Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The place of a non-believing Jew

At a simchah recently, I bumped into the father of an old friend, whom I hadn’t seen for many years. Charlie was always known as a forthright person, and it was good to see that the passage of twenty years hasn’t changed anything. He asked me what I consider to be the place of a Jew who doesn’t believe in God. He also told me that he remains a proud member of the community and of the Jewish people (he is, and always was, a staunch member of an Orthodox synagogue), but doesn’t believe in God. Charlie confided that he had asked his own rabbi and claimed that he had ‘been unable to handle the question’.

I think that while it’s a matter of great regret that Charlie doesn’t believe in God, and it would be desirable to discuss his beliefs with him in detail, his question deserved an answer.

My response (admittedly unprepared and delivered while struggling to hear over blaring music) was simple. I suggested to Charlie that even if he doesn’t believe in God, Judaism can certainly provide him with meaningful ideas, practices, and occasions for inspiration that will enhance his existence immeasurably. By continuing his association with the Jewish world, he will benefit from a way to contextualise major life-events, from the support of others and from unparalleled opportunities to enhance the lives of others.

How would you have answered?

A version of this article appeared on Cross-Currents

1 comment:

theedgeofwhere said...

Nice question nicely asked.

I think the place of a Jew who doesn't believe in G-d is no different from that of a Jew who does believe in G-d: it is wherever he/she wants to be.

Faith in G-d is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a Jew (according to halacha). And I think the same is true for playing an active role in a Jewish community: Just because you have faith it doesn't mean you will necessarily play such a role, and likewise if you don't have faith it doesn't follow that you can't play an active role in the community.

Ultimately, then, non-faith based reasons need to be found for why someone might want to play an active role in the Jewish community: and here a sense of community and history; a love for Jewish culture, literature, and tradition; and a belief in the value of Jewish rituals and practices can all be pointed to.