Humanistic Judaism FAQ’s

Humanistic Jews

Some Humanists believe in some kind of God, and others do not. Whatever their beliefs, the notion of God is not central. Humanists center their lives on people and believe that we can and should live with strong ethics and morals that strive to enhance the quality of life for all, whether God exists or not.

We take responsibility for our actions and find pleasure in human activities. We do not see some master plan in everything that happens. We admit that there are some things that we simply cannot control (like earthquakes). We believe these things are the product of nature or human actions that can happen just by chance, and we learn to accept this partial lack of control. As we explore the strength within ourselves, we discover the courage to live in the world as it exists.

Humanistic Jews consider Judaism as the shared 6,000-year-old historic experience and culture of the Jewish people. The new year beginning September 2015 is the Hebrew year 5776.  We affirm our Jewish identity without reference to divine authority and believe that Judaism evolves as the Jewish people evolve.

Humanistic Jews view their Judaism as a family identity–a family they are either born into or choose to become a part of. They know that there are Jews of many different races who hold many different religious and philosophical perspectives. Just as there are special bonds within most families, there are bonds that connect all Jews. Humanistic Jews value this family connection.

Humanistic Jews form congregations to establish a community to share their beliefs and life experiences, to enrich each other. Humanistic Jews celebrate Jewish holidays. We emphasize our historical and natural origins and highlight the Humanistic values within the holiday stories.  We celebrate life-cycle events, such as baby namings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and memorials creating ceremonies to suit our needs and tastes. Celebrating these events together allow family and community to reinforce their unity and articulate the values that make life worthwhile within a Jewish cultural and historic context. We learn together through speakers, discussions, and classes about Jewish history, Israel, current events, philosophy, etc. We believe in and practice traditional values of study and education, acts of kindness, and repair of the worldWe take time at Shabbat celebrations, conferences, etc., to explore together ideas about life and relationships and to affirm our connection to the larger human family. 

Humanistic Jews are believers. We believe in ourselves and in others. Ours is a faith of optimism and hope…that things can and will get better through human intervention. We believe in the hereafter through the generations that will follow us. Our spirituality is the intrinsic appreciation of life, both the explained and unexplained, from the wings of a butterfly to the surge of overwhelming love we feel for our children. Our beliefs are a seamless part of our lives, reflected in both our congregation services and how we act in the world. 

Humanistic Jews celebrate Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional symbols and liturgy.  We find meaning in the celebration of life through the historic Hebrew calendar and seek to interpret this calendar in a naturalistic way. We rarely use worshipful or prayer-like language, and do not name any supernatural force in our services. When we make blessings over wine and bread at our services, we thank those who bring forth the fruit of the vine and bread from the earth. We derive our sense of spirituality from the accomplishments of people. In our services and celebrations, we say what we believe and believe what we say. 

  • Each Jew has the right to create a meaningful Jewish lifestyle free from supernatural authority and imposed tradition. Humanistic philosophy affirms that knowledge and power come from people and from the natural world in which they live. Jewish continuity needs reconciliation between science, personal autonomy, and Jewish loyalty.
  • The goal of life is personal dignity and self-esteem. Life is worthwhile when all persons see themselves as worthwhile. Dignity and self-esteem are distinct from happiness. Happiness is less the goal of life than the consequence of having attained it. Self-esteem is dependent upon autonomy. Each autonomous person feels responsible for the basic direction of his/her own life and that no one else has the right to usurp that responsibility. Autonomy does not mean that each person is individually self-sufficient. Healthy dependence is horizontal rather than vertical.
  • Our Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine, honest expression of our contemporary way of life are to be valued. 
  • The secular roots of Jewish life are as important as the religious ones. Judaism is an ethnic culture. It did not fall from heaven. It was not invented by a divine spokesperson. It was created by the Jewish people. It was molded by Jewish experience. Holidays are responses to human events. Ceremonies are celebrations of human development. Music and literature are inspired by human experience.
  • The global and diverse Jewish family to be continually evolving. 
  • The Humanistic approach is important to a contemporary Jewish identity, and that cultural Jewish communities and an organized Humanistic voice enhance the Jewish experience for secular and Humanistic Jews. 
  • Human beings possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority.
  • A Jew is a person who identifies with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish people.
  • Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people.
  • Jewish history is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and responsibility.
  • Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment.
  • Ethics and morality should serve human needs.
  • The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.

Humanistic Judaism is the only Jewish movement that actively welcomes (and performs) intercultural marriage. We believe that sound relationships have their basis in mutual love and respect, not cultural similarity. We believe that multicultural families should be welcome to actively participate in all aspects of Jewish life. We recognize and treasure those things that are unique to the Jewish experience and to our culture, but because we have a Humanistic philosophy, we see ourselves as one part of the human family, not set above or chosen to be superior to other people.

Humanistic Judaism is a human-centered philosophy that combines rational thinking with a deep connection to the Jewish people, their history and culture. Humanism is the belief that we all have the power and responsibility to shape our own lives in an ethical and moral way, independent of supernatural authority; that we should be accountable for our own decisions and actions, and respect the dignity of others while working toward group goals. We believe that only people can solve human problems. 

Humanistic Judaism defines Judaism as the historical and cultural experience of the Jewish people. It offers cultural and secular Jews a nontheistic alternative, a means to express the value of Jewish identity and aspects of Judaism in contemporary Jewish life. We take pride in our identity as Jews and in the history and achievements of the Jewish people. While we respect our ancestors’ beliefs, we view Jewish history as the consequences of human actions and natural occurrences. Humanistic Judaism enables us to combine our attachment to Jewish identity and culture with that human centered approach to life. Humanistic Jewish communities celebrate Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional rituals, literature and liturgy.

The key perspective of our philosophy is expressed in the hymn by the founder of Humanistic Judaism, Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine:

Where is my light? My light is in me.
Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
Where is my strength? My strength is in me,
And in you.

Humanistic Jews value the Torah because it is a historical, political, sociological text written by their ancestors. They do not believe that every word of the Torah is true, or even morally correct, just because the Torah is old. They are willing to question the Torah and to disagree with it. They believe the entire Jewish experience, not just the Torah, should be the source for Jewish behavior and ethics.

Humanistic Jews perceive Jewish culture and civilization as a creation of the Jewish people over many centuries. As such, each generation must add to and adapt Jewish tradition to meet its needs. Creativity is highly encouraged, and tradition is viewed through the eyes of the Jewish present. Where tradition is useful and meaningful and consistent with a Humanistic philosophy (or can be adapted to be so) it is used. Where it is not, Humanistic Judaism encourages adaptation and creation of new approaches.

Humanistic Jews actively learn about and support Israel. They recognize the value and importance of a Jewish State. With regard to conflict with the Arab world, they believe that the freedom and dignity of Jews must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of all people.

Many Jews throughout history were Humanists. They were not in power, so their ideas did not get recorded in the official Jewish texts. Jews developed two responses to the ravages of anti-Semitism and invasions throughout Jewish history. One response is the religious response. This includes guilt for sins committed (real or imagined) and a surrendering to “greater powers.” The second response is Humanistic. It includes justified anger and skepticism and defiance of authority. It includes humor as a coping response–a mocking of ourselves and the absurdity of the world. It also includes self-reliance. Most Jewish heroes and most Jews today exhibit this second type of response in their daily lives. These Humanistic traits have likely been more important than faith and tradition in enabling the Jews to survive and preserve their identity.

 If you believe that cultural Judaism is important to a contemporary Jewish identity and that cultural Jewish communities and an organized Humanistic voice enhance the Jewish experience for secular and Humanistic Jews, then Or Adam is for you.