to be able make it into adulthood by the obedience of a few to protect Him. Since this is so simple and outrageous, a lot of people find it hard to believe that God needed our help to do what God, Who became a Man, came to do. God-Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, then offered an invitation to us to, “Come follow Me”. If you read and ponder the preceding, you might notice that there might be more to being a Christian than just saying that Jesus is Who He is. I for one am glad that God has a Plan and that God’s Plan will come to Fruition. Yes, God is a Trinity, and God-Incarnate, Jesus, said that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all Truth, Thank God for that, since a lot of people that know God’s Name don’t seem to know anything else about Him. I am just a messenger, the New Testament Moses, and I am here to tell you that God wins, satan loses, a tie is unacceptable. God is also a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof. Also, it is important what you do and why you do it and also what you know. Take care, be ready, night is coming but so is the dawning of the seventh day, see you in the Kingdom. Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • ama

    BGONE: “If Jews are a race. . . .” It appears that you have some misunderstanding of key terms. I recommend that you review the Wikipedia entries for the following words — race, ethnicity, Jews — so that you can obtain an understanding of how these terms are used.

  • Chris Everett

    AMA:I don’t think there’s any reason to ignore one’s ethnicity. Like E FAVORITE implied at 1:40, there’s much pleasure to be had in tradition and custom. But I see a difference between a sentimental enjoyment of tradition (I get a Christmas tree every year) and IDENTIFYING oneself AS a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, an American, a Black, etc.It seems to me that one of the most important directions that history is taking us in is that of increasing inclusion. In much of the world, village no longer fights village. Florence no longer battles Siena. England no longer battles France. Massachusetts no longer battles Virginia. When tribal affiliation is put above more transcendent forms of identity, hostility results.I guess the litmus test for tribal affiliation is whether or not one treats “outsiders” as if they were “insiders”. If they are considered unfit for marriage or the front of the bus then the test has been failed.On another note, you write:”So what do you want members of the world’s identifiable ethnic groups to do, ignore their ethnicity?”We are ALL members of identifiable ethnic groups (well, many people are confusing mixtures, which is great) and I for one have never seen any reason to identify with mine (even though it’s the best!)Lastly, ethnic exclusiveness precludes life’s greatest pleasure – tutti-frutti booty!

  • Jihadist

    Mr. Jacques Berlinerblau :)You raised a topic that is peculiar and particular to American Jews – believers or otherwise. Saying one is Jewish but not believing in Judaism the religion/faith/belief is like someone wanting to have his cake and eat it too. Or someone wanting to celebrate Diwali but not believing in Hinduism. This perplexed me. Saying one is Jewish (as in cultural or ethnic identification) and then being or saying one is agnostic/atheist/freethinker is a bit of a stretch. Surely you are aware, if you go to Israel, of the real racial and cultural diversity of Jews there -from Eastern Europe, from North Africa, from East Africa, from Iran, India and even China to name a few. And there is this puzzling proclamation – “I’m half Jewish”. This is like saying “I’m half French” or “I’m half Japanese”. I have never heard of anyone saying he’s half-Hindu or half-Buddhist. Undoubtedly, I am way behind the trend of American Jews, whatever their belief or non-belief, to co-op a similar “ethic-cultural” identification as a distinct group in the US as the Hispanics and African-Americans do, with their own distinctive sub-culture or culture, regardless of their beliefs. If so, is American Jewish ethnic-cultural heritage restricted to Sephardim and Ashkenazi (hope I got both spellings right) Jews? A Jewish heritage that is essentially informed by European history and culture? By the history of their discrimination and persecution?Or do they call themselves Jews, in spite of being agnostic/atheist/freethinker or Jews for Jesus, because they love the literature of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth et al, and use terms like schmuck and oy vey, like eating bagels and lox, chopped liver, pastrami on rye etc? If that is being Jewish, then, so am I then. Yes, like you, I am less interested in the nonbelief of some who has practicing or believing Jewish ancestors and family members, but as to why Jews who gravitate to nonbelief persist in identifying themselves as Jews. Whatever they may say, American Jews have found the real Promised Land – it is the United States. There are more freedom in America than in Israel. If you are Jewish and a “secular” one at that, try getting married in Israel not by a Jewish rite. As for your conclusion, ” that it reminds us that not all organized religions are threatened by freedom of conscience”, it may be so, but I am now seriously thinking that surely one is not simply cannot co-opting one’s ancestors’ heritage simply because it is trendy. It would seem that every non-believing Jew who said s/he is Jewish as a way of honouring his or her persecuted and martyred ancestors, are, in fact, insulting and dishonouring them in the worst way. Their ancestors were discriminated and persecuted were because of their Jewish beliefs that their descendants who now rejected their faith identifies themselves with in a seemingly convulated way. Are we to forget that Jews became a more culturally distinct group because of not only the tenets of their faith, but ghettorisation and non-mainstreaming for centuries because of it? A people kept apart because of their beliefs always develop their own culture that has nothing to do with with their religious beliefs too. Do American Jews wants to be a distinct cultural group (for non-believing Jews and believing Jews), or Do they want to be part of the mainstream (which they already are), or Do they want to invoke their Jewishness in specific situations to be seen as the inheritors of a deeply wronged people? Yes, I am most sceptical of non-believing Jews who claimed to be Jewish. This is intellectual dishonesty, convulated rationalisation, mental gymnastic of the worst kind. No amount of books on Jews as a cultural or ethnic group is going to convince me otherwise.Better to honour the non-believing Jews of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries who called themselves and are correctly called atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, and most preferable, secular humanist, or as Germans, French or Russian. A Spanish Jew has more in common with Spaniards than a German Jew who is deeply infused with and involved with German culture, or as they call it, “civilisation”. And there’s Isaac Asimov, the “Jewish” secular humanist, or as he call himself, humanist. He’s also first and foremost, an American. But hey, I met an American woman before, who look white to me, is fairer than tanned Jennifer Aniston and has grey green eyes, who insisted that she is an African-American. Turns out it was her great-grandmother who’s an African American. And she’s into Motown and Toni Morrison and Bessie Smith. So am I. Does that make me an African American too? In the end, of course, who one is is what one calls oneself. It may be real pride in the heritage, the culture of any given person one respect among one’s ancestors and as a way of honouring and respecting that person, but one answer that is never said out loud is, political. If one can get what one wants by stating one is handicapped, or gay, and yell discrimination if one can’t get it, why not flog that?As a woman, Asian (half actually) and Muslim, I’ve seen how women, Asians and Muslims use their gender, race and religion to put racists, sexists and other bigots in a spot, and deservedly so. And as everyone knows, the most vilified group of people right now are the white male Christian. They deserve some slack for all the problems of racism, sexism and bigotry in the world. And I can’t believe I’m saying that here :) Thank you and best regards”J”

  • ama

    Jihadist: “And there is this puzzling proclamation – “I’m half Jewish”. This is like saying “I’m half French” or “I’m half Japanese”. I have never heard of anyone saying he’s half-Hindu or half-Buddhist.”The reason you find this puzzling is that when you hear or read the term “Jewish,” you think of a member of a religion. That’s why “half-Jewish” sounds odd to you. But if you think of being Jewish as being a member of an ethnic group, like being French or Japanese, than being half-Jewish makes sense.The Jewish people have an identifiable history, culture, language(s), genealogy, and religion(s?) — just like the French, Japanese, Scots, Russians, Welsh, etc. So there is ample reason to consider Jews as members of a distinct ethnic group. The importance of the main religion, Judaism, to non-Jews is no reason to view Jewish identity as being of the same nature as Hindu or Buddhist “identity.”

