Israel allows formal status as “secular Jew”

I repeat the old joke:

Q: What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?
A:  A Jew.

I’ve maintained before not only that many people —like myself—consider themselves to be both Jewish and nonbelievers, but also that this nonreligious but cultural status is far more pervasive among Jews than among those of other faiths.

Now that status has been given official recognition by the Israeli government.

As the American Prospect reports:

Yoram Kaniuk has won: The prominent Israeli novelist is now very officially a Jew of no religion.

Hundreds of other Israelis, inspired by his legal victory, want to follow his example and change their religious status to “none” in the country’s Population Registry, while remaining Jews by nationality in the same government database. A new verb has entered Hebrew, lehitkaniuk, to Kaniuk oneself, to legally register an internal divorce of Jewish ethnicity from Jewish religion.

. . . Kaniuk certified the change of his religious status this month, after a Tel Aviv District Court judge overruled bureaucratic objections. The writer gave two reasons for his choice: Because his wife is an American-born Christian, his daughters and his infant grandson are registered as having no religion; and besides, he “has no desire to be part of a ‘Jewish Iran,’” a phrase he did not parse but was apparently aimed at any form of state-linked religion.

The author, Gershom Gorenberg, explains the ambiguous status that nonreligious Jews have endured in the U.S.:

Those who migrated to America arrived in a country that was tolerant of religious division than ethnic separatism, Liebman explained. It’s acceptable in America for Catholics to have parochial schools, but separate schools for Italian Americans would be illegitimate. As a result, American Jews switched categories: They identify as a religion but often behave more as an ethnic group. For many, synagogue membership really means belonging to an ethnic club, and Israel functions as a replacement for the lost “old country” of Eastern Europe.

Nevertheless, anti-Semitism has been a strain in America until recently, and I think still contributes to some of the sentiment involved in the “boycott Israel” movement.  My dad wasn’t allowed to join any fraternity except the two all-Jewish fraternities existing at Penn State when he went there in 1936, and even I was called a “dirty Jew” in junior high school by a group of bullies, which involved me in one of the only two fights I’ve had in my life.

So if being Jewish is not a religion, can it be an ethnicity? I previously thought that “ethnicity” was a genetic term, referring to the group from which one descended, but I find in my dictionary that it means belonging to a “social group that has a common national or cultural tradition.” In that sense I can consider myself an ethnic Jew.

(A side note: a genetic analysis of my Y chromosome did show that my DNA on that bit is completely derived from Eastern European Jews. I had myself tested to determine if my name, “Coyne,” denoted that I was descended from the elite and priestly subgroup of Jews, the kohanim, supposedly descended from Aaron and the only ones allowed to perform special rituals in the synagogue.  When I wrote WEIT, I thought that searching for my own ancestry in this way would be a good metaphor for how evolution represents the ultimate search for ancestry.  I didn’t include that story in the book, but I did find out that I’m a garden-variety Cohan, Cohane, or whatever the name was before it was changed in America. But I am not a kohen.)

Golenberg sees the notion of an official “Jewish state”—however one defines “Jewish”—as invidious and unnecessary:

Real freedom of conscience would require the state to stop registering religious and ethnic identity. Actual separation of synagogue and state would mean abolishing the official rabbinate, enacting civil marriage, and ending government involvement in religious education. Kaniuk himself might have contributed more to understanding the confusions of Jewish identity by writing a novel than by hiring a lawyer. But to be fair, he’s 81 years old and said in his suit that he didn’t feel he had much time left to define himself as he chose.

. . . Israel doesn’t need a Palestinian stamp of approval to be a Jewish state. Nor does it need the registration system that Kaniuk used to voice his anger. It needs only a majority that considers itself Jewish in one not-quite-consistent way or another and that has the freedom to conduct a roiling, constant argument about Jewish culture. If Kaniuk’s suit reminds the rest of the tribe of how messy the issue of Jewish identity is, how unsuited it is for sharp delineations, he will have performed a service.

But do we need a “Jewish state” at all? Surely the official trappings and approval of religion should be abolished in Israel, but, as a cultural Jew, I’m not quite sure about abolishing the idea of a “Jewish state” per se, however one defines “Jew.”

