An Exchange with the Editor

March 1, 2011
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I just looked through the latest issue of Sh’ma, all about Jewish identity.  I am amazed that you have 20 pages on the subject, but not a single article, or even paragraph, on the Jewish identity of the majority of our people who self-declare as secular.

There is so much now being written in the field of Jewish secularism that to have included nothing at all about it could only have been done intentionally.  Had you identified the issue as being on religious Jewish identity then I could not possibly make any comment, but as it is you say you have an issue on Jewish identity, which you must admit is not really the case.

I suggest you have a look at our websites, particularly on Culture and Ideas, and you will see we have done quite a lot of work.   I am also attaching an essay, translated into English, from a collection of articles published in 2006 in Hebrew.

Kind regards


Dear Felix,

Upon thinking about your critique of the issue, I must admit that I’m surprised by the rather harsh tone of your response. The entire March issue took measure of the many, complicated, often utterly non-religious ways and byways of contemporary Jewish life.  It did so using as its springboard the new, very provocative book by Susan Glenn and Naomi Sokoloff that raised a multitude of questions about any effort to reduce what it means to be Jewish in what they insist is a post-ethnic world. In that post-ethnic America, all over-arching categories, including religion as well as secularism, make less and less sense.  Many of the essays refer to a secular based identity—in fact the entire center spread focuses on the fused non-religious identities of young Jews—without necessarily calling this phenomenon secularism.

What I sought to do in this issue of Sh’ma was to wrestle with just the sort of dilemmas that are, as I see it, at the heart of your entire effort to remind Jews that being Jewish is made up of so much more than faith alone. Of course, faith remains a crucial element for many, and this, too, had to be included in any serious, responsible consideration of what it means to be Jewish today.

All the best, Susan

Note to readers: The Posen Foundation is seeking a suitable adjectival substitute for the word or adjective secular.  A reward is being offered. Post your suggestions here.

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