“What if I don’t believe in God—am I still Jewish?”

what are we teaching teens about belief?

what are we teaching teens about belief?

A confident, tall, yet boyish 11th grade teenager asked this question of Rabbis who were participating in a panel called “Ask the Rabbi Anything”.

The teen who asked the question wasn’t just any boy–he is already different from most other Jewish teens his age.

He’s attending a supplementary school program one day a week and working as a Hebrew school teacher’s aide a second day.

His plan is to earn a Teaching Certificate at the end of a two-year program.

Yet, he had a concern about whether or not the community considered him Jewish simply because he has doubts about God.

The good news?

He received warm and thoughtful responses by all Rabbis that I’m sure allayed any concerns he had, plus gave him plenty of things to grapple with and think about.

There were about 45 other teens in the room that seemed really interested in hearing the answers….so we can assume that the question resonated with them as well.

So, what can we learn about from this very important and urgent question? 

We need to create the space for teens to share their feelings of doubt.

How well have we taught our teens that asking questions is the beginning of a journey? 

How many of the teens we work with feel discomfort about faith? God? The bible?

How many teens might turn away from Judaism believing that they don’t quite measure up to some arbitrary definition of what a Jew is?

Judging from the thoughtful questions the teens asked and the depth of their comments, it was apparent that they experienced a wide open and accepting space to begin to figure things out, and for me–I was happy to share that space with them. 

About Ruth Schapira

I am a Jewish Educator of teens, interested in changing paradigms of Jewish high school education, incorporating strategic and creative initiatives and collaboration with like-minded organizations. Interested in creating new educational opportunities for Jewish teens using best practices and networking tools. View all posts by Ruth Schapira

5 responses to ““What if I don’t believe in God—am I still Jewish?”

  • Joe Bigliogo

    Ancestors of the original Israelite tribes have been rendered ethnically diverse by interbreeding with populations all over the world for the last two thousand or so years. If I don’t believe in god or any of the doctrines of the Jewish faith and have little to no racial/ethnic connection then what exactly would make me Jewish? Exactly what IS “Jewish” anyway? My mother calls herself Jewish and my father is an american atheist. What am I?
    Frankly I do not define myself by allegiance to an arbitrarily defined group. There are many groups, cultures or ethnic categories I could potentially identify with. So what?, Im not a collectivist and do not engage in “group think”. I reject the very idea of tribalism. I define myself as belonging to only one group… the human species. Because every last person on this mortal coil shares a common ancestry.

    • Ruth Schapira

      Thanks for your comment Joe. The questions you asked remains alone for you to answer: “If I don’t believe in god or any of the doctrines of the Jewish faith and have little to no racial/ethnic connection then what exactly would make me Jewish? Exactly what IS “Jewish” anyway?” For some, those answers don’t come without struggle and credit to you for grappling with them.
      My post illuminated the struggle that some Jewish teens face, who do identify with the Jewish people…some in a very strong way….yet have doubts about God. Your journey is of a different nature. I agree with your common ancestry orientation—and if more of us in the ‘human species’ saw ourselves in that way, there would be far more opportunities for peace.

  • Avram

    I’ve been meaning to write a similar blog post so thanks for the inspiration. As I started to reply to you I realized that it was more of my own post than a reply. http://mandelljewducator.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/no-need-to-believe-in-god-to-be-jewish/

    • Ruth Schapira

      Thanks Avram, I’m appreciative of the credit given! Glad that you had a chance to express your thoughts on this. The more we can equip ourselves to be open enough to deal with some of the tougher issues teens think about—the more connected they may feel.

  • "What if I don't believe in God---am I sti...

    […] A confident, tall, yet boyish 11th grade teenager asked this question of Rabbis who were participating in a panel called "Ask the Rabbi Anything". The teen who asked the question wasn't just any bo…  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: