Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות הומניסטית Yahadut Humanistit) is a Jewish movement that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people. It encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and lifecycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature. Its philosophical foundation includes the following ideas:

  • A Jew is someone who identifies with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish people;
  • Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people, and religion is only one part of that culture;
  • Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment;
  • People possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority;
  • Ethics and morality should serve human needs, and choices should be based upon consideration of the consequences of actions rather than pre-ordained rules or commandments;
  • Jewish history, like all history, is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and human responsibility. Biblical and other traditional texts are the products of human activity and are best understood through archaeology and other scientific analysis.
  • The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.[1]

Origins

In its current form, Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine.[2][3] As a rabbi trained in Reform Judaism, with a small secular, non-theistic congregation in Michigan, Wine developed a Jewish liturgy that reflected his and his congregation’s philosophical viewpoint by emphasizing Jewish culture, history, and identity along with Humanistic ethics, while excluding all prayers and references to God. This congregation developed into the Birmingham Temple, now in Farmington Hills, Michigan. It was soon joined by a previously Reform congregation in Illinois, as well as a group in Westport, Connecticut.

In 1969, these congregations and others were united organizationally under the umbrella of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ). The Society for Humanistic Judaism has 10,000 members in 30 congregations spread throughout the United States and Canada.

The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1986. It is the academic and intellectual center of Humanistic Judaism. It was established in Jerusalem in 1985 and currently has two centers of activity: one in Jerusalem and the other in Lincolnshire, IL. Rabbi Adam Chalom is the North American dean. The Institute offers professional training programs for Spokespersons, Educators, Leaders (also referred to in Hebrew as madrikhim/ot or in Yiddish as vegvayzer), and Rabbis, in addition to its publications, public seminars and colloquia for lay audiences.[4]