Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Atheists vs. the Religious

This is an ongoing saga that I find riveting.  One would think that atheists, after claiming the side of rationality and logic, would be happy to leave the religious to their lives.  However, that does not seem the case.  Many atheists seem as militantly fundamentalist in trying to sell their views into the public as any fanatical religious figure (forget about specific religions, they all have fanatical fringes).
Now I am not referring to the obvious areas where it is necessary to prevent religion being pushed into schools or trying to dictate others lives.  Indeed, many in the religious establishment agree with the atheists that such topics do not belong in schools- but should stay in the home or in the place of worship or religious study.   I know I am- being a Jew in a majority Christian country I am delighted that schools do not teach religion and that there are no mandated religious practices or customs.   In my mind, the same should apply in any democractic country.

Where I find this fascinating is with characters like Richard Dawkins.  Not content with having his beliefs, he is as evangelical as any missionary pushing pamphlets in trying to get people to agree with him.  And he is far from the only atheist to behave in such a manner; seemingly the battle lines are drawn and the two sides tend to square off more and more frequently.  To me, it seems that atheism is becoming the flavour of the day- radical atheism of the “in your face kind” more and more popular.  One can go to a forum like Yahoo!Answers Religion & Spirituality- and there is probably more religion bashing from atheists there than any other kind of question and answer.

Its intriguing.  The atheists claim rationality, logic, free choice, free will and free speech.  In fact many atheists spend a lot of time saying how they embody these values and how repressive religion is- yet increasingly they are the ones that embody the oppression.  Is there a need for atheists to enter religion forums to mock and ridicule?  Wheres the free choice, will and speech of the religious in being able to express their views?  Personally- I just ignore them- but the sheer volume and prolific nature of the atheist drum beat is easy to see:  a populist movement that seeks to drown out and suppress the voices of the religious they don’t agree with!

Hopefully, the two sides can come to a detente and peace and rationality can prevail.  The reality is that is far from likely given past behaviour and human nature.


February 17, 2009 - Posted by | Current affairs, Weekly Question/Issue | , , ,


  1. I like wise find Atheism vs. the Religious an interesting position. I wouldn’t say entertaining, except if you are a sucker for self inflicted tragedy. However, what I find more interesting is to find this musing on a Jewish blog. The reason is because next to Atheists, Orthodox Jews have the reputation for being the most vocal in complaining against other religions. This reputation is followed by Muslims then Christians and finally Hindus and Buddhists.

    What I find intriguing is that every religion seems to see this practice of pushing one’s religion on another as wrong when they are the victim and yet as perpetrator, they claim it to be a basic tenant of their religion. Judaism stands alone in this respect. While allowing conversion Judaism discourages aggressive religious propagation.

    However, it seems that we Jews end up yapping like little weeny dogs at the rest of the world for trying to convert us. This tactic hasn’t worked for anyone. In the end, we just get sore and start hating the people caught up in the popular religion of the day.

    Torah council’s us on this matter directly telling us that the nations should look at us and marvel at Torah saying, “what people has such laws…?” I’ll highlight the obvious here: nobody is saying that these days. So either Torah is wrong or we are doing something wrong.

    I’d like to suggest that the Torah is not in error. If the nations are going to marvel at Torah they are bound to want to follow it. But our response has been to tell them to get lost. It makes about as much sense as giving away land to our enemies so they will stop trying to destroy us.

    Certainly the world is against us. But we have HaShem and Torah why do we need to complain? The little dog run circles around the big dog barking. The big dog barely growls to match the response. So if we are the head and not the tail while do we act like we are the tail?

    My position is simple: let ’em bark – but I will show the power and wisdom of HaShem through my life. Are we going to react like Shaul or David? Let’s stop whimpering and give calm answers to their arguments instead of acting cornered like so many yapping dogs. We don’t have to prove Torah to anyone we already know it’s better. If we prove Torah to anyone the old adage still works: actions speak louder than words.

    When was the last time someone asked you to teach them to tie tzitzit? Or learn a brachah? It happens to me several times a week and often by non-jews wanting to embrace my lifestyle. But the nations only look at us with wonder if we don’t live a life of spite. So you choose how you want to live. As for me and my house we choose shalom and the nations are marveling!