  • BGone

    ama:No problem. But how can I be sure they got the defs correct? Language drifts. Words change meaning. Example: Satan and Lucifer have been merged together when they’re not even in the same league, Lucifer the fallen angel and Satan the accuser. Leaves us questioners wondering if there’s something sinister afoot.What did the three words, Israelite, Hebrew and Jew mean 3,500 years ago when Moses led 12 tribes of “Israelites” to the desert? Odd huh? 12 tribes? All called Israelites. Why? What DID the word mean then? Not what HAS the word come to mean now.Today we’ve “assumed” Israelite means Jews because Josephus wrote that Israelites are the source of Jews. Odd huh? Jews are people from Judah. 12 tribes of people? Nonsense!Moses was born of a Hebrew woman? Why not an Israelite woman? Would a Jew woman do? At least it was a woman. That was a close one. Moses was almost born of something else.Ancient documents are easy to read while what they say is impossible to correctly understand without taking into account language drift. Dictionaries give contemporary usage and maybe some hints at past meanings. For the purpose of reading both ancient documents and technical ones as well, dictionaries are useless.

  • Jihadist

    Jacob Josevz (and other practicing and/or non-believing Jews)You’re messing my simple mind again, given you are the Esperanto on belief among On Faith posters – the “All You Need is Love Crowd” to end all evil in the world.What do you think of “The Thirteen Principles of the Faith” that Moses Maimondines came up with in his “Commentary on the Mishna” that sums up what makes a Jew, well Jewish in belief and become part of the Jewish heritage and identity? What do you think of Moses Mendelssohn?What do you think on what Count Clermont-Tonnerre said in 1789 before the French Assembly?What do you think of Karl Marx’s essay, “On the Jewish Question”? What do you think of Asher Ginzburg?What do you think of the Philadelphia Platform of Reform Judaism? All these, (and much, more more than I mentioned here), have important significance on Jewish identity and Jewishness discussed here – a very important lesson on the human spirit and will, survival, cultural heritage and sociology. Thank you.”J”

  • Brian

    JihadistHow ridiculous.Don’t you see that that’s your perspective on the race that you and people like you,love to envy and hate.

  • BGone

    The Jewish people have an identifiable history, culture, language(s), genealogy, and therefore they can get a whopper jr off the value menu at Burger King for a dollar while everyone else is charged a buck. Medal of honor winners enjoy the same benefits.The “identifiable history” of Jewish people that separated them from other common bundles relies on a document that’s a prove hoax. It just plain didn’t happen that way. Judah was occupied by a foreign power since history has been recorded until, 1947. Since that time there has been an “identifiable history” of Jewish people assuming all Israelian are Jews. Something wrong with calling the country by it’s original name, Judah thus eliminating a lot of confusion? Not really in territory Judah?

  • Cornell Jaray

    Why do we atheist/agnostig/ignostic Jews still persist in calling ourselves Jewish? First there is the sociological answer: That an individual is what he/she is labeled by society.But don’t get me wrong — many is the time, while trying to explain Humanistic Judaism, that the question isn’t thrown back at me: ” How you consider yourself Jewish and not believe in God.Also, it should become more of a practice, when describing most Jewish non-believers, to use the apt term coined by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine: Ignostic. Meaning that one cannot know whether there is or is not a god; if there is not then that ends the discussion; but if there is then the existence of this god is of no relevance to mankind or to the physical universe. This leaves wiggle-room for those who believe in the Aristotean/Thomistic First Cause. Once the first cause did its job of causing it went on permanent holiday.

  • Jihadist

    AMAI do understand the cultural identification of Jews due to common religious heritage, shared history and experiecences over the centuries. Yet, nationalism trumps religious or ethnic identification by culture or religious beliefs. A French Jew says he’s French, not Jewish. A Russian Jew says he’s Russian, not Jewish. Only when he want to migrate to Israel do he say he’s Jewish even if he’s a not practicing or God believing Jew. Nationality comes first, not religious belief. I know a French Jew (secular or practicing) identifies himself with French culture, not American. Of course, on Zionism, a French Jew may or may not share the same sentiment as an American Jew, nor do American Jews have the same sentiments on Zionism with other Jews. BrianOy vey, that is stating the obvious. Of course Muslims the most vilified group by everyone from Hindus to atheists – we are, we are told incessantly, the group that is the greatest threat to civilisation and will cause the end of civilisation as we know it. That we already know. Thank you for reminding anywhere. Irony, sarcasm and satire, even fifth rates ones, passes you by. Never mind. By the way, I am into theomania. I am an unrepentent believer of God. Call me what you want – insane, moronic, idiotic, delusional. I can live with that. LOL Best regards”J”

  • Cornell Jaray

    Why do we atheist/agnostic/ignostic Jews still persist in calling ourselves Jewish? First there is the sociological answer: That an individual is what he/she is labeled by society.But don’t get me wrong — many is the time, while trying to explain Humanistic Judaism, that the question isn’t thrown back at me: ” How can you consider yourself Jewish and not believe in God.Also, it should become more of a practice, when describing most Jewish non-believers, to use the apt term coined by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine: Ignostic. Meaning that one cannot know whether there is or is not a god; if there is not then that ends the discussion; but if there is then the existence of this god is of no relevance to mankind or to the physical universe. This leaves wiggle-room for those who believe in the Aristotean/Thomistic First Cause. Once the first cause did its job of causing it went on permanent holiday.

  • Ba’al

    I was once accused of being anti-Semitic because of my on-line name. But who other than a secular Jew would pick a name like Ba’al?

  • Eva Goldfinger

    Glad to read this article. Not Judaism, but the rabbis did in fact try to stop heretics through a very effective method called ‘excommunication’. In past societies where Jews were outsiders and their lives vulnerable, being excommunicated from your community was literally dangerous to your life so to a degree they succeeded in silencing heretics.

  • Eva Goldfinger

    Glad to read this article. Not Judaism, but the rabbis did in fact try to stop heretics through a very effective method called ‘excommunication’. In past societies where Jews were outsiders and their lives vulnerable, being excommunicated from your community was literally dangerous to your life so to a degree they succeeded in silencing heretics.

