Calling all free-range Jews

It’s official: Judaism isn’t a religion. Or, it isn’t only a religion.  That’s the argument of some leading Jewish educators, … Continued

It’s official: Judaism isn’t a religion. Or, it isn’t only a religion. 

That’s the argument of some leading Jewish educators, who say American Jews need to look hard at their beliefs and practices and embrace their reality. Which is that Jews strongly identify as Jewish, but that identity is in many ways a non-religious one.

Getting Jews to take seriously this non-religious religious thing is the new goal of groups like the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning, which on Sunday will put on the Washington area’s largest annual Jewish educational event. As many as 800 people are expected to come for a whirlwind of classes on Jewish life, including those on comedy, cooking, the environment, Israeli politics and medical ethics, among dozens of others. (Full disclosure: I’m presenting one of the classes, on religion and journalism). 

Sure, lots of people think of Judaism and already think non-religion — “Seinfeld,” lox and bagels, you know the deal. But Partnership CEO James Hyman says Americans “trivialize” non-religious aspects of religion. We talk about it, but we don’t take it seriously. 

The argument of Jewish leaders like Hyman is that non-religious aspects of religion are important and deep. Things like Jewish drumming or Jewish genetics can help people form strong connections to one another and offer important avenues into Jewish values.

 A program like this reflects the Jewish community’s knowledge that many American Jews are slipping from its organized aspects. Jews are likely to hold tightly to their identity as members of the Jewish community, but when compared with almost every other faith group, they rank near the bottom on most measures of religiousness: belief in God, importance of religion in one’s life, attendance of religious services, frequency of prayer.

But there is a new generation of Jewish leaders such as Hyman who are working to embrace the people they call “free-range Jews.” Such people, they say, don’t want to join anything or commit to specific beliefs, but they very much want to be Jewish and explore what that means.

“We have a very broad definition of what it means to be Jewish,” Hyman said.

I’m looking forward to meeting some of these free-range Jews on Sunday and will report back!



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  • xexon

    Judaism is a religion. With an extensive outgrowth of cultural structure. You’re really no different than Catholics in that respect.

    What makes you different is your belief in genetics. That you are somehow apart. That’s dangerous thinking. In that respect, you’re no different than your recent foe, the nazis.

    Secular Jews are not going away any time soon. In fact, they may eventually displace religious Jews altogether. They founded modern Israel. They’re behind the atheistic zionist movement that founded modern Israel. They’re behind the religious “settler” Jews that have been turned into ravenous dogs that attack all thing non Jewish.

    It’s a mess. Secular nationalism run amuck. When they took out the core beliefs of the God of Israel, a monster was created. A nation was formed. It’s been bathed in blood from day one.

    Not a good sign for the future of Judaism. Or the world.


  • Paul Martin Foreign Correspondent

    Many, many jews have intermarried, mny more young jews have lost interest in judiasm and jewish history partly because they see the hypocrisy in today’s well healed rabbis and wealthy jewish business people prehaps even their own families.
    The biggest myth of all is that teh World is under the false impression that jews are a stick together race, religion, whatever……it just isn’t true ! Put aside all the zionist hype,holocaust memorial places, museums, synagogues, jewish federations, community centers, Israel the so called jewish state,etc,etc,etc. There is NO universal bond or unanimous fraternity or sisterhood that binds ALL jews everywhere together, never has been, never will be because jews are NO different to anyone else hen it comes to graft, greed, corruption, domestic disputes or any other human traits. The biggest problem is the well organized groups of jews Worldwide who believe they represent the feelings, opinions and wishes of ALL jews…….they do NOT and there dwells the biggest myth of ALL !

  • VanZandt9

    Interesting idea but I can’t say I like it. The way forward is not in turning Jewishness into a cultural club. Reform Judaism already does this to an uncomfortable extent (in my experience), which is one reason so many young people leave. Being part of a sub-culture is not strong enough and people naturally rebel against that.

    It’s a shame when Jews who stopped being Jews have to find out in adulthood that their religion has all these interesting spiritual insights they never heard about.

