Friday, February 16, 2007

A Religion of the Non-Religious?

From Haaretz:

On Sunday, Haaretz reported on Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin's initiative for the establishment of a secular Judaism lobby, to be comprised of MKs and representatives of secular Jewish organizations. Among the objectives Beilin set forth were civil marriage, secular conversion, separation of religion and state, funding for secular Jewish education and, in the long run, the establishment of a secular Judaism movement alongside the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Movements.

Beilin told Tuesday's conference that the secular should also be able to determine who is a Jew  for instance, deciding that someone with a Jewish father should be considered Jewish. But he admitted that the chances of passing such legislation are minimal.

Therefore, perhaps "what is needed is an institution, a building with pillars in which someone will sit and say that the candidate has learned enough Judaism and give him a [conversion] certificate."

But others said that the lobby should focus on secular Jewish education.
Read the complete article.

I think a secular lobby is a good idea, but it should focus on separation of church (or synagogue) and state and protecting the rights of the secular majority in Israel. But the idea of turning secularism into another Jewish religious movement is absurd. If you want liberal conversion, accept reform and reconstructionist conversions, and not just the Orthodox type. If you want to teach Jewish texts in a non-religious context you don't need to call it a movement.

The greatest thing about secular Judaism is that it isn't institutionalized. There's no hierarchy. We don't need ordained "secular rabbis". We choose who we listen to and respect by their personal merit, not because someone declared them to be luminaries.

So Beilin, lead a political lobby to protect our rights, but don't anoint yourself the Chief Rabbi of the Religion of the Non-Religious.


  1. Thanks for your comment over at my soapbox. It's also allowed my to find back your interesting blog...

    One point:

    "But the idea of turning secularism into another Jewish religious movement is absurd."

    In a broader context at least, I think you're quite wrong on this. Atheists/agnostics (I'm more the latter than the former) constantly get told that their position is just another faith. This is even more true when these secular people get organised: then their movement is castigated as a another "church".

    Secularism isn't a faith: not believing isn't another belief-system. As an agnostic I believe in a lot of concepts that cannot be defined easily ("love", "my wife", "science" etc) but my agnosticism/atheism isn't a religion at all.

  2. Gert, I agree with you that secularism isn't a religion, and I have no problem with secular organisations. My problem is with particular parts of this initiative by Yossi Beilin - the parts which use religious terminology such as conversion and rabbis.