Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
December 2012

From Steven M. Cohen Secular-Dec-Dilemma

With Christmas and Ḥanukkah approaching, it seems as good a time as any to highlight the secular stream in Judaism.

In this context, it's noteworthy that Jews in Israel, of all inclinations, typically categorize themselves as "dati" ("religious") or "ḥiloni" ("secular"); if they're feeling particularly complex and inclusive, they'll add, "masorati" ("traditional"). In contrast, the Jews of the US are wont to categorize themselves as Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform; if they're feeling particularly pluralist, they'll add Reconstructionist, Renewal, Secular Humanism, and post-denominational. All other Jews, those without a denominational identity, are designated by the rather unflattering term, "unaffiliated." (American Jews, notably, are the only religious or ethnic group that calls its putatively wayward members, "unaffiliated.")

Thus, although large numbers of American Jews actually see themselves as secular, cultural, ethnic as well as or sometimes instead of religious, the secular-cultural-ethnic dimension to their identities has been under-recognized, under-appreciated, and maybe under-legitimated. In focusing on the secular aspects of being Jewish, this BJPA Reader's Guide takes a small step in rectifying matters.

The Guide also features a section on the December Dilemma, in part because the religious and secular nature of both Christmas and Chanukah have been contested over the years, and because American Jews have played a central role in that contestation. Remember, it was Irving Berlin who wrote, "White Christmas;" and "I Have a Little Dreydl" hardly comes across as the height of Jewish religious spirituality. 


Click here to download* the entire Guide, including 80+ publications.


Seasons Greetings to all! (Also, a freylekhn khanike and ḥag urim sameaḥ.)Steven M. Cohen



Prof. Steven M. Cohen

Director, Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner 



*Having trouble downloading the Guide from this email? Go to and click "Download publication."  

Milestone: BJPA Passes 15,000 Publications
This month, BJPA uploaded its 15,000th publication (and then, for good measure, 700 more after that).

Explore them all--browse our Latest Additions (i.e., most recently added to our archive) and Newest Publications (i.e., most recently published).
Now at 15,500+ publications, and growing

Some of our latest additions:


Contact: The Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life -- Technology and Jewish Education--Complete Issue

Hundreds of newly acquired publications by Leonard "Leibel" Fein

Hundreds of newly acquired articles from Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review

Dozens of newly acquired reports from the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Dozens of newly acquired publications from the American Jewish Year Book


Click here to browse our latest additions. 

JDBNew at North American Jewish Databank

A Tale of Four Cities: Learning About Jewish Community

Pocket Demographics

Jewish Map of the United States - Comenetz 2011

The Jewish Vote 2012

Comparisons of Jewish Communities: A Compendium of Tables and Bar Charts

The Influence of Community Context and Individual Characteristics on Jewish Identity: A 21-Community Study

Jewish Population in the United States, 2011

World Jewish Population, 2010

2012 Jewish Values Survey  

J-Vault: On the "Native Shrewdness" of Jewish Hoboes J-Vault

By Seth Chalmer

"[A] steady stream of Jewish hoboes, jocularly known in their own circles as "trombenicks," knocks at the doors of charity day in and day out, begging for food, clothing and shelter...As in every other walk of life, the Jew has fully contributed his peculiarly characteristic subtlety, native shrewdness, and quaint dry humor to the already baffling person of the hobo, like pungent oil poured over an inextinguishable flame."

Thus wrote Ralph Astrofsky in March 1928, in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly (now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service).

From the J-Vault: "Trombenicks" or Jewish Hoboes (1928)
...Unafraid of sweeping generalization, Astrofsky compares Jewish and Gentile hoboes:


The Jewish hobo who, in spite of himself, drifts into vagabondage, becomes more enthralled to the road after each futile effort to free himself, but unlike his Christian companion, still expects at some future date liberation and a home through marriage. Your Gentile hobo loses hope, fills his stomach with rotten liquor at every opportunity, and shoots needles into his arms to relieve his aching heart. The Jewish tramp will take refuge in metaphysics or "riddles," as he calls it, break up a game of dice to which he is not adapted, and start a poker game instead...


Unlike the Gentile hobo, the "trombenick" does not allow himself as readily to become the victim of an older and unscrupulous tramp of homo-sexual tendencies, commonly known among them as a "wolf." Sex perversion is generally frowned upon by Jewish hoboes, although they freely indulge their normal desires in the cheapest brothels where they never once fail to admonish an inhabitant of their own faith for her disgraceful profession....


Click here to read the rest of the post...


More from the BJPA Blog... 

Follow BJPA on Twitter and Like us on Facebook!



BJPA is funded by the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation and the Charles H. Revson Foundation.