The Atheist Siddur

Atheist siddur: Oxymoron or exciting new way to think about ourselves and the world around us?
According to Dr. Tzemah Yoreh, a 29 year-old Bible scholar living in Jerusalem, it’s the latter option.
He’s quoted this week in the Jewish Chronicle:

“The desire to seek things beyond our power is a universal one, and it’s not restricted to theists or atheists,”… “One mode of expression is prayer, which is an expression of our deepest desires. Prayer is a way of voicing our will, something which only a community can do.”

His atheist-feminist siddur (prayerbook) is, in many ways, quite a radical departure. I know Tzemah and the Kiddush Levanah group of which I took part when I lived in Jerusalem experimented some with his liturgy for the Kiddush Levanah ritual, and I found his writing to be quite beautiful, and mostly comprised of pasokim (Bibilical verses) woven together, and not explicitly non-theistic at all. I personally prefer traditional liturgy in general, though.
Of course, the question remains: to whom does an atheist pray?
The Chronicle notes,

For example, the Shema [in Tzemah’s atheist siddur] is preceded with the following: “May favour be found in the recitation of these verses — a respectful echo of the belief of my ancestresses and ancestors, who devotedly worshipped Adonai. For although I cannot sing odes to a patriarchally imagined deity, as it says in the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:16): ‘Do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure — the likeness of male or female’, the tradition of my parents is carved in my heart in immutable letters.”
Every section (excluding the biblical passages) of the siddur is reworked to represent the author’s sensibilities. In traditional siddurim, the section before Yishtabach reads as follows: “For the Kingship is God’s and He rules over nations. Redeemers shall come from Mount Zion to rule over/judge (the inhabitants of) Mount Esau, and the Kingship shall be God’s. And God shall rule over the land, on that day God shall be one and His name shall be one.”
Yoreh’s version reads: “For human beings were meant to be kings, governors of their environment. Redeemers shall arise, saviours shall come. From Mount Zion and from among all peoples, they shall beat their swords into plowshares. They shall eradicate despotic government. On that day harmonious coexistence shall be realised.”

So what do y’all think: Does it work? Does it not work? Hillul Hashem or a new way to engage kedushah?

29 thoughts on “The Atheist Siddur

  1. atheism is boring. This is just one example. I almost fell asleep reading that “prayer”. I give it two thumbs down.

  2. Pointless. Why need a siddur, if you are praying to…who? A tree? Your dead relatives?
    I once had to endure an atheist seder. Was the silliest thing, and lot of brochas to….what? God was the 900-pound gorilla in the room that no one dare mention.

  3. When you take any references to Hashem out of a siddur, you might as well be reading a copy of New Voices out loud. Which isn’t a bad idea, its just not prayer. I’ve known plenty of athiests who were content to use a traditional siddur, and I know of no reason why they shouldn’t continue to do so.

  4. “Does it work? Does it not work? ”
    Hold on. If God doesn’t exist, than the whole bloody enterprise is either a conspiracy, a lie, or a delusion of a few madmen. Why in the world would you want to borrow anything from such a fraudulent system? Worse…a system that is indirectly responsible for the murder of many innocent people (think Deuteronomy…think Palestinians…think every other monotheistic religion that killed folks).
    If I was an atheist, I’d run…fast…from anything to do with Judaism. If God doesn’t exist, Jews have a lot to answer for.

  5. The killing of Palestinians has no justification, even given the existence of God. And juxtaposing the imaginary world of Deuteronomy with the reality of the west bank is grotesque.

  6. For many people, the distinction between theism/agnosticism/atheism really isn’t so clear or helpful, especially if they have been socialised into expressing themselves in traditional ways. In the same way as a person who immerses themselves in a fantasy novel doesn’t ask questions like “surely magic doesn’t exist?”, so too, a person who appreciates the fulfilling and beneficial aspects of the religious fiction might find the distinction irrelevant, be able to immerse themselves totally in that fantasy, while at the same time being intellectually congnizant of its fictional nature.
    Tzemah’s siddur might be helpful for these people.