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, USA, religiosity still reigns among the Orthodox Jews: Jewish women are forced to sit in the back of a bus run and largely used by Jews, even though it’s under a New York City franchise. That’s both immoral and illegal.  Every time I find pride in being a secular Jew, it’s eroded by something like this.

h/t: Michael


  1. Marta
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    The issue of Jewish identity is thoroughly vexing, not least because it’s not really possible to have a discussion about it without stepping on a live grenade.

    As far as I know, it is still not possible to be a citizen of Israel without also being Jewish–yet another reason that statehood, ethnicity and national identity in Israel is deeply contentious.

    • Malgorzata Koraszews
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      20% of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. There is a whole mosaic of nationalities in Israel, even some Vietnamese “boat people” given asylum a long time ago – they, too, are Israeli citizens. Marta, your information is totally wrong.

      • Marta
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        Thank you for the correction.

        May I ask, are the “mosaic of nationalities” in Israel permitted to participate fully in Israel’s governance?

        • Malgorzata Koraszews
          Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          Yes. All Israeli citizens have the same right to vote and to be elected to any post in the society. There are Arab MPs, Arab judges (an Arab judge sentenced the former President of Israel, charged with rape) to prison sentence, Arab ministers in the government, there are Israel’s ambassadors, who are Arabs etc.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink


      ** In Israel an Arab women can vote…

      Obviously the Israeli state must disengage from the notion of ‘Jewishness’ for there are many little communities in Israel that are not Jewish & for those that are the number of different ‘brands’ of ‘Jewishness’ is too large for a single identity to make sense these days.

      • Marta
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Michael.

        That is the concept I’m having difficulty forming properly in my mind–Israel is not a secular state, but a theocracy. I’m not picking on them; obviously, the United States is [arguably] not a secular state either, at least in so far as the Christian right would have it.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      This is an interesting short read: Arab citizens of Israel [Not everything in the garden is Rosy, but there’s reason to hope]

      There’s a weird problem with the American Christian right & their view on the direction Israel needs to take to fulfil the prophecies of the End Times – makes my head spin & I worry if I think about that too much!

      • Notagod
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        I hear about “end times” stuff in one form or another frequently. I think that “end times” stuff is a serious problem. The christians end up with no sense of responsibility for the stewardship of the environment nor do christians develop a sense of duty to future generations. I’ve had several christians tell me that they limit their considerations of the future to their children’s lives only. When pressed they state that if there are more generations, they will need to figure it out for themselves by creating new energy sources. The christians that I have talked with on this topic seem to have no regard for the future of the environment at all.

        Additionally, although I don’t think a majority of christians actively seek to fulfill the prophesies produced by the biscuit, there seems to be a sense of obligation not to interfere with (thus they won’t actively oppose) destructive actions if those actions could result in a circumstance similar to the “end times” advocated by the biscuit. The christian has generally decided that it would be a great honor to be alive for the return of the biscuit made flesh.

        The christians just don’t feel compelled to act against the destruction that they are wishing for.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 23, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        This sort of thing, right?

        Evangelicals using Jews/Israel to bring about the end times…

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 23, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        Yes. And there’s a rumour being doing the rounds for years about American Christians working with Jews to breed a perfect, unblemished red heifer to fulfil their interpretation of a part of Numbers 19, in the interests of enabling the End Times. I’m still looking for a reliable source, but I’ve got the names of those (supposedly) involved & they’re real people.

        “Speak unto the children of Israel,” the Lord commanded, “that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came a yoke.” The cow will be given to a priest to slay, the Lord continued, and burned on a pyre of cedar, hyssop, and a strand of scarlet thread. Then the ashes of the heifer will be mixed with water and used to purify those who have been exposed to death. Anyone who fails to be purified “shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the Lord”

        It’s an internet meme, but the point is it need only gain traction to fuel the crazies.

  2. Dominic
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    This raises interesting questions, like what it means to be half-Jewish, to have one parent from a Jewish background. Does that make you one thing or the other?

    The word you are looking for for the creation of a people is ethnogenesis -
    I first came across the term many years ago reading Wolfram’s book on the Goths. The idea very simply is that various groups or individuals acculturate & join together under a common origin myth to form a new ‘ethnic’ group.

    Essentially we are all mongrels anyway!