  • macnietspingal1

    Oh yes. More media attention like this. I have all that is needed to be a Jewess. It adds to my ideas of how to manage the USA, starting from the home community where you live all the way up the structure of laws.
    A basic reading capability of Hebrew. The ability to empower oneself with one’s own spirituality. The Trope Trainer, The Tefillah Trainer, Davka Soncino Talmud and the paper medium HAKORAN. What has given me the strength of my own convictions is one word: YHWH (transliterated from Hebrew) and 2 Suras in the Constitutions of every Middle Eastern Country and the in the USA Mosques: Sura 3:3 and Sura 2:113. We are all freely capable of being RaMBaMs in the Earth that RaMBaM didn’t know existed. We each Jew are empowered because of these items. Just use them. Bottom Up to the Office of the President of the USA> I consider YHWH the Universal Atheist. YHWH sets me free. Freedom of information. I’d like to add that RaMBaM and Spinoza and his ETHICS. His first substance should now be YHWH.

  • ward7

    I am Black and we went through the same thing in the 1960’s and 1970’s. What does it mean to be Black? Duh, you don’t know? In the same token,no one can tell an individual Jew who he or she is or isn’t. I am also Catholic and no one can tell me how to express my beliefs. Oh, I am sorry. You can talk and I can ignore. I hope this propaganda session is free.

  • ThomasBaum

    Michelle Boorstein

    You wrote, “It’s official: Judaism isn’t a religion. Or, it isn’t only a religion.”

    Judaism is not a religion, it is a people, the Chosen People, a people chosen and formed by God.

    Abraham was the first Jew and before him there were no Jews.

    The Jews were chosen for a reason and the reason was that it was thru the Jews that God became One of us.

    Being the Chosen People does not mean that the Jews are better, or anything else of the kind, only that they were/are the Chosen People.

  • xexon

    Actually, many scholars now suspect that this chosen people thing was more of an early cheerleading attempt at a time when Judaism was young and on the verge of collapse.

    It was a way of giving hope to those who were depressed about their fate. What better way to cheer them up than to say they were somehow special in the eyes of the creator god? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

    As for Judaism. you appear to have a bible only understanding of it. The reality is Judaism is decended from ancient pagan practices as found in Babylonian Talmudic Pharisaism.

    It was just dressed in new clothes for another era.


  • ThomasBaum

    Like I said, before Abram was called by God, there were no Jews and what Judaism is supposedly decended from is absolutely immaterial.

    The Chosen People started with God choosing Abram at a specific time and place and then continued with God changing Abram’s name to Abraham and the line of the Chosen People going thru Isaac and Jacob.

  • VanZandt9

    Not much point in discussing what “many scholars now suspect.” There’s not even much point in discussing the ideas of the scholars who disagree with them.

  • Tobit

    Sure the Jews thought they were better. They had one God. The Canaanites were practicing infant sacrifice, burning their children alive. That’s the kind of thing you want to put a stop to.

    Through the Jews we have the Bible and the 10 Commandments which are the basis of our Western laws. Now it’s different and Jews can be JINO (Jews in name only). We live in a modern world. We don’t have to ask “what’s your religion?”

  • Aberta

    I like the idea of free range Jews. It sounds like a healthy alternative to the tradition bound (caged) Jews, who are never allowed outside their own communities, shivas and synagogues to see the wider world (metaphysically speaking). I suppose I would fall into the free range category because my mother is Jewish, by ancestry, not practice. My father was not Jewish. I was raised Christian (more or less), despite the often conflicting messages I received from each parent. I don’t particularly identify as a Jew, though I have an appreciation of the culture, religion, achievements and suffering of the Jewish people.

  • Aberta

    The Jews, at the highest level, are deeply mystical. It would be tragic if they didn’t realize the true nature of the practice of Judaism, but abandoned it for some mode of earning a living or lifeless indoctrination.

  • xexon


    There’s more hysteria around this claim than not. Sure there’s some racists out there. White and Arab alike. But the claim that is Judaism that’s causing a religious rift is largely false.

    There’s old hate in parts of Europe. But once again, it’s mostly a social element at work rather than religious. Europeans are very protective of “their” cultures and see Jews as foreign. But right now, they’re more focused on Muslims than they are Jews.

