From birth to death, the need to mark the important moments of transition and transformation in our lives is universal. And it is at these moments that many of us feel most acutely the imperative to speak and act with absolute honesty. We want to honor our cultural and family traditions but we also want language and rituals that truly reflect our own beliefs. Humanistic Judaism has developed ceremonies to fulfill all these expectations. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh is happy to talk with you about arranging a lifecycle event to suit your needs.
Secular Jewish Baby naming ceremonies
Humanistic Judaism celebrates the birth or adoption of a child with a joyful baby naming ceremony that treats boys and girls equally. We include lovely readings, a parental pledge, and the naming itself, which explains the origins of the name and our hopes for the newborn child.
There are many traditions associated with the birth of a child that we as cultural Jews feel free to adopt, adapt, or discard altogether. While it is traditional for the naming to be conducted on the eighth day after birth, we are not bound by that timetable. And although most secular and Humanistic Jews preserve the tradition of circumcision, Humanistic Judaism does not consider it a requirement for Jewish identity. Rabbi Yoreh will be happy to answer your questions about circumcision without judgment and will help parents who choose not to circumcise their child create a beautiful naming ceremony as an alternative to a bris. Most Humanistic Jews who do choose circumcision have the procedure done in a hospital and follow it with a naming ceremony later on.
Secular bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah
The City Congregation’s bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah program is unlike any other you have seen or experienced. It is tailored to each individual young person to ensure a rite of passage that is not only challenging but enthralling. The process gives secular Jewish teenagers a deep, personal, and lasting link to their heritage.
Through an individualized program, bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah students explore their family history, discover their personal values, and select their role models and heroes. They put their values to action by engaging in community service. And they choose any topic of Jewish culture or history for in-depth exploration.
Read much more about our secular bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah program.
Secular Jewish Weddings
Many couples want to preserve ties to Jewish tradition yet are also looking for a secular or cultural way to celebrate their wedding. Couples can preserve much of the classical Jewish wedding ceremony while employing beautiful non-theistic and egalitarian language.
Consistent with our philosophy of openness and inclusivity, we affirm and honor the love between all couples. Rabbi Yoreh will gladly officiate or co-officiate at an interfaith wedding in a way that honors the dignity of both partners and gives recognition to the cultures of both families.
We also welcome gay and lesbian couples and Rabbi Yoreh is pleased to officiate at same-sex weddings.
Read Rabbi Emeritus Schweitzer’s article, “Secular Jewish Weddings: New Ways to Say ‘I Do’” in Jewish Currents.
Please email Rabbi Yoreh at [email protected], about arranging a secular Jewish wedding in the New York City area.
Secular Jewish funerals, memorial services, and unveiling ceremonies
There can be no greater mitzvah than caring for the dying, assisting them to achieve a dignified death, and then celebrating their life with a meaningful ceremony of tribute.
This is also a time when the ethics of words is particularly precious to us. As Humanistic Jews we choose language for our funeral and memorial services that avoids euphemisms, platitudes, and messages of false comfort. Instead we speak honestly of our loss and pain. We talk of the goodness and good deeds of our deceased loved ones, but we don’t shy away from acknowledging blemishes and rough edges that made them human. Rabbi Yoreh will help you create a funeral or memorial service in which family members and close friends can join him in sharing their reflections.
In the case of a burial it is customary for a headstone to be placed on the grave sometime in the first year following the death. Some families choose to hold a brief unveiling ceremony to dedicate the stone.
Please email Rabbi Yoreh at [email protected], for more information on arranging a funeral or memorial service, an unveiling, or to make pre-funeral requests known.
Joining the Jewish people
It is not uncommon for people to ask if atheists can convert to Judaism. Since plenty of people who were born Jewish don’t believe in God, it would hardly be fair to make that a criterion for anyone else!
Humanistic Judaism welcomes anyone who wants to join the Jewish people by identifying with our history, heritage, and hopes for the future. We believe that identification as a Jew is a matter of self-affirmation. Some choose this path through their marriage to a Jewish partner, either before the wedding or many years later. Others make this affirmation independent of any relationship.
For Humanistic Judaism the term conversion is actually no longer considered appropriate to describe this transformation. Conversion suggests a mystical act brought on by the exchange of one set of beliefs for another, often accompanied by a transformative ritual. We prefer to characterize the event that welcomes the newcomer as an adoption into the Jewish family.
Generally, the process begins with a course of study and immersion in Jewish culture and culminates in a ceremony of affirmation. This public declaration helps validate the individual’s private decision and gives their new community an opportunity to welcome them with joy and enthusiasm.
Please email Rabbi Yoreh at [email protected], for more information about joining the Jewish people.