Alternative Judaisms


with the beginnings of some leadership , literature , and organisations in education and politics . You see it in two main areas – firstly in the Israeli school system where the secular part of the system is by far the largest in the country . You also know about it through politics – there are now parties , which espouse secular Judaism . The Israeli press highlights the continuing disputes between the religious and the secular . In contrast , in the Diaspora , secular Judaism , although as prevalent as in Israel , there is a pretense on the part of Diaspora Jewish leadership that secular Jews do not exist . Secular Jews are a non-category . Jewish population studies have not allowed for this category . They are rarely talked about and little organised institutionally . The largest organisation is the Secular Humanistic Society in the USA , which has about 35 congregations with a membership of about 45 , 000 members . They even started a seminary and last year graduated their first Rabbi with a PhD in Judaica . There are six more candidates in the pipeline . They have produced books and pamphlets and are growing . Brussels has a 40-year-old vibrant society with 300 members . There are numerous similar smaller gatherings around the world . An attempt is being made this year for the first ever world directory and a possible web site . So where are most Diaspora secular Jews ? They are either non-denominational and barely participate in Jewish affairs , or are generally subsumed within the main congregational forms of Diaspora Judaism , particularly the reform and conservative movements , though surprisingly also some in orthodox synagogues . American Jewish attitudes and practices suggest that , in fact , most Jews are fundamentally secular insofar that they pick and choose among the commandments and the ones that they pick are most likely compatible with secular American society . They are often Jews who belong to a synagogue without belonging . Many only belong to a congregation for social reasons and to perform the rites of passage . They are Reform , Conservative , and sometimes even Orthodox , in name only . The reason is that a simple default membership in a denomination does not require one to think or create , shape or synthesise ceremonies to one’s own specification . Many participate in songs and prayer for nostalgic and sentimental reasons , without necessarily religious feelings and / or even understanding the Hebrew – the transliteration offered in various prayer books highlights this phenomenon . These denominations that see secularism as a defect generally adopt a paternalistic attitude by accommodating their secular members with changing and pluralistic-type outreach programs . This has not and will not work , as secular Judaism is a set of Judaisms forming a stand alone concept with its own philosophies and principles and with its own developing congregations , literature and leaders , demonstrating a very positive but different form of Judaism compared to the religious streams . It will in time become part of the Diaspora pluralistic firmament of the Jewish landscape . Israel is now developing additional secular Jewish educational institutions , curricula , literature , and other secular infrastructures . One can now even see in Israel TV programs on the eve of certain Yom Tovims – such as the first night of learning on Shavuot – the Tikkun Leil Shavuot which was shown to about 50 , 000 viewers until about 3 AM – as well as having Seders on TV on Seder night . Whilst religious Jews consider this as another desecration of the holiday , one can also argue that this is a most serious expansion of the teaching of the beauty and richness or our traditions and rituals to a secular audience who would otherwise not bother to see or do anything . Israel is also fighting a battle for its own identity particularly through legislation and the Supreme Court who have to uphold democratic principles of a free and democratic country . This often brings the Supreme Court into conflict against those who believe Israel should really be a Halachic state .

Posen Foundation

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