Jewish Atheist

An agnostic atheist perspective
from a once orthodox Jew.

mayisgrey asked: In response to your question about Jewish contribution--first of all, Jewish culture founded monotheism, so you can thank the Jews for the origins of pretty much all of Western advancement by Muslims and Christians. The reason Judaism has no golden age comparable to those of other religions and cultures is because Jews, unlike Muslims and Christians, were never allowed in a position of power from which to convey their aptitudes.

Hey May,

Thanks for the suggestions. Here’s my thoughts on them:

1) Just worth mentioning that israelite judaism began as a monolatrous religion, not a monotheistic one. Also, that other cultures nearby had similar notions.

2) Not sure why monotheism is important for the development of christianity and islam; were judaism not monotheistic, christianity and islam could theoretically have evolved from it just as easily, just without that precise detail.

3) But more importantly, if we’re going to say that judaism gets credit for what other religions did, then we might as well give that credit to even earlier religions and cultures which helped shape judaism. e.g. hammurabi’s code. Also, I’m interested in this entire question bc of religious claims that Judaism has contributed to the world; I think there’s something ironic by claiming that Judaism’s major contributions to the world - were non-judaic religions!

4) Maybe Judaism didn’t contribute more bc they didn’t have power and autonomy - though what of the early periods in Israelite history when they seemingly did? - but even if this excuse is acceptable, the fact remains that it’s just an excuse for something not done. (And by the same token - and I think very much just as reasonably - one can also explain why other cultures contributed more or less to the world. That is, using secular, reasonable explanations, with no need to argue about whose religion is actually more valid or divine.)

Thanks for writing =]

Conservatives vs Progressives

Heard this quote the other day. What do you guys think?

Conservatives know what works bc it’s whatever is right; Progressives know what’s right bc it’s whatever works.

logic-and-art asked: I'm not quite so sure. At least in the reform movements (which are tangential to "assimilated"/secular movements), there is a great deal of emphasis on intellectualism and tikkun olam. It does a great disservice to Judaism as a whole to erase its impact on a person. Someone being secular does not mean that they don't have a connection with Judaism in a way that can inspire them. Although it may vary from individual to individual, (cont)

disregarding Judaism carte blanche is harmful and disrespectful to those that it truly does impact and inspire


But I’m not interested so much in individuals as much as the societal effects and culture of the religious world - and, in particular, the orthodox world.

Put another way, I’m trying to figure out what - if anything - Judaism has contributed to the progress of mankind.

Anonymous asked: Is Open Orthodoxy heretical to you?

I think all the religions are ridiculous. But when I was an orthodox frummie I considered any sect that wasn’t orthodox to be heretical - which is pretty standard.

logic-and-art asked: I can understand your position if you're referencing people who have deliberately been distanced/distanced themselves from Judaism but for those of us who are secular, non-religious "assimilated" Jews that still interact with the culture, philosophy, and values of Judaism, it can be pretty insulting to only measure Jewish impact as being derived from a devout connection with the Torah.

Sorry, that’s not what I’m trying to get at. I think jews - as jews - have had major impacts on the world, I just don’t think it can be attributed - at least primarily - to a religious culture.

saltdragon asked: As far as whether or not the contributions of Jewish Modernists can be tied to Judaism or Jewishness, in many cases it can be, directly so. But this is also beside the point. Asking if a contribution is Jewish, or if the creator just happened to be Jewish and the achievement is secular, is just as quixotic as trying to appease frummies. In the case of the former goyim will ignore it, and in the latter goyim will claim it. We can't win, so it's best not to play this game. 1/2

Jewish achievements or achievements by Jews? This is a difference without a distinction. 2/2

I think there is, but check out my answer to your last ask where I explain how all this got started!

saltdragon asked: Achievements the religious can claim, hmm, this was not stipulated in the "The Golden Age of Judaism -?" post. I can think of a couple answers, but this is beside the point (Jews were instrumental in the development of cartography and navigation in Spain and Italy in the 12th -15th century). Why are you looking for an answer that would suit frummies? How quixotic.

Bc a religious friend of mine was talking about how the torah teaches jews to improve the world, so I asked him how he thought jews were supposed to, and in fact did, that. My friend replied with some vague response about teaching and innovation, but I pressed him for details (and found that I couldn’t really think of great examples myself!). So that’s what’s up. I’m basically working on an anti-polemic. My point is that jews are often awesome, but that a judaism-based culture isn’t necessarily a good thing or would have much to offer the world.

I believe that, beyond the matrix of thought transfused from Judaism in Western (religious) culture, the greatest Jewish contribution to humanity are the recipes of all Jewish cuisines ^ __ ^ Many Italian delicatessen have Jewish roots

saltdragon asked: Additionally, you are setting yourself up for failure if you are unwilling to accept the contributions of secular "assimilated" Jews as Jewish contributions. The extent to which a Jew can truly "assimilate," particularly during the 19th and early-20th centuries, is questionable, even with religious conversion. An "assimilated" Jew still experiences antisemitism, and necessarily does not have the same experience as his gentile counterparts. This makes their achievements fair for Jews to claim.

That’s a good argument, and you may be right. To me, though, it seems like a good argument for how they are still jews, they still had that element of the jewish experience, but I don’t know if we can say that just bc they were undoubtedly jews that what they did was a result of jewish culture.

but also, and not sure if you saw where I mentioned this in another post, the reason I posed this question has to do with arguments made by many religious jews to the effect that judaism has improved the world. so, to me, even though these great people mentioned are undoubtedly jewish, and even if we can say that their success was mostly due to their jewish heritage and culture - still, I don’t think the religious can claim that it’s the achievements of the heretics which demonstrate who much judaism has helped improve the world.

saltdragon asked: Modernism, the philosophical and cultural discourse of the late 19th- and most of the 20-century, would have been a radically different thing without Jewish contributions. After Jews from all over Europe were emancipated during the 1800s (with a few notable exceptions), Jews were able to enter into the arts and sciences in unprecedented numbers. The world would be a very different place without people like Marx, or Freud, or Walter Benjamin, or Gertrude Stein, or Clement Greenberg.

Interesting, thanks for the message. but again, to me this mostly exemplifies how jews were able to achieve great things once they basically started absorbing the non-jewish culture (though “yiddish culture”, if you will, is something I need to consider).

but for instance: “Benjamin and his younger siblings, Georg (1895–1942) and Dora (1901–1946) were born to a wealthy business family of assimilated Ashkenazi Jews in the Berlin of the German Empire (1871–1918)”

and: “the Steins endeavored to imbue their children with the cultured sensibilities of European history and life”

Judaism’s Golden Age…. t.a.m.

@the-anony-mouse answered: Moses Mendelssohn might be a safe assumption with philosophy.

Interesting answer, but I still might object, hear me out as I play devil’s advocate:

1) A few philosophers scattered across millenia isn’t saying too much.

2) again, might be more a product of his time and place (i.e. the german enlightenment) as opposed to his culture (though obviously a significant factor in who he was and his views),

3)  again, I kinda feel that orthodox jews, at least, would be hesitant to hold him up as a poster child, lol.

But these are good. I def want to be challenged on this before I write up a post or start an argument with someone before having considered all these different options and angles.

nightjargirl asked: The incomplete assimilation non-frum Jews (maintained by a combination of pride and centuries of persecution) leads to friction which can prove inspiring to a certain sort of mind. Einstein's Jewish background prob contributed to him not falling into lockstep w/German educational expectations, but his family's assimilation put him at ease with science.

again, interesting idea but it needs to be developed more. (btw, if you’re strapped for space, feel free to send the message with “submit”.)