Jewish secularism

Jewish secularism comprises the non-religious ethnic Jewish people and the body of work produced by them. Among secular Jews, traditional Jewish holidays may be celebrated as historical and nature festivals, while life-cycle events, such as births, marriages, and deaths, may be marked in a secular manner.


According to historian Shmuel Feiner, the onset of modernism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witness the appearance in Europe of Jewish communities who rejected the religious norms and discipline demanded by the rabbinical elite and whose identities as Jews were increasingly separate from beliefs and practices from the Torah or the commandments.[1]

"The religious laxity, modern acculturation and philosophical criticism of religions that marked the onset of the Jewish retreat from religion began as far back as the seventeenth century among conversos in Western Sephardic communities (especially Amsterdam) and among the wealthy families of Ashkenazic "court Jews" in Central Europe. In retrospect, the contribution of the eighteenth century to the historical course of Jewish secularization seems particularly significant."

According to historian David Biale, secular Jews were in no danger of losing their Jewish identity, as the tradition of secularism was not external to the Jewish tradition, but yet another side of it: "in transcending Judaism, the heretic finds himself or herself in a different Jewish tradition no less Jewish for being antitraditional. Secular universalism for these heretics paradoxically became a kind of Jewish identity".[2]

Jewish secularism further made strides in Europe during the late 18th century and early 19th century as a central point of contention within Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. According to researcher Daniel B. Schwartz, "In the 1840s and 1850s, the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment - which had migrated from Prussia to Austrian Galicia and the Russian Empire earlier in the nineteenth century - grew increasingly polarized. On the one side stood moderates and conservatives committed to keep the Jewish Enlightenment moored in rabbinic law and culture; opposing them were Maskilic insurgents, intent on a no-holds-barred critique of tradition".[3]


Secular Jewish art and culture flourished between 1870 and the Second World War, with 18,000 titles in Yiddish, and thousands more in Hebrew and European languages, along with hundreds of plays and theater productions, movies, and other art forms. Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust rank among the creators of these works.

Prominent secular Jews have included David Ben-Gurion,[4] Emma Goldman,[5] Sigmund Freud,[6] Bernie Sanders,[7][8] Noam Chomsky,[9] Karl Marx,[10] Leon Trotsky,[11] Gustav Mahler,[12][13] Billy Joel,[14][15] Marc Chagall,[16][17] Henri Bergson,[18] Alan Dershowitz,[19][20] Heinrich Heine,[21] Albert Einstein,[22][23] Theodor Herzl,[24] Louis Brandeis,[25] Micha Josef Berdyczewski,[26][27] Hayim Nahman Bialik,[28][29] Ludwig Wittgenstein,[30][31] Jerry Seinfeld,[32][33] Larry David,[34][35] Boris Pasternak,[36] Stan Lee,[37] Stephen Fry,[38][39] Marilyn Monroe,[40] J. Robert Oppenheimer,[41] Baruch Spinoza,[3] Igor Guberman,[42] Mikhail Turovsky, Ayn Rand,[43][44] and Arthur Miller.

