Am I an Agnostic Jew?

What is an agnostic? What is a Jew? These are questions I have been exploring in-depth lately.

As my previous blog post explained in more depth, my mother has a rare and aggressive form of cancer and my step-dad was recently diagnosed with an irregular heart beat as he collapsed on a treadmill. These events have led me in search of spirituality and more than anything, a sense of comfort.

For me, during hard times like my childhood when I was a victim of abuse, I searched for solace in Judaism. I remember as a teenager praying the words of the siddur alone in my bedroom, hoping against all hope for a solution to my pain.

Not only that, Judaism has given me a sense of community when I really needed it. In high school, I joined and eventually took a leadership role in my youth group. It gave me a largely supportive network as I came out of the closet as a teenager.

As a child in my synagogue, I felt cared for. And nurtured in a way that I wasn’t receiving in other parts of my life.

I showed my gratitude and excitement by leading monthly teen services and running the college chapter of the Reform Movement on my campus. I have led or attended Jewish services in at least seven different countries. I love Judaism.

So what’s leading me down this path of questioning, of doubt? It’s very simple. I see the pain and suffering in the world – the pandemic’s millions of victims, Syrian refugees, Ukraine, my mom’s cancer – and I wonder how a compassionate God would let such terrible things happen. And yet I’m not entirely sure that there isn’t some form of spiritual energy or being out there. Because certainly great kindness happens in the world too. And we have free will as human beings to practice compassion or to harm others.

I still find great spiritual energy in Jewish history, culture, music, and languages. And Jews have always been first and foremost a people more than a faith-centric religion like Christianity or Islam. There are even those people who consider themselves “agnostic theists” – or practicing Jews who are unsure of God’s existence. I would go so far as to argue that if you really polled most Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jews, a significant number of them would fall into this category. I have even met Orthodox Jews who say belief in God is not necessary for living a life following Jewish law, or halacha.

Must a Jew believe in God? No. I don’t believe a Jew must believe in God. And I think our tradition has a rich tradition of agnosticism, or uncertainty about the existence or nature of God. As the Yiddish expression goes – “two Jews, three opinions”. We are a people of debate, of pluralism, of deep and fragmented thought.

So if someone asks me if I believe in God, I don’t feel a compulsion to answer. Because this whole time I’ve been searching for a path back towards belief as defined by others. By the words on the page of a prayer book someone else wrote. The path that feels right is to allow myself a little doubt. A little uncertainty. A little agnosticism in my rich Jewish tapestry and to lean into that reality. Because someone who says he or she has perfect faith in God while a parent is struggling with cancer is frankly hard to believe.

I am an adult free to make my own decisions and my choice now is to live as a Jew on the edge. On the edge of questions bigger than I could ever have imagined when I started my Jewish journey. Where will it take me? I don’t know! And that’s a pretty agnostic answer.


Cover photo is from Sderot, Israel. A city of survivors, just like me and hopefully like my mom.

Author: Matt Adler - מטע אדלר

A compassionate multilingual Jewish explorer. Author of "More Than Just Hummus: A Gay Jew Discovers Israel in Arabic": http://tiny.cc/qjfbsz & http://tiny.cc/gkfbsz. Join me on my journeys by reading my blog or following me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/matt.adler.357. May you find some beauty in your day today. :)

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