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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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You’re Jewish – But Do You Believe In God?

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Godless Judaism – an oxymoron if ever there was one – is the result, no doubt, of a complex amalgamation of factors: family background and influences, secular and religious education, environment, culture, intermarriage, outlook on Israel and world events, and living in a high-tech world. Religious extremists who perpetrate barbaric acts in the name of God may turn some people away from believing in God. And not only has modern culture contributed to a new morality that sometimes pokes fun at or denigrates religion, but for some – young people in particular – God competes with the distracting and enticing electronic wizardry of computers, cable television, satellite radio, video games, and smartphones that places the world at their fingertips.

Godless Judaism would seem by definition not to be a religion. In my view it comprises two basic groups of nonbelievers: Jews by birth whose only tie to Judaism is genetics, and those who follow some, many, or all of the customs and rituals of Judaism.

Jewish culture grew out of and survived as an adjunct to the monotheistic Jewish religion. The gene that Jewish nonbelievers pass down to future generations may be Jewish but the Jewish torch they hand off to those generations is sputtering, and over time that flame will subside. Culture Jews, ethnic Jews and Jews who claim no religion eventually will dwindle to an insignificant number and the Jewish people will be almost exclusively composed of small, hard-core groups of Jewish believers in God.

What is particularly sad is that today we have Jews voluntarily relinquishing their belief in a God-based religion when their forebears sacrificed their lives for it. Legions of Jews through the centuries were tortured or slaughtered for being Jewish or for not renouncing their faith or converting, yet we have multitudes of Jews today who eschew their religion of their own willful accord.

For thousands of years there has been a Jewish continuum not just of genes but of adherence to a belief in God-based Judaism – and now that continuum is being seriously threatened not by hatred or malignant force but through self-compliance by Jews themselves. Virulent hatred and murder of Jews could not stop Judaism through the millennia, but today intermarriage, apathy, and weak identification with Judaism foretell a disheartening fate.

Leaders of the various streams of the Jewish religion constantly attempt to devise ways to draw people. They come up with all sorts of innovations, some of which arguably violate halacha. But these are largely Band-Aids that address symptoms rather than the syndrome. If Judaism is rooted in God, then solutions should emanate from God-based concepts, which can be creative and inspiring and even fun.

Creation, Jewish history, Jewish laws, religious services, rituals, the Shema: Judaism has always revolved around God. Indeed, the foundation of Judaism is belief in God. Without that foundation, there can be no true Judaism.

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About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series "History's Lost and Found". He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.


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2 Responses to “You’re Jewish – But Do You Believe In God?”

  1. I think you are oversimplifying it, Mr. Rachlin. An orthodox Jew must make three, not one, leaps of faith. The one you cover is the easiest to make: the belief in God. One must also believe that having created this wonderful universe, God still cares what is happening here. More difficult, but still easy. For why create a universe only to abandon it to its own devices. The third leap of faith is much more demanding: That the Torah we have is actually the word of God. That the commandments we have are given to us by God. I have met many people who accept the first two, but balk at the third leap of faith…

  2. Len Moskowitz says:

    Harvey Rachlin wrote:

    > According to halacha, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Period.

    This is not quite correct.

    A valid court of national stature can revoke Jewish identity (k'dushat yisrael). Two examples are the Kutim (Samaritans) and the "lost" ten tribes of Israel.

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