What does it mean to be a secular Jew?

What exactly attaches a person to Judaism if they're secular? Does it simply become an ethnic identity?

I'm asking because I'm genuinely ignorant about this. I only saw the term tonight and it seemed like an alien idea to me. Wikipedia wasn't much help.

10 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Secular Jew has different meanings depending on where you are.

    In the US it means a non-practicing Jew who isn't connected to the community, & has kept all or some of the values of the religion without keeping up with it. They haven't left for another religion - or they are "apostate" as in formerly Jewish (i.e. Jewish background but no longer counted as a member of the religion - not counted for prayers or buried in a Jewish cemetary.)

    In Israel, it means everyone who's not a religious or observant Jew (what is thought of as Orthodox or ranging into Conservative in the U.S.). They considered themselves very much Jewish & part of the community. They just don't tend to go to synagogue or observe formal Shabbat. (Some 70% of Israeli Jews keep kosher - sometimes so friends & family can eat with them.) They will have a bris for their baby & want an Orthodox Rabbi for usually as well as for their funeral. How much they do holidays like Passover varies, but when I asked my cousins "so how to you learn the religion?" they stared at me with "it's all over the place, there are lots of Orthodox here" as in duh, it's part of everything. For instance, Purim is a national holiday event!

    In the US, less observant Jews equivalent are the Reform & Reconstructionist. However, because we don't have the community all around us, we have to be connected to still be Jewish feeling. In the US it's these groups that are the equivalent of secular in Israel, but aren't called secular here very much. Here, secular means totally non-practicing. ...However, sometimes people use it to refer to Reform & Reconstructionist vs. Orthodox.

    Now to add the confusion, UK Reform & European Reform is more equivalent to US Conservative. Orthodox still being Orthodox.

    So like everything in Judasim, you kind of have to hang around a while to figure out what people mean...but I can see where wiki didn't help much!

    As for ethnicity - no - the culture comes out of the religion, not separate from it. Even the "debating" & "variety of views" come straight out of Judaism, not the other way around out of the people.

    Judasim's difference as a religion is that it extends to being a family so we use a citizenship description for membership, rather than a belief one. So, if your mom is Jewish then you are until you renounce your citizenship by joining another religion.


    Jews for Jesus

    To add to Steve's 90% were NEVER Jewish by any definition - they were Christians who switched to this sect of Christianity. Less than 10% had a Jewish background & they are now Evangelical Christians as members of J4J.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Oh for cripe's sake, there's no such thing as a Jewish ethnicity! It's a religion, nothing more or less.

    It means someone was born into or converted to Judaism only to find themselves less observant over time.

  • 1 decade ago

    Judaism is both a religion and a nation. Acc jewish law, one who is born jewish is always jewish, even if they don't practice judaism (the religion). that's how you get ppl like "Jews for Jesus" (btw who are really bad for jews in general)

    Source(s): I'm jewish
  • 1 decade ago

    It becomes an ethno-cultural identity.

    Some jews in my family are more than atheist, they are secular. But they look very "jewish" and acknowledge that their ancestors were jews, and know that anti-semitism is directed at them, so though they aren't religious in any sense, they still identify as jewish.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    it means your a Jewish person who doesn't practice Judaism, or doesn't suscribe to a sect in Judaism, but still practices somewhat.

    Source(s): secular Jew here
  • 1 decade ago

    In the MOST basic terminology, an nonpracticing Jew

    Source(s): --It is the soldier, above all others, that prays for peace. For it is he that must bear the wounds and scars of war. - MacArthur --I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are nothing like your Christ - Gandhi.
  • RW
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    its not "ethnic" identity.

    its more "cultural" identity.

    you see, since they haven't done anything proactive to go AGAINST Judaism, they can still do that. where if they say, converted to Christian beliefs, they actively contradicted judaism which isn't cool.

  • ...
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    It means not taking religion literally and adjusting your beliefs to meet today’s needs. Also, they don’t believe religion should have anything to do with politics

  • Mike M
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    aka. Jew *******

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