Jews without God

atheist Reporter Manya A. Brachear of The Chicago Tribune had a fascinating story on her hands: a young Jewish movement that does not worship God. Brachear's story began this way:

When Rabbi Adam Chalom stands before the Sabbath flames and sings the Hebrew blessing to welcome Shabbat, there is no mention of God.

Chalom believes there are no prophets. He preaches that only hard work yields miracles. And until science unlocks life's mysteries, his most honest answer to why people are here and where they go when they die is, "I don't know."

God has nothing to do with it.

Interesting, huh? Brachear notes that the movement, Humanistic Judaism, reveres culture and ethics rather than God. It sounds like more than a few Christian congregations I know of.

To put the movement in context, Brachear gave readers this helpful statistic:

Chalom contends that the integrity and emotional resonance of Jewish traditions are what appeal most to American Jews. According to the American Jewish Identity Survey of 2001 by the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, about half of the 5.3 million Jews in the United States identify themselves as "secular" or "somewhat secular."

Alas, an interesting story line and a helpful use of statistics were its only valuable traits. Otherwise, the story was rather shallow and uncritical.

For one thing, Brachear's story had an obvious Biblical analogy: the story of the molten or golden calf. I think she should have asked Rabbi Chalom whether he saw any parallels between his movement and that of the Jewish people waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain top. For example, does he think that his members are worshiping a molten calf and if not, why not?

For another thing, Brachear's story was uncritical of Chalom's theology. While it's difficult for a reporter to question an educated religious figure, Brachear defers to Chalom in a pre-Watergate era sort of way:

-- Chalom says that his movement is "keeping people Jewish." Really, how so?

-- Chalom does not believe in God. Why not? Does he consider himself an agnostic or atheist?

-- Chalom never mentions that God establishing a covenant with the Jews is the very foundation of the three great monotheistic religions. How can he overlook this fact?

Look, Brachear likely was under time restraints with this story. She probably didn't have much time to report and write it. But the fact that a Jewish movement proclaims independence from God is a big deal. How about waiting a day or two to report it out?

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