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 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? 

Comment by Alan Perlman on June 22, 2012 at 3:46pm

I have been a Jewish atheist since age 12, when they put "under God" in the pledge, and I said, "I'm not saying that."  Great to meet a group of like-minded folks.

Comment by Selina Mannion on May 5, 2012 at 11:24am

am writing a book on people who leave their religion. I am including my story with leaving islam. If a jewish person on here has an egaging story on how they embraced secular values please contact me. thanx

Comment by Selina Mannion on January 18, 2012 at 4:38pm

I am writing a book on people who leave their religion. I am including my story with leaving islam. If a jewish person on here has an egaging story on how they embraced secular values please contact me. thanx

Comment by ronys on December 3, 2011 at 11:40pm

Sure there are, but they're mostly in Hebrew! ("Hofesh" means "freedom" in Hebrew) ("secular")

Not to mention various facebook groups:


Comment by Harvey F on December 3, 2011 at 10:25pm

I wonder if there are any Israeli humanist/atheist groups or activities here. I haven't found any...

Comment by Natalie A Sera on November 24, 2011 at 8:29pm

Interesting, Sophia! When I was still a believer, I lived in Japan and   married a Japanese man who converted to Judaism (even though I never asked him to do it), and we were married at the Tokyo Jewish Community Center in Tokyo by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who is quoted in that article. There were still a good number of Jews in Tokyo at that time (1970), who had escaped from the Nazis. I remember having lunch after the morning Shabbat service, and listening to them singing the old songs they had brought from Europe. However, they were making sure that their children managed to get to the US, if at all possible, or else Europe or Israel, so I'm sure that the escapee Jewish community there is dying out if not already dead. On the other hand, there must surely be Israelis who work there, and probably Lubavitchers (you find them EVERYWHERE), so maybe the community center is still there.


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