You don't have to believe in God to be Jewish

Jewish atheists are just as Jewish as their believing brothers.

By NIGEL KERSH
June 15, 2008 19:19
3 minute read.
bible jewish 88

bible jewish 88. (photo credit: )

Q: You call yourself an atheistic Jew. Is that not a contradiction in terms? A: No, I don't believe it is. I define my Jewishness in terms of culture, not in terms of religion. Judaism for me is like a pizza pie. One part of the pie is the Hebrew language. Another piece is Jewish festivals. Yet another is Jewish food. Another is Jewish history. Then there is Israel - a large piece of that pie. Jewish jokes, Jewish music, Jewish literature and philosophy, the Bible. The only piece of that pie that I cannot swallow is the concept of a Jewish god. Q: The Bible? But I thought you said you were an atheist? How can the Bible be part of your culture? A: Of course it is! Aren't Jews the People of the Book? The Bible is the most important piece of literature in the entire history of the Jewish people! But to me, that's all it is, a work of literature. There is little evidence that the majority of the biblical characters ever existed, their names probably the result of eponymous fables blended with the ancient history of nomadic peoples. Q: You say that all the Bible is to you is just a piece of literature. What do you mean by that? A: The Bible is supposed to tell us the history of the Jewish people, but in reality it's more legend than fact. For example, there is virtually no evidence that biblical King David attained those triumphs attributed to him, if he ever lived at all. No comparative history exists to confirm that he and the majority of the biblical cast actually existed. Q: Returning to your statement that you consider yourself a cultural rather than a religious Jew. How exactly do you manifest your Judaism without resorting to religion? A: Judaism cannot exist without a belief in God. Why follow the mitzvot unless you're commanded by Him? Why pray unless you believe there's someone up there listening? I express my Jewishness by living in Israel, celebrating Jewish holidays with my family in a secular fashion without worshiping any supernatural being. I raise my children to believe in humankind, teaching them that Man's fate lies in his own hands. Q: So how exactly do you celebrate Jewish festivals without the traditional prayers, ceremonies, and rituals? Q: You say you have a "message to deliver." What exactly do you mean by that? A: My hometown of Glasgow, Scotland currently contains around 3,000 Jews, an 80% drop from its high of yesteryear. Demographic experts inform us that the world Jewish population will fall further leaving two concentrations of Jews - in Israel and the USA. The Glasgow Jewish community's solution to combat the Jewish decline is Kollel, Lubavitch, and Limmud. Their answer to combat Jewish youth's move away from religion is to offer them more religion! It isn't working and it's doomed in the long term. Q: What is your solution to the problem of Jewish assimilation? A: Being Jewish means more than going to shul on Shabbat. Being Jewish means learning Hebrew, studying Jewish history, and discussing Jewish literature. It means supporting Israel in the Eurovision and laughing at Jackie Mason on stage. This rich, cultural tapestry can be reclaimed by those Jews disillusioned by the religious model. Secular Jewishness represents a lifeline to those Jews on the periphery of the Jewish world. Without it, the decline in the world's Jewish population will continue, completing the legacy of two millennia of anti-Semitism. Israel should lead this campaign, sending emissaries into the Diaspora communities, promoting a secular Jewish rallying call to disenchanted Jews. Q: And who is going to pay for such an ambitious campaign? A: That's simple. We know aliya promotion isn't working, so I would divert those funds to stimulate a secular Jewish revival in the Diaspora. It's a tall order, but what was it that Herzl said about wills and ways…? The writer is a professional karate teacher and technical writer who lives in Ra'anana in central Israel with his wife and three children. nckersh@013.net


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