    • Occam
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      In the meantime:
      Black Cherokees exercise hard-won right to vote

      Apparently, you can now be African-American-Cherokee and elect your chief; you can be Israeli, Jewish, and non-denominational. Not too bad a day in the struggle against stupid, exclusive ethnocentrism. Kippis and Skål to all the mongrels!

    • Posted October 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      By Jewish law, a child is Jewish if their mother is Jewish. Also, according to the recent circumcision documentary, Cut (, even a lack of circumcision does not invalidate a boy’s Jewishness, though it does render them ineligible for certain functions and categorize them as 2nd class citizens from the religious perspective.

  3. Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    But do we need a “Jewish state” at all?

    No, not really, no more than we need Christian states, or Muslim states, or atheist states. All that is needed is a state where Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists can live freely – which is pretty much anywhere there are secular laws and freedom of religion.

    Personally I don’t think we need states at all anymore, anyway. It’s unnecessarily divisive, and makes less and less sense in a world dominated by international markets and giant multinationals (which can dwarf entire nations in terms of wealth and influence).

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 23, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      + 1

  4. James Walker
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Most of my Jewish friends (including my friend’s rabbi boyfriend) are cultural/secular. I’m sometimes envious of their ability to abandon their religious beliefs but keep the community and traditions associated with it (as an atheist who was raised Catholic, it’s hard for me to participate in anything Catholic without getting the religion along with it).

    On the subject of Israel, though, I’m curious how a cultural/secular Jew views the need for a Jewish state, especially given the displacement of the non-Jewish population. Generally the arguments I’ve heard in favor of a Jewish state use biblical reasons. If Jewishness can be viewed as an ethnicity rather than a religion, wouldn’t it make more sense to, for example, have a single, secular state with protected status for different ethnic groups?

    • Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      If Jewishness can be viewed as an ethnicity rather than a religion, wouldn’t it make more sense to, for example, have a single, secular state with protected status for different ethnic groups?

      You’d think that, but I can predict that there will be many people who will happily use their ethnicity as an argument for a separate state as well. Ethnicity can be just as divisive as religion.

  5. Jean
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I was also attacked by bullies with snti-semitic epithets in junior high (by coincidence, in the town with the Penn State Jewish fraternities). What doesn’t break me makes me stronger …. More strongly identified as Jewish, anyway.

  6. Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Israel — and all other nations — would do well to embrace Jefferson’s Wall of Separation. The State has a useful function in surveying the demographics of its citizens, and that includes declared religious (non-)affiliation. Observing popular holidays (most of which are nominally religious) is a good idea, too. Aside from that, there’s no reason the State should even be aware that there’s such a thing as religion.


    • Dominic
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      They – sadly – have a different wall.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 23, 2011 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear!

  7. AlT
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    whether people like it or not many wealthy Americans identify themselves with jewish culture or heritage

    given that the USA is really an oligarchy (see the paper at

    so there is not only one but two jewish states: Israel and USA

    when we will stop talking about cultural divides?

    why cannot we just relate to each other as members of the species?

    • aryeh
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      There are plenty of wealthy “Jewish” people in the USA. Perhaps, a disproportionate amount when compared to other groups. However, it’s one huge step to assume they have the majority of influence (wealth) in the oligarchy. I passionately agree that it’s time to lose “cultural devides”- including nonreligious devides. However, in many instances, secular society has yet to offer nonbelievers certain things. Most importantly, close knit, caring communities. One thing that Jews have is an amazing amount of care for the people in their community. The Secular Humanists have tried to address this issue but their centers are few and far between.

  8. JBlilie
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    “Jewish women are forced to sit in the back of a bus”

    Rosa Parks, spinning in her grave!

  9. Occam
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    “Sir, when your ancestors were painting themselves blue to fend off the cold, and picking berries from the trees, mine were already having diabetes in the Fertile Crescent.”

    (SJ Perelman, in a letter to the British Jewish scholar and civil servant Chaim Raphael, quoting the latter’s parody of a celebrated parliamentary retort by Benjamin Disraeli. [And I’m quoting from memory.])

    A nice illustration of the twisted, unresolved strands of Jewish identity: the ethnic, the genetic if you will, the cultural.

