Kosher atheists? Leave God, keep the Rules?

Washington Post: I would argue that both Emanuel and Boteach stand on wobbly ground, for the Jewish tradition also presupposes a belief in a supernatural God who, in the Torah, smites the unfaithful (see the story of Sodom) and threatens the worshippers of lesser gods with vicious penalties.

What’s interesting here is the yearning of this rational-minded scientist to follow the ancient rules of kashrut despite a rejection of the supernatural. Judaism is a religion, yes, but it’s also a culture, a tradition and an ethnicity. These multiple strands of belonging allow a person to reject the faith while continuing the habit, thousands of years old, of abstaining from pork and shellfish and consuming meat and milk separately — and thus claim a Jewish identity.

 

Keeping kosher is “a way of asserting that you are a conscious Jew,” explains Rabbi James Ponet, chaplain at Yale University and a family friend, “when you join friends out for dinner but decline the lobster, shrimp, oysters and all the meat entrees [or] when you ask the waiter if the tomato soup” is made from vegetarian stock.

Echoing Achad Haam’s pithy observation about Shabbat observance, one might hold that more than the Jews have kept kosher, kosher eating has kept the Jews. A Jewish atheist’s children might grow up with a learned distaste for pork and thereby call themselves Jewish.

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