    Then there’s the Middle East. Despite what you hear on the evening news, there’s not a religious war brewing there. The rift is caused by the zionists, zionist led Israel, and their western supporters. It has far more to do with land grabbing and who’s military is mightier than it does between Islam and Judaism.

    In Islam, Jews are people of the book. Christians too. They are to be treated with respect. And out of the billion or so Muslims in the world, that’s exactly what they do. They’re ordinary people just like you. But we never hear of that. Our media focuses almost entirely on the bad apples of fundamentalist fringe groups. And even then, it’s mostly Muslim fringe groups. You never hear about Jewish fringe groups and seldom Christian fringe groups. They all tend to be racist and militant. And they hide their racism behind religious belief.
    The Klan is a perfect example.

    So don’t believe everything your TV is telling you. There’s things going on you don’t know. The biggest enemy of the Jews are fellow Jews. The zionists. And they’re hard at work convincing you otherwise. Even here on this website.


  • Hooville1

    The Jews are the chosen people in name only. They crucified their savior. They will return to the fold only when He returns again.

  • cfosscpa

    Xenon–you’ve been listening to proganda. “The reality is Judaism is decended from ancient pagan practices as found in Babylonian Talmudic Pharisaism.” Only said by those that want to discredit the Bible and Torah. The academic evidence–historical and archeological, is the Babylon copied the Jews, not the other way around. Don’t get the chronological dating of what has been found (Code of Hammurabi) confused with oral traditions passed down by a nomadic people that we KNOW at least wrote it down when they settled into a capital city (Jerusalem).

  • cucullen0

    As a no longer irish catholic irish american, I have always felt a great deal of empathy for secular jews. I admire greatly “the gifts of the jews” as one author – whose name escapes me at the moment – named one of his books.

    I only wish that something similar to secular judaism existed among my people. But then longing and disappoinment are touchstones of both of our histories, are they not?

  • Looking_in

    is it about my family’s traditions of hard, independent and compassionate truth-seeking in faith, or about my tribe’s paranoia about it.

  • waysav

    The Danish people, who are largely secular, sometimes call themselves “cultural Christians.”

  • shilotoren

    Hold your breath till it happens. Must be hard to accept it, but Jews have their own faith and don’t need yours. With all due respect, your faith is yours and we have ours.

  • shilotoren

    Just so much bigotry there.

    Jews are like other people and like most in the USA, most Jews are not very religious any more.

    As for the rest of your bunk, and it is bunk, you are projecting. There never has been one “central body” representing all Jews, but always many different structures, representing Jews in each different country (As opposed to many Churches with one leadership).

    As to universal bonds amongst Jews. For the religious Jews that is a precept of our religion. We all pray in Hebrew and we are obligated to help other Jews (religious or not).

  • shilotoren

    I am all for “cultural Judaism” although I also believe that there is much to learn from “religious Judaism” too. The rub is that cultural Judaism isn’t able to exist for long without some religious backing.

  • VanZandt9

    xexon, I was inclined to take you halfway seriously until you posted that crankish link (although the ‘panties in a wad’ line should have tipped me off). Thanks for giving yourself away.

    The writer, Dilling, in addition to being a WW2 antiwar activist, believed that Jews were responsible for the world’s problems. She wrote anti-Semitic screeds under a pen name and then cherry-picked Talmud passages and re-interpreted them with devious intent, as in your link.

    No one these days takes her seriously as a person, much less as a scholar…except, apparently, people like xexon.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “The Jews are the chosen people in name only.”

    God not only chose the Jews but formed the Jews this is why they are called the Chosen People, God did NOT unchoose the Jews.

    You then wrote, “They crucified their savior.”

    If you are speaking of Jesus and you consider that Jesus took ALL of the sins of ALL of humanity upon Himself, including yours, than for one to see who crucified Jesus, one needs only to look in the mirror.

  • jcraven

    Judaism is not as divided as Christianity with over 33,000 denominations globally, but still Judaism is divided between secular and non-observant Jews to Reform Jews (together about 70% of Israeli Jews by polls) then Conservatives, then Orthnodox, Hassadim, Mystics and various other shades. According to the ultra-Orthodox and some Conservatives who run Israel but are at most about 18% of the population, some 70% of the Jews of the “Jewish State” (secular, non-obsrevant, Reform) are not even “real Jews”, their marriages not “legitimate” marriages and thus their children not
    “legitimate”. Jews, like Christians, Muslims and other faiths and ideologies have their own Taliban types.