    I am not usually trumpeting this part of my heritage, except twice on this website, because it mattered topically. Elsewhere, only when asked “are you serious?” To which I always answer, “No. I’m Jewish.”

    To the extent that every identity is also a bit phoney, something of a put-on, I’d prefer it this way. As the Jewish-Austrian-Czech-American writer and critic Friedrich Torberg would have titled his memoirs, but never got around to: A wry smile is my tribe’s inheritance.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      The anecdote reminds me of the famous one from the first Baron Spencer, ancestor of Churchill. ‘In a debate in Parliament on a royal prerogative, in 1621, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, remarked to him, “My lord, when these things were doing, your ancestors were keeping sheep.” “When my ancestors were keeping sheep,” replied Spencer, “your lordship’s ancestors were plotting treason.”’

  10. Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    It should go with out saying that the majority of the boycott Israel movement is aimed at the illegal slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the theft of their land.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Even those who believe this slur, lie and libel about Israel (about slaughter of Palestinians and theft of their land) should ask themselves: why is the only Jewish state in the world singled out for this type of boycott? Why not Syria – slaughtering own citizens, Turkey – slaughtering Kurds, Sudan – slaughtering the denizens of Darfur, and many others? Why among all worlds dictatorships and tyrannies this one tiny democratic state give rise to such venom?

      • Marta
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink


        Well, I see you both have found the grenade to which I referred above.

        • Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          The best way to avoid the grenade is to not mention the boycott at all. I was responding to the grenade being thrown.

      • Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Even those who believe this slur, lie and libel about Israel (about slaughter of Palestinians and theft of their land)

        A lie and a slur? I thought the fact that there has been an armed conflict going on between Palestine and Israel for many years was common knowledge?

        And while on the topic of libel, don’t pretend anyone here supports what’s going on in Syria, Turkey, or Dafur. Besides, I seem to recall that there are all sorts of boycotts against Syria at the moment, Turkey still can’t join the European Union in large part because of their civil rights problem with the Kurds, and Dafur has UN soldiers there. What international sanctions did Israel receive?

        • Malgorzata
          Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          Of course there is an armed conflict. But self-defence is normally (when it concerns other countries) not called “illegal slaughter of civillians”.

          • Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            Self-defense? Right. Oops, I questioned Israel. I hope they drop white phosphorus on my house.

            • Malgorzata
              Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              OMG! The myth about white phosphorus again! Israel was using white phosphorus legally, to create smoke and didn’t use it against civilian houses. The anti-Israeli propaganda machine is very efficient – the lie is repeated everywhere; the debunking of the lie is written on page 98 in the smallest possible script. The same concerns the myth about massacre in Jenin, the hoax about Muhamad Al-Dura and countless more examples of lies about Israel. Even UN made an apology to Israel about this alleged “massacre in Jenin” but it is still repeated. The did not issue an apology about white phosphorus lie, but I doubt it would help.

          • Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            When civilians get killed in raids that even the Israeli government itself calls “retaliations”, I’m not sure you can speak of “self-defence” anymore.

            Are you going to apologize for suggesting we condone violence in other nations?

            • Sally
              Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

              No apology is necessary. Malgorzata merely pointed out that Israel gets condemned for defending itself while other countries commit real atrocities with less condemnation. That does not amount to condoning their behavior. “Retaliation” is part of self defense, Deen.

              • Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                1,463 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000

                6,430 Palestinians have been killed since September 29, 2000.

                1 Israeli was being held prisoner by Palestinians, while 5,554 (now 4000 Palestinians )are currently imprisoned by Israel

                0 Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians and 24,813 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1967.

                Israel currently has 236 Jewish-only settlements and ‘outposts’ built on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians do not have any settlements on Israeli land.

                U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.2 million per day in military aid and $0 in military aid to the Palestinians.

              • Sally
                Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                And why do you think so many Palestinians have been killed compared to the number of Israelis? Could it be because Israel has bomb shelters and protects its citizens, while the PA and Hamas purposely put their people in harm’s way? Your statistics, such as they are, need context.

