This article was published in the Fall 2022 Issue of Humanistic Judaism Magazine. It was written by Dr. Miriam Jerris, the rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Featured photo taken at an interactive mezuzah making program at Beth Ami, Colorado Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.
Like many other customs and rituals, Humanistic Judaism has developed ways to continue this tradition. A mezuzah is typically a two-step purchase.
The first is the mezuzah itself. Many mezuzahs are adorned with the Hebrew letter Shin, which can represent the word shalom, in addition to the more traditional representation of the word shaddai, which is one of the names given to God in the Bible. The second is the traditional contents of the mezuzah, which are not humanistic.
There are humanistic alternatives to the traditional mezuzah insert, which is sold separately.
A few years ago, the Society for Humanistic Judaism created a mezuzah insert for Humanistic Jews.
This enabled us to continue to celebrate this tradition derived from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. After stating the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Shema Yisrael, Yahveh eloheinu, Yahveh echad),” the verses continue with the traditional prayer called the V’ahavta and ultimately state in 6:9 – “And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house, and upon thy gates.” This Biblical reference led to this custom of placing a mezuzah on the doorpost of a Jewish home. The traditional Shema prayer includes a second statement from the Talmud, “Blessed is the name of God’s glorious kingdom forever and ever (Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed).”
The Society’s two-sided mezuzah insert is printed on a parchment design (side one is featured here) and offers a Humanistic version of the entire Shema prayer (as stated above). It was written by Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Metro-Detroit:
Hear O Israel, let us take up our share in repairing the world.
Blessed is the dignity of humanity forever and ever.
It is followed by a selection adapted from Kol Shalom Community for Humanistic Judaism and based on the words from the V’ahavta:
Therefore, we shalll strive to love all of life with all our heart, with all our wisdom, and with all our strength. These words we inscribe in our innermost heart. We shall aspire to practice them day and night. We shall teach the diligently to our children through our words and deeds. To connect them to our history, we shall tell them of ancient days, of doorpost signs, phylacteries: our forbearers’ ways for remembering, treasuring Torah’s words.
Many years ago, Rabbi Sherwin Wine wrote a humanist version of the Shema that could be used in a mezuzah: “Hear, Israel, our people is one, humanity is one (Shema Yisrael ehkhad amaynoo adam ekhad).”
Rabbi Eva Goldfinger, from Oraynu Congregation in Toronto, wrote a beautiful reinterpretation of the V’ahavta called the Torchbearers:
As one with our forebears, we affirm that righteousness and enlightenment
shall be our torch.
We shall teach these values diligently to our children
All the days of our lives.
We shall endeavor to live by these values In the comfort of our homes
Or on cold and wind-swept roads. Whether adversity bows our heads Or fulfillment makes our spirits soar.
Our hands shall mete out justice to all
And our eyes shall be open to the light of truth. We shall emblazon our paths through life
With this light as a beacon for all humanity.
As in many cases with reclaiming and rewriting liturgy and adjusting our Jewish rituals, there are lovely choices for participating in this tradition that are completely consistent with the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism.
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