A while ago, uber-tumblr The Unit of Caring had an excellent post on the emotional difference between religions that look at themselves as a dogma first, versus ones that are a community first. (She is using her Jewish Chabad as the tribal one, which is reminiscent of our earlier post about religion-as-ethnicity in London schools.)
Anonymous asked: You’re not Jewish, you’re just a person who likes to cosplay as a Jewish woman despite hating being a woman. Your bring your girlfriend to the Chabad and lie about your relationship with her, even though the Chabad is a sacred place where the rest of the community doesn’t want lesbianism. On your off-time you promote transgenderism and polyamory. But at least you don’t drive on Saturday!
This ask is sort of usefully illustrative of the differences between Judaism and Christianity that make being a Jewish atheist so much more workable. I have a friend who is Catholic, and wishes she could still take communion, but in Catholicism it’s considered disrespectful to take communion while in a state of (serious? I don’t actually know much about Catholicism) sin. And while you can be a lapsed Christian or a sinning Christian, if you don’t believe Jesus was the son of G-d and that G-d exists and stuff you’re not really a sinning Christian, you’re just not really a Christian.
Judaism is a covenant, not a faith: believing that all of the factual claims made in Judaism are false doesn’t make you not a Jew, it makes you a Jew who doesn’t believe those things. Atheism doesn’t affect your religious status in any way; there is nothing sacred in Judaism that it would be disrespectful to do as a Jewish atheist. (Uh, possibly testify in a religious court, that gets a little bit complicated).
And Judaism holds that it is always and everywhere a good for a Jew to hear the megillah on Purim. Any Jew. If there’s a Jew who is an unrepentant murderer, who has broken every rule in the Torah even the ones that are actually super hard to break like the ones about sleeping with all of your relatives, it is good for her to hear the megillah on Purim.
So, like, you could say “if you don’t believe it, there’s no reason to go”, and that’s fair, but there is also no reason not to go. You’re never disrespectful by finding your own meaning in observance, because from the perspective of the tradition you’d supposedly be disrespecting, your observance is good, and it is better that you did it.*
It would be weird to say, at a Chabad house, “I’m here with my girlfriend”. Not because anyone would be rude – I’m very confident they’d all be as welcoming as possible, because again, they regard it as very very important to the fate of the world that I hear the megillah (and also, like, love your fellow Jew, that’s a mitzvah).
It’s interesting that in America now, the motto that could most closely be associated with this sentiment is “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” which itself is associated with conservative Christian groups (particularly their unfortunate attitude towards homosexuality.)
These groups have some pretty regrettable dogmas (in both cases, a disapproval of homosexuality.) But this diverges from purists who find these sorts of disgusting sins are flaws that infects their whole person and threaten to corrupt the entire community.