Society for Humanistic Judaism Supports IFSHJ Statement: WHO IS A JEW?
Who is a Jew? After more than thirty centuries Jews continue to debate this question.
At stake is the integrity of millions of Jews who do not find their Jewish identity in religious belief or religious practice, but who discover their Jewishness in the historic experience of the Jewish people. At stake also is the Jewish identity of thousands of men and women, in Israel and in other countries of the world, who want to be Jewish, but who are rejected by the narrow legalism of traditional religious authorities.
We, the members of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, believe that the survival of the Jewish people depends on a broad view of Jewish identity. We welcome into the Jewish people all men and women who sincerely desire to share the Jewish experience regardless of their ancestry. We challenge the assumption that the Jews are primarily or exclusively a religious community and that religious convictions or behavior are essential to full membership in the Jewish people.
The Jewish people is a world people with a pluralistic culture and civilization all its own. Judaism, as the culture of the Jews, is more than theological commitment. It encompasses many languages, a vast body of literature, historical memories, and ethical values. In our times the shadow of the Holocaust and the rebirth of the State of Israel are a central part of Jewish consciousness.
We Jews have a moral responsibility to welcome all people who seek to identify with our culture and destiny. The children and spouses of intermarriage who desire to be part of the Jewish people must not be cast aside because they do not have Jewish mothers and do not wish to undergo religious conversion. The authority to define “who is a Jew” belongs to all the Jewish people and cannot be usurped by any part of it.
In response to the destructive definition of a Jew now proclaimed by some Orthodox authorities, and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people, we, therefore, affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.
IFSHJ Second Biennial Conference
Brussels, October 1988