  • Jihadist

    Ba’alI’ve been missing you! Good to see you again. But too bad now I have to get to work. Different time zone. Hope for more enlightening posts here on Jewish identity to read if and when I’m free today – for some clarity on what it means to be Jewish in the US now, whether as secular Jew, or practicing Jew, or Reformed Jew, or Hasidic Jew, or Orthodox Jew and others I don’t know of.Warmest regards as ever. “J”

  • Anonymous

    Jihadist,I am not sure secular/atheist Jews WANT to be anything in particular, but our immediate ancestors share a fairly common history, and we can’t help knowing something of their stories. Those of us whose parents and grandparents shared certain experiences are likely to have heard the same stories growing up. That is pretty much all it takes to make a tribe, one that is pretty loosely tied together. (The Visigoths in Europe were unlikely to be more tied together than that). This particular cultural millieu has had a large impact on larger American culture (art, literature, music, science, etc.). The old customs make nice reasons for family get-togethers. That doesn’t mean that all members of this group believe the magic mumbo-jumbo that goes with pretty much all religions. I for one find it absurd and yet fascinating. Having said that, I can’t help agreeing to some extent with commenter Chris Everett who decried tribalism as a frequently negative force on the planet. I am pretty sure Richard Perle and William Kristol are atheists. I guess they are members of my “tribe”. They are exhibit #1 for how tribalism is evil.

  • Anonymous

    Cornell Jaray:The other 75-80% goes to everyone else. Sorry your gang came in so low.I’ve heard that one of your group made it all the way to God. Maybe you should push that instead of Nobel Laureates. You don’t believe that? Too bad. Jesus must have been a rotten apple? Only takes one to spoil the whole barrel.

  • Ralph Lauren (Lipshitz)

    Kind of ridiculous to take pride in something you had no choice over.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    “Explaining the Jewish affinity for nonbelief is no simple matter.”Actually, it is a simple matter.As my mother explained to me as I headed off to an esteemed college in Massachusetts 54 years ago, “Those Jewish boys are really smart.”In college, it was not just that “some of my best friends were Jews”. Most of them were. They were all very smart, and all were highly aware of their identity as ethnic Jews.And, as far as I could tell, not one of them was religious or believed in any kind of a god. And as far as I can tell today, not one of them has ever changed his mind.I think their lack of belief is because of their intelligence. But there may be another reason, which you didn’t mention: ever hear of the Holocaust?

  • Henry James

    I recently went to Israel on holiday with an Atheist Jewish Friend.We went to a comedy club while there, where the comedian was telling jokes in Hebrew.The crowd was laughing uproariously, and my friend was laughing uproariously too.Knowing he understood no Hebrew, I said to him “What are you laughing at? You don’t understand a word he’s saying.”With a wave of his arm he indicated the crowd and said “I trust these people.”

  • BGone

    Ralph Lauren (Lipshitz) said, “Americans would never stand to be taxed so money could be sent to the Vatican.”Ralph, you been living in a cave somewhere? The Vatican takes billions out of the country every year and it’s TAX DEDUCTIBLE. Every American de facto pays taxes to the Vatican, at *tax exempt* tax collection places known as churches.Should FEMA dish out money to rebuild churches lost in natural disasters like Katrina? Has FEMA dished out money to rebuild churches lost in natural disasters like Katrina? Is FEMA done dishing out tax dollars to churches, ministries that supported Bush yet? Try in the neighborhood of 4 billion dollars.As for the country of Judah, the world can’t come to a proper end until it’s residents return home. Repent. The end is near.Thank God the Bible is a proved hoax. Now if only the governing body can take a que.

  • Jihadist

    Eva GoldfingerThanks for your post. You stated ” When I ask them why they go to synagogue to pray to a God whose existence they are question or do not believe in, they say they go for ‘community’ not for prayer”. Can I take it that they feel they are still facing overt and covert discrimination in the US, to go to synagogues/temples for “community” not prayers for group support? ————————————————–AnonymousThank you for your post too.You stated: “Having said that, I can’t help agreeing to some extent with commenter Chris Everett who decried tribalism as a frequently negative force on the planet. I am pretty sure Richard Perle and William Kristol are atheists. I guess they are members of my “tribe”. They are exhibit #1 for how tribalism is evil.”Tribalism of the worst kind is nationalism. We can be adherents of the same religious beliefs, but that never stops us from warring with one another. As for the neocons, such as Perle and Kristol, it does not matter if they are atheists or not. Only their foreign policy matters. Bush, Cheney and Rice are not atheists. ————————————————-Norrie HoytYes, Mr. Berlinerblau did skip the whole Shoah in also responsible for forging modern Jewish experience and identity. There’s a whole “Holocaust theology” too. As for whom are the smartest people, in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is the Chinese who are regarded as the smartest people and resented by other groups. My father always tells me the Chinese are really smart. We don’t have many Jews to say they are smart or to believe they have hooked nose and webbed feet and such. I don’t really think the lack of belief among Jews is not because of their intelligence, but because of necessity and history of assimilation and to be mainstreamed over centuries and more so in the last four hundred years. Minorities always lose their group identities faster. Count Clermont-Tonnere, in 1789, said to the French National Assembly: “One must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation but one must give them everything as individuals; they must become citizens.” That’s the price for Jews, in being accorded French citizenship, has to abandon their collective Jewishness. We tend to forget the history of the Jews in Europe that led them to subsume their religion and Jewishness, change their names or to convert to Christianity to be accepted. Some would not out of desperation and for survival. ————————————————–Henry JamesGood story and a scary one on trust. I should trust all my fellow fellow Indonesians, Malaysians or Muslims just because they are my cultural brethens. I doubt your friend would be laughing so much if he really understood what was said in Hebrew by that comedian.:) We have blind love, and now we have blind trust. Here’s a joke I heard from a Palestinian friend years ago:”The Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is like the art of photography. Just shot them and see what develops.”Of course, Palestinians would laugh at that joke, and Muslims too. But I am not too sure about Israelis and Jews (both practicing and self-identified even if they don’t believe in God). I suppose your atheist Jewish friend would not laugh at it because he “trusted” one people and not the other, regardless. Thank you and best regards”J”

  • Henry James

    Jihadistpoignant and appropriate for you to remind us of the underlying complexities of humor.yes, mine was clearly a joke about tribes. and every tribe implies a non-tribe.the idealists, like me most of the time, dream of a day when we will all be the human tribe.i know it’s crazy and romantic. but some today achieve it more fully than others. the classic examples, Gandhi and King, did indeed have a developed consciousness and spirituality that was close.peace and love

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    The Jihadist noted: “By the way, I am into theomania. I am an unrepentent believer of God. Call me what you want – insane, moronic, idiotic, delusional. I can live with that. LOL” Actually, that describes all “red neck” religious of any race or burqa (like The Jihadist) who have been Bred, Born and Brainwashed in Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. Contemporary Islam is however taking the lead in insanity, idiocy and delusion as evidenced by the 24/7 koranic, bloody, Shiite(Iraq) vs. Sunni(Saudi Arabian “Wannabees”) civil war in Iraq.

