- Jewish atheism
Jewish atheism is practiced by atheists who are ethnically
Jewish and members of the Jewish people. Because Jewishness encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term "Jewish atheism" does not necessarily imply any kind of contradiction. Based on Jewish law's emphasis on matrilineal descent, Orthodox Jewish authorities would accept as fully Jewish an atheist with a Jewish mother. [ [http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=45132 What Makes a Jew "Jewish"? - Jewish Identity ] ]
Jewish atheism and organized Jewish life
There is a long tradition of atheistic and secular Jewish organizations, from the Jewish socialist Bund in early twentieth-century Poland to the modern
Society for Humanistic Judaismin the United States. [See "The Society for Humanistic Judaism", http://www.shj.org/] Many Jewish atheists feel comfortable within any of the four major Jewish denominations (Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist). This presents less of a contradiction than might first seem apparent given Judaism's emphasis on practice over belief, with even mainstream guides to Judaism suggesting that belief in God is not a necessary prerequisite to Jewish observance. [See, for example: [http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ideas_belief/god/Overview_About_God/God_MustBel_Sept.htm Daniel Septimus, "Must a Jew Believe in God?"] ] However, although all four branches of Judaism count atheists among their members, the presence of entire congregations espousing atheism remains problematic outside of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Reform movement, for example, has rejected efforts at affiliation by atheistic temples. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406EEDF1E3AF930A25755C0A962958260 "Reform Jews Reject a Temple Without God", "New York Times", June 13, 1994.] ]
Jewish atheism and Jewish theology
Much recent Jewish theology makes few if any metaphysical claims and is thus compatible with atheism on an ontological level. The founder of
Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordechai Kaplan, espoused a naturalistic definition of God, while some post- Holocausttheology has also eschewed a personal God. [See, for example, Mordechai Kaplan, "The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion" (New York: Behrman’s Jewish book house, 1937); Richard Rubenstein, "After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism" (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).] The Jewish philosopher Howard Wettstein has suggested that Jewish atheists can fully engage with traditional Jewish ritual and notions of God with little or no contradiction, in part due to the centrality of practice rather than belief in Jewish religious life. [Howard Wettstein, "Awe and the Religious Life," "Midwest Studies in Philosophy", 1997.] Harold Schulweis, a Conservative Jewish rabbi trained in the Reconstructionist tradition, has argued that Jewish theology should move from a focus on God to an emphasis on "godliness." This "predicate theology", while continuing to use theistic language, again makes few metaphysical claims that non-believers would find objectionable. [See Harold M. Schulweis. "Evil and the Morality of God" (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1984); "For Those Who Can't Believe : Overcoming the Obstacles to Faith" (Harper Perennial, 1995).]
However, some Jewish atheists remain deeply uncomfortable with the use of any kind of theistic language. For such Jews traditional practice and symbolism can still retain powerful meaning. They may continue to engage in Jewish rituals such as the lighting of
Shabbatcandles and find meaning in many aspects of Jewish culture and religion. For example, to an atheist Jew, the Menorah might represent the power of the Jewish spirit or stand as a symbol of the fight against assimilation. No mention of a divine force in Jewish history would be accepted literally; the Torahmay be viewed as a common mythology of the Jewish people, not a faith document or correct history.
Jewish atheists and secular Jewish culture
Many Jewish atheists would reject even this level of ritualized and symbolic identification, instead embracing a thoroughgoing secularism and basing their Jewishness entirely in ethnicity and
secular Jewish culture. Possibilities for secular Jewishness include an identification with Jewish history and peoplehood, immersion in Jewish literature (including such non-religious Jewish authors as Philip Rothand Amos Oz), the consumption of Jewish foodand an attachment to Jewish languages such as Yiddish, Hebrewor Ladino. A high percentage of Israelis identify themselves as secular, rejecting the practice of the Jewish religion (see Religion in Israel). While some non-believers of Jewish ancestry do not consider themselves Jews, preferring to define themselves solely as atheists, Judaism is arguably the paradigm example of the evolution of a culture and tradition that one can embrace without religious faith. [An example of an atheist rejecting Jewish identification is cited in [http://www.zeek.net/jen_0501.shtml "Hipster Antisemitism," "Zeek", January 2005] ]
Famous Jewish atheists
A number of well-known Jews throughout history have rejected a belief in God (see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Jewish_atheists here] for a comprehensive list of Jewish atheists). Some have denied the existence of a traditional deity while continuing to use religious language. In 1656 the seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher
Baruch Spinozawas excommunicated by Amsterdam's Sephardic synagogue after advancing a pantheist notion of God that, according to some observers, is both compatible with and paved the way for modern atheism. [Christopher Hitchens, ed., "The Portable Atheist" (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007), 21.] Deeply influenced by Spinoza, Albert Einsteinused theistic language and identified strongly as a Jew, while rejecting the notion of a personal god. [ [http://www.momentmag.com/Exclusive/2007/2007-04/200704-EinsteinSidebar.html "The Religious Non-believer: Einstein and his God", "Moment", April 2007.] ] Many other famous Jews have wholeheartedly embraced atheism, rejecting religiosity altogether. Sigmund Freudpenned " The Future of an Illusion", in which he both eschewed religious belief and outlined its origins and prospects. At the same time he urged a Jewish colleague to raise his son within the Jewish religion, arguing that "If you do not let your son grow up as a Jew, you will deprive him of those sources of energy which cannot be replaced by anything else." [David S. Ariel, "What Do Jews Believe?" (New York: Shocken Books, 1995), 248.] The anarchist Emma Goldmanwas born to an Orthodox Jewish family and rejected belief in God, while the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, when asked if she believed in God, answered "I believe in the Jewish people, and the Jewish people believe in God." [See Emma Goldman, "The Philosophy of Atheism," in Christopher Hitchens, ed., "The Portable Atheist" (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007), 129-33; Golda Meir is quoted by Jonathan Rosen in [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E04E4D9173DF937A25751C1A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all "So Was It Odd of God?", "The New York Times", December 14, 2003.] ] More recently, the French Jewish philosopher Jacques Derridastated somewhat cryptically, "I rightly pass for an atheist". [ [http://chronicle.com/free/2004/10/2004101102n.htm Obituary for Jacques Derrida, "Chronicle of Higher Education", 10/11/2004] ] And, in the world of entertainment, Woody Allenhas made a career out of the tension between his Jewishness and religious doubt ("How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?"). [ [http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Woody_Allen/ Woody Allen Quotes - The Quotations Page ] ]
Conversion to Judaism
Christianity and Judaism
Jews in apostasy
Schisms among the Jews
Who is a Jew?
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