    Comment by R. Bobavich | February 23, 2009 | Reply

    • The only people Jews complain about are “Messianic Jews”, a Christian movement posing as Jews in order to convert people. I always find “Messianic Jews” amusing, claiming to be persecuted by jews while perpetuating a fraud aimed at attacking the souls of Jews. I have said in the past, and will repeat it: If “Messianic Jews” dropped the pretence of being Jews, no longer pretended to be what they are not and refrained from missionary activity- I would have no need to speak out against them.

      And Judaism tells no one to get lost- it tells us to make sure people are sincere, and if they are, we accept them as converts. Those who do not want to convert can become tzadikim Bnei Noach. We don’t go around telling people to convert because unlike other religions we don;t claim that you have to be Jewish to eb righteous. We don’t have Hell and eternal damnation for non-believers, we don;t say that if if you are not Jewish you are evil or misguided.

      As for just living Torah and hope they just pay attention- we tried thta; we got put in ghettoes, expelled, tortured, slaughtered by the crusaders, cossacks, mobs led by priests in the name of Christianity to avenge an act done by the Romans, and then 6 million of us paid the price when part of the non-Jewish world decided we were a different race that had to be wiped. Yes, we will live out live our lives according to the Torah- but we will also fight back to protect the our soul and ourselves. As for teaching someone to put on tzitzi -and tefillin- this morning at shacharit actually. Difference is, that I am 100% certain the person Iw as teaching was Jewish- can you say the same thing in a “Messianic Jewish” community where many are not halachicly Jewish and many more were never halachicly Jewish to start off with? And whats the point of teaching non-Jews to follow Jewish law? They have no obligation to do so- and in fact gain absolutely nothing from it. Some authorities actively forbid it if there is any chance of them pretending to be Jews abd going amongst Jews to act as missionaries! But then, in “Messianic Jewish” communities that is the aim- get Jews to embrace Christianity under another guise since so few would ever embrace it openly!

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. In my travels (I’ve been around the world five times now) I’ve heard Jews whining and complaining of every religion. Certainly Christians are the ones that Jews like to pick on most but that is more due to the number of Christians. With Buddhism being adopted by so many Jews in Israel they are beginning to take some flack. Islam is also a pretty big target of Jewish complaint as well. I am upset regularly by the amount of Hindu conversion taking place in Judaism. To say that Messianic Jews are the only ones complained about is just an uninformed position.

    The whole annoyance with Messianic Jews from your side is much of my annoyance with Chabad for their “missionary activity” over their supposed choice of Messiah. But in reality our annoyance doesn’t affect any real change. While I really don’t like the idea of Schneerson as Messiah I don’t think that Chabad should be excluded from greater Jewry.

    As to Messianic Jews, I totally agree with your assessment. There are basically four major divisions. Those that truly embrace Judaism are among the minority to be sure. However, there is a growing faction within the Messianic movement (especially the upper leadership) to change and embrace Orthodoxed Judaism with much the same fervor as Chabad. Much like Chabad, these focus on encouraging righteousness through Halachah as opposed to conversion by mental assent and pretensions words like the Christians. I contend that this sect of Messianic Jews, the ones who tie tefillin and wear payyot as circumcised men should be thought of as Jewish converts or at least given a chance for giyor.

    As to the missionary activity of any faction of Judaism claiming to have found the Messiah whether Chabad, Netzerim or others – Isn’t it natural for them to share their supposed joy at finding the Moshiach? Obviously they all can’t be right since their claims are mutually exclusive. But let each man be convinced on who is Moshiach or let HaShem Himself reveal it to be more obvious. But in the mean time every group that thinks they have a Moshiach will talk about it.

    We call the more liberal sects of Judaism brothers when they desecrate the Name through their lawlessness. Why should we then alienate the MJs who uphold Torah – sometimes to a greater extent than most Jews!!! Shall we become jealous of them when HaShem blesses them for their choice to become bound by obligation? Obviously I’m not talking about the pretentious Christians who pretend to be Jews but the sincere Torah seeking batch.

    As for being Halachicly Jewish, I’ve yet to meet a Jew who can relate his genealogy back ten generations. Like it or not the hard cold reality is that most Jews can not prove they are halachicly Jewish. However, I contend that the one who walks according to the Mitzvot, even if born a Gentiles, is more Jewish than a man born Jewish who practices Hinduism. One is brought near to HaShem. The other is cut off for worshiping idols.

