Humanistic Jews affirm that:
- Human beings possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority. In other words, not all Humanistic Jews believe in a God: Your own beliefs are up to you.
- 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 human responsibility.
- Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment.
- The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being. 6
According to Neil Gillman, professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Humanistic Judaism "plugs into the feeling of some Jews who want to be identified as Jews but who are turned off by the religious baggage...We know that modern believers are very individualistic. They feel they have the right to do it their own way. And this is one other way." 2
Walter Hellman maintains a web site "Humanistic Judaism Homepage." He explains that "Humanistic Judaism differs from secular or cultural Judaism in that it is congregational in form and substance. Jewish education, holidays, tradition and life cycle events are the foundation of Humanistic Judaism. While the important role of the idea of God in Jewish history and tradition is recognized, and spirituality is greatly valued, Humanistic Judaism holds that supernatural authority should play no role in human affairs; the branch is non-theistic in observance and content." 3
Sheldon Hofferman is the president of Beth Chai. He said: "Our services do not consist of worship of a supreme being. We all believe that it is human beings who have the power and duty to make the world a better place. We are not looking to someone else to help us." Their part-time rabbi is Arthur Blecher, 53. He was ordained within the Conservative movement and is a member of the Washington Board of Rabbis. He regards himself as a Deist because he does not believe in a personal God "who stands apart from the world." According to the Washington Post: "Their rabbi wears a yarmulke and prayer shawl but doesn't preach about God. Their children learn Hebrew but don't read from the Torah at their coming-of-age rite. And an atheist would feel right at home in their formal gatherings...Both Beth Chai and Machar hold regular Shabbat services and celebrate Jewish high holy days in local churches of the Unitarian Universalist Association, another religious body that does not worship a supreme being. Both also have Jewish cultural schools, social action committees and newsletters. They welcome interfaith couples." [Actually, many Unitarian Universalists are theists; about one in four regards themselves as Christians.]
Some personal comments by Humanistic Jews in the Washington DC area:
- Jo-Ann Neuhaus, a member of Beth Chai said: "The service is a way to connect to your past and heritage without having to sit through dogma that for me has no meaning and also is boring. It offers people a chance to...experience themselves as Jews without being religiously observant."
- Marlene Cohen, runs a school at the Machar congregation -- another Jewish Humanistic congregation in the Washington DC area. Its name means "tomorrow" in Hebrew. She said: "God is not an important issue to this movement. What we are trying to teach is the importance of taking responsibility for your own life and the community around you."
- Michael Prival, a member at Machar, believes that Jewish Humanistic congregations will continue to appeal to Jews in this modern age. "We provide a way for them to retain their Jewish identity and their rational worldview."
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