According to a nationwide Harris Interactive poll taken in 2003, nineteen percent of Jewish people do not believe in G-d. Of those 19%, five percent are absolutely certain that G-d does not exist and 13% are somewhat certain that G-d does not exist. Thirty-three percent of Jewish people are not sure about G-d’s existence.
Over half of all Jews question the existence of G-d, and, yet, still claim their connection to Judaism. In fact, the expression or announcement of Jewish faith remains something of importance. How is one able to disregard a belief in G-d and still consider themselves Jewish?
By all definitions, Judaism is something you are born into. According to Orthodox belief, a person born to a Jewish mother is Jewish. Other denominations of Judaism hold that if your mother or father are Jewish, you are Jewish.
Judaism is a complex religion filled with varying expressions of religiosity, culture and traditions. For some, religion may be closely tied to a belief in and relationship with G-d. Still others fervently practice Judaism without a belief in G-d.
What does it take for someone to feel Jewish? Is it possible for an Atheist to maintain an active relationship with Judaism?
The simple answer is yes.
One particular sect of Judaism, Humanistic Judaism, embraces many atheists within its arms. Started in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, the intent of Humanistic Judaism is to mobilize “people to celebrate Jewish identity and culture consistent with a humanistic philosophy of life”.
Humanistic Jews are drawn together on a shared philosophical belief about the world. The emphasis is placed on secular roots rather than religious ones. And, while Judaism is essential, a G-d-like authority and its imposed traditions are not.
How can a Jew be Jewish without a belief in or relationship with G-d? In actuality, Judaism is one of few religions that does not require a belief in G-d. The Jewish people are known as The Children of Yisrael (Israel), which means ‘struggle with G-d’. In the Jewish religion, one is encouraged to ask questions, to doubt and to debate. It is our actions, and not our beliefs that are of paramount importance.
So, how might the Atheist Jew express their Jewish roots and beliefs?
Through community – experiencing the solidarity of being part of a like-minded group, an avenue for cultural expression, connection with others strengthens one’s own identity
Through holiday observance – minus the acknowledgement of G-d, the emphasis is on family relationships and celebrations of Jewish history, embracing tradition, an expression of values
Through education – it seems the one value no Jew can escape is that for education, studying the historical and sociological perspectives of Judaism void of a Divine influence
Through values – what is valued is not because G-d said it should be, one doesn’t need a belief in G-d to live a moral or ethical life, Jewish values are often what connects Jews no matter of what level of observance they are
Through food – I’m pretty sure, Atheist or not, there is no Jew who wants to leave behind the culture’s connection to food!
Judaism has a place for everyone, and the Jewish Atheist is no exception. Any Jew who continues to “wrestle with G-d”, ask questions and seek answers is on an active path of Judaism – no matter what they believe.