See also


  1. Feiner, Shmuel (2011). The Origins of Jewish Secularization in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Philadelphia, PA and Oxford: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. xi–xiii. ISBN 9780812201895.
  2. Biale, David (2015). Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780691168043.
  3. Schwartz, Daniel B. (2015). ""Our Rabbi Baruch": Spinoza and Radical Jewish Enlightenment". In Joskowicz, Ari; Katz, Ethan B. (eds.). Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9780812247275.
  4. Aronson, Shlomo (2010). David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Renaissance. Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9781139492447.
  5. Ferguson, Kathy E. (2011). Emma Goldman: Political Thinking in the Streets. 20th Century Political Thinkers. Lanham, MD, Boulder, CO, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 289. ISBN 9781442210486.
  6. Edmundson, Mark (2007). The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 227. ISBN 9781582345376.
  7. Berger, Joseph (24 February 2016). "Bernie Sanders Is Jewish, but He Doesn't Like to Talk About It". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  8. Sellers, Frances Stead; Wagner, John (27 February 2016). "Why Bernie Sanders Doesn't Participate in Organized Religion". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  9. Enayat, Hadi (2017). Islam and Secularism in Post-Colonial Thought: A Cartography of Asadian Genealogies. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 18. ISBN 9783319526119.
  10. Hoselitz, B. F. (1990). "Chapter 23: Karl Marx on Secular and Social Development: a Study in the Sociology of the Nineteenth-Century Social Science". In Jessop, Bob; Malcolm-Brown, Charlie (eds.). Karl Marx's Social and Political Thought: Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philosophers. Volume V: Marx's Life and Theoretical Development (Second Series ed.). London and New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 445. ISBN 9780415193276.
  11. Luehrmann, Sonja (2011). Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic. Bloominton, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780253005427.
  12. Lange, Nicholas Robert Michael De; Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies Faculty of Divinity Nicolas de; Freud-Kandel, Miri; Freud-Kandel, Lecturer in Modern Judaism Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies Miri (2005). Modern Judaism: An Oxford Guide. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780199262878.
  13. Jobani, Yuval (20 August 2008). "Three Basic Models of Secular Jewish Culture". Israel Studies. 13 (3): 160–169. ISSN 1084-9513.
  14. White, Timothy (3 December 1994). "A Portrait of the Artist". Billboard. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  15. JTA (22 August 2017). "Billy Joel Wears Yellow Star of David During New York Concert". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 4 September 2019. Joel’s parents are Jewish but he was not brought up religious. He has been described as a secular Jew and an atheist.
  16. Efros, A.; Tugendhold, Ya. (2003). Harshav, Benjamin (ed.). Marc Chagall on Art and Culture: Including the First Book on Chagall's Art by A. Efros and Ya. Tugendhold (Moscow, 1918). Translated by Harshav, Barbara; Harshav, Benjamin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 9780804748315.
  17. Hoffman, Matthew B. (2007). From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780804753715.
  18. Latta, Corey (2014). When the Eternal can Be Met: The Bergsonian Theology of Time in the Works of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden (PDF). Lutterworth Press. ISBN 9780718893606.
  19. Kreidler, Marc (21 October 2011). "Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz on Secularism". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  20. Ledewitz, Bruce (2007). American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 18. ISBN 9780275994600.
  21. Weir, Todd H. (2014). Secularism and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Rise of the Fourth Confession. Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 123. ISBN 9781107041561.
  22. Muraskin, Bennett. "Albert Einstein as a Secular Humanistic Jew". Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  23. Vosse, Patrick (2010). Secular Humanism: The Force Behind the Creation-Evolution Debate and Much More. Summerville, SC: Holy Fire Publishing. p. 140. ISBN 9781603832793.
  24. Singh, Amardeep (2008). Literary Secularism: Religion and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Fiction. Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 75. ISBN 9781443802697.
  25. Rosen, Jeffrey (2016). Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet. Jewish Lives. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780300160444.
  26. Schweid, Eliezer (2008). Levin, Leonard (ed.). The Idea of Modern Jewish Culture. Translated by Handary, Amnon. Boston: Academic Studies Press. p. 135. ISBN 9781934843055.
  27. Feinstein, Sara (2005). Sunshine, Blossoms and Blood: H.N. Bialik in His Time, a Literary Biography. Lanham, MD, Boulder, CO, New York, Toronto, Oxford: University Press of America. p. 34. ISBN 9780761831426.
  28. Biale, David (2012). "God's Language and the Making of Secular Jewish Culture". In Heller, Zachary I.; Gordis, David M. Dr (eds.). Jewish Secularity: The Search for Roots and the Challenges of Relevant Meaning. Lanham, MD and Plymouth, England: University Press of America. p. 57. ISBN 9780761857952.
  29. Dan, Joseph (2003). "Chapter 24: Bialik. Mystical Poetry and Mystical Language". The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780195139792.
  30. Blond, Philip (2005) [1998]. Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology. London and New York: Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 9781134860418.
  31. Redner, Harry (2016). Malign Masters Gentile Heidegger Lukács Wittgenstein: Philosophy and Politics in the Twentieth Century. London and New York: Springer. p. 160. ISBN 9781349257072.
  32. Keysar, Ariela (2018). "The Persistence of American Secular Judaism: Jewish Millennials". In DellaPergola, Sergio; Rebhun, Uzi (eds.). Jewish Population and Identity. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 88. ISBN 9783319774466.
  33. Shapiro, Edward S. (2014). "The Decline and Rise of Secular Judaism: Edward S Shapiro Asks if Judaism is Necessary for Jewishness". First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. 241: 41.
  34. Levine, Josh (2010). Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: Larry David and the Making of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 9781554906970.
  35. Berlinerblau, Jacques (12 September 2012). "Untangling the Oxymoron of the Secular Jew". The Forward. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  36. Katsman, Roman (January 2014). "Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago in the Eyes of the Israeli Writers and Intellectuals (A Minimal Foundation of Multilingual Jewish Philology)". Around the Point: Studies in Jewish Multilingual Literature: 643–686.
  37. Lund, Martin (2016). Re-Constructing the Man of Steel: Superman 1938–1941, Jewish American History, and the Invention of the Jewish–Comics Connection. Contemporary Religion + Popular Culture. New York: Springer. p. 45. ISBN 9783319429601.
  38. Knott, Kim; Poole, Elizabeth; Taira, Teemu (2013). "Chapter 3: Christianity, Secularism and Religious Diversity in the British Media". In Gillespie, Marie; Herbert, David Eric John; Greenhill, Anita (eds.). Social Media and Religious Change. Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter. p. 37. ISBN 9783110270488.
  39. Smith, Joan (29 March 2014). "Fed Up? Just Listen to Stephen Fry's Humanist Secret of Happiness". The Independent. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  40. Stanley-Becker, Isaac (16 October 2018). "Jewish Prayer Book Annotated by Marilyn Monroe, Who Converted in 1956, Could Fetch Thousands in Auction". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 September 2019. The movie star described herself as a “Jewish atheist,” according to Meyers. And after her divorce from Miller in 1961, she maintained only a few trappings of the Jewish faith, including a mezuzah — a tiny box containing Hebrew texts — on her door frame.
  41. Day, Michael A. (2015). The Hope And Vision Of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Singapore, Hackensack, NJ and London: World Scientific. p. 34. ISBN 9789814656764.
  42. Shneer, David; Gershenson, Olga (2011-02-23). "Soviet Jewishness and Cultural Studies". Journal of Jewish Identities. 4 (1): 129–146. doi:10.1353/jji.2011.0005. ISSN 1946-2522.
  43. Burns, Jennifer (November 2004). "Godless Capitalism: Ayn Rand and the Conservative Movement". Modern Intellectual History. 1 (3): 359–385. doi:10.1017/S1479244304000216. ISSN 1479-2451.
  44. Burke, Daniel (2 June 2011). "The Anti-Gospel of Ayn Rand". The Christian Century. Retrieved 4 September 2019. Biographer Anne C. Heller says Rand was raised a secular Jew in Russia at a time when Jews were persecuted by the Russian Orthodox Church. Early on, Rand decided that the existence of God and the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice were untenable ideas, Heller said.
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