Askmoses-A Jews Resource
Can meat from an abused animal be kosher?
Browse our archives

The Scholar is ready to answer your question. Click the button below to chat now.

Scholar Online:

Type in your question here:

Click the button below to either CHAT LIVE with an AskMoses Scholar now - or - leave a message if no Scholar is currently online.


Are Jews Normal?

by Rabbi Manis Friedman


Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


If you ask someone coming out of a church “Do you believe in G-d?” the worshiper is shocked. “What type of question is that? Of course I do, that’s why I’m here.”

But when you walk into a synagogue on Yom Kippur and ask a Jew, “Do you believe in G-d?” the Jew is quiet. “I don’t know, I’m not a rabbi.” “Do you consider yourself religious?” They break into laughter and assure you that they’re the furthest thing from religious. “Are you kidding? Do you know what I eat for breakfast?”

Judaism is not a religion that we practice, nor a belief that we prescribe to - it's who we are and what we are
So you ask the logical question. “What are you doing in a synagogue?” But the Jew is shocked. “What type of question is that? It's Yom Kippur!"

To be sure, the worshiper and the Jew are shocked for very different reasons. The worshiper is shocked that you question his belief. The Jew is shocked that you question his Jewishness. Judaism is not a religion that we practice, nor a belief that we prescribe to - it's who we are and what we are.

While the Jew may insist “I don't want to be religious, I don't want to believe in G-d,” on Yom Kippur he’s in a synagogue. Why? G-d wants me here, so here I am.

But isn’t this hypocrisy? On the contrary, Torah views this very irrationality as the essence of the Jew. It is this insanity that makes us Jewish.

Subjective opinions to an objective truth; I am a Jew even if I’m not religious, and G-d is G-d even when I don’t believe.


Please email me when new comments are posted (you must be  logged in).


Ask Moses

Posted by: Osnath Rice, Creston, B.C. / Canada on Oct 26, 2004

I am so impressed with your site, I passed the link on to my daughter. So many questions were answered. Todah, Osnath.

Who and What is a Jew

Posted by: Anonymous, Jerusalem, Israel on Oct 31, 2004

What a funny answer! Very flip and not a full picture at all! If someone would ask that question at my synagogue, they would be likely to hear most, if not all, worshippers affirming their belief in G-d and their commitment to their religion! So? The definition of a Jew is a person who was either born to a Jewish mother, or who has converted to Judaism. That covers a broad spectrum of different people- assimilated, secular and religious. Given that definition, one can't be "half Jewish", but one can be Jewish without knowing it...

Well stated.

Posted by: Daniel B, London, UK on Mar 04, 2005

I've been trying to explain to a Christian friend how it is that I can practice Judaism but am unable to unequivically say that I believe in G-d. What is said here is a far better explanation than my attempts, and I'll refer him to it. Thank you!

What is a Jew

Posted by: Rick Geiger, Pittsford, NY, USA on Mar 23, 2005

Your example of a Jew coming out of synagogue saying he does not know if he believes in G_d trivializes Judaism. While you of course can be a person of Jewish family or ancestry and not believe in G_d, you are not a Jew if you deny the existence of G_d. Definitions are in present tense, not past or future tense. If someone answers I am a Jew, that means now, at that moment and at that moment he/she must believe in G_d as reasonably defined in the Torah. Otherwise a person could come from a Jewish background and convert to Christianity or Muslim and still claim to be a Jew. That is foolishness.

Editor's Comment

Who is a Jew

Posted by: Steve Rowitt, Coral Springs, FL on Apr 26, 2005

To exclude the racial aspect of who is Jew and limit it to belief systems is to misrepresent the facts. While Judaism is a religion associated with the Jewish people, being Jewish is an ethnic designation that is genetic, not philosophical, in nature. You cannot change your racial-ethnic heritage by virtue of your religious affiliation.

Editor's Comment

Indeed, Judaism is primarily an ethnic religion -- although an outsider may join and enjoy full membership privileges through undergoing a proper conversion. However, running within the genes of the Jewish bloodline is a Jewish soul, and this soul gives its bearer certain unique characteristics -- one of which is described in this article. Incidentally, this soul is also given to all righteous converts.

re: Are Jews Normal?

Posted by: Hedda, Washington, DC, USA on Apr 26, 2005

I loved this essay. It's a hard thing to explain to people of other faiths the existence of agnostic/atheistic, yet observant, Jews. But the Rabbi nailed it quite nicely.

There are many different kinds of Jews, many different kinds of beliefs about G-d. There are Jews, like the commenter above, who cannot fathom what it means to be Jewish without a clear belief in G-d. But to many Jews, G-d's existence isn't the most important thing about being a Jew, to many of us it is a mystery and open to endless interpretations of what G-d is (or isn't). That doesn't make the rest of us any less Jewish, if anything it is one of the many essences of being truly Jewish-- to question, to debate, these things are not an insult to G-d.


I can't believe this article

Posted by: Danny, Madison, WI on Jun 10, 2005

How can Rabbi Friedman state that it's not hypocrisy? Of course it is. It may be unintentional but even the rabbi of our temple makes it clear that the ultimate goal is to arrive at a belief in god in some meaningful way.

I am so confused by this article. Please clarify.

Editor's Comment

The rabbi isn't implying that non-belief in G-d is an acceptable way to practice Judaism. He is merely noting the fact that Jews are Jewish whether or not they claim to believe in the Creator--and this Jewishness expresses itself in different ways, such as synagogue attendance on Yom Kippur.

This is very sad

Posted by: Anonymous, London, UK on Sep 04, 2005

If the divine is denied and being jewish reduced to ethnicity and culture alone, doesn't the distinction of jew/non-jew itself become meaningless?

If the practice of customs alone is important then Judaisim becmes nothing more than a cultural "members club", who one is either born or not born into.

I have always thought that being jewish is special because of the complex intertwining of religion and ethnicity, not becuase god can be merrily dropped from the equation.

This article saddens me becuase it seems to be a part of a growing vein of social thought that reperesents morality and tradition as being able to stand quite apart from faith.

In the end, why would our values be important to us, when they're merely the random product of history and biology?

Are Jews Normal ?

Posted by: Juan Rodriguez, Umatilla, Oregon on Feb 10, 2006

I was defenitely not born to a Jewish mother, but my father comes from sefardi roots who over the centuries lost their Jewish identity by interrmarriage and what not. I know exactly what the person who posted this subject is talking about though. I can totaly relate to it. I want to convert and lift my head up proud to live my true identity out without any doubts or other obsticles. Baruch Hashem !!

Is a jew normal

Posted by: Mark N., La Grange, GA on Apr 24, 2006

Loved the article. Comming from a background that makes me 1/4 Jewish by blood, being raised Catholic and now finding my calling to the Jewish faith, I completely agree. There is site of the "stiffnecked" people by G_D himself. No matter, how can one not be proud of their heritage, religious or ethnic?
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.