    The nature of Messianic Judaism does bring in converts more quickly due to the growing discontent among Christians. A historical study of Christianity shows that they were not always regarded as outside of Judaism. Only after embracing Roman pagan doctrines were they expelled. I believe that not recognizing some form of Messianic Judaism as a valid sect of Judaism only creates more problems. Since they have no formal giyur with which to educate their growing following they are left to their own design. Most of them are sincere in their desire to follow Torah but have no teachers qualified to instruct them.

    As I’ve said in all of my previous posts: let’s try to have as much mercy as possible we’ve all found ourselves needing teshuvah at some point. Encouraging teshuvah in everyone should be the goal of our interaction with humanity. In that way we do live in such a way to make people ask questions with sincerity because they want to learn how to be more Jewish. I get ’em every day I step outside. It’s wonderful sharing the joy of teshuvah – especially to first time gentiles who are sincere.

    Comment by R. Bobavich | February 24, 2009 | Reply

    • There is no room in Judaism for those who would claim that Jesus is a divine figure and give him a place in Judaism. It has been the position of Judaism for the last 2000 years and remains the position of Judaism. “Messianic Jews” are CHRISTIANS, not Jews- and as Christians even those few that once were Jewish are outside of the Jewish, cut off, outside of the community with no place in it. No “Messianic Jew” has a place in Judaism, no “convert” to “Messianic Judaism” has any place in Judaism. The only thing for those Christians in “Messianic Judaism” to do if they were once Jewish and want to return to Judaism is to do teshuvah- drop the Pagan mythology they have imported into Judaism- especially the figure of Jesus, and return to genuine Judaism.

      As for your whining about Jews- I don’t think I’ll pay much attention to it considering yout animosity towards Orthodox Judaism and desire to pass off Christianity as genuine Judaism.

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. Who said anything about Jesus being divine? We have no other King, Savior, or Redeemer than HaShem.

    Comment by Israel | February 24, 2009 | Reply

    • I must have been imagining things when you claimed that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus was the actual son of G-d. Yep, a story straight out of numerous Pagan legends- ubt one that has no place in Judaism. No divine sons have any place in Judaism- when the Mashiach arrives he will be one hundred percent human.

      And there will be no further comments allowed through on this issue. This post was about comparison between fundamentalist atheists vs fundamentalist religious followers. Feel free to comment on that- I will not continue to debate with Christians about their beliefs. Any further comments trying to promulgate Christian beliefs- be they in the disguise of “Messianic Judaism” or honest Christians, will be consigned to the dustbin

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 24, 2009 | Reply

  4. Well, considering the bulk of your blog post was about Christians it seems kinda odd. But I’ll return to the topic if you like.

    Atheist are just as religious as Christians, or Muslims or Buddhists or any other group that evangelizes. Jews stand alone as a group who doesn’t. But we whine about being evangelized. Why do we whine because they do something we don’t do? They aren’t us why should we expect them to act like us?

    I feel the same way about Chabad as you do about MJs they have things that make me question their place in greater Jewry. Yet I can see HaShem blessing them. So, if HaShem blesses do we have the right to curse the same?

    In Judaism we are taught that life begins at breath. Thus a fetus does not become a life until birth. None-the-less the fetus a potential life that must be guarded with all manner of love and care. We never despise the unborn because they are potential persons. Shall we hate potential Jews? That is potential converts?

    My conclusion still remains: Mercy toward all to the extent allowed by Torah. Even if I don’t like Chabad I acknowledge them as Jewish. I do the same to MJs who embrace Torah. And to those who rebel against Torah I also acknowledge as being outside of the people G-d. But for those who have a chance for teshuvah I plead for them to do teshuvah.

    If a Gentile becomes more Jewish than me my response should be to learn from his action that I too can follow Torah more perfectly. I always look for Torah in everyone not only Jews. If the Gentiles are denied access to Torah Avraham ceases to be a light to all the nations.

    The lamp is the Mitzvah and the light it shines is Torah. There is no other light. But if Gentiles embrace Torah in some form and begin to become Beit Avraham shall we turn them away for their lack of full knowledge? Or encourage them with full expectation that HaShem will lead them to full righteousness. How shall we respond, in love or in hate?

    Comment by R. Bobavich | February 25, 2009 | Reply

    • You sure you reading this post and not a post somewhere else? The post talks about atheists being active in evangelism- the only mention of Christianity is when I say that I am happy that religion is not mandated to be taught in schools since I am in a majority Christian country. Turn your blinkers off and actually read what is written rather than what you would misportray it as. Or are you so in the habit of misquoting and misportraying jewish literature that you can’t help doing it no matter what the context and forum?

