Does Judaism Need God? Do Jews?

Does Judaism Need God? Do Jews? April 16, 2012

New York’s “The Jewish Week” has an article about Jews and God that presents a good short summary of some of the issues I write about frequently.  Some of the statistics are fascinating, if not surprising:

The data [from the Public Religion Research Institute’s survey on American Jewish values, released this month] …showed that, while about 70 percent of Jews define themselves through a religious movement — Reform, Conservative or Orthodox — the other 30 percent see Judaism as more of a cultural identity, calling themselves “just Jewish.” And when asked whether Jews of any kind believed in God, 18 percent said they did not. (Forty percent said they believed in an “impersonal God,” while 26 percent said they believed in a God they saw as “a person with whom one can have a relationship.”)

That’s a whopping 58% of American Jews who are not traditionally theistic.

Some of the people interviewed for the article made the point that Judaism was about so much more than God:

“The religion has a lot of meaning even without God,” said Asher Lopatin, an Orthodox rabbi who leads the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago. Lopatin, a Rhodes Scholar recently named one of Newsweek’s “Top 50 Rabbis in America,” was not advocating for a Judaism without God. But he did think Judaism, even Orthodox Judaism, was getting along just fine without a strong emphasis on one.

That’s an amazing acknowledgment of reality coming from an Orthodox rabbi.

But, alas, there are others for whom the supernatural world is still the key to Judaism.  It will shock no one that Rabbi David Wolpe, spokesman for all things God, had this to say:

“Without God playing a central role, Judaism will collapse,” said David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi who leads the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. (He is also a regular contributor to The Jewish Week and topped this year’s Newsweek list.) He dismissed the idea of preserving religious rituals as merely valuable “traditions” — a common description since “Fiddler on the Roof,” if not Mordecai Kaplan.

“In the end, traditions are hard to maintain unless there’s an attempt to understand the traditions in a deep way, and that God is central to those traditions.”

The article goes on to point out that this is an idea prevalent among many younger rabbis, too.

While I do recommend the article, I am once again disappointed by the fact that not a single humanistic rabbi or spokesperson was contacted about it.  I am fully aware that we are a tiny movement, but it seems to me that if you’re going to discuss atheism or humanism in a Jewish context, you would want to hear our point of view.  I guess we’ll just have to make good use of the comments section.

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