Can one be Jewish and not believe in God?


So here I am at age 37, watching more and more of my Jewish peers joining temples … starting their kids off in Hebrew school … etc. The wife and I talk about this, and while we have yet to follow suit, odds are we will. I’m sorta mixed about the whole thing, but Catherine is determined: Our children will have their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Period.

What I’ve been thinking about, in relation to this, is: Do Jews have to believe in God? I ask because, while I do consider myself to be Jewish, I’m really at a loss with the whole God thing. Clearly, someone or something created our planet. But do I believe there’s a big man sitting atop a cloud, pointing his magical lightning bolt this way and that, inventing things like geese and water and Danny Wood? No. Odds are it was just some enormous cosmic explosion—a random-yet-fruitful accident that led to the merging of particles, the mixing of Atoms, the … well, you know. Hence, when I hear some rabbi blathering on about Noah’s Ark and the parting of the sea and the burning bush and the Ten Commandments, I just don’t buy it. I don’t. Can’t. I roll my eyes and think, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Truth is, even though I was raised Reform, I can’t really argue with the Orthodox who think the semi-believers are non-Jews; that we pick-our-spots Hebrews have no business considering ourselves part of the Tribe. Because, from my experiences, 90 percent of the people sitting besides me through the years are members of the synagogue for one of three reasons:

A. Guilt.

B. Social network/outlet.

C. Fear of death/reassurance.

But do they really believe? In their hearts of hearts, do they think God is watching over us? Do they pray to him with true conviction?

Or are they merely repeating the words, showing up on high holidays but spending most Friday nights watching Hill Street Blues on DVD?

You be the judge …

5 thoughts on “Can one be Jewish and not believe in God?”

  1. Jeff – As an Orthodox Jew and devoted reader of your blog i feel i have a unique perspective from which to read your post.
    1 – Agreed on your points a,b,c (B more so than anything where i come from)
    2 – I think one point that your missing in your post is the idea that some people (often myself) need something to look towards for an answer when things go great/wrong. When the shit hits the fan in my life i can temper my thoughts by thinking “everything happens for a reason” and that someone, somewhere, (god) has a grand master plan. Without believing in God this specific perspective is missing.
    3 – One other interesting thing is to think about it from the perspective of (believe it or not) Adolf Hitler. Did Hitler think that all Jews needed to be Orthodox or Conservative or Reform in order to be exterminated? Obviously not, Jews are Jews and at the end of the day are one group, religious, semi-religious, or not religious at all.
    Pick your path and conduct yourself in a way that any brand of Judaism would consider upstanding.
    P.s. Love the blog, keep it up

  2. Good points, man. But here’s how I look at it. There’s more to Judaism than the religious aspect -there’s the cultural aspect. There’s the holiday traditions and the characteristics we all share that make us Jews. It’s as much these traditions as it is the religion. So while you and I are both probably not the most religious of people, we are certainly Jews, culturally and based on our traditions. And if nothing else, our liberalism and hypochondria are certainly evidence enough.

  3. Just a quick hold-on-a-sec to Murray. I’m a pick your spots Jew. God? I dunno.

    But I’ll be damned if any decisions about my religious or cultural identity are made by a long-dead maniac, or any kind of intolerant prick. How can you let your identity be passive and determined by what a bigot might or might not think. If you don’t want to be a Jew, you don’t have to be. The freedom to choose is the whole point of this country, and valuing it is, in my opinion, a big part of the whole Jewish Thing.

Leave a Reply