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Society for Humanistic Judaism Supports IFSHJ Statement:

Jews Among The Nations

Preamble

Jews are an international people, the heirs of an international civilization. For most of our history we have lived as a minority community in other nations. When we were treated with tolerance by the majority population, our own culture flourished and we made creative and significant contributions to the development of the larger society in which we lived. Often, however, widespread anti-Semitism made our condition precarious and in extreme cases even catastrophic, featuring pogroms, massacres, and mass extermination.

The Enlightenment and the revolutions that followed made it possible for Jews to participate more freely in public life in Western Europe and North America. Jews were admitted both to citizenship and to wider participation in the worlds of business and the professions. Bonds of friendship, work, partnership, and political alliance developed. Jews participated fully in the struggle of the wider society for freedom and justice. Even the horrors of the Holocaust could not reverse this process.

A half century ago, in 1948, a radically new element was introduced to the status of Jews among the nations when the State of Israel came into existence. Although the Jewish people remained largely dispersed among the nations, Jewish nationalism and Jewish identity took on a new significance with the emergence on the world stage of a Jewish state, which took its place among the family of nations. In the last several decades, the process of integration of Jews into the general society in which they live has accelerated. Jews live in non-Jewish neighborhoods, belong to non-Jewish clubs, and have close non-Jewish personal friends. Millions of Jews who retain their Jewish identification are unaffiliated with any Jewish institutions of any kind. The rate of intermarriage has dramatically increased. These developments, many fear, undermine the integrity of Jewish identity and threaten Jewish continuity.

The religious, in particular the Orthodox, are concerned that secular and Christian values will compromise the uniqueness of Jewish life and culture. They believe that halakha as interpreted by Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism must be the binding authoritative framework if the Jewish people are to survive. They reject a pluralistic definition of Judaism, and with it the concept of openness in an open society. Their influence has led in some communities to the emergence of a new chauvinism that focuses attention solely on Jewish concerns and turns away from the problems of the world at large.

Statement

We, the members of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, conscious of our roots in the universal values of the Haskala (the Enlightenment), affirm the moral and humanistic beliefs of an open society. We believe that Jewish identity can be nurtured and strengthened by accepting the reality of the diversity of the Jewish people, and by renewing efforts to teach about and celebrate our rich history, cultural heritage, ethical values, and contributions to world civilization.

We affirm that Jewish culture and civilization can be enriched by their contact with other cultures. History shows that Jewish life has been most vital when openness prevailed.

We acknowledge that justice, freedom, and equality for all people must be a Jewish as well as a human imperative.

We affirm the right of all people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to a life style of their own choosing, free from authoritarian dictates.

We hold that a just and lasting peace between Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian, in a society that honors not only national rights but also personal freedom, is a moral objective of supreme importance.

We affirm the profound connection between the historic international character of the Jewish people and the universal values of an international society. A Jewish identity that stresses the highest values of its past and looks with optimism to the future only can take form in a world where national and racial boundaries do not inhibit solidarity among all peoples.

We pledge our full efforts to strive for these goals.

IFSHJ Sixth Biennial Conference
Paris, France, October 1996


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