Graf Orator says Judaism is not a Religion

September 28, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Avraham Infield, one of the world’s foremost contemporary Jewish thinkers who says Judaism is not a religion, will deliver this year’s Graf Oration.

Avraham Infeld

In 2010, the prestigious Ervin Graf Oration was delivered by Amos Oz, distinguished Israeli novelist and veteran political analyst. This year, major international Jewish leader, avant garde thinker and inspirational speaker, Avraham Infeld will be making a whirlwind visit to Sydney to give the oration.
Although Modern Orthodox, Infeld is a committed pluralist which is evident from his important work as International President of Hillel and roving ambassador for Limmud.  He was a founder of the Taglit-Birthright Israel Program and has led many other Jewish initiatives. Infeld made aliya from South Africa as a teenager over 40 years ago.

One of his many interesting notions, which he illustrates so well through humorous anecdotes, is that Judaism is NOT a religion.  He says, “After living in Israel for 8 years, I was sent to the US as shaliach (emissary).  On the way to my new job in Baltimore, I drove on a highway on which there was a massive billboard ad which read ‘Families who pray together stay together.’ On the bottom was written ‘Sponsored by the Council of Protestants, Catholics and Jews.’  I almost had an accident.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what Jews were doing on that signpost.  What is this nonsense – Protestants, Catholics and Jews.  It’s like saying Yellow, Green, and Round.  Protestantism is a religion, Catholicism is a religion.  Judaism is not a religion.”

At his welcoming party, he was introduced to Bob, the director of the Jewish Federation.  “I went up to him, and said ‘Shalom, my name is Avraham. You’ve got to fix that sign.’  He said ‘what are you talking about?’  I said, ‘Judaism is not a religion.’ You should have seen the look on his face.  Total and absolute shock.  Imagine the following conversation between myself and Bob.  ‘Bob, are you religious?’ He says ‘God forbid.’  ‘Do you ever eat kosher?’  ‘If there is nothing else available, I’ll eat the stuff.’  ‘Do you ever keep Shabbat?’  ‘No.’  ‘Do you ever pray?’  ‘No.’  ‘Do you ever go to synagogue or temple?’  ‘I go once a year to see the guys.’  ‘Are you religious?’ ‘NO.’  ‘What is Judaism?’  ‘A religion.’  ‘What are you?’  ‘I am Jewish.’ Great logic, right?”

Infeld continues, “He could have done the same thing to me.  ‘Do you ever keep Shabbat?’  ‘At least  once  a week.’  ‘Do you ever pray?’  ‘Three times  a day.’  ‘Do you ever eat kosher?’  ‘All the time.’  ‘Is Judaism a religion?’ ‘NO way.’  ‘What are you?’  ‘I am Jewish!’

According to Infeld, one of the Jewish world’s most exciting and unique teachers, being Jewish is about engaging with the five components, or ‘legs’ of Jewish life – Memory, Family, Covenant, Israel and the Hebrew Language.  When he delivers that Graf Oration on Monday 15th October, his topic will be: ‘The 5 Legged Table: an alternate vision of the Jewish future.’

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12 Responses to “Graf Orator says Judaism is not a Religion”
  1. Shlomith says:

    New American Dictionary ~ provenance of the word ‘religion’:

    ORIGIN: Middle English from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence,’ based on Latin religare ‘to bind.’

    Since Judaism is an eternal bond, obligation and reverence for Hashem, I would say it can surely be defined as a religion.

    More than that, Jews are a FAMILY. The Children of Jacob. B’H!

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Very nicely and aptly put, not to mention that the opposite to ” Re-ligens”, fearing G-d, pious, is “ne-ligens”, negligent, a term to consider and not neglect….
      It also orginates with the Greek “alegein” to reverence

  2. Shlomith says:

    It’s people like A. Infeld who provoke antisemitism. He shuns Jews being mentioned in the same breath as Protestants and Catholics, yet would be the first to cry “Antisemite” if others were to discriminate against him in such a way.

    Unity and peace are G-dly. Israel is a light to the nations.
    Infeld has cast only darkness with his narrow-minded comments.

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    I agree with Jim and also, partly with my full friend Paul.