              • Occam
                Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                Sally, I’d rather not enter this minefield, but now I must.
                It is morally untenable to say “Sorry folks, we’re killing so many of you because you’re willingly putting so many of yours in the line of fire.”
                It is — and I’m weighing my words very carefully — unworthy of anyone claiming any part of Jewishness to do so. We the children of Holocaust victims and Holocaust survivors are bound in our flesh to sustain certain minimal moral values. Now, you can say, “My first duty is to see to it that no Jewish child in the State of Israel is ever again hurt, and if I must kill my neighbours in order to ensure the safety of Jewish children, so be it.” That’s a cogent proposition. Not one I could agree with, but a consistent one. If one were to say, “What was done unto the Jews shall never again be done unto any human being, and I’ll do my utmost to prevent it”, that’s again a cogent proposition, and the one I adhere to. But there is no way one can eschew responsibility for one’s actions, not as an individual, not as an army, not as state. If I choose to kill ten villains to protect one innocent, I may have a morally defensible cause, but the decision to pull the trigger is mine. If Hamas uses human shields, their bestiality is contemptible beyond redemption. But if I decide to fire through a human shield, that decision is mine, and mine only. Again, there may be a morally defensible cause in such a dilemma, but the responsibility for my action is mine only. There can be no “The other guy started it” schoolyard excuse in front of History. We are defined by our actions.

              • Sally
                Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

                Occam, I think you have put your finger on the dilemma of warfare. Unless you are a rigid pacifist, you are going to have to hurt somebody. It is perfectly true that you have free will in your actions, but they are never without a context. The schoolyard excuse of “the other guy started it” remains relevant far beyond the schoolyard.

              • Posted October 21, 2011 at 2:52 am | Permalink

                Uhm, no, self-defense is fending of immediate danger, retaliation is revenge or punishment. I suppose it’s purpose is to deter further attacks, so I guess you might call that “self-defense” in that sense. But then you’ll have to explain why we can’t label any offensive action with the purpose of deterring violence as “self-defense” as well.

                And I still wonder why you think those other countries really get less condemnation than Israel, or how someone could claim that only Israel is being singled out for boycotts.

              • Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

                Could it be because Israel has bomb shelters and protects its citizens, while the PA and Hamas purposely put their people in harm’s way?

                Or could it be because Israel has a professionally trained army, and tanks, planes and bombs, while the PA aren’t allowed to have any of that?

                The schoolyard excuse of “the other guy started it” remains relevant far beyond the schoolyard.

                But it’s still an excuse. Especially since hardly anybody ever agrees who actually did start it.

              • Sally
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:49 am | Permalink

                Deen, self-defense, as you suggest, is also about stopping the capacity to launch further aggressive attacks.

                “And I still wonder why you think those other countries really get less condemnation than Israel, or how someone could claim that only Israel is being singled out for boycotts.”

                Because the BDS Movement is aimed exclusively at Israel. Because there is less coverage in the MSM of the Chinese rape of Tibet or the continuing armed hostility of Turkey toward the Kurds than of the situation in Israel/Palestine.

                Consider: In I/P if both sides laid down their arms there would be peace; if the Palestinians laid down their arms there would be peace; if Israel laid down its arms there would soon be no more Israel.

              • Occam
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 4:45 am | Permalink

                OK Sally, let’s drop morality for a moment and revert to realpolitik: if self-defense, as you suggest, were truly “about stopping the capacity to launch further aggressive attacks”, no country would be safe unless all its neighbours were knocked out. As Henry Kissinger, who knows a thing or two about National Security, never tires of spelling out, “Absolute security for one nation implies absolute insecurity for all other nations”. So this definition of self-defense isn’t workable.
                What are the options? Israel has a problem that no other state and no other people in the region has. Lest one believe that the State of Israel was re-founded by divine grace in 1948, one must ask what are the pre-conditions of Israel’s continued existence. Can Israel survive in an all-out war? Maybe. Can Israel survive the permanent attrition war within and without? Not forever, and not on its own, national mythology notwithstanding. As the strategic importance of Israel as an ally in the region is being offset by the increasing risk of enmity from Arab and Islamic countries, the importance of the West’s moral commitment to Israel increases precisely as the memory of the Holocaust, the very foundation of that commitment, wanes. The one state for which moral restraint in violent conflict is tactically most perilous is the one state for which moral restraint is strategically most vital. Restraint becomes an essential component of hard-nosed self-defense. If Israel’s moral viability were ever seriously doubted by its allies, the nation would be doomed. The constant erosion of the perceived moral viability is a threat which cannot be outweighed by any arsenal, offensive or defensive.

