Frequently Asked Questions about Humanistic Judaism
What is Humanistic Judaism?
Humanistic Judaism is a secular Jewish denomination founded in 1963 that celebrates the centrality of human reason and responsibility from a uniquely Jewish perspective. It offers guiding principles and meaningful practices for Jews whose identity is cultural rather than theological. Read more about the beliefs of Humanistic Judaism.
What do Humanistic Jews believe about God?
As individuals we all have our own personal beliefs. Some are atheists who are certain that God does not exist. Some are agnostic; they do not dismiss God but do not rely on God either. Some believe that God or a higher power does exist as a force in the universe or a provider of purpose in their lives. The common denominator is that a belief in God does not affect how we live our daily lives. We don’t expect a deity to answer prayers, nor do we turn to God as a source for wisdom and truth. Our services use non-theistic language that affirms the human-centered orientation of our philosophy.
How can you have Judaism without God?
Secular Judaism has been a vibrant component of Jewish life since the Enlightenment. Today, secular cultural Jews comprise half of the American Jewish population. For us, Judaism is not exclusively a religion but a broad civilization that embodies a wealth of cultural expression, as well as a wide range of religious beliefs and observances. Jewish teachings and practices have evolved over time and each generation has made modifications in order to adapt to changing circumstances, experiences, and information.
If you don’t worship or pray, why have religious services and rituals at all?
The human desire for rituals that mark the flow of seasons and milestones in our lives is independent of belief in God and fully compatible with our humanistic philosophy. Practicing as part of a congregation binds us together as a community, affirms our shared humanity, and gives us a connection to our Jewish heritage and the wider Jewish world. We find value in reflection and in the power of poetry and music that promote humanistic ideals. Our non-theistic blessings and celebrations have the same inspirational and transcendental qualities that people have always found in communal rituals.
Where do your ethics come from?
The ethical principles of humanism are the affirmation of human dignity and promotion of human happiness. Humanistic Jews use critical thinking and empirical evidence as a means of discovering truth and rely on human experience to find wisdom. Together as a community we evaluate the consequences of our behavior using the preservation of human dignity as our guide.
How do Humanistic Jews understand suffering?
We believe that the universe is morally indifferent and that life is a combination of exalted pleasures and terrible pain. We have the power to shape our own path and to improve our lives and the world around us. At the same time we acknowledge a variety of circumstances that inhibit our ability to control our lives in the way we might want. When we face challenges we strive to meet them with dignity. When we suffer we strive to face the world with courage. We seek inner peace and the support of our loved ones and communities. Most of all we accept that suffering is a natural part of the human state.
Who is Jewish in the eyes of Humanistic Judaism?
Jewish identity may be conferred by birth to a person born to a Jewish parent, either father or mother, but ultimately needs to be affirmed by individuals in their own right as they progress into adulthood. Jewish identity may also be conferred by the Jewish community on those who were not born Jewish and have chosen to identify themselves with the history, culture, and fate of the Jewish people. Many Jews enter loving relationships with partners who are not Jewish. We honor that choice and welcome both partners equally and without condition.
How do Humanistic Jews relate to the Torah?
Humanistic Jews recognize the Torah as an historically important text written by human beings. The Torah holds an invaluable place in our heritage and contains much beauty and wisdom. It also contains teachings that we reject as inconsistent with our modern sense of justice, ethics, and behavior. We regard classical Jewish texts such as the Bible and the Talmud as part of a vast heritage of Jewish literature that offers a wealth of insight into humanity.
Why not just be humanists? Why hold on to Judaism at all?
Jewish culture is the context in which our humanism finds its fullest and most natural expression. We embrace Judaism because we cherish its traditions, music, language, literature, art, food, and much more. Our culture adds richness to our lives and connects us to our families, our ancestors, and our fellow Jews.
What is the relationship between Humanistic Jews and the Jewish community?
We think of the Jewish people as one large family that is comprised of many branches. Like all families we’re closer to some relatives than we are to others. But even if we don’t share the same practices or beliefs we’re still linked by our family roots, heritage, and history. We look for commonality in the shared values, memories, and aspirations that unite us.
What does Humanistic Judaism believe about intermarriage?
Intermarriage is the positive consequence of a free and open society. Humanistic Judaism affirms the rights of all people to choose their romantic partners. Our rabbis and leaders officiate and co-officiate at intercultural marriage ceremonies. Both partners involved in intermarriage are welcomed unconditionally into our communities. We believe that embracing non-Jewish partners of Jews and encouraging them to participate fully in congregational affairs will benefit the continuity of the Jewish people.