  • daniel

    I may be incorrect, but this problem does not seem so difficult. A person can be a Jew and atheist with no contradiction because the person is taking “Jew” to mean the people to which he belongs rather than “Jew” as in religion. In fact to most people I believe “Jew” means a people rather than religion–otherwise a nation such as Israel would have difficulty explaining why precisely a religion rather than people must be located in precisely a particular part of the world and no other–not to mention why precisely a religion must be protected by so many nuclear weapons. Or to put it another way, if the Jews want to insist on being a religion rather than particular people then all Catholics should be as welcome to Italy as all Jews are to Israel. Furthermore, the vatican deserves to be protected by nuclear weapons. Of course people can convert to Judaism, but Judaism is not as popular as other religions and it is a serious question if Jews would allow so many to convert that the concept of Jews as a particular people would disappear. Israeli Jews are having problems because converting all Muslims to Judaism is virtually the same as all Jews converting to Islam: the loss of Jews as a people. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but it seems to me rather self-evident. Furthermore as religions decline in power we will have more and more simply peoples and their backgrounds against the modern world. This means the peoples with fewer numbers will feel the pressure the most to assimilate and will resist this process. Hopefully we will all agree to just come together as one human race and create identities which are inclusive rather than exclusive. I hope I have not offended anyone as this is a sensitive topic and of course I welcome criticism. In fact I will deliberately not reply so as not to arm wrestle an opinion and will just allow a multiplicity of opinions to form on this question. But I do believe we all have to put aside racial/ethnic/religious identification and somehow just move on to more effective ways of identifying ourselves.

  • Jeff

    A timely piece on a much-ignored slice of our culture. I am one of the Jews referred to in this piece by Mr. Berlinerblau. I grew up in an intellectually open tradition of Reform Judaism and always had my doubts about faith, even as a child. I am still trying to be comfortable with my beliefs and not feel guilty about contributing to the wasting away of Jewish faith. However, I will always feel very Jewish– particularly as long as there are so many Jew-hating bigots among us. I work in a “professional” environment and I hear blatantly bigoted comments about Jews frequently here in Washington, D.C. Thanks to Mr. Berlinerblau for acknowledging that we secular Jews exist and that we are not evil. On the contrary, I have a highly developed and very active sense of morality and I conduct myself accordingly.

  • E Favorite

    Jeff: “…we secular Jews exist and that we are not evil.”Was there ever any question? Interesting, because I’m realizing that to me the term “secular Jew” has always been positive, or at least neutral – and that there is no equivalent term for Christians. I guess this is because Christianity is only a religion and does not also represent a specific ethnicity. Maybe I’ll try out the term, given the opportunity. If asked my religion, I’ll say, “I’m a secular Christian.” And see what happens. Will people brush it off, or ask what that means? And how will they react when I tell them it means someone raised Christian who still listens to the music and participates in some of the traditions, but doesn’t believe in God or that any of the founding stories of the faith are factual? I can hardly wait.Meanwhile, Jeff – back to you – What’s your position on the Exodus story? Are you aware that it’s myth? Do you accept it as such?

  • Jeff

    “Are we trying to pretend here that Jewish is just a religion?NOT an ethnic or racial thing?

  • Jeff

    “Are we trying to pretend here that Jewish is just a religion?NOT an ethnic or racial thing?

  • Jeff

    “In fact to most people I believe “Jew” means a people rather than religion–otherwise a nation such as Israel would have difficulty explaining why precisely a religion rather than people must be located in precisely a particular part of the world and no other–not to mention why precisely a religion must be protected by so many nuclear weapons.”

  • Jeff

    “The Jews are an ancient Arab tribe that have persisted as a tribe due to their relentless tribalism. I see nothing of value in tribalism. It is one of the great evils of the world. It is the basis of an us vs. them mentality (seen in spades in Judaism) which in turn is a prerequisite for war.”

  • ender

    The regular posters are probably sick of this but I’m curious how an ‘atheist/Jew’ might view this hypothesis, and we seen to have a veritable truckload of ‘em on this thread. BTW this general approach to the creation of the Abrahamic religions has a good deal of support amongst cultural anthropologist, but the value judgments are mostly my own.History of Abrahamic Religion101.A/Ibrahim(not his name yet) was a priest of the Sumerian deity EL. His tribe was small and had maintained a separate culture from many of the other followers of the Sumerian Trinity of Gods, so as a tribal leader, he declared a revel elation from El(as in Israel -chosen of God, and Daniel – beloved of God) that the tribe could take no other God before HIM, El, and by the way, never say or write MY NAME again, except in a code understood only by the priesthood, so we can forget about that whole EL/Triumvirate thing. Abraham was a capable leader and warlord, and his tribe prospered. The priesthood he founded included much of the Sumerian religions myths of creation and the flood into their repertoire and maintained their ‘secret’ knowledge of the Sumerian calendar and astrological systems to keep themselves in position of power. They taught their tribe cultural racism and apartheid, but allowed enslaved and captured women to bare legitimate children, to avoid the inbreeding that even prehistoric humans knew, led to birth defects. So….slavery was ok, but not of your close neighbors, because that might defeat the purpose – diversity of the gene pool.This tribe maintained its genetic and cultural uniqueness very successfully. The shared religion allowed leaders to exhort them to martial ferocity, when wronged, or to take some other tribes property and land. Remember the time they were supposed to kill every living thing in Canaan and make the land theirs? It took uncommon will, devotion, and brutality for such a small tribe to conquer a larger more technologically advanced civilization such as the Canaanites. This cultural bigotry served them well for over a thousand years. It also made them a universally hated tribe.So, after they have been defeated and displaced several times, and finally completely conquered by the Romans, a group of radical Jewish rabbis, Zoroastrian priest, and Roman Freethinkers, used the local stories about a Jewish Rabbi/carpenter, embellished them borrowing heavily from the messianic traditions of Judaism which were stolen from the Sumerian religion, created the Christ myth. It took them quite a while, and they didn’t get around to recording all of this until decades after the events supposedly had taken place. But…it is much easier to make up events after the fact, when the people who were there/then aren’t around to dispute the ‘facts.’ A few hundred years after that, a learned merchant that lives a life of leisure due to marrying a much older but wealthy widow, studies the Jewish religion, and realizes its real problem is its exclusivity. So he copies large parts of it, and creates a religion that invites everyone to join. In fact it often insists. He keeps the most holy spot in his homeland though, and discourages translations from the Arabic, so his tribe maintains Top Dog First of the First status. The End of Time myth involves a leader, or Great Caliph, that can really only come from his tribe. So, in typical tribal fashion, members of the other powerful and rival tribe in the region, the Persians, claim the Arabic descendants have gotten it wrong, and they are the true carriers of the flame. So, Christians begin loosing ground to Islam and begin the Crusades and the Inquisition. Islam gets pissed and begins taking parts of Europe in order give the Infidels a chance to convert. That only gets so far as the Shia/Sunni/Persian/Arabic infighting keep them too occupied with each other to maintain their triumphs over the Christians. It ain’t over yet folks.Men create religions to consolidate tribal power and control other tribes of men

  • Jeff

    Meanwhile, Jeff – back to you – What’s your position on the Exodus story? Are you aware that it’s myth? Do you accept it as such?