            • Sally
              Posted October 21, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

              Occam, you have emphasized the wrong word. I said *further* aggressive attacks. Hostilities have already begun. Kissinger is irrelevant here. The subject is not about overpowering peaceful neighbors but dealing with those who want to annihilate you.

              • Occam
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

                Unless you presume to dictate which of your words you permit to be emphasised, in which case I suggest annotation, using to the hilt the whole gamut of HTML mark-up, you must make allowance for a response to all your words, as written.

                That small irritation aside, realistically: Hostilities have not begun, i.e. recently, because they have never ceased. Kissinger is therefore very relevant, because he’s had a lifetime of studying — and, uniquely, wielding power in — acute and chronic conflicts between opponents who have both the means and the willingness to annihilate each other, and where the best outcome one can hope for is a precarious and temporary stalemate. “Overpowering peaceful neighbours” is clearly not the subject here, it never was, it can’t be in the context. Never stated, never implied.

              • Sally
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

                It is not a question of emphasis but of just reading the text as it stands, Occam. No word was emphasized until you chose to highlight “capacity” thereby distorting the meaning of the sentence. You contradict yourself in saying that hostilities have not begun because they have never ceased! Shall we say that hostilities are on-going? You did not quote Kissinger’s lifetime career but his “Absolute security for one nation implies absolute insecurity for all other nations”. However, Israel’s security is not a threat to its neighbors, unless you agree that they have a right to make war on it, and then I suppose you might argue that they are threatened by Israel’s ability to fight back.

              • Occam
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                I see. So, emphasis = distortion.
                Humpty Dumpty rules in application: when you use a turn of phrase, “it means just what you choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

                – Occam: As Henry Kissinger … never tires of spelling out, “Absolute security for one nation implies absolute insecurity for all other nations”.
                – Sally: Kissinger is irrelevant here…
                – Occam: Kissinger is very relevant, because he’s had a lifetime of studying — and, uniquely, wielding power in — acute and chronic conflicts…
                – Sally: You did not quote Kissinger’s lifetime career but his “Absolute security for one nation implies absolute insecurity for all other nations”.

                Visibly, you’re playing a game of rhetorical chassé-croisé here. I’m prepared for a robust exchange of substantial arguments, no matter how fundamental our disagreement may be. I’m not prepared to run in circles. The field’s all yours.

                If that’s the way it’s going to be
                I’m going to call the whole thing to a halt

                (Paul Simon)

    • Sally
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      These allegations are such common currency and so often pass without being challenged, but Israel has gone to remarkable lengths NOT to kill Palestinian civilians in spite terrorists using them as human shields, and there was no “theft of their land”. Israel is the only country in the world with be blessing of both the League of Nations and the United Nations! If that’s “theft” so is the state of Jordan.

      • Dominic
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Yes sorry people – all the fault of the British really; the post First World War settlement of the Middle East has caused a few problems. However the key to this problem in Palestine is either the extermination of a people in some conflagration that would be welcomed by looney religious groups, or some compromise which involves all sides stepping back & recognising that they have to live with each other.

  11. raven
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    “My dad wasn’t allowed to join any fraternity except the two all-Jewish fraternities existing at Penn State when he went there in 1936,”

    Something similar happened to one of my older colleagues a long time ago. He wanted to get into Harvard med school. And was Jewish. At that time, they had informal quotas on admitting Jews.

    So he changed his name to something very Irish. Which wasn’t all that smart. They had quotas for the Irish too.

    He got in anyway.