    Provocative as the smart Avraham is, he is only offering a vorspeis for what is quite a necessary incursion into the ACTUAL validity of Judaism.
    To the mind accustomed to easy foray into existential formulas, Judaism as religion is good enough. A Jew should follow the traditions and that shall make him aceptable to his fellow Jews and himself as well.
    Try going beyond the comforts of etymological norms and you get scores of comments as most of the ones above, but, most definitely ATTENTION. Yet, the main question remains: is there room for listening to the provocative proposition. I hope so……………….

    Therefore, Judaism , to me, is the splendid compilation of ethical substantive acts of pure CELESTIAL wisdom. By far the most consistent effort in inspiring the HUMAN into being what we are all MEANT to be. That protocols have been established by which the mind is condi tioned to observe and introspect with passion and enraged intellect ( enraged by the anxiewty to discover WITHIN the tenets of Judaism infinite values ) its edifice, is preciesly what gives the FALSE impression that the”practice” of Judaism is analogue to what Avraham objected as being on the par with his fortunate choice – or his parents – of devotion. True, the religions listed alongside Judaism on that billboard are vastly distinct from Judaism, and I cannot abuse Henry’s patience in developing the distinctive contents , and the unifying term of “religions” as a melting notional …mish-mash, does not do justice to the stark distinctions. Circle closed !
    To be fair, the “others” have tried, and to a great extent succeeded, to emulate in populist terms – mind you – the said existential construct that Judaism has arrived at long before “they” launched their product, but those “others” are as much a “non-religion” as Avraham is spruiking his own original ( actally not so ) “Original and Best” ethical spiel.I, for one, I have seen this little game played by so many others for centuries now.
    So ,semitic semantics are at play here and all and sundry are welcome to fall pre(a)y to it …………….

  4. EthanP says:

    For once, I am left speachless. So I’ll stoop to this. Mr Infield, you are an ASS!

  5. Shirlee says:

    ………..and this guy is presenting **the prestigious Ervin Graf Oration**??

    My goodness, the mind boggles.

    It doesn’t say much for **the prestigious Ervin Graf Oration**

    What a waste of $30 !!

  6. Lynne Newington says:

    I love it!!!
    He didn’t mention Faith, and for me (who isn’t Jewish), that’s the hidden and operative word.
    I hope I haven’t offended anyone.
    Faith and Tradition, going back forever and a day.

  7. Jim says:

    I agreee with Paul Winter, provocation is not great analytical thinking. Yes, of course Judaism is far more than “just” a religion, it is all of the things Paul – and even Infield – says it is but it is also a comprehensive view of what God is and how that explains the world we live in. We can debate how far that explanation may extend into the physical world on any scale but we cannot deny Judaism’s contribution to an ordered view of a moral and civilised world. Interesting that one of Infield’s 5 “legs” is the Covenant. How could that be if Judaism were not a religion?
    Facile teasing may sell tickets to talks but it does little else to further understanding.

  8. Liat Nagar says:

    You could ask similar questions of people who are Catholic or Protestant relating to their religion and get similar answers. It would not mean that Christianity, either Catholic or Protestant, was not a religion, merely that those born to that faith didn’t practise it. Not a very clever word game, really.

  9. gabrielle says:

    Thanks Avraham. Its about time to introduce some logic into this topic. A significant proportion of Israelis are not religious does it mean that they are not Jewish?

  10. Adrian says:

    Forgive the brevity. Shabbat is approaching and I am getting ready to go to the Jewish Lodge. Before I read the synopsis of the oration I thought I was heading to synagogue.
    As we are not a religion I will have to consider what I am doing which was previously praying.

  11. Paul Winter says:

    Give us a break! Judaism is a religion! Just observe the rites, the texts, the allegiance to practices that were the mortar that kept Jews as a group alive during the millenia since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But Judaism is not just a religion as Infeld well knows. His outrageous assertion to the contrary is provacative and may arouse interest. It is also offensive. Judaism is peoplehood, a shared history, a culture, a mission to improve the world and shared genetics. It is also a feeling of affinity to one’s group and a love and concern for the recreated Jewish state. Infeld knows this better than I do and he should not go about making silly statements to get people to listen to his talk. People like me he alienates.

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