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Yaakov Malkin is an intellectual, educator, writer, literary critic, and professor emeritus in the Faculty of Arts at Tel Aviv University. Malkin is active in several cultural and educational institutions that deal with cultural and humanistic Judaism.
Starting in 1944, while still a student, Malkin published literary, cinema, and theater critiques, and served as the editor of On the Wall, the magazine of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement (1944–1946). During the 1948 war in Israel, he served as a broadcasting officer for the Haganah and the IDF (1947–1948) in the underground radio station, Telem Shamir Boaz, that later became the Israel Army Radio (Galei Tzahal). Malkin lectured (in Yiddish) and was active in the Jewish camps in Cyprus, and worked for the IDF acquisition branch in France (1949). He directed and lectured in Pomansky College for Judaism as Culture in New York (1951), and founded and directed a Hebrew Ulpan (language school) in the Quartier Latin in Paris (1956). While in Paris, he also worked as assistant to the cultural attaché at the Israeli embassy in Paris. He also participated in a lecture tour on Judaism in world literature in Australia (1960), the United States (1965), and France (1970).
From 1952 to 1956, Malkin taught comparative literature studies and the Bible as literature at the Seminar HaKibbutzim teachers' college in Tel Aviv. At the same time he served as director of the repertoire department at the Habima national theater and as a drama instructor at the theater schools of Habima and of the Cameri Theater.
From 1971 to 1981, he founded and directed the Mateh Yehuda community college, which employed the educational methods of Empire State College (SUNY) where students create personal tracks of study. This was adopted to conditions in Israel and to the particular requirements of working students in the Mateh Yehuda area.
From 1969 to 1994, Malkin taught aesthetics, theater and film criticism at the Tel Aviv University. In 1971 he established, together with the Dean of the Faculty for New Arts, Professor Moshe Lazar, the Department for Cinema and Television at the Tel Aviv University. He also served as the university's representative in the founding team of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, and as editor of the "Cinematheque Pages" – film criticism essays handed out to viewers before the screening of each movie, together with Uri Klein.
From 1958 to 1971, Malkin founded and directed the first community centers in Haifa, Beit Rothschild and the Beit Hagefen Jewish–Arab Center. These municipal centers were at first run by groups of friends who led the centers' dozens of social activities, including the Haifa Cinematheque, built inside Beit Rothschild. During these years Malkin also lectured in the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) on aesthetics and rhetoric.
Today Malkin serves as editor-in-chief for Free Judaism, a magazine for Judaism as a culture, which he founded in 1995 and which came out in print editions until 2004. Malkin also serves as provost at the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism, based in Jerusalem (Tmura) and in Farmington Hills near Detroit in the United States ("Birmingham Temple"). The institute trains students who hold an undergraduate degree to be community leaders for secular communities and those with a master's degree or a PhD to be secular Rabbis in a four-year track of studies and work.
Yaakov Malkin's writings focus on humanistic ethics, which is the way of life practiced by most Jews in Israel and around the world. Malkin perceives Judaism as a pluralistic culture, both in its secular and its religious forms. He claims that Judaism has been pluralistic since the biblical era when the culture of the Jewish people was characterized by belief in many gods, religions, rituals, beliefs, and opinions. Beginning in Hellenistic times Judaism developed a variety of cultures, beliefs, and opinions.
Unlike atheist scholars such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who see atheism as the lack of belief, Malkin dedicates his writings to the humanistic beliefs shared by the non-religious community in the West generally, and among the Jewish people in particular. Malkin claims that there are no nonbelievers, but rather people who express a variety of beliefs in their day-to-day lives. These can include religious beliefs, characterized by a commitment to follow religious leaders who claim to speak in the name of a god, or nonreligious beliefs, which include the belief in humans as creators of their own paths and behaviors, whether as individuals or in society, with the goal of attaining the purpose of human life: happiness.
In his books What do Secular Jews Believe?, Secular Judaism: Faith, Values, and Spirituality, and The Atheist Belief of Secular Jews, Malkin expresses his views of the humanistic belief in people that leads to national awareness and belief in the rights of all people and all nations. These beliefs lead to a rebuttal of "godly religions" that obligate the believer to keep the rules of their leaders, especially those that stand in contrast to the values of humanism and universal justice. These anti-humanistic beliefs lead, among other things, to the acceptance of secular ideological religions such as Communism and Nazism wherein believers are also obligated to obey leaders, regardless of the cost.
Humanistic nonreligious beliefs include Agnostics such as Socrates, Deists such as Epicurus, Pantheists such as Spinoza or Einstein, and Atheists such as John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell, which are all free of commitment to a religious or ideological religion. These beliefs stand in contrast to postmodern relativism in that they see themselves as bound by humanistic ethical values and by the values of universal justice as articulated by Confucius and Hillel the Elder: "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself". These values of justice lead to the moral values of equality, freedom, and human and national rights.
- Yair Sheleg (29 September 2006). "The secular Jewish canon". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 28 December 2010. ""There are places, like Professor Yaakov Malkin's group, where articles by Malkin [the editor of the journal Free Judaism], ..."
- "Author, Lecturer, and Professor Yaakov Malkin Receives Jerusalem Film Festival Life Achievement Award". Center for Cultural Judaism. Retrieved 9 April 2011.