December 30, 2018

The Jewish Atheist

Naomi Esrig ‘20
Image result for jewish god

Judaism, like all Abrahamic religions, has a theistic aspect, that was built into its foundation as early as Genesis 1:1. Throughout the siddur and the Tanakh, God is identified as an inherent characteristic of Judaism. Several instances in the Torah rely on God for proof of their validity.
It might seem as if one would be a fool to try to be a part of this religion while simultaneously being an atheist; however, belief in a god is wholly unnecessary for one to connect to his or her Jewish identity. To doubt this is to neglect the existence of other possible characteristics of Judaism beyond God.
 Judaism is a collection of traditions, most of which serve an emotional or social purpose. One might say that prayer is simply to communicate or to praise God, and therefore an atheist has no reason to bother praying in any situation. It is true that a large part of prayer is about God, as the purpose to some extent is to talk to an omnipotent being in hope of perhaps having an influence on Him and therefore indirectly controlling the uncontrollable.
In this way, prayer can be used to lessen anxiety or a sense of foreboding one may experience. If one does not believe in a God, prayer would most likely not have this effect on him because he would be praying to nothing, and this non-being does not control anything.
Rather, an atheist can extract a positive social influence, and therefore also a positive emotional influence, from the action of Tefillah. By standing among one’s fellow Jews and singing in harmony, the atheist is able to feel a connection to Judaism through its people rather than its God.
The Jewish people are a community of a shared past, packed with ostracization and abuse, and shared culture. The theory that an atheist calling himself a Jew is a fraud is entirely false because one does not need a god to connect to a religion that has a god. If one can connect to the people, to their past and present struggles, then one can reasonably call himself a Jew, no matter his theistic theories.
Religion, of course, is not about just belief. Rather, it stresses the importance of appropriate action. One can technically be a Jew without acting morally in most cases because there is a familial aspect of Judaism. However, in my eyes, a moral atheist is far more qualified to be considered “Jewish” than an immoral person that is devout to God.
To be moral while not believing in God is to understand the importance of the emotional and physical wellbeing of yourself and others. To be immoral while believing in a god is to laugh in the face of this god and to scoff at one of the main bases of religion, the social foundation. The most critical part of Judaism is its community and its shared values. So then why would a moral atheist be refused his place in the Jewish community?
There may have been a time where religion was contingent on the existence of God. However, today religion transcends God. Religion is a cluster of qualities designed to bring the Jewish people together into the large nation that God promises Abraham in Genesis 17:20.

Excluding atheists from this community, refusing people who genuinely believe they are Jewish from strengthening their connection to the religion, is to reject the social aspect of Judaism and therefore to question the purpose of religion and the Jewish community itself.

Instagram Feed

Twitter Feed