  • Chaotician

    I was reflecting that one of the problems with our religious Gods is they were created when the Earth was the Universe and everything else was window dressing for the Earth! It becomes increasingly difficult to believe a God of the whole Universe and perhaps more is paying any attention to this little planet out in the middle of nowhere far from any center that can be identified. Given the number of galacies, planetary systems, and planets; probably a God could spend eternity spending a single second of real time in each place and never get everywhere! Of course we solve that problem by making the Goddess omni-present and omnipotent; but who is counting…and for that matter what is the measuring stick?

  • Joe

    Sir, respectfully, what did you hope to achieve by writing this article? Yes, there will be some of the ignorant who are shocked that Judaism really does of an ethnic and cultural component. There are some amongst the ignorant, vile and stupid who will then see this as a way to accuse us of being an Arab tribe. Where do these people come from?Perhaps you might feel that there might be some amongst the far left in academia who will be mollified that Judaism has always had a questioning nature. I mean if you are professor of Jewish studies, then presumably, you’ve read the commentaries on the First Commandment and understand that the mitzva involved is to know G-d, i.e. go looking yourself. You also know, I hope, the Midrash about Avraham Avinu *deducing* G-d’s existence. You should never remove the faith from the culture.But do you really think that the orientalists in various Humanities departments will suddenly assume that since some Jews hate religion as much as they do, that Judaism is now really O.K? Or perhaps, you are merely trying to establish your own cred with them – y’know you’re Jewish, but not *too* Jewish?I suspect it is the last case. I have met very few Jewish studies professors who actually know anything about actual Yiddishkite. You know lots of history, but when it comes to the faith, you can only theorize about a game that you watch from the sidelines.The proof of that assertion is that you completely missed the point of the agata where the Rabbaim overturned the Bas Kol. If you read it properly, and you quite obviously did *not* from the way you used it, you would draw the opposite conclusion of what you posited. The bottom line – and if you know our history, you should know this, is that the appeaser Jews, who want to just have their fashionable cred are always the first to loose when their appeasements fail.I am deeply dissapointed by your article. It serves no purpose and can at best, only cause greater misunderstanding while at worst, only fuel very real anti-semites like some of the buffoons you see posting here.Yours, Proud to be a Jew

  • E Favorite

    Jeff – thanks for getting back to me about Exodus (and for getting back to everyone else, too). Regarding the possibility that an earthquake parted the red sea – do you know of a geological study that backs it up? Or is it just something you heard? Just asking, really, because I’ve heard other possible explanations – like it really being the “reed” sea – a smaller body of water to the north that dries up occasionally. But there’s no evidence there either, and if the Israelites weren’t captive in Egypt in the first place, it wouldn’t make any difference if a sea parted or not.When you say “I believe it is probably a myth, as is much of the bible….” Is that completely an assumption you’re making, or have you also done some study of Biblical history and of some of the recent archeological findings? For instance – not only is there no evidence of Exodus, but there is plenty of evidence that Jews were living in Canaan during the time the Bible says they were in Egypt.Did you check out the link I included above? Here another one, to the Amazon description

  • E Favorite

    Joe – I’d be interested to know which of the posters here you’d say are anti-semitic.

  • JoeT

    Anonymous: your math is about as good as some of your other reasoning. 25% of Nobel Laureates is ridiculously disproportionate. You think the other 75% are white anglo saxon protestants? and even if they were, they would be the underperforming tribe. And the Jesus remark is just plain offensive. Even Catholics gave up the “Jews killed Jesus” garbage long ago. leave the hate in your house and keep it out of these forums, please.

  • mcg

    I thought this article gave me something to think about. I know of someone who says she doesn’t believe in God but she says she is Jewish. I thought the ethnicity as well as religion went hand and hand with respect to being Jewish. I don’t know but reading the comments gave me some insight. Thanks

  • Mr. Jefferson

    Every one is chosen, every land is promised. Until Jews come to grips with this Truth, they will forever be alienated from the human race.

  • Ben Peck

    Thank you for writing about this issue. I have been a lifelong secular jew. I grew up in a school that taught me my history and culture in Los Angeles. In graduate school I lead a discussion group where we read secular jewish thinkers and I taught at a secular jewish sunday school in Philadelphia. I want to assure you we are out there and not simply as jews who “are jews by birth, but not practice” There are secular jews who are secular jews intentionally and practice their secular jewish identity.—Ben Peck

  • Ben Peck

    Thank you for writing about this issue. I have been a lifelong secular jew. I grew up in a school that taught me my history and culture in Los Angeles. In graduate school I lead a discussion group where we read secular jewish thinkers and I taught at a secular jewish sunday school in Philadelphia. I want to assure you we are out there and not simply as jews who “are jews by birth, but not practice” There are secular jews who are secular jews intentionally and practice their secular jewish identity.—Ben Peck

  • Ben Peck

    Thank you for writing about this issue. I have been a lifelong secular jew. I grew up in a school that taught me my history and culture in Los Angeles. In graduate school I lead a discussion group where we read secular jewish thinkers and I taught at a secular jewish sunday school in Philadelphia. I want to assure you we are out there and not simply as jews who “are jews by birth, but not practice” There are secular jews who are secular jews intentionally and practice their secular jewish identity.—Ben Peck

  • Chris Everett

    Joe:You write “There are some amongst the ignorant, vile and stupid who will then see this as a way to accuse us of being an Arab tribe.”Why do you consider it an ACCUSATION for the Jews to be called an Arab tribe? Is there something vile about Arabs? Tribes? Anyway, I’ve never heard anyone dispute the assertion that the group of those who call themselves Jews originated on the Arabian penninsula and that they were thought of, and considered themselves to be, a tribe.You also write “…ignorant… ignorant… vile… stupid… appeaser… anti-semites… buffoons”I hope you are referring to me. I relish the irony.

  • yoyo

    It’s a good religion that allows dissent;and leaves room for some intellectual maneuvering,reflection or doubt.

  • Mr. Jefferson

    When confronted with anything that remotely violates their neurotic sense of superiority, Jews respond with slander and labels. Every land is promised, every one is chosen. Until Jews come to grips with Reality, they will forever be alienated from the human race.

  • ama

    Is anyone interested in obtaining a more complete understanding of how “Mr. Jefferson” has organized the world in his/her mind?

  • ama

    Is anyone interested in obtaining a more complete understanding of how “Mr. Jefferson” has organized the world in his/her mind?

