Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times

Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times

Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times

Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times

Synopsis

For much of the twentieth century, most religious and secular Jewish thinkers believed that they were witnessing a steady, ongoing movement toward secularization. Toward the end of the century, however, as scholars and pundits began to speak of the global resurgence of religion, the normalization of secularism could no longer be considered inevitable. Recent decades have seen the strengthening of Orthodox movements in the United States and in Israel; religious Zionism has grown and radically changed since the 1960s, and new and vibrant nondenominational Jewish movements have emerged.

Secularism in Question examines the ways these contemporary revivals of religion prompt a reconsideration of many issues concerning Jews and Judaism from the early modern era to the present. Bringing together scholars of history, religion, philosophy, and literature, this volume illustrates how the categories of "religious" and "secular" have frequently proven far more permeable than fixed. The contributors challenge the problematic assumptions about the development of secularism that emerge from Protestant European and American perspectives and demonstrate that global Jewish experiences necessitate a reappraisal of conventional narratives of secularism. Ultimately, Secularism in Question calls for rethinking the very terms that animate many of the most contentious debates in contemporary Jewish life and far beyond.

Contributors: Michal Ben-Horin, Aryeh Edrei, Jonathan Mark Gribetz, Ari Joskowicz, Ethan B. Katz, Eva Lezzi, Vivian Liska, Rachel Manekin, David Myers, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Andrea Schatz, Christophe Schulte, Daniel B. Schwartz, Galili Shahar, Scott Ury.

Excerpt

For much of the twentieth century, most secular and religious thinkers believed that they were living in an age of steady secularization. Many perceived the Enlightenment and Europe as the interlinked chronological and geographical focal points that had given birth to secularization before it began its inevitable march across space and time. Depending on their religious outlooks, they saw their own era as ushering in either a “Golden Age” of secularism or a dark period of godless decadence. It was only in the closing decades of the twentieth century—when scholars and pundits began to speak of the global resurgence of religion—that secularism became the center of heated discussions. Today, the secular is no longer considered the norm; it has become something to be explained and studied.

This broader shift has also occurred among Jews. After the Second World War, Judaism as a religion appeared to be in decline. A major portion of Eastern European Orthodoxy had been annihilated in the Holocaust, a largely secularist brand of left-wing Zionism dominated the political scene among Jews in Palestine (and, later, Israel), while religious observance among Jewish communities in the Americas began to wane. During the 1960s, traditional Jewish settings—much like non-Jewish religious milieus in the United States and Europe—appeared to be fragmenting. Although many viewed Judaism as a resilient and meaningful force in their lives, few would have defined it as a serious challenge to the secularism of the existing political order.

All of this has now changed profoundly. A number of key developments have upended assumptions about the triumph of secularism in Jewish life.

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