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Jewish Atheists

For Atheists of Jewish origin and others interested in Jewish history and culture.

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Am I Still Jewish?

Started by Cecilia. Last reply by Michael Pianko Aug 3. 22 Replies

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Comment by Natalie A Sera on June 23, 2012 at 1:47pm

Michael, I really don't follow your reasoning. If people can identify of being Irish, or Polish, or Chinese, why can't I identify as being Jewish? It's my heritage. I value it. I have absolutely NO guilt about not following religious customs, but I can and do enjoy the holidays as a reason to get together and feel like I'm with family (we all ARE family -- no Ashkenazi Jew is more than a 4th or 5th cousin away), just the same as former Christians enjoy celebrating Christmas. They excuse it as being a pagan holiday -- but if they AREN'T pagans, I find that rather hypocritical. But getting back on topic, I see no reason not to enjoy my roots and my mythology and my history -- everyone else is allowed to do that, so why can't I? And as far as Torah, if you think it's just mythology, you haven't read Leviticus. The Torah and the rest of the Tanach include documentation of the way an ancient culture lived and believed, and studying it is just as anthropologically valid as studying the culture of any other people. I don't see any reason to be hostile to the Jewish writings or historical practice, because it's just another culture. The fact that I don't accept the beliefs about divinity means no more and no less than the fact that I don't accept Christian or Muslim or Japanese beliefs, either. I just get tired of the singling out of Jews and Judaism as so much worse than other ancient and not-so-ancient cultures -- beliefs that the ancient Jews were genocidal because as the victors, they wrote about their victories in their own idiom, (the defeated don't write history). I get tired of rants about "Abrahamic religions" or Judeo-Christian morals, when the rants are really about Christianity, because these people know nothing about Judaism.

As an Ashkenazi Jew, I do separate Judaism and Jewishness (or Yiddishkeit) and while I really don't believe in god, I do value my Jewish heritage. And after I die, no it will not matter, but I'm not concerned about that -- I'm concerned about living my life as pleasantly as I can.

Comment by Prog Rock Girl on June 23, 2012 at 11:13am

Cool :)

Comment by Steph S. on June 23, 2012 at 10:20am

Hello group!

I'm interested in learning!

Comment by Adam on June 22, 2012 at 10:13pm

Alan:     Welcome. While not a linguist I have a pretty solid background in rabbinic literature and yiddish simply based on knowing the culture I came from. I was raised being told that the Orthodox believe the torah was written by god, the Conservatives that it was dictated by god, and the Reform that it has some good ideas in it. I guess my perspective as a secular Jew is that it's a solid piece of fiction that can be utilized from an anthropological standpoint. I learned that a lot of rabbinic laws were drashed out after the Jews lost the right to govern themselves so they were never a binding legal code, just a set of exaggerated statements meant to instill values. There are books of laws that people can be sentenced to death for that were never carried out. Until perhaps now when people take them as Truth and not in historical context. Just another reason why studying religion can be important even to the non-religious.

Michael:     It's always nice to see that even in a safe place people can still come in on the offensive.

     Seriously, please don't come on and define how people are Jewish or not. That's just as bad as the christians claiming no one can truly be an atheist. As a completely secular, cultural jew who comes from a practicing background I can tell you that guilt has absolutely nothing to do with my identification.

     And as for nothing ever mattering: why does that apply to someone's cultural identity and not your son's circumcision? Why are the things you care about special cases and everything else is moot? If you want to take the nihilistic long view and say that nothing will matter in the long term then there's nothing so heinous that humans can do that won't be lost to the universe in billions of years. If you do believe that then circumcising your son should be fine. If you don't then tone down the hyperbole a bit.

Comment by Prog Rock Girl on June 22, 2012 at 10:09pm

Really I think most Jews now are too smart to really believe in the Jewish religion.

Comment by Michael Pianko on June 22, 2012 at 9:44pm

                Comment by Michael Pianko1 second ago           Delete Comment

I also have a degree in linguistics, although it is just an undergraduate BA degree. And my MA degree is in Yiddish language and literature. Alan, You have about the same worldview as I do except that I never bothered with humanistic Judaism and I am against all circumcision (even adult circumcision and circumcision for medical reasons, which are always bogus).

Now lets think about what kinds of bad things happen if you don't identify with Jewish culture: you may feel guilty for not identifing with Jewish culture, and maybe other people will be angry at you if you say anything against Jewish culture or the Jewish religion, but nothing actually bad will happen. You will not get struck by lightening or hit by plagues. HaShem will not punish you, for obvious reasons. My impression is that ethnically Jewish atheists would not be doing Jewish culture if they did not think their ancestors were Jewish. My impression is that ethnically Jewish atheists still feel guilty about the possibility of not doing something Jewish. You may call your feeling "getting Joy from Jewish culture" or something like that, but that feeling = doing Judaism to avoid feeling guilty for not doing it, even if you don't consciously realize it.

In the long run nothing really matters, not Judaism or anything, because in the long run we will all be dead and then nothing matters for obvious reasons if you are an atheist. Furthermore I can't admit tha tgod is imaginary and religion is a fraud around most Jewish I would meet at Young adult Jewish events sponsored by the Jewish federation, and in case I have a son there will be no circumcision and what are peoplel going to do about it even if they believe in the bogus medical reasons? Fight me or kill me if I have a son in order to get to circumcise him? The Jews invented circumcision in order to inhibit masturbation and I could explain further... Try reading two good books I bought and read, The god virus, and Sex and God, both by Derrel W. Ray, Ed.D.

Comment by Ralph Dumain on June 22, 2012 at 9:28pm

I don't know anything about the ceremonial or liturgical aspects of Humanistic Judaism. I have entererd their members not in that context and I like them. I can't imagine though why they have rabbis or what their services are like. Therefore I don't know how I would find their liberalization of religion a manifestation of self-deception as most such things are.

Comment by Alan Perlman on June 22, 2012 at 6:47pm

Natalie...Like you, I'm culturally and ethnically Jewish: lots of Seders, no Midnight Masses.  It's just that there are so many sources of wisdom that it makes no sense to confine myself to one tradition.  But I really appreciate Jewish food and humor, as well as much of the music.    Secular Jews like us have been around for a long time.

At AN I want to meet others like myself, find out how they regard the Torah and rest of the Bible, how they deal with rabbis and with relatives of different degrees of observance -- and what they do themselves, if anything, to go along with the program. 

Comment by Natalie A Sera on June 22, 2012 at 6:37pm

So, Alan, just curious: if you have since abandoned all identification with and participation in Judaism, why are you here on this group at all? I can understand not participating in the religious aspects of Judaism, but when you say you've abandoned identification, that says to me that you don't consider yourself a Jew, and so I see a self-contradiction in your joining the group.

For myself, I don't practice Judaism as a religion, because I don't believe in practicing religion at all (not even the paganism that "atheists" who don't want to be Christian somehow think it's OK to practice), but I definitely identify as a Jew ethnically, and I AM interested in the ethics that have evolved over the centuries. I don't particularly base my ethics on the Tanach or Talmud, EXCEPT when they make sense to me. In other words, it's not because god said anything, but because intelligent, thinking people wrote down convincing reasons for behaving in one way or not another. I do think there are valid cultural values in Judaism which DON'T revolve around a belief in god, even though Orthodox believers claim they do.

So what say you?

Comment by Alan Perlman on June 22, 2012 at 6:20pm

In March of 1979, after reading a Detroit Free Press article about a local “atheist rabbi” named Sherwin Wine, I visited the Birmingham Temple (Farmington Hills, MI).  As soon as I saw the Torah in the library and the Hebrew word adam (”humanity”) in large stylized letters on the front wall of the main room, I knew I had found my spiritual home (at least then -- see below).

I met the brilliant, charismatic Rabbi Wine, joined the congregation, toook his courses, and for the past 30 years, I have studied, practiced, and written several articles on Secular Humanistic Judaism, as well as a book on the Torah from a humanistic perspective ("An Atheist Reads the Torah" -- on amazon).

Unlike most people who write about the Bible, I have a PhD in linguistics, which enables me to define and explain the key difference between Torah translation and rabbinical inferences about the text.  My motivation for writing the book is a sincere desire to let others know what the Torah really says, so that they can decide for themselves what its place should be in their lives.  Quick summary: It's pretty barbaric, and none of it happened.

I consider the fact that I am not a Biblical scholar to be another asset. It has often been noted that real innovations typically come from outside a field, because the practitioners pursue only the accepted lines of reasoning and inquiry. That may be the case here.  Only an outsider would dare to challenge two millennia of established tradition, taken-for-granted thinking and Torah-centric Judaism. 

I bring no awe or reverence to the Torah – only a sincere desire to know what it says, with no interpretation, spin, or clerical filtering whatsoever.  This knowledge is what I offer the reader of the book.

I am not a nonconformist by nature.  I seek above all the truth.  I would love the security that comes from being part of a large group of believers.  But if I find what they believe (or profess to believe) to be “ego-dystonic” — not resonant with who I am — if I find it in fact unbelievable, then I can’t go along.   

The decision to be a secular humanist was for me a realization of who I always was.  As a youngster, I waited for God to show up and do something, as he did in the old stories.  But after a period of wait-and-see, and especially after the Holocaust, I gave God his walking papers. He has not responded or even called me since. 

It would be such a better world if people could unburden themselves of gods and their many demands. 

I have since abandoned all identification with and participation in Judaism.  I have no patience with Reform Jews and their penchant for midrash (= making stuff up).  Even Rabbi Wine's then-bold alternative looks like fence-straddling...because if you don't believe in the miraculous rescues of the Jews that form the basis of most of the holidays, if none of the Exodus and Passover stories happened, why bother? 

 

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