Jewish Atheists

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

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Started by Freethinker31. Last reply by Freethinker31 Sep 19, 2014. 4 Replies

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Comment by Alan Perlman on August 3, 2014 at 1:01pm

Over and over I have been asked, "How can you be Jewish and be an atheist?"  People who ask this have not thought it through (and have probably had no occasion or motivation to do so).  Judaism is one or more of the following:

(i) a religion, with mythology and ritual, just like every other; there are different sects and different degrees of observance (most middle-class Jews of my acquaintance practice Judaism Lite -- High Holidays, Passover, and Hanukkah).

(ii) a spurious and ad hoc genetic grouping; this notion is fostered by the fact that Jews around the world live in enclaves, intra-marry, and thus overestimate their genetic unity, whereas a white suburban American Jew has little in common with an Ethopian or Oriental Jew. 

(iii) a culture of song, food, language and other traditions held in common by the people who believe (i) or (ii).

So as a Jewish atheist, I ignore or ridicule (i), conform to (ii), and have a passing acquaintance with (iii).  

When burying the mice our cat kills, I chant phrases in Hebrew from the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead).

Comment by jlaz on August 1, 2014 at 12:18am

Actually maybe that's a bit unfair as to what I said about guilt/nastiness.  I can't really expect ardent believers to hold their tongues forever when I am kind of clear (not constantly loud, but clear) as to what I believe.

I got kind of an interesting comment back recently from a relative.  I said that I thought the invention of the day off from work once every 7 days, and the choice to relegate this for contemplation of and commitment to the most important things in life, seemed to me like a wonderful innovation of the Jews, or whoever may have come up with it.  A relative interjected that it was an invention of God.  What are you gonna do?  :-)

Comment by jlaz on August 1, 2014 at 12:15am


Best of fortune.

I have found that some Jews are ok with me being an atheist, and some are not.  Some of my family members who believe ardently in God are sometimes a bit negative.  It's not nearly as bad as the severe issues I see from some Christians on this board, but there is a more subtle Jewish-guilt/nastiness thing that maybe you've encountered.

Other options for some Jewish atheists wanting a sense of community include Unitarian Churches and, and some group activities (hiking for example) that have nothing to do with religion per se.

One experience I've had with most of these is that it's not just about whether they're atheist.  For example I once attended a Jewish Secular Humanist service that I didn't find that inspiring.  On the other hand, there is a Reform synagogue that I attend once every year or two (kind of "for the heck of it").  The Rabbi knows that I'm atheist and is ok with my respectful attitude when I attend, and I have found his comments well worth listening to, even with all the theism.  Just as when I was a kid and would look forward to the Rabbi's comments because usually it was philosophy discussion (was I starved for it?) or political philosophy discussion (when Israel was under attack), I think now that it's not just about whether or not the speaker is Atheist, but what do they have to contribute to my thinking overall.

Anyway, some further thoughts.

Comment by jlaz on July 31, 2014 at 10:19pm

HI Freethinker31:

One thing I do sometimes is say that I'm a member of the "Tribe of Israel".  I think some folks get that claiming to be a member of a "Tribe" doesn't necessarily bring into play the assumption that one believes in the creation myths of the tribe.

I guess there's a  case to be made for claiming to be culturally or geographically or tribally or politically Jewish, depending on this or that.  I try to be careful and self-respecting as to not trying to claim too much of a connection to Judaism.  If I am honest about it, regardless of assurances from this or that person or Clergy, then to me (my judgment) one of the main defining and central thing about Judaism (if not the defining things) is believing in and dedicating oneself to God and the Torah, and I'm definitely not a believer in God, nor dedicated to the Torah.

With that said, there is plenty of precedent for claiming some sort of grey area and a lot of Jews, both famous and not famous have either been outright atheists or sort of semi-agnostics or atheists.  There is also, explicitly, a small movement within Judaism formalizing the practice of the religion but without a belief in God (Secular Humanist Judaism I believe).  I'm not ultra-recommending it, only mentioning that it's kind of interesting that it even exists... I don't know that there could be a "Christian Atheism" but there's a certain amount of "Jewish Atheism".

I've found in watching conversations over the years that Christians who break away and become atheists seem to be interested at times in somewhat different topics and may have been through a somewhat tougher time than Jews, particularly if one didn't have a particularly observant Jewish upbringing.

I've found at times that's interesting to contemplate what it means to be a Jewish atheist, but then at other times for me it gets to be a somewhat old or tired topic

Anyway, those are some initial thoughts.  

Comment by Grinning Cat on April 14, 2014 at 4:09pm

How one woman got a religious group to stop their unwanted daily 7 a.m. texts to Knesset staffers:

"Mysterious Group Sends Knesset Staffers Text Messages Telling Them To Put On Tefillin To "Bring The Redemption," Staffers Fight Back, Win"

After complaints to the group got no response, and the police said there was nothing illegal about the repeated texts, "Lior Finkel had an idea.... [she] put on tefillin, took a picture and sent the picture to 'The Light for Tefillin.' The 7 am messages stopped cold."

Lior Finkel tefillin

The Jerusalem Post quoted her: “The next day, the harassment stopped. I guess they were right – I put on tefillin, and redemption came.”


Comment by Grinning Cat on April 14, 2014 at 3:52pm

This cartoon alludes to religion as a mechanism to implant shared stories and "memories".

Interesting how the forehead cylinders suggest tefillin.

(Thanks to Ruth Anthony-Gardner for sharing this cartoon in the "Transhumanists" group.)

Comment by jlaz on January 18, 2014 at 2:21pm

Hi Michael - 

You can meet atheist girls on (Jewish Atheists) but it requires some persistence.  Perhaps more logical to try to make use of some of the atheist and geek socializing and dating sites out there.  
I also think is excellent for meeting with people of common interests such as local meetings of atheists or (in your case) maybe joggers, musicians, book-readers, etc.).

Comment by Michael Pianko on January 3, 2014 at 8:31pm

I like bowling and playing guitar and sometimes reading books and I try to jog or do various exercises regularly. In case I have a kid I would want to prevent him from getting circumcised and I would want my kid to be smart enough to not let people brainwash him into a religion.

Comment by jlaz on December 30, 2013 at 1:12am

Michael, I do think it's possible to meet girls who share common interests and who are either outright atheists or who do not care about religion.  In my view it's perhaps a matter of keeping an open mind to a variety of interests, and perhaps also availing yourself of atheist-specific socializing and dating sites.

Comment by Michael Pianko on December 26, 2013 at 12:02am

I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in the north west Detroit suburbs. Now I live on east side of the northern Detroit suburbs. Sometimes I go to meetings of an atheist group which meets in a room they reserve in a restaurant. The last Jewish event I went to was in August 2010. Now how am I going to find a girl who is compatible with me and doesn't care that I don't pay attention to religion? 


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