  12. Bernard Ortcutt
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The cultural phenomenon that I find disturbing (even among secular Jews) is the strong social pressure against “marrying-out”. Why is that social pressure considered any less objectionable than the social pressure imposed on Southern whites against marrying outside their race? The usual explanation is that “We must preserve the Jewish people” or “We must preserve Jewish culture”. The first is clearly objectionable if conceived of ancestrally. The second rationale is also poorly motivated. There are plenty of Jews out there who maintain every Jewish tradition to the letter and are having children by the dozen. Furthermore, Jewish culture is very well-documented. It’s not as if people need to keep performing rituals because we haven’t gotten around the documenting them yet. The cultural preservation rationale is especially objectionable if you analogize it to someone claiming that “We must preserve Southern White culture.” So, what is better about someone claiming “We must preserve Jewish culture”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 23, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink


  13. Posted October 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The same percentage of my Jewish friends are secular as are my Christian friends. I know many secular Christians. Christianity and judaism is often heritage, convenience, family, and social. These so called religious folk are reasonable people. The dangerous ones are the fundamentalist radicals.

  14. Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    When I was in college I had a vague notion of the distinction between being culturally/ethnically Jewish and religiously Jewish, so I asked my professor of World Religions about it, and he said he hadn’t heard of such a distinction!

    And after class a girl came up to me and said she was Jewish and hadn’t heard about it either. I was so surprised that I actually doubted if I even knew what *I* was talking about! 🙂

    • Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I find it very odd that your informants were not aware of this distinction (not that I am doubting you, just that it is completely different from my experience). My grandfather, who came to Canada as a baby in 1904, was a staunch atheist for most of his life, but culturally very committed to being a Jew (to the extent that he was very upset at the idea that I was marrying a non-Jew). My grandmother was slightly more observant: She believed in God, and sort of kept kosher in her home, having milk dishes, meat dishes, and the glass plates she used when she ordered in Chinese food.

      • Marella
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        Holy crap, you need a dedicated set of dishes for Chinese food? Where does it say that in the Bible? Mind you it doesn’t say you need separate sets of dishes for meat and milk either, I guess they just make it up as they go along. What about Indian? Or pizza?

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted October 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          You probably know most of this: Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the link inc the ‘scriptural’ justifications & sections on utensils etc. Summary of da rulz…

          Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals

          Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law

          All blood must be drained from meat and poultry or broiled out of it before it is eaten

          Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten

          Fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bugs (which cannot be eaten)

          Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat)

          Utensils (including pots and pans and other cooking surfaces) that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa

          Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot

          Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten

          There are a few other rules that are not universal

          • Microraptor
            Posted October 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

            That reminds me of the time I went out on a date with a girl who was Mormon-turned-Jewish, and naturally was trying to be more Jewish than all the people who were raised Jewish at her Synagog.

            She didn’t exactly tell me any of this before we went out- why she actually went out with me I’m really not sure.

            Unsurprisingly, the date was a disaster, but I did learn a lot about kosher laws by her choice of where we weren’t going to eat (good grief, I even asked her if she had any restaurant preferences before we went out and she said “no”).

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted October 21, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

              All these little rulz & prohibitions ~ an effective way of binding an organisation by excluding others…

              • Microraptor
                Posted October 21, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                That’s religion.

        • Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          She didn’t want the shrimp and pork (not to mention the unkosher beef) to come in contact with her kosher dishes. Tradition has it that the glass utensils don’t get rendered tref by contact with unkosher food the way ceramics do.

          The Indian food would be treated the same as the Chinese food (but I don’t think my dear Bobe ever ate Indian food). The pizza is another problem altogether, especially if it includes both meat and cheese.

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 23, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

            I so remember going out to a Chinese restaurant with a Jewish colleague of my husband’s when he first joined a (pharmaceutical) firm. As we opened our menus with anticipation, said colleague reminded us that he & his family ate everything but seafood and pork. And my two fav dishes were Mooshu pork & Szechuan shrimp….

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Lacks the necessary time & place…

      American mid-West five years ago?
      England in the ’70s?

    • Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Heh heh, oops no details! Texas A&M around 2000. And yeah, I was so surprised that a professor of religion didn’t even know what I was talking about that I sort of suspected maybe he just didn’t want to get into the issue.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 23, 2011 at 3:06 am | Permalink

        When I was an undergrad (not in TX), A & M didn’t admit women.

        Gig ’em Aggies!

  15. Nick Evans
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Jews do seem the ethnic group most closely linked to a single religion. So unsurprisingly the religious group most likely to be noted as having a distinct secular flavour – which is basically the ethnic group sans religious bits.

    They’re not alone, though. You find secular Sikhs, for a start. And I’m not really sure about the differences between Japanese culture and secular Shintoism.

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