THE SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC JUDAISM:
HUMANISTIC JUDAISM & THE BIBLE
The Torah (also called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses) consists of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). It includes stories of the creation of the world and humanity, the beginnings of the Israelite people, their enslavement in the land of Egypt, their escape and wandering in the desert, and the laws given to them before they reached the "promised land" of Canaan (now Israel).
The Prophets (such as Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah) tell of the establishment of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, of their conquest by foreign invaders, and of the people's exile and return. Some of the Writings, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, consist of poetic and philosophical reflections and allegory; others, such as Ruth, Esther, Daniel, and Ezra, refer to real or legendary events in the people's early history.
According to classical tradition, the words of the Bible, or Holy Scriptures, are divinely revealed and, thus, infallible. Humanistic Jews deny the supernaturalism that underlies the concept of divinely revealed truth. They consider the Bible a treasury of information about early Jewish experience and belief and a rich source of ancient wisdom; but they examine it with the same criteria applied to all texts written by fallible human beings. Familiarity with the discoveries of modern biblical scholarship is essential to understand the manifold authorship and complex meaning of the text.
HUMANISTIC JUDAISM & JEWISH HISTORY
The authors of the Bible and the Talmud saw the Jewish people as the Chosen People, a people chosen by God to bear witness to his existence and power. The story of the Jews, from the traditional viewpoint, is the ultimate proof of the existence of a just and all-powerful God. The narrative presented in the Bible and the Talmud is filled with divine revelation, divine intervention, divine miracles, and divine punishment. If one accepts this narrative as true, it reinforces a belief in the Jews as the Chosen People.
Humanistic Judaism views Jewish history as the story of real people and real events. The story of the Jews to be found in the Bible and the Talmud contains kernels of truth overlaid with myth and legend. Modern science, archeology, and biblical criticism are revealing the story of the Jewish experience, a story that continues into our own times. The events of modern times and the literary responses to them are as important as the events and literary responses of ancient times. Theodore Herzl is as significant as Joshua. Golda Meir is as significant as Deborah.
Humanistic Judaism finds a humanistic message in Jewish history. Especially in the age of the Holocaust, the events of Jewish history do not point to the existence of a loving and just God. Jews, like all people, must rely on their own power for survival, happiness, and justice. Jewish history teaches that the well-being and dignity of the Jewish people go hand in hand with the dignity of all people. The message, the message of humanism, is the lesson of Jewish history.
HUMANISTIC JUDAISM & MYSTICISM
Mysticism is unsuitable for Humanistic Judaism, which relies upon reason and experience as the guide to truth. The power of new life, the brilliance of a sunrise, the majesty of a waterfall, the grandeur of nature, the vastness of the universe, the warmth of friends, the thrill of achievement, the excitement of new ideas, all connect us to a natural spirituality, a spirituality that is rooted in the natural world and the power of human beings.
Priestly and rabbinic Judaism promoted rituals, both for holydays and for daily living, that reinforced Jewish solidarity and sought to guarantee divine support for group survival. Humanistic Jews recognize the value of celebration as a vehicle for group togetherness, but they find no value in the fixed, repetitive behavior characteristic of historic worship and prayer. Humanistic celebrations dramatize the accomplishments of people and the importance of the community and the natural phenomena that exist to support it. Humanistic Jews observe Jewish holidays and life cycles, drawing on the full spectrum of Jewish tradition and culture to create meaningful ceremonies that enrich our lives today and connect us to our history and our future as one people.
Wine is the fruit of the vine, the symbol of the earth's bounty. It is symbolic of prosperity and joy, an affirmation of life. Rather than praising divine power, the humanistic blessing of wine is a blessing of peace, an acknowledgment of the accomplishments of human beings.
Lighting ritual fires is an integral part of traditional Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism commands the lighting of ritual flames on many occasions, including the Sabbath and festivals (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesakh, Shavuot), the eight nights of Hanukka, the annual memorial to the dead (yahrzeit), and other life cycle events. A special blessing praising God is recited in Hebrew at the time of kindling.
For Humanistic Jews, acts of ritual and celebration are a matter of choice: therefore, the decision whether or not to light Sabbath, festival, or Hanukka candles is up to each family or individual. Humanistic Jews find in candle light a reflection of the human spirit. In lighting candles, we seek a connection with the past, with each other, and with ourselves. Candles, at their brightest, communicate strength, vitality, vision, and warmth. As they burn down to nothingness, they demonstrate the fragility of life. Humanistic candle blessings are blessings of peace and light in the world. They express comfort in the warmth of togetherness and connection, joy in the accomplishments of human beings, and a commitment to humanity.
Humanistic Jews affirm human rather than divine power. Therefore, Humanistic Jews do not find it necessary to praise God with a b'rakha upon engaging in any positive activity. However, for Humanistic Jews to respond verbally to human achievement or to natural beauty is very appropriate. Even the word b'rukh is appropriate, with the understanding that human beings, not an external supernatural force, do the blessing. B'rukh may be freely translated in many ways: "precious," "radiant," "wonderful," "beautiful," as well as "blessed."
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