  • Steve

    Clearly, many Jews, regardless of the denomination in which they were raised, identify with Judaism as a culture or a nation.But that ignores the more profound matter of Jews who, whatever their level of observance of halacha (Jewish religious law), question the existence of a G-d as described in the Torah. Because Judaism has always placed greater emphasis on what its adherents do, rather than what they believe, Jews are seldom asked to consider–and never asked to articulate–what their conception of the Divine really is. Ditto for the related concept of Revelation. And so, even those who are religiously observant could easily consider the actual Revelation at Sinai to be something other than the entirety of the written (Torah) and oral (Mishnah and Talmud) traditions, without contradicting their practice or affiliation. Revelation could, as existentialist philosophers like Martin Buber might suggest, be something as simple as the concept of the Other. Or–because the Torah is by tradition understood to be the dictation of Moses, a human who was trying to understand the words of a Divine Being–Judaism leaves open the possibility, suggested by A.J. Heschel, that all of the Torah is midrash (a rabbinic story told to explain something unexplained in the text).When Mordechai Kaplan espoused his concept of Judaism as a Civilization, in which the Divine was something akin to a mysterious force of nature, critics argued that he was essentially declaring a form of Jewish atheism. And they were mostly right. But Kaplan was neither a heretic nor a break from Jewish tradition, from Moses Maimonides to the present, and his movement (Reconstructionism) is often described as the movement that says what other Jews merely think.

  • Eric

    On the subject of Jewish identity, Jews who at no point in their blood line find two converted parents are of Semitic ethnicity, just like Arabs. So, basically, we (I’m Jewish) are ethnically related to but culturally distinct from non-Jewish Arabs. Personally, I feel that being born to a religiously, culturally, or ethnically Jewish person is reasonable as a criteria for being Jewish. As such, I feel that the term “secular Jew” makes sense, because being Jewish, imo, has only to do with being born to an ethnic Semite with a certain cultural heritage, into a certain religion, into a cultural heritage, or all of the above.I reject out of hand the idea that actively identifying with an ethnic or cultural group is in itself poisonous. It is only in treating a person from another group as a lesser being that we find the poison. I identify with being Jewish just like I identify with being American, a Marylander, a male, or a brown-eyed person. But I strongly reject the notion that being part of any of these groups makes me better than anyone else. IMO one’s heritage should be embraced, as it promotes diverse points of view and enriches the cultural fabric of the world. To deny that to avoid discrimination is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, imo.On the subject of atheism, the word “God” in modern American society, and, imo, in Judeo-Christian culture in general (I know little of other cultures, so I can’t comment on them), has been so abused for so long that it has become meaningless as a stand-alone concept. In Judeo-Christian culture, it is typically cast as having been originally a concept to which a name should not be applied. It was supposed to be faceless and utterly indescribable. Everything was it, and it was everything. The power unleashed by giving voice to the tetragrammatron (YHWH) was believed to be too much for humans to bear, although apparently it used to be used on rare occasions by Jewish priests (different from Rabbis, who are teachers and community leaders. Priests won’t exist again until the messiah returns, if you’re expecting one to do so ;). I think in Exodus you can get a very vague understanding of the original conception of what our culture calls God when YHWH introduces YHWHself (just being funny) as “I AM THAT I AM.” I take that to mean, simply, ‘existence.’ YHWH, imo, originally just referred to the unified and interwoven nature of all that exists. ONE. It couldn’t be written or uttered or rendered because it was…everything that was, is, and will be.Now the word God, which in our culture is inextricably associated with this heretofore unnameable non-entity, is used regularly by various people with utterly different conceptions of what it means. Some apply intentionality to it, some apply human traits. To most (both those who believe and those who deny) it is conceived of as an entity discrete from the reality through which we navigate from birth to death. But, based on what I have read of the Tenakh (which is admittedly not much), I see little reason to think that how Judeo-Christian culture casts God now–that is, as a metaphysically discrete entity–is at all required in order to be a religious Jew.

  • Ed Gray

    As the physicist I.I. Rabi once remarked, ‘being a Jew is a fate not a faith.’ Berlinerblau does not distinguish between the two. The legal definition of a Jew in the State of Israel is not that a person believes in an anthropomorphic god (partial to Jews) or belongs to an orthodox, conservative or reform congregation. The sole criterion is that the person’s mother was a Jew, not whether he/she professes Judaism. A cynical albeit operational definition is that ‘a Jew is anyone whom another Jew considers to be a Jew.’ In the US there are many people who consider themselves Jews on the basis of ethnicity, heritage and/or genealogy, yet do not believe in the theological precepts and foundations of Judiasm, or are favorably disposed to Israeli political policies.

  • Eric

    “Every land is promised, every one is chosen. Until Jews come to grips with Reality, they will forever be alienated from the human race.”Methinks you think of “chosen” incorrectly. I don’t take “chosen” to mean “better,” but rather, “picked to perform a duty.” These days, that is cast as having been selected consciously by a discrete metaphysical entity to carry out the explicit instructions of that entity. But, I think of it differently. I think of it as people seeing themselves as being “chosen” by the circumstances of existence to understand the parameters of that existence. The “covenant” was simply to live within those parameters such that the “chosen” people would live a fruitful life, but respect the existence enabling them to live, thus not causing it harm or causing it to be unable to support them. A simple example would be discovering that using the same field for crops every year will cause it to stop growing food effectively.

  • David Z.

    This is very well put. I am a non-believer, but I would not give up my Jewish identity for anything. Granted, I inherit atheism from Soviet upbringing, but I also embrace it based on my own analysis of possibility and improbability of higher matter. I fully embrace that Torah and other books are intellectual jewels of Jewish mind and want to remain associated with this group and come to its defence and be proud about it. My kids are growing up to know they belong to this group even if we visit religious events only once or twice a year.

  • David Z.

    This is very well put. I am a non-believer, but I would not give up my Jewish identity for anything. Granted, I inherit atheism from Soviet upbringing, but I also embrace it based on my own analysis of possibility and improbability of higher matter. I fully embrace that Torah and other books are intellectual jewels of Jewish mind and want to remain associated with this group and come to its defence and be proud about it. My kids are growing up to know they belong to this group even if we visit religious events only once or twice a year.

  • Eric

    “anthropomorphic god (partial to Jews)”On the contrary:”Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different from his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted early Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God, His “light,” which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another, similar to a creation inside a person’s mind.”I grew up a reform Jew, and this is how it was presented to me, as well. Anthropomorphization is perhaps done by individual Jews. Also, in Christianity, God is anthropomorphized in a couple of ways: first in the form of Jesus himself, second in the description of the ascended Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.

  • Alvin Steingold

    As a militant Jewish atheist I resent being dumped into the middle of Wolfowitz, Perl, and Kristol. Why did the reader leave out Podhoritz? How can these neocons be called Jews? They have no ethical moorings at all.Why do I identify myself as Jewish? I was born a Jew and have seen myself as a Jewish atheist my entire life. My affinity for the Jewish people, their culture, their customs, their love of learning and most of all their attempt to live by a enshrined ethical code are the reasons. We share a passion for repairing the world. Reasons enough!

  • caesar

    Those whom believe in an god,those as believing there aint an god..there be no difference,one whose belief mean nothing,as the other where it being nothing.Message of an empty drum,hathing no meaning rather gain,attraction,through noise. The experience of god once be good,such given up long time’s ago,in exchange of power, master of illusion.The river returns to the sea yet know it not.As to the vote in 2008,LEAVE WELL ALONE. Jacques,at another table,being your,best wishes.

  • Quincy

    Reminds me of the line of some stand-up comedienne: “I’m not a Jew; I’m Jew-ish.”

