Humanism (sometimes called “Secular Humanism”) is an approach to life which embraces human reason, ethics, social justice and philosophical naturalism as the bases of morality and decision making. Humanists make decisions about how to live their lives independent of supernatural or doctrinal authority. Humanistic thought is non-dogmatic, proposing that any viewpoint should be subjected to critical examination, not simply accepted “on faith.” Humanists regard moral or ethical behavior as a wholly human endeavor informed by experience, philosophy and scientific discovery.
HUMANISTIC JUDAISM IN PRACTICE
Humanistic Judaism - first introduced at The Birmingham Temple - combines an adherence to the principles of Humanism with a celebration of Jewish culture and life. Humanistic Jews are secular Jews who have adopted the forms and functions of Jewish religious and cultural practices as ways of experiencing Judaism while retaining their integrity as secular Humanists.
This is achieved in practice when Jewish customs are adapted in ways that permit Humanistic Jews to “say what we mean and mean what we say,” a guiding principle in all of our ceremonies. Shabbat and holiday services feature readings and songs that celebrate relevant and modern ideas consistent with Humanistic thought. So, for example, Yom Kippur services feature passages that reflect upon improving our human relationships and behaviors, rather than prayers seeking divine forgiveness.
Humanistic Jews also value the Jewish textual tradition. We regard the Torah and other traditional texts as highly significant human literature that reflects the needs and attitudes of its writers. It provides us with great insight into the world of our ancestors and their concerns. However, Humanistic Jews do not regard ancient texts as superior or authoritative sources of wisdom. Humanistic Judaism values both ancient and modern thought when they help us to fashion a set of rational ethics applicable to contemporary life.
Rabbi Falick likes to say, “For Humanistic Jews it is Humanism that leads us to our values. It is Judaism that adds value to our lives.”
THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: WHO IS A JEW?
The different streams of Judaism promote a variety of ideas about the question: “Who is a Jew?” In the earliest days of Jewish history, wide acceptance of newcomers was common. That began to change about 2,000 years ago when the founders of Rabbinical Judaism (which gave birth to all modern types of Judaism) established stricter criteria. A Jew, they said, is anyone born of a Jewish mother or who undergoes the rituals of immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath) and, in the case of males, endures circumcision. Nowadays, Reform Judaism also acknowledges the Jewish status of those born of a Jewish father, provided they are raised Jewish.
Consistent with its value system, Humanistic Judaism has a very broad understanding of Jewish identity and belonging. Simply stated, we believe that a Jew is anyone who identifies with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish people. At The Birmingham Temple, there are no barriers to full participation by anyone, regardless of background or heritage.