      And the same goes fro your misportrayal of Chabad- your statement showing the typical surface view which is completely inaccurate but twisted to try and justify the Christian movement called “Messianic Judaism”. Here are the facts about Chabad: The official line, and the bulk of the membership, see the late R’ Menachem Schneerson Zst”l as a great Rabbi and teacher. Within Chabad there is a movement called Yechi which views him as the Mashicha- not divine, not having G-d as a father, but as the precursor to the Messianic age. The bulk of Chabad have rejected yechi – who like many new and young organisations are very vocal and visible. But there stance is getting them into trouble- in some cities (Milwaukee for one) Yechi have been forced to open a seperate Chabad House since they ar eno longer welcome at the main Chabad House; their is also a growing movement in the Orthodox world to put them into cherem until they drop the “Rebbe is Mashiach” belief. In short- the majority of Chabad do not see the late Rebbe as Mashiach- and thise within Chabad who do may very well find themselves outside of the Jewish community if they do not change their stance. Now try to use the facts before attackign Jewish movements from a stance of ignorance. And no- I am not Chabad: My Rav is a student of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zts”l who is not at all a fan of Chabad or any Chassidishe movement.

      As for life- nope- we are taught that life begins at conception- but that it is not considered a fully formed life until birth- that is a very different stance from saying life only starts from birth. It is because life is from conception that abortion is not allowed except in situations where the foetus can be classified as a rodef! Even more- when a pregnant woman is attacked and miscarries, she receives compensation for a lost limb- since the foetus is a living part of her- though it i not deemed a seperate life until brth. If it wwere not livign- then no fine would be paid- just as no fine is paid for cutting someones nails while they sleep.

      As fr teaching gentiles- go ahead, you are one of them, in a Christian movement. Its just a pity you misrepresent yourselves as Jews.

      And again- this post was abouot evangelical atheists. Please keep to the post topic.

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 25, 2009 | Reply

  5. Oh so sorry. I’d mis-read your use of the word “evangelical” which usually means Christian. In re-reading I seem my error. Please forgive the slight of eye.

    It’s a feet to have you agree with both of my points in the same post. Thank you, that is most generous.

    As to the Chabad I’m very aware of their official stance. I’ve dealt with Yechi and the traditional Chabad. Both annoy me but for different reasons. Your point about Chabad was the reason I brought them up. Thanks for making it clear. We can’t just write off an organization because part of them are cuckoo. We still have to give each person an individual chance.

    You also stated my same point about abortion: Life is important from the beginning and whether fully formed or forming deserves love and care. Torah agrees with us and I’m pleased to agree with Torah. Even a forming life deserves full respect. So too, one who is learning Torah must never be turned away by our annoyance at their failure to grasp it.

    One of my favorite reactions from anyone I’ve seen is my friend Yovel in Israel. (A Chessid who does NOT believe Yeshua is Moshiach – just for clarification.) When he encounters them (MJs, Atheists, or whoever) he gently stops them, tells them what he believes and then proceeds to share as much Torah as long as they’ll listen. He’s so much fun to hang with because he doesn’t let the Jewish hatred of Christianity into his life but chooses instead to love Torah enough to give everyone a chance to see it for truth. Christian, Atheist, Hindu – whoever. Of course, he is selective about what he shares and how. But so are we all – don’t cast your pearls before swine right?

    Atheists are doing a better job than we are right now and shining a false light that is turning many astray from the joy of Torah that they once embraced. I have to pity the lonely sad life of the Atheist who doesn’t know the power of HaShem of the joy of Torah. I pray that HaShem let’s them see the light of Torah so that they can also bless His Name. Who knows if they might not correct their false doctrine and turn others back as well.

    Again my point remains the same: Malice and hatred don’t belong in our lives. Choose mercy. Choose peace. Choose life for everyone whenever possible.

    Comment by R. Bobavich | February 25, 2009 | Reply

    • One has to ask- what is worse- idoltary or a belief in nothing. From the Torah’s point of view both are wrong but the Torah is clear that idoltary is worse than atehism. A belief in nothing is wrong, no doubt, but a belief in idols is worse. And when it comes to Chrsitianity Rambam is clear: Christianity is idoltary for Jews. A\n insertion of a human figure as a son of G-d is idoltary and forbidden to Jews.

