Why don't Jews believe in Judaism?
A poll this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life contained some stunning results regarding American Jews: Six in 10 American Jews expressed some doubts about God's existence. That number is one in four for Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians. American Jews generally believe that God is not involved in people's lives in a targeted way: Only 25 percent agree that God is "personal," while 50 percent believe He is an impersonal force. Naturally, then only 31 percent of American Jews state that religion is very important in their lives and only 16 percent attend religious services at least once per week. These numbers aren't restricted to Jews from the United States -- large percentages of European and Israeli Jews are similarly ambivalent about God.
Traditional Jewish teaching states that God exists, that He is personally involved in people's lives, that He judges right and wrong, good and evil, and acts accordingly. Why, then, do the vast majority of Jews disbelieve such teachings while members of other religions hold fast to their tenets?
The answer springs from a general discomfort with nationalism in the aftermath of the Holocaust. American Jews have largely bought the notion, propounded most effectively by Hannah Arendt, that anti-Semitism -- and xenophobia more generally -- springs naturally from patriotic nationalism. Arendt warned about the inherent "racism of modern nationalism," citing specifically Stalinism and Nazism.
Arendt's opposition to nationalism carried her so far that she largely opposed the Zionist movement. Since the Zionist movement was based on the idea of Jewish nationalism (and Jewish nationalism is a central foundation of Judaism as a whole), she opposed Judaism by extension. She called future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's Herut Party "closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties." She stated that the worldview of Theodor Herzl, "conform[ed] perfectly [to] the National Socialism." Zionism was morally equivalent, she suggested, to Nazism.
Many Jews -- particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust -- were looking for answers. Why, they asked, did the Nazis hate us so? They found their answer in Arendt. Nationalism, they nodded, was at the root of the problem. And the solution was dissolving their own nationalism. And so they decided to sacrifice the central tenets of Judaism in favor of a Pollyannaish internationalism.
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