  7. “The killing of Palestinians has no justification”
    Huh? Really? Never?
    Look, so long as God doesn’t exist, than a “return to Zion” is a myth, and hence our lobbying for a land in Palestine was based on lies. We could’ve settled anywhere. Hell, I would’ve chosen Victoria, BC. It’s quiet, the weather’s moderate and sking in Whister is only a ferry ride away.
    “imaginary world of Deuteronomy”
    What are you rambling about? God might not exist, but that doesn’t mean Jews didn’t commit genocide as stated in Deuteronomy. In other words, it’s because of our belief in God that people have died – both in the West Bank, Gaza, and biblical Palestine and surrounding areas. If God exists, than the means DO justify the ends.

  8. “but if G-d doesn’t exist… who exactly are we going to answer to Shtreimel?”
    Hm, perhaps your boss, wife/husband….
    Look, I believe in, rather struggle with, God. So I think we’re on the same page.

  9. These types of things, these “G-d-optional Jewish practices” are, in my opinion, a total farce.
    I’m sure they do something for the psyches of their practitioners. My only wonder is if said effect would be better achieved with Zoloft.

  10. “achieved with Zoloft.”
    Forget Zoloft…my clients claim they give you gas and kill your orgasm. Better to workout and get good sleep.

  11. Everyone’s getting so worked up over nothing. It’s a nice philosopher piece of creativity. Read it and see if you can learn anything about yourself from it, instead of getting all self-righteous whatever-your-religious-point-of-view is. Like seriously. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “The existence of different things in universe is not a personal attack against me.”

  12. im not getting self righteous, im commenting a blog. that’s why people post. if the article was about a movie i thought was lame, i’d post saying “hey, that movie sucked”. same here. it doesnt bother me that there is an atheist siddur, i just think its kinda pointless. like that movie “Bubba Hotep”. No offense to fans of “Bubba Hotep”.

  13. i think this new siddur is beautiful. it can also appeal to theists/agnostics, specifically feminists or others not satisfied/frustrated/uncomfortable with the traditional patriarchal liturgy for whatever reasons, but who at the same time identify with the jewish faith and body of traditions (and wish to express their faith and share in community life). kol hakavod!

  14. “humans were meant to be kings”
    “meant to”? Sounds terribly theistic to me. what kind of manifest destiny can there be without the mandate of heaven?

  15. appeal to atheists? those who BELIEVE that there is no god just as much that I believe there is one? this siddur is just one more example of where the ‘big tent’ philosophy of judaism will get to you. next stop: amidah with imahot and jesus to appeal to christians.

  16. After reading that brief passage. It appears that is reason for prayer was one of emotion. He wanted to pray like his ancesters. I personally believe almost any action done based on emotion is not wise. I have an emotion to murder someone, should I act on it? I think we can all agree on ‘no’, and would apply the same logic to an atheistic siddur.

  17. “magen avraham, poqed sarah, vetzolev yeshua”
    That’s fantastic. I love it. Anyone who doesn’t know Hebrew, this phrase is so funny it should make you want to learn it. ‘Schoiach to Amit.

  18. Biggest load of self-congratulatory, new age crap I have ever seen. They talk about not making an idol out of yourself. All they are doing is praying to themselves for taking the time to “recognize” their parents’ tradition. Fuck you all.

  19. Author’s reaction
    Well I truly did not expect such comments
    I will not dignify “Nosson” and co’s hateful splatter of verbal feces with a response
    To others I would like to say – viewing tefillah monolithically as interaction between humans and the deity, is selling this exalted mode of expression short – tefillah can be a vehicle for many things including an atheist’s hopes and fears for a better world and his / her desire to change it, I am Jewish and I will continue to express myself Jewishly, My siddur has already been a vehicle for expression for more than just me, and this is before its publication, thus whatever your objections, and I find some of them truly astonishing,cause none of you have actually read any of the siddur (just two tiny bits in translation), it has helped more than just me and that was its goal

  20. Is any thing that causes or allows a person to take the interests of another into concideration a bad thing?

  21. Selling an exalted mode of self-expression short? The premise behind prayer is that you’re expressing yourself to god, as the premise behind doing anything “Jewishly” is doing it with god and his torah in mind – such as expression. Whoever it may have facilitated a more peaceful psyche, your siddur is nothing more than an attempt at seizing the ends of a theistic lifestyle without the means.

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