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Jewish secularism comprises the non-religious ethnic Jewish people and the body of work produced by them. Among secular Jews, traditional Jewish holidays may be celebrated as historical and nature festivals, while life-cycle events, such as births, marriages, and deaths, may be marked in a secular manner.
According to historian Shmuel Feiner, the onset of modernism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witness the appearance in Europe of Jewish communities who rejected the religious norms and discipline demanded by the rabbinical elite and whose identities as Jews were increasingly separate from beliefs and practices from the Torah or the commandments.
"The religious laxity, modern acculturation and philosophical criticism of religions that marked the onset of the Jewish retreat from religion began as far back as the seventeenth century among conversos in Western Sephardic communities (especially Amsterdam) and among the wealthy families of Ashkenazic "court Jews" in Central Europe. In retrospect, the contribution of the eighteenth century to the historical course of Jewish secularization seems particularly significant."
According to historian David Biale, secular Jews were in no danger of losing their Jewish identity, as the tradition of secularism was not external to the Jewish tradition, but yet another side of it: "in transcending Judaism, the heretic finds himself or herself in a different Jewish tradition no less Jewish for being antitraditional. Secular universalism for these heretics paradoxically became a kind of Jewish identity".
Jewish Secularism further made strides in Europe during the late 18th century and early 19th century as a central point of contention within Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. According to researcher Daniel B. Schwartz, "In the 1840s and 1850s, the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment - which had migrated from Prussia to Austrian Galicia and the Russian Empire earlier in the nineteenth century - grew increasingly polarized. On the one side stood moderates and conservatives committed to keep the Jewish Enlightenment moored in rabbinic law and culture; opposing them were Maskilic insurgents, intent on a no-holds-barred critique of tradition".
Secular Jewish art and culture flourished between 1870 and the Second World War, with 18,000 titles in Yiddish, and thousands more in Hebrew and European languages, along with hundreds of plays and theater productions, movies, and other art forms. Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust rank among the creators of these works.
Prominent Jews who have been secular include David Ben-Gurion, Emma Goldman, Sigmund Freud, Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Gustav Mahler, Billy Joel, Marc Chagall, Henri Bergson, Alan Dershowitz, Heinrich Heine, Albert Einstein, Theodor Herzl, Louis Brandeis, Micha Josef Berdyczewski, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Boris Pasternak, Stan Lee, Stephen Fry, Marilyn Monroe, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Baruch Spinoza, Igor Guberman, Mikhail Turovsky and Ayn Rand.
- Center for Cultural Judaism
- Cultural Judaism
- Humanistic Judaism
- Liberal Judaism (United Kingdom)
- Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture
- Reform Judaism (United States)
- Zera Yisrael
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- Biale, David (2015). Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780691168043.
- Schwartz, Daniel B. (2015). ""Our Rabbi Baruch": Spinoza and Radical Jewish Enlightenment". In Joskowicz, Ari; Katz, Ethan B. (eds.). Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9780812247275.
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- Enayat, Hadi (2017). Islam and Secularism in Post-Colonial Thought: A Cartography of Asadian Genealogies. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 18. ISBN 9783319526119.
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- JTA (22 August 2017). "Billy Joel Wears Yellow Star of David During New York Concert". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
Joel’s parents are Jewish but he was not brought up religious. He has been described as a secular Jew and an atheist.
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- Hoffman, Matthew B. (2007). From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780804753715.
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- Feinstein, Sara (2005). Sunshine, Blossoms and Blood: H.N. Bialik in His Time, a Literary Biography. Lanham, MD, Boulder, CO, New York, Toronto, Oxford: University Press of America. p. 34. ISBN 9780761831426.
- Biale, David (2012). "God's Language and the Making of Secular Jewish Culture". In Heller, Zachary I.; Gordis, David M. Dr (eds.). Jewish Secularity: The Search for Roots and the Challenges of Relevant Meaning. Lanham, MD and Plymouth, England: University Press of America. p. 57. ISBN 9780761857952.
- Dan, Joseph (2003). "Chapter 24: Bialik. Mystical Poetry and Mystical Language". The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780195139792.
- Blond, Philip (2005) . Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology. London and New York: Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 9781134860418.
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- Keysar, Ariela (2018). "The Persistence of American Secular Judaism: Jewish Millenials". In DellaPergola, Sergio; Rebhun, Uzi (eds.). Jewish Population and Identity. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 88. ISBN 9783319774466.
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- Smith, Joan (29 March 2014). "Fed Up? Just Listen to Stephen Fry's Humanist Secret of Happiness". The Independent. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
- Stanley-Becker, Isaac (16 October 2018). "Jewish Prayer Book Annotated by Marilyn Monroe, Who Converted in 1956, Could Fetch Thousands in Auction". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
The movie star described herself as a “Jewish atheist,” according to Meyers. And after her divorce from Miller in 1961, she maintained only a few trappings of the Jewish faith, including a mezuzah — a tiny box containing Hebrew texts — on her door frame.
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- Burke, Daniel (2 June 2011). "The Anti-Gospel of Ayn Rand". The Christian Century. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
Biographer Anne C. Heller says Rand was raised a secular Jew in Russia at a time when Jews were persecuted by the Russian Orthodox Church. Early on, Rand decided that the existence of God and the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice were untenable ideas, Heller said.