Is “Jewish Atheist” An Oxymoron?

Herb Silverman doesn’t think so:

Within traditional Judaism, there is little interest in what one believes compared to what one does. Fixed prayers are standardized and required for the entire Jewish community, regardless of God belief. Saying these community prayers is not assumed to be an individual declaration of faith. There are 613 Torah commandments, and Orthodox Jews try to follow as many as possible. Some, like performing a ritual animal sacrifice at a temple in Jerusalem that no longer exists, are impossible. A commandment to believe in God is also impossible because people can’t will themselves to believe something they have solid reasons for not believing.

Judaism’s view about Jewish atheists is akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When a rabbi from a Reform synagogue spoke to my local secular humanist group (Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry), he was asked how many in his congregation were atheists. He said, “I don’t know. We don’t ask such embarrassing questions.” When someone else asked which answer would be more embarrassing, he just laughed.

Some even pray, which Silverman believes is akin to “focusing or meditating,” and find meaning in worship beyond doctrinal niceties:

Many churchgoers, religious or not, are more interested in experiencing love and support within a community than in defining God or finding evidence for God’s existence. They can feel joy in religious fellowship and tradition even if they believe their official church doctrine is silly. Fred Edwords, Executive Director of the United Coalition of Reason, phrased it succinctly: “How many put up with nonsense for the smell of incense?”