What is Humanistic Judaism?
Humanistic Judaism offers cultural and secular Jews a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people.
Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines rational thinking with a deep connection to the Jewish people and its culture. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Judaism that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life. Humanistic Jews celebrate Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional symbols and liturgy.
If you believe that cultural Judaism is important to a contemporary Jewish identity and that cultural Jewish communities and an organized Humanistic voice enhance the Jewish experience for secular and Humanistic Jews, then SHJ is for you.
What do Humanistic Jews affirm?
- Human beings possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority.
- A Jew is a person who identifies with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish people.
- Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people.
- Jewish history is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and responsibility.
- Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment.
- Ethics and morality should serve human needs.
- The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
What do Humanistic Jews believe?
- Each Jew has the right to create a meaningful Jewish lifestyle free from supernatural authority and imposed tradition. Humanistic philosophy affirms that knowledge and power come from people and from the natural world in which they live. Jewish continuity needs reconciliation between science, personal autonomy, and Jewish loyalty.
- The goal of life is personal dignity and self-esteem. Life is worthwhile when all persons see themselves as worthwhile. Dignity and self-esteem are distinct from happiness. Happiness is less the goal of life than the consequence of having attained it. Self-esteem is dependent upon autonomy. Each autonomous person feels responsible for the basic direction of his/her own life and that no one else has the right to usurp that responsibility. Autonomy does not mean that each person is individually self-sufficient. Healthy dependence is horizontal rather than vertical.
- The secular roots of Jewish life are as important as the religious ones. Judaism is an ethnic culture. It did not fall from heaven. It was not invented by a divine spokesperson. It was created by the Jewish people. It was molded by Jewish experience. Holidays are responses to human events. Ceremonies are celebrations of human development. Music and literature are inspired by human experience.
What do Humanistic Jews do?
- Humanistic Jews celebrate Jewish holidays and mark the passage of life with meaningful ceremonies. The Jewish people form an extended family whose shared history, memories, and destiny are commemorated in beautiful holiday celebrations. Humanistic Jews find meaning in the celebration of life through the historic Hebrew calendar and seek to interpret this calendar in a naturalistic way. The birth of a child, coming of age (Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation), marriage, and even death allow the family and community to reinforce their unity and to articulate the values that make life worthwhile all within a Jewish cultural and historic context.
- Humanistic Jews are actively engaged in education for children and adults. They want to understand the beliefs and behavior of their ancestors without feeling compelled to agree with the beliefs of the past. They want their children to develop their own convictions honestly – on the basis of knowledge, not indoctrination. They seek to explore the entire range of Jewish experience, past and present, and to choose what is relevant and meaningful.
- Humanistic Jews create communities. They express the need for cultural solidarity and mutual support. A Humanistic Jewish congregation provides group identity, adult education, youth education, a setting for public celebrations of holidays and life-cycle ceremonies, and a community voice for the Humanistic Jewish point of view.
- Humanistic Jews teach and learn ethical behavior. Skills for survival and happiness are not instinctive. They are acquired. Self-reliance, cooperation, generosity, compassion, and rationality are daily exercises. They are just as important as academic skills.