Society for Humanistic Judaism Answers
13 Tough Questions about Humanistic Judaism
1. What is Humanistic Judaism?
Humanistic Judaism is the fifth denomination within Judaism. It combines attachment to Jewish identity and culture with a human centered approach to life. It defines Judaism as the historical and cultural experience of the Jewish people. Humanistic Judaism affirms that people are independent of supernatural authority and responsible for themselves and their behavior.
2. How can you be Jewish if you don’t believe in God?
The Jews historically have not been a religious denomination. At one time the Jews were a nation, but the Jews have become a world people. Being Jewish is a consequence of ancestry or choice. Membership in the Jewish people is not a function of belief it is a function of identification, connection, and loyalty.
3. Why call what you do Judaism?
Judaism is the evolving culture of the Jewish people. There is no single way to be Jewish. What Jews do is called Judaism. What Humanistic Jews do as Jews is Judaism. Pluralism in Jewish life enriches Judaism and enables a more inclusive and enriched Jewish community.
4. Why are you a separate movement in Judaism?
What distinguishes Humanistic Judaism from other movements that identify humanistic themes in Judaism is our resolve to create a consistency between our philosophy and our liturgy (what we believe and what we say and do). Humanistic Jewish celebrations, ceremonies, and commemorations use human-centered non-theistic language. The words we say and the songs we sing follow this guideline. We call this principle integrity and it is fundamental to our identity as Humanistic Jews.
5. Is Humanistic Judaism a religion?
According to the dictionary a religion is a set of beliefs to which people hold fast. Humanistic Judaism is a religion using that definition. In Rabbi Wine’s description of religion, Humanistic Judaism falls into the category of an ancestral religion, rather than a salvation religion. Humanistic Judaism is also a religion in its structure, its congregational model, school for children, adult education, and provider of life cycle ceremonies all follow the religious model.
6. If you are not religious in a traditional sense, why have rabbis?
A rabbi is a leader of the Jewish people, someone who is knowledgeable about Jewish history and ceremony. We choose to be part of the Jewish community and calling our leaders “rabbis” helps us to participate fully in Jewish communal life.
7. Isn’t the Jewish religion (orthodoxy)/Torah responsible for the survival of the Jewish people?
The survival of the Jewish people is a consequence of the adaptability of the Jewish people. What has kept us alive is the willingness of the Jewish people to adapt to the dominant culture, while still adhering to the ever changing, yet enduring customs and ceremonies of the Jews. The common history, literature, and fate are all responsible for Jewish continuity.
8. Without God how can there be ethics?
The foundation of ethics is human dignity, human survival, and human happiness. The foundation of ethics is not God. Ethical behavior consists of relationships between people. Some people behave well without believing in God and some people who believe in God do not behave ethically.
9. If you don’t pray, what do you do?
We celebrate our Jewish identity. We use poetry and prose to express that connection. We sing Jewish songs in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. We use materials that encourage reflection and meditation.
10. Can someone convert to Humanistic Judaism?
We define a Jew as someone who identifies with the history, culture and fate of the Jewish people. If a person would like to participate in the Jewish experience, they can adopt Judaism and a Humanistic Jewish community or the Society for Humanistic Judaism can adopt the person wanting to be part of the Humanistic Jewish family. It’s a mutual experience. Because being Jewish is defined as the historical and cultural experience of the Jewish people an individual does not have to “give up” who they are to add Jewish identity to their self-definition.
11. If you are Humanists why bother with Judaism at all?
Being Jewish is part of our identity. We are all curious to know who we are, to discover our roots and establish connections, to learn and celebrate. Culture adds interest to our lives, whether it be music, literature, art, dance, or food.
12. Isn’t intermarriage contributing to the demise of Judaism?
Intermarriage is the positive consequence of a free and open society. If the Jewish community is open, welcoming, embracing and pluralistic, we will encourage more people to identify with the Jewish people rather than less. Intermarriage could contribute to the continuity of the Jewish people.
13. Isn’t all Judaism humanistic?
Some of Judaism is humanistic, although not all of it is. The confusion is usually around the differences between humanitarianism and humanism. Humanism is the reliance on people to solve human problems. Humanism includes humanitarianism, which is the act of promoting human welfare and social reform.