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    Agnosticism and Einstein – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What is one to make of Albert Einstein’s statement that “The Jewish God is simply a negation of superstition”?

    A. Einstein was certainly a loyal Jew, and he was good for the Jews. His Jewishness focussed on the Jewish moral instinct. His book, “Ideas and Opinions”, explains that he believed Judaism to be “concerned almost exclusively with the moral attitude to life” which he called “the foundations of happiness and of civilised communities”. A telling illustration is a statement he heard from Walter Rathenau, “When a Jew says he is going hunting to amuse himself, he is lying”.

    Einstein did not, however, accept the traditional idea of God. For him, “The Jewish God is simply a negation of superstition”. To him, “God” meant the animating force in the universe, not a personal Deity who could be worshipped. Nonetheless, his life as a scientist was not without a sense of spirituality. “The most beautiful thing we can experience,” he said, “is the mysterious… He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as much as dead”.

    Einstein valued the intellectual dimension of Jews and Judaism. The Jewish contribution to civilisation, he believed, derived from the tradition of study and commitment to social justice. Both aspects offended totalitarian regimes like Nazism, for whom Jews and Judaism had to be eradicated. Einstein was a man of the world, but he was a fervent supporter of Jewish identity and nationalism. Hence though he said he would have preferred a quiet life of research and contemplation, he openly identified with Zionism and lent his name and reputation to Zionist fundraising efforts. He believed that Zionism not only gave “our sorely oppressed Jewish nation” a place to be, but the opportunity to create a moral society.

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