Is Secular Judaism Responsible for the Fracturing of Israeli Jewish Society? (Answer: Not Exactly)

We’ve spoken before about Prof. Gideon Katz’s new book in Hebrew about Secular Judaism, which I still recommend to anyone who wishes to learn about the subject. The RZ site ‘Srugim’ has just written an article on the book.

I will have more to say about this article another time, but in the meantime, I present to you the full article, translated by me:

Does the adoption of the secular worldview mean taking leave of religious tradition? What does that mean in terms of Israeli culture?

“On the Matter of Secularism”, a new book by Gideon Katz, a faculty member of the Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Zionism, by Yad Ben Zvi, deals with the connection of secularism to religious tradition. In the book, Katz discusses the model of secularism which developed among Spiritual Zionist thinkers and shows how it took root in the thought of Israeli intellectuals. The author’s primary argument is that this model of secularism is a source of cultural fractures and problems in Israeli society.

Dr. Yaacov Yedgar who teaches in the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University praises the book and is of the opinion that it “makes an important contribution, of rare quality, to the understanding of Israeli secularism. Katz forces secularist thought to answer the toughest questions, the main one being the existential one. As he puts it: ‘How can secular Jews – individuals and more importantly a public – hold on to their Judaism”?

Devout Secularists

Secularism was formed by people who were influenced by the thought of Nietzsche on the matter of the Death of God and searched for more rational sources of authority like the “national spirit”, in order to mold their new Judaism.

Katz comes out in a non-provocative, yet resolute manner against this accepted conception of secular thought. The central argument which emerges from the book’s pages is that in the discussion on secularism we gave up too quickly on tradition. The book shows the problems of this abdication, and proposes the possibility of integrating Jewish tradition as part of a secular lifestyle.

To Adopt A More Moderate Secularism

Secularism as a world view rejects a miraculous Revelation, and usurps the authority of God as a force which shapes human life. The book deals with the contrast between rationalism and non-rationalism not as a philosophical question, but as part of an inquiry in to important possibilities lying before Israeli society.

The secularist in Israel tries to hold on to the religious roots of his culture as a basis for his secular life. In this way he takes tradition and changes or disrupts it more to his own line of thinking. This creates tension with those stay loyal to tradition. This internal conflict within the psyche of the secularist and between the secularist and the keeper of tradition is what Katz identifies as the background to the fractures in Israeli society.

Katz suggest to secularists to adopt the model laid out by Spinoza, which suggest a more moderate secularization, in which God and the tradition which draws its authority from Him continue to be present in daily life and in political life, but in which God moves behind the stage and “becomes more of a background figure and less of an active agent”. Katz proposes calling him “the pale God”.


Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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1 Response to Is Secular Judaism Responsible for the Fracturing of Israeli Jewish Society? (Answer: Not Exactly)

  1. Pingback: Religion and State in Israel - September 12, 2011 (Section 1) | The Jewish Wave

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