  • Jeff

    “When confronted with anything that remotely violates their neurotic sense of superiority, Jews respond with slander and labels.”

  • Jeff

    Mr. Jefferson: “When confronted with anything that remotely violates their neurotic sense of superiority, Jews respond with slander and labels. Every land is promised, every one is chosen. Until Jews come to grips with Reality, they will forever be alienated from the human race.”

  • E Favorite

    Joe: “To the one who wondered who I considered Anti-Semitic…the notion that Jews are smart so *of course* we reject our own faith is very difficult to take as a compliment.”That was me, but I didn’t say it exactly that way – it’s not a matter of rejecting one’s “own faith” but rejecting the general idea that there is a invisible supernatural being watching over us. Most scientists reject that idea and they’re very smart too.You also say, “Zionism states that the Jews have a right to live in peace in their own ancestral homeland…I mean imagine the gall of those Irish folks saying that Dublin belongs to Irish people, or those evil French saying that Paris is theirs.”I’d say it’s more like laying claim to the house your great-great-grandparents lived in.

  • Ellen

    I’m Jewish and I have thought about this A LOT. I’ve come to the conclusion that being Jewish isn’t normally something you choose, unless you convert, any more than being Canadian or Black or Chinese or whatever. Not believing in God doesn’t make you less Jewish. You are specifically referring to non-believers who participate in organized Judaism, which is different from people who happen to be Jewish but don’t believe in God. For the actively participating nonbelievers, I think it is a matter of cultural identity, at least for me. Who knows who or what God is. It’s a nebulous concept. No one can say definitively what God does or says or whatever. Take everything with a grain of salt. But there is something to be said for tradition. Judaism doesn’t really have the concept of excommunication. In Catholicism my understanding is that if you say you don’t believe in God or Jesus isn’t your savior you can get kicked out. Tell the Rabbi you don’t believe in God and he would probably say, that’s fine–see you at services on Saturday. BIG difference.

  • Ellen

    I’m Jewish and I have thought about this A LOT. I’ve come to the conclusion that being Jewish isn’t normally something you choose, unless you convert, any more than being Canadian or Black or Chinese or whatever. Not believing in God doesn’t make you less Jewish. You are specifically referring to non-believers who participate in organized Judaism, which is different from people who happen to be Jewish but don’t believe in God. For the actively participating nonbelievers, I think it is a matter of cultural identity, at least for me. Who knows who or what God is. It’s a nebulous concept. No one can say definitively what God does or says or whatever. Take everything with a grain of salt. But there is something to be said for tradition. Judaism doesn’t really have the concept of excommunication. In Catholicism my understanding is that if you say you don’t believe in God or Jesus isn’t your savior you can get kicked out. Tell the Rabbi you don’t believe in God and he would probably say, that’s fine–see you at services on Saturday. BIG difference.

  • Keith Lepak

    To those who lament the “tribalism” of the world, I have only this observation to make: don’t you, too, belong to a smug cosmopolitan “tribe”, whose own none-too-well-hidden sense of superiority and philosophical righteousness comprise part of the dynamic that sustains and nourishes the sectarian tribalism that you ironically lament?

  • observer

    Mr. Berlinerblau does not mention a single word on the way the Jewish state, aka Israel, treats its non-Jewish minorities.I’d very much like to see instances of what Mr. Berlinerblau claims as “laudable ethic of tolerance” applied in Israel in respect to its non-Jewish native minorities who have been robbed of their lands of homes because of few dogmatic religious beliefs.What I find troubling in entries like this one is that the Washington Post gets bigots and Islamophobes to explain to readers how Islam is evil, intolerant and violent, while when it comes to other religions such as Judaism they get others to explain to readers that it is tolerant, ethical and unique.

  • Jihadist

    Hello JeffGood morning and Happy Diwali. It is today 8 November 2007. Thank you for your post Jeff. You stated : “Thanks to Mr. Berlinerblau for acknowledging that we secular Jews exist and that we are not evil. On the contrary, I have a highly developed and very active sense of morality and I conduct myself accordingly.”Yes, we all know secular or atheist Jews exists. No one is calling anyone evil, or immoral or unethical. Unless someone acts that way. My main problem with Mr. Berlinerblau’s current essay (and I usually find all of his essays informative and educational) is this:The irony of atheist/secular Jews, after a generation or two, may possibly, in not acknowledging or keeping up Judaic traditions as believers, may self-exterminated Jews as a religious-cultural group.There is, in Prague, a Jewish Quarter. There is, in that Quarter, a synagogue. In that synagogue are beautiful siddurims, mahrozims, menoras among others religious items and texts related to Judaism. All of these are from various synagogues in Europe collected by the Nazis during World War II for a historical record of what they hope will be an “extinct people” that they are busy exterminating en masse. It would be ironic if, in some ways, it is the atheist/secular Jews, who are leading the charge in “self-extermination” of Judaism and the Jewish identity. Yes, some are busy “reinventing” the Jewish identity, specifically, secular Jews, where one is to live by an ethical and moral life etc. Not quite original that, with antecedents in the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the first generation or second generation of atheist/secular Jews may still hold on to some Jewish traditions in non-religious ways, but how could they with the Pilgrim Festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, Succot? How could they with Days of Awe? All are deeply religious and spiritual which atheists/secular Jews should be, in principal, are against, due to their “superstitious” origins. Those are the heart and soul of Jewishness. There will a time when a wall may be build by that synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, where all the names of secular/atheist Jews are be listed as the ones who exterminated Judaism, Jewishness and the Jewish identity. Harsh? Yes. How could you all not honour the memories of all your ancestors who are victims of bigotry, who were made to wear different clothes, who were marked on their persons and homes, who were put into ghettos, who were slurred as marranos, who were killed during Shoah, for being Jewish, for adhering to Judaism? Where is that conscience? What is now the Kavvana, the secular/atheist one on this?Mr. Berlinerblau may need perform a secular Teshava for what he wrote up there. But, never mind. If Judaism is gone, some of us will carry on some Jewish-like religious tradition of keeping kosher/hallal and tzedaka/sedekah as religious obligations, and including belief in God. Albeit not as Jews, but as members of the other Abrahamic faith call Muslims. You all can whack us for that as being superstitious and unmodern and irrational. We don’t mind:) Here’s to the three Moses:Moses (of the Ten Commandments)Mazel tov. Thank you and best regards”J”

  • Bruce

    As a Jewish believer in Jesus as Messiah, I can assure Professor Berlinerblau that the Jewish tolerance he finds so laudable has one exception.

  • E Favorite

    Hello Jihadist – I’ve been to that Synagogue in Prague the you mention. There’s already a wall there inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims. I’m acquainted with some of their descendants, actually. The family were secular Jews before and after the holocaust. The Nazi’s didn’t care what they believed – just that they were Jewish. And they still are Jewish – to the core.