      As for your friend- he does what e thinks is right, but it is debatable whether it is halachicly correct- we are forbidden to teach Torah to those who would use it to emulate Jews to rob them or to convert them to other faiths. messianic Jews may not be a physical threat, but they definitely fall under the headings of those that would deceive Jews and try to kill them spiritually.

      So I choose rejecting the false-shining a light on those who use deceit and falsehood to attack the very essence of Judaism – while educating uneducated Jews as to what genuine Judaism believes.

      And I will happiuly educate and help guide those who come to me with a genuine desire for Judaism- while rejecting those who twist and pervert Judaism to try and insert the Pagan ideaologies into Judaism that are Christianity.

      And I repeat- the day that “Messianic Judaism”: drops the pretence of being Jewish and admits to being Christian will be the day I stop speaking out against it. As it is- it is a halachic imperative to oppose it- since we are commanded to speak out the person who comes amongst Jews to spread idoltary!

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 25, 2009 | Reply

  6. I understand Rambam’s ruling. I just ask for Torah reference on that one. I can’t find the belief in the divine origin of Moshiach to be grounds for idolatry. We find too many other heavenly being mentioned in Torah to believe one more could be as big a deal as all that.

    As to MJs being Christian, Christians excommunicate MJs so it is hardly fair for them to call themselves something they have been rejected from…

    Again I don’t stress that all MJs refrain from idolatry but neither then do all Jews. It’s a popular thing in many Jewish houses today to put up a Christmas tree – an idol according to Jer 10. But there are some that fall into the odd category of non-idolatrous Messianic Christian Jews or whatever. What shall we say of them?

    I agree completely that idolatry should not be tolerated. But I also think that if you would teach an interested Hindu you should teach twice as much to the interested Christian because the amount of idolatry the Hindu engages in is ten times more than the Christian. But then the Atheist may collect idols though he doesn’t believe them to be of value but fancies them art pieces. I know Christians who will not even allow a photograph for fear of venturing toward idolatry.

    The which is worse scenario is always an interesting one. I can’t say that one is worse since both idolatry and atheism fly in the face of all we stand for. I’m not really even saying that we should keep our mouth shut. I’m merely questioning the hateful attitude that tends to poison so many of our brothers. I will always debate such shenanigans. But I’m not a real fan of Atheism either…

    Comment by R. Bobavich | February 26, 2009 | Reply

    • Rambam’s ruling in Hilschos Avodah Zara is derived form Aseret haDibrot- assigning human characteristics to G-d as anything but an analogy is akin to idol worship. He discusses this extensively in Moreh Nevuchim- how human characteristics when used to describe G-d are merely analogies to aid our understanding and ascribing actual attributes like a physical manifestation to G-d, or a physical son, is idolatry. And the heavenly beings mentioned int he Torah are always servants with no free will and specifically powerless except under direct command from G-d. None of the angels, mazalim, kochot or any other supernatural being has any power that does not derive from G-d- nor are any of them capable of acting outside of their direct mandate from G-d. To view them in any other light is in direct violation of not putting other beings before G-d. On top of that- none have a physical nature at all- and none ever can. Ramban explicitly addresses this point in his commentary on Berieshis where he states that the combination of physical and spiritual in mankind is only possible because of the direct intervention of G-d in the process i.e. G-d blowing the soul into the body.

      And “Messianic Jews” are Christians. The fact that you believe in Jesus as a divine figure and messiah means that you are a Christian. The fact that Christians also reject you- well, thats to their credit that they reject a movement that uses fraud and deceit in its tools to try and convert Jews. As for the “Channukah Bush” that some liberal Jews use– well, that ha snothing to do with Orthodox Judaism. I doubt anyone today sees the Christmas tree and prays to in the manner that the idol worshippers at the time of Yirmiyahu prayed to the Ashera after decorating. Hey- maybe the Christmas tree has some relationship to that- doubtful beyond a surface resemblance since it derives from a completely different part of the world.

      And no- you do not teach people whose aim is to attack Judaism with what they have learnt. How many distorted quotes from the Talmud do you see on the internet? How many misquotes, mistranslations and outright distortions of Judaism do anti-Semites use? Why teach them more and show them even more for them to lie about and distort?

      And just as bad are the misquotes and distortions of the groups like “Messianic judaism” that are used to attack Judaism by tricking the uneducated into believing their Paganised version of Judaism is genuine!

      Comment by marcl1969 | February 26, 2009 | Reply

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