The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Secular Judaism

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Center for Cultural Judaism, 2007

The term "secular judaism" sounds like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. How can one simultaneously subscribe to Judaism and be secular? The term itself is commonly attributed to George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906), the ironically named Englishman who literally wrote the early tracts on the subject. According to Holyoake, secularism promotes three main principles: the improvement of this life by material means; the use of science for human betterment, and doing good. Above all else, Holyoake and his followers focused squarely on this world as opposed to the "world to come." While Jewish secularism has waxed and waned over the years, there has been a resurgence today. This unexpected rebirth of Jewish secularism reflects, in part, a generational turn: a reminder of the adage that what one generation seeks to forget another seeks to remember.

Topic: Atheism, History, Generational Issues, Yiddish, Social Issues, Religion, Secularism, Identity

Name of Publication: Contemplate: The International Journal of Cultural Thought

Volume/Issue: Vol.4

Page Number(s): 3-13

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Genre: Conference Presentation

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Sarna, Jonathan D. The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Secular Judaism. Contemplate: The International Journal of Cultural Thought. Center for Cultural Judaism. 2007: 3-13.


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