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Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism

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Humanistic Judaism is a movement in Judaism that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) 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
    Culture
    Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

    , and future of the Jewish people;
  • Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people, and religion
    Religion
    Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

     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.

Origins


In its current form, Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine
Sherwin Wine
Sherwin Theodore Wine was a rabbi and a founding figure in Humanistic Judaism. Originally ordained a Reform rabbi, Wine founded the Birmingham Temple, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism in 1963, in Birmingham, Michigan, outside Detroit, Michigan .In 1969...

. As a rabbi trained in Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

, 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
Birmingham Temple
The Birmingham Temple is the first Humanistic Jewish congregation. It was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine and eight founding families, who originally intended that the congregation would be located in Birmingham, Michigan...

, now in Farmington Hills, Michigan
Farmington Hills, Michigan
Farmington Hills is a community in southeastern Michigan. It is the largest city in Oakland County in the U.S. state of Michigan. Its population was 79,740 at the 2010 census...

. It was soon joined by a previously Reform congregation in Illinois led by Rabbi Daniel Friedman, 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
Society for Humanistic Judaism
The Society for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1969 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas....

 (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 Farmington Hills, Michigan
Farmington Hills, Michigan
Farmington Hills is a community in southeastern Michigan. It is the largest city in Oakland County in the U.S. state of Michigan. Its population was 79,740 at the 2010 census...

. The Institute offers professional training programs for Spokespersons, Educators, Leaders (also referred to in Hebrew as madrikhim/ot or in Yiddish as vegvayzer), and Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

s, in addition to its publications, public seminars and colloquia for lay audiences.

Principles of belief and practice


Humanistic Judaism presents a far more radical departure from traditional Jewish religion than Mordecai Kaplan
Mordecai Kaplan
Mordecai Menahem Kaplan , was a rabbi, essayist and Jewish educator and the co-founder of Reconstructionist Judaism along with his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein.-Life and work:...

 ever envisioned. Kaplan redefined God and other traditional religious terms so as to make them consistent with the materialist outlook, and continued to use traditional prayer language. Wine rejected this approach as confusing, since participants could ascribe to these words whatever definitions they favored. Wine strove to achieve philosophical consistency and stability by creating rituals and ceremonies that were purely non-theistic. Services were created for Shabbat
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

, Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah , , is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im which occur in the autumn...

, Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur , also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue...

, and other Jewish holidays and festivals, often with reinterpretation of the meaning of the holiday to bring it into conformity with Secular Humanistic
Secular humanism
Secular Humanism, alternatively known as Humanism , is a secular philosophy that embraces human reason, ethics, justice, and the search for human fulfillment...

 philosophy.

Humanistic Judaism was developed as a possible solution to the problem of retaining Jewish identity and continuity among non-religious. Recognizing that congregational religious life was thriving, Wine believed that secular Jews who had rejected theism would be attracted to an organization that provided all the same forms and activities as, for example, Reform temples, but which expressed a purely Secular Humanistic viewpoint. The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism 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 Farmington Hills, Michigan...

, which is sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Judaism
Society for Humanistic Judaism
The Society for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1969 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas....

 and the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, trains rabbis and other leaders in the United States and in Israel. The Society for Humanistic Judaism was organized with the mission to mobilize people to celebrate Jewish identity and culture consistent with a humanistic philosophy of life.

Jewish identity and intermarriage


Within Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is largely a matter of self-identification. Rabbis and other trained leaders officiate at intermarriages between Jews and non-Jews, and the Humanistic Judaism movement, unlike the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish denominations, does not take any position or action in opposition to intermarriage, rather it affirms that "Intermarriage is an American Jewish reality -- a natural consequence of a liberal society in which individuals have the freedom to marry whomever they wish...that intermarriage is neither good nor bad, just as we believe that the marriage of two Jews, in itself, is neither good nor bad. The moral worth of a marriage always depends on the quality of the human relationship -- on the degree of mutual love and respect that prevails. Secular Humanistic rabbis and leaders will also co-officiate at intercultural marriages between Jews and non-Jews. These views concerning Jewish identity and intermarriage are criticized by those who believe that they will hasten the assimilation of Jews into the general society and thus adversely affect Jewish continuity.

Egalitarianism


Humanistic Judaism is egalitarian
Egalitarianism
Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort among moral agents, whether persons or animals. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that equality contains the idea of equity of quality...

 with respect to gender and gender identification, Jewish status, and sexual orientation. Baby-naming ceremonies, similar for boys and girls, are used rather than the brit milah
Brit milah
The brit milah is a Jewish religious circumcision ceremony performed on 8-day old male infants by a mohel. The brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal .-Biblical references:...

. Those who identify as Jews and those who do not, as well as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members, may participate in all ways in rituals and leadership roles.

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