  • xexon

    Dilling is a wahoo. But she does make for interesting conversation.

    ALL religions are composed of bits and pieces of the religions that came before them. Not a one of them is original. In fact, Judaism and Hinduism are close cousins. They have a common root but branched in different directions.

    Judaism as a religion is dying. Due partly to all the rules and regulations about everything. And due partly to the fact the human race is maturing spiritually.

    I personally don’t care what religion a person follows. You can’t take beliefs with you when you leave this world. They belong here. They’re of the world. And that’s something every seeker needs to be reminded of.


  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “I personally don’t care what religion a person follows. You can’t take beliefs with you when you leave this world. They belong here. They’re of the world. And that’s something every seeker needs to be reminded of.”

    So are you saying that some will find out that their “belief” is actually a “fact” and that when they leave this world, it will no longer be a belief but a known truth?

  • xexon

    The mind is a part of your human equipment. It’s where beliefs are stored. That all stays behind when death claims the physical body.

    The soul is pure consciousness. It has no beliefs, only perception. A kind of perception that most religions are built around but cannot replicate.

    The path home is always individual. While it’s nice to travel along with like minded believers, there comes a point in one’s spiritual evolution where the razor’s edge becomes visible. Only individuals can move down that. One at a time. According to ability.


  • ThomasBaum

    xexon Part II

    I also met satan and I believe that God allowed satan to come down and God also allowed what transpired to happen and one of the reasons for this is that I needed to know that satan was/is real.

    It was God Who chose me to speak and I have said Yes.

    I do not believe for an instant that everything is God but I do believe that God created everything except for God and also that God has a Plan and has had a Plan since before creation.

    Many people don’t believe in God for the simple reason that they can not conceive of God and many people who believe in God have a “conception” of God that is horrid.

    I can not “conceive” of a Being being LOVE but since I met God I know that God is truly a Being of Love.

  • ThomasBaum

    xexon Part I

    Concerning your post of 4/17/2013 6:52 PM EDT that started from 4/13/2013 12:52 PM EDT

    Meeting God the Father did not require any “ability” on my part and I wasn’t even “seeking” God but was “seeking” forgiveness and admitting my guilt.

    It was God that took the initiative, so to speak, for no one can “force” God.

    Meeting God the Father revealed quite a bit to me, one was that God is neither a Male, a Female nor an It but is a Being of Love in that Love is God’s very Being not an attribute of God, another is that God the Father was already inside me and made Himself known and I believe that God is in All.

    Meeting the Holy Spirit was quite different in that the Holy Spirit came from outside of me and revealed to me that the Catholic Eucharist Is Jesus.

    Here is the Trinity, I can not explain the Trinity but I “know” it to be.

    One of the things about meeting God the Father and the Holy Spirit is that I “knew” instantly, actually quicker but there is no word that I know of to quantify or qualify it, Who They were, so to speak, One yet a Trinity.

    I “know” some things and there are other things that I believe and one of the things that I know is that I am not a know-it-all and do not need to be a know-it-all.

  • xexon

    If you are comfortable in your beliefs, more power to you. I will not wake you because you are not ready. It would be like trying to wake a grumpy 8 year old and get them off to school. That bed is much more comfortable. You made it yourself and it’s just the way you like it.

    This is a world of spiritual children. And all of these children are asleep and dreaming, save a few individuals.Their dreams compose the very world around you. It’s a collective dream with some individual touches. But it’s not real. Not really

    The entire human world, with all it’s galaxies and universes, exists as if it were a tiny bubble in a vast ocean. Outside of that bubble is what you would call the Kingdom. “Heaven”. It contains the rest of creation. (“In my father’s house, there are many mansions”) You inhabit a grain of sand on a vast beach.

    And beyond that, there is another level. The unmanifest God. This is where words fail to tell of what you witness there. There are no reference points. No shapes or forms. Just potential. And full awareness of everthing derived from it.

    Come and see.