Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Atheism, observance and orthodoxy


David here,

This is something written elsewhere, but as it is on my heart, I thought I'd reproduce it here, for my own readership to ponder. The context is about how atheist  Jews in the orthodox community continue to observe Judaism, for community and family reasons, but no longer believe in God (albeit the atheism isn't public).

 This was my response:

I don't feel I fit into the categories mentioned, but I would say I'm a Jew first and foremost, of the Sephardic tradition, who believes in God and specifically the God of the Tanakh. I do have theological issues with taking all of the bible literally, such as a talking donkey, a talking serpent, a flying and talking scroll,  a six day creation et al. I  have had personal issues from the past where I have often questioned the almighty and been somewhat estranged from him, but I do see this questioning as part of the Jewish tradition. 

 I've come to appreciate that one can never fully understand God,  I believe a rabbi one said "if I knew him, I would be him"(Judah ha Levi) and as it is written:

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how life enters the body being formed in the mother's womb, so you cannot understand the works of God, the maker of all things"(Ecclesiastes).

I also understand atheists who are observant for cultural or family reasons. That's a distinctive feature of Judaism, a nation and a community, fused into a religion which permeates every aspect of oneself and life. We are more than a group of religious believers, but a global family. And to me family and community are key aspects of Judaism. We don't turn our back on  family and therefore we shouldn't turn our backs or force them out, that those who struggle with God, with beliefs, but who wish to still be in the tent. I think one of the US presidents, Lyndon Johnson made a quip about tents and people shouting out, rather than into the tent.

A concluding thought to ponder. Does God prefer the most pious person, who observes the rituals and believes with dogmatic precision, but acts in a shameful fashion or the one who just tries with all of their heart?



  1. Hi David,

    Where did you post that,as I can't see it on your feed?? You say you understand why atheists or agnostics continue to observe, but without believing, but do you agree with that? Secondly, surely being observant without believing makes the mitzvah a meaningless ritual? Isn't it better to be honest? Or are you saying atheists should be welcome, without question?

    I agree with you that one cannot fully know God, like the quotes! I also agree that one who honestly struggles, but still does is better than the pious idiot. But do atheists really struggle? Haven't they already decided, but are doing so because of convenience? When I atheist, at least I was honest about it and didn't pretend.

  2. Hannah, having thought about this, I still stick to this post. I think one may go into doubt and unbelief, but such a position is never fixed. A person can change, but to fully exclude a fellow Jew is as good as slamming the door in their face and they'd never return, which is not the attitude I have. As for being public about atheism or doubt, I think I do realise why people are afraid of doing so. God is the ultimate judge of all of us, so let's keep people inside, let's talk in confidence, let's not give up on our brothers and sisters.

  3. Hi David,

    I guess I'm sometimes like the ex smoker , who once seeing the light is quick to pounce on others. I know that's not good. We're all works in the making (:

  4. Don't batter yourself down. You've had you're own struggles. And yet you still believe. Proud as ever to call you sister.

  5. Thank you for this i appreciated this one.

  6. What is the matter with the Jewish people?!?!?
    Right/Left, Haredi/Secular, Ashkenazi/Sephardic, etc, etc.

  7. That's not you Sam is it?

  8. I agree with you David,

    Are u becoming more liberal in your old age?

  9. Irrelevant because we are discussing Judaism....

  10. Like pol pot and Stalin who abolished religion? That worked well!!

  11. A policy of enforced "behind closed doors" is always a bad idea. Only by being open to public discussion will people be able to form their own evaluation of the pros and cons of belonging to any group.

    Organised religion depends on creating the fear that to leave their group is to lose its largely mythical protection against the uncomfortable realities of life.

    All that needs to be ordained is that religions only get special treatment equal to others doing equally charitable works - and with no ring-fenced political influence.

  12. I think that religions are factually incorrect and I'm concerned that religion can create serious problems for peace, equality and freedom of thought. However, the same concern for peace, equality and freedom of thought also compels me to defend the right of people to practice and preach their religion openly.

  13. When private businesses are banned from a passive non-cooperation with that they believe to be wrong then that is certainly aggressive secularism and a defacto persecution against religious, giving them even less rights than Catholics had prior to emancipation. It may not be of the order of throwing them to the lions, but attacking their basic liberty to run their own business is tyranny. And to satisfy politicians here to day and gone tomorrow when more than 66% of the population was against the 2010 Equality laws. A defacto coup.

    There are a whole lot of bakers, photographers, pensioner b&bs that cannot in good conscience cooperate with such things as gay marriage etc. And really, what about lawers, accountants etc? They could also conceivably find themselves in such a position. And they will receive vindictively steep fines if they do refuse. Yet it's not even a matter of bigotry. A Christian may well be welcoming of their homosexual brethren but be unable to coopoerate with certain matters.

    It's really quite bonkers that the UK has thrown out freedom of conscience in the private domain, that liberty without which you aren't free. And just because one is running a business? Why? It's not a public service receiving public funding. It's a service one offers at one's own risk and hard work. Of course you should have the right to refuse for any reason whatsoever, reasonable or unreasonable. That's your affair.

    And yes, as the author of this piece mentions, genuine liberty has a high cost, but no way near as much as losing it.

  14. all the Abrahamic faiths certainly have fundamentalist factions that can be used to rally support for all manner of assaults on "civilised values", from basic intolerance of othered groups to outright war.

    I'm guessing that you missed mobilization of the Christian right in the US to provide support for foreign conflicts; removal, or refusal to improve, rights of women and LGBT persons; and an educational environment that sought to denigrate science and push for faith to take an equal footing.

    I'd say there's also a case for prosperity theology helping to entrench and justify inequality - after all, if it's God's will, then maybe the poor simply weren't sufficiently Christian to become rich.

  15. Gulping again, as I agreed with u!

  16. Bro, thanks for this: if it hadn't been for family I'd be in a ditch or worse!

  17. No it's not! But I agree with that blogger!!


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