Rabbi Levi Brackman has his own explanation – I have my own, based on my Jewish life experience.
Let’s begin with Rabbi Brackman’s explanation. In an article “Why so many Jews are atheists” at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3809043,00.htmlhe wrote:
“Real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas …
It is indisputable that a disproportionate amount of secular Jews self identify as atheist or agnostics …
In my view, many secular Jews become atheists because of a lack of Jewish knowledge …. Most contemporary Jews—if they are given a Jewish education—discontinue all formal Jewish education at around age thirteen. This is because synagogues make part-time religious school attendance a condition to having a synagogue based Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Thereafter, however, most young Jews discontinue any formal Jewish involvement or education.
Thus, most secular Jewish adults, at best, have a thirteen year olds concept of how Judaism perceives God. Based on this miniscule amount of formal Jewish education it is little wonder that secular Jews tend towards atheism. No one can expect naturally skeptical adults to continue believing in a sophomoric concept of God. Indeed the concept of God I believed in at age thirteen has little resemblance to what I believe in today after many years of study …
Thus, the real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be a tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas and therefore a juvenile understanding of the Jewish idea of a monotheistic God. “
I am in full agreement with Rabbi Brackman on the crucial importance of Jewish education throughout all Jewish life. However, it looks like we have in mind two different systems of Jewish education.
In rabbis’ mind, the Jewish education has to strengthen and reinforce everything that was codified by Jewish religious authorities (Talmud, prophets, revered rabbis …) for normative Jewish life in spiritual isolation of homes, synagogues and communities. The Jews who are doing all that are called religiously observant.
The Jews who are calling themselves atheists they are the Jews who cherish their life outside the isolated Jewish homes, synagogues and communities, and they are trying to find a Jewish essence of their life outside the isolated Jewish world – the Jewish life that was not codified by Jewish religious authorities and is not taught in traditional Jewish education. Because they are not getting much help from rabbinical community they have distinguished themselves by changing their spiritual name – from religiously observant to atheists (meaning religiously not observant).
However the Jewish atheists are the true Jews as well not only by the fact of being born to a Jewish family but rather by the fact of trying to live Jewish-ly in contemporary non-Jewish world. As the religiously observant Jews do, the Jewish atheists need the Jewish education as well but the education of a different type.
Let me illustrate all that using the Ten Commandments.
“You shall have no other gods before Me” and “You shall not make idols”.
In rabbis’ mind, Jewish education is supposed to strengthen the ability to fight against distorted they think Heavenly God’s image and representation in other religions, first of all in Christianity.
The Jewish atheists, most of whom are politically active, are trying to figure out how to define, and prevent from coming to power, a human government-god which is replacing the Heavenly God, and they are not getting educational help here from rabbis.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” and “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”.
In rabbis’ mind, Jewish education is supposed to strengthen the power of Jewish prayers and rituals in resolving various life challenges during the Shabbat day and six other days of the week.
The Jewish atheists are trying to figure out what cannot be resolved by prayers and should be resolved by other – Torah-based – actions of various nature – political, social, military … – to resolve various life challenges, and they are not getting educational help here from the rabbis.
“Honor your father and your mother” and “You shall not commit adultery”.
In rabbis’ mind, Jewish education is supposed to strengthen a Jewish family based on the foremost purpose of family existence as procreating and raising children along the Torah-guidance lines.
The Jewish atheists are trying to connect all that to something what they see in the real life – to natural sex drive, to mysterious love, to homosexual existence, to mixed marriages, and they are not getting much educational help from rabbis.
“You shall not murder” and “You shall not steal”.
The Jewish atheists are trying to define “murder” and “steal” in practical terms tailored to their real-life political, social, economic (and many other) circumstances while rabbis are trying not to get into all that probably out of fear to deal with secular laws. The Jewish atheists believe Evil exists by God’s design and therefore it should be properly defined and eliminated (“murdered”) to prevent Evil from harming good people. The Jewish atheists believe a government is “stealing” from its citizens through taxation system, and therefore we have to resist this kind of stealing. That is just a few examples where the atheists don’t get educational help from rabbinical community.
“You shall not covet”.
However, redistribution of wealth through the government taxation system is realization of “coveting” – the coveting by the less wealthy. The truly poor people have to be helped through mitzvah/charity actions – not through government-god’s redistribution. Unfortunately, rabbinical community is not educating people on all that.
I believe when rabbinical community begins to educate the Jews the way many Jews are looking for, many of current Jewish atheists may become again religious.