  • daniel

    Sorry for sticking my nose in again after I said I would deliberately refrain from further comments, but I figured as long as it would be obvious that I am not trying to belabor a point or be unfair etc. that it would be ok to reply. I believe both that Jews can be atheists because they are identifying themselves as a people rather than associated with a particular religion and because the religion of Judaism itself is pretty enlightened, has a strong intellectual and reflective component to it. I am now reading Maimonides with great pleasure…Hope that contributes something to the discussion.

  • BGone

    daniel:, you contributed a lot with “because the religion of Judaism itself is pretty enlightened”You don’t suppose, Religion, all religion belongs in the category of palm reading, fortune telling, witch doctoring etc. If you didn’t know that before then after you examine the facts – faithing that there was a supernatural being in that burning bush is bad enough but calling Lucifer God? He am who am what?Now if we could enlighten a few of these Islamic extremist without having to kill them all? Jews say it was God. Muslims say it was Allah. The facts say it was Lucifer, unless you want to call the whole tale a hoax.

  • Jihadist

    E Favorite,Hello. Yes, I saw that wall inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims too. Did you see the graveyard nearby as well? Very small and crowded space, and said to contain 100,000 bodies piled up to 12 in a single gravespot. And Kafka is buried there. I see your point and some other posters here too about being secular Jews and still be Jewish to the core, and yes, the Nazis never cared, as the Wannsee Protocol shows chillingly. My secular Jewish friends (the first Jews I came into personal contact with and when at university) asserted that they are Jewish. Some tells of heart wrenching stories about their family members that are victims of or survived the Holocaust. All knows all the secular and religiously-infused Jewish writer-thinkers. But all don’t practice Jewish traditions on their own, but do attend Jewish holidays held by their still practicing/religious Jewish family and friends. I went to Prague to see where Franz Kafka lived and died. He’s one Jewish author not mentioned by Mr. Berlinerblau. And I found other things about Jews, but did not see the Golem. Thank you and best regards

  • E Favorite

    Jihadist – yes, I saw the cemetery too – the spookiest and most poignant of all cemeteries.Thinking more about Jews and tradition, I think of the many Jews who secretly left their Jewishness behind to start new, prejudice-free lives in the US. Madelyn Albright and John Kerry wouldn’t have known about their Jewish roots if journalists hadn’t investigated once they became prominent. Same with George Allen, former Senator from Virginia, except, unlike Kerry and Albright, he was most disturbed to learn of his family heritage – he was an anti-Semite. It’s a shame that society is such that people in any ethnic or religious group think they have to abandon their identity to be treated fairly. And it’s ridiculous, in my opinion, for people to actively choose to suffer or die because of their disparate supernatural beliefs.

  • RitaWilson

    I was raised Jewish, initially married a Jew and had two children, remarried a non-Jew. All through these many years, God or the lack thereof didn’t play an important part in our ethics or our lives in general. I’m definitely a Jew. I’m also an ignostic, one whose life isn’t based on whether or not there is a God. I would call myself an atheist, long before I would say I believe in a traditional God. I’ll always say I’m Jewish.

  • Andrew G

    this essay gets a bookmark in my browser. a wonderful explanation of why I’m still a jew.

  • M.I. Reisberg

    As a B’nai Mitzvah teacher in a congregation that is a member of the Society of Humanistic Judaism I am challenged to assist my fellow learners in discovering basic spiritual values.In imitation of teachers who have preceded me I use every wise and compassionate source that makes sense, as the wise rabbis have encouraged.With guidance like this in the search for meaning and happiness that we Jews pursue as we breathe, who account for about less than .3 of a percent of the human beings, we can do so along with the complementary 99.7% of our fellow humans.

  • Ron Schwartz

    I’m part of the Humanistic Judaism movement and I appreciate this article.

  • Elaine Kamienny

    Many of us feel a strong connection to the history, culture and ethics of the Jewish people and feel no connection to a supernatural deity. If there is one lesson that comes out of Jewish history it is that we are responsible for our own destiny and our future lies only in our hands. We have a responsbility to our family, our people and all of humanity.We celebrate Jewish holidays as a way of providing continuity with our historical family, but we do so with integrity of language, e.g. we do not pray to God, but rather use language that connects us to our identity through the culture and history of our people.Traditional Jews find their power from God, while secular Jews look inward and find their own power, within themselves, and through community. It’s a strong message that will serve us well in the future.

  • Elaine Kamienny

    Many of us feel a strong connection to the history, culture and ethics of the Jewish people and feel no connection to a supernatural deity. If there is one lesson that comes out of Jewish history it is that we are responsible for our own destiny and our future lies only in our hands. We have a responsbility to our family, our people and all of humanity.We celebrate Jewish holidays as a way of providing continuity with our historical family, but we do so with integrity of language, e.g. we do not pray to God, but rather use language that connects us to our identity through the culture and history of our people.Traditional Jews find their power from God, while secular Jews look inward and find their own power, within themselves, and through community. It’s a strong message that will serve us well in the future.

  • Elaine Kamienny

    Many of us feel a strong connection to the history, culture and ethics of the Jewish people and feel no connection to a supernatural deity. If there is one lesson that comes out of Jewish history it is that we are responsible for our own destiny and our future lies only in our hands. We have a responsbility to our family, our people and all of humanity.We celebrate Jewish holidays as a way of providing continuity with our historical family, but we do so with integrity of language, e.g. we do not pray to God, but rather use language that connects us to our identity through the culture and history of our people.Traditional Jews find their power from God, while secular Jews look inward and find their own power, within themselves, and through community. It’s a strong message that will serve us well in the future.

  • Vivian Kramer

    As a member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism for 35+ years, I can say that there are many compelling reasons for maintaining a strong Jewish identity that don’t include a “god belief.” Community, tradition, and affirmation of the power of reason, all of which include a spiritual connection to the far flung generations of the Jewish People, are more than sufficient to bind my family – now 3 generations – to this branch of Judaism.

  • Vivian Kramer

    As a member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism for 35+ years, I can say that there are many compelling reasons for maintaining a strong Jewish identity that don’t include a “god belief.” Community, tradition, and affirmation of the power of reason, all of which include a spiritual connection to the far flung generations of the Jewish People, are more than sufficient to bind my family – now 3 generations – to this branch of Judaism.

  • Vivian Kramer

    As a member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism for 35+ years, I can say that there are many compelling reasons for maintaining a strong Jewish identity that don’t include a “god belief.” Community, tradition, and affirmation of the power of reason, all of which include a spiritual connection to the far flung generations of the Jewish People, are more than sufficient to bind my family – now 3 generations – to this branch of Judaism.

  • Dr Paul G Shane

    Our family is a third generation of secular, non-believing Jews on both sides. Our children were educated in secular Jewish Sunday School to understand and appreciate their culture. We remain Jewish because there are great values in the Jewish tradition as well as the so-called religious values. Judaism and Jewish culture is based on action not belief, unlike Christianity and Islam. We derive a commitment to working for a “shemere und besere velt” a more beautiful and better world with social justice, and end to poverty and exploitation and prejudice. Our children continue this commitment, voluntarily. Be sure that we know many members of synagogues and other Jewish organizations that share our values and ideas.