His qualification, as described by the post is as follows "For more than 40 years, “On Faith” panelist Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has devoted himself to the monumental undertaking of translating and reinterpreting the Talmud, the vast collection of rabbinic writings that constitute Jewish civil and religious laws." Does this mean that the Post would publish my explanation to him of what it means to be a Jew ? Why does the www.washingtonpost.com take an absolute position on an issue where people disagree ? Jews can define atheism for the poor misguided people who say that they are atheists because no Talmudic scholar has used his expertise on the topic to explain to them what atheism is.
Now Rabbi Steinsaltz makes a valid point. Atheism is not proven to be valid by available evidence so it requires something like faith -- faith in the non-existence of God in this case.
"As for the emotional element of atheism – one may observe, rationally, that he doesn’t see or perceive a certain thing, but to deny its existence, at any level of vehemence, goes beyond rational thinking and into the realm of an emotional"
Yes, the difference between an agnostic and an atheist is, like the difference between an agnostic and a religious person. In each case, without proof, the agnostic doesn't have a firm opinion and atheists and religious people do. However Rabbi Steinsaltz abandons manners, toleration, fairplay and the English language when he goes on to describe the emotion that he just knows atheists feel (I guess he is a telepath too) "an emotional – sometimes very emotional – anti-belief."
I would say "belief in the non-existence of gods" or in plain English disbelief.
The totally innovative neologism "anti-belief" hints that atheists are necessarily hostile towards beliefs which we do not share and, at least, eager to convert religious people. Thus he claims there is a choice between saying "maybe there is a God" with agnostics or being hostile, anti against. This is a very common view. It is also gross sectarian bigotry. It asserts (well in the case of Rabbi Steinsaltz just hints using an ugly and un-necessary neologism) that it is impossible to be certain there is no God unless one is hostile to religion.
Rabbi Steinsaltz's valid point that atheists certainty that there is no God is a strong unproven belief as is the faith that their is a God of the religious is astrong unproven belief. He could have made that point writing "disbelief" or "belief that no God exists". There was no need to make up a new ugly and offensive word.
I would like www.washingtonpost.com to try to explain why its "on faith" section does not publish Jews criticizing Christianity or Christians criticizing Judaism but does publish the thoughts of an extremely devout person about what I must feel.
I am not surprised that only 83% of self described Jews believe in God. Some of my best friends are Jewish atheists. In fact, most of my best friends are Jewish atheists.
update II: OK now I get to the actual survey and find the number so high that it shocked Rabbi Steinsaltz 1.6% of people in the USA say that they are atheists. He thinks that 1.6% is high !?!?!?! wow. compare that to the number of people who think they have seen a UFO.