Alternative Judaisms


What defines secular Jews ? Let me first of all say that they are every bit as monolithic as the religious Jews ! I am sure that if one builds a matrix plotting belief against non belief in a deity , practices of Halacha and / or rituals against only partial or non practising individuals , you probably will come up with 899 different models . Why 899 ? – Why not !! Just imagine what a pot-pourri you would have if Judaism and each of its components were to display its infinite rainbow permutations of life styles , conventions , practices , half practices , non practice that the overlap of the border makes definitions difficult . Which category suites a Jew who goes to an Orthodox service but parks his car on Shabbos and Yom Tov three blocks away ? Those who keep kosher at home and not outside of home ? Those eating their ham on matzos during Pesach ? I mentioned 899 forms of secular Judaism . Well , if I include varieties in practice and observance , one will get into tens of thousands of Shulchan Aruchs ! Nevertheless , as a “ Yekke ” who feels that some sort of definition is desirable , I have cobbled together a definition for secular Judaism , despite Prof . Yirmiyahu Yovel’s ( this years Israel Prize winner and head of the Spinoza Institute ) feeling that there is no need to try and reduce Secular Judaism to one coherent sentence or ideology . He considers secularism as an historical process and phenomenon , which in reality boils down to a multiplicity of values , some in conflict with one another . Anyway , my current definition is , Secular Jews believe that Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people . This culture is much broader than religion and includes everything significant that the Jewish people have created over the last 3000 years . Secular Jews participate in this culture and engage in a continuing dialogue with Jewish values , memories , books , customs , and traditions . They also engage in a significant dialogue with other cultures as well . The exploration and enjoyment of Judaism are enhanced by freedom of thought and conscience , which require no commitment to faith and worship , and by a freedom to build and shape a Judaism which is meaningful to a Jew in the modern world . ” Secular Jews view Judaism as a developing , pluralistic culture – one that is alive and changing – just like the monolithic religious streams of Judaism are constantly changing . Would anyone like to argue against this ? What about the fundamental changes going on in Orthodoxy to do with the study of our texts by women ? Women lawyers having the right to argue in front of a Beth Din ? Rabbi Ovadia Yossef applying for a technological University ? The first woman rabbi appeared only about 70 years ago and look how many now exist and are ordained . I am told that the majority of seminar students in the JTS and HUC are now women ! Nevertheless there are some areas of characteristics and thought that differentiates the Jew who lives according to Halacha and those that do not . Contrary to what most people think , it is not the issue of belief in a deity . Beliefs vary greatly for both religious and secular Jews . Religious Jews , from time immemorial until this very day , have been at odds with each other as to what form a divinity might take . Is it the anthropomorphic God of the Midrash , the Aristotelian unmoved mover of Maimonides or which of the Kabbalah’s interpretations or images of God as a dynamic organism ? If religious Jews have not figured this one out in 3000 plus years , one should not expect secular Jews , who think about this much less , to figure it out in 200 years . The inconsistencies that exist among religious Jews are surely mirrored in the secular Jews as far as the concept of God is concerned . True , you will find percentage-wise more so-called atheists and agnostics among secular Jews than among religious but that is not the issue . What however distinguishes the religious / secular divide are the canons and the resultant practice of day to day life . Secular Jews generally do not consider the Tanach , Mishna , Talmud , or Kabbalah as canons written by a divinity or by men divinely inspired . They

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