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Humanistic Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות הומניסטית Yahdut Humanistit) (Yiddish: הומאַניסטישע ייִדישקייט) is a movement in Judaism that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature.
Its philosophical foundation includes the following ideas:
In its current form, Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. As a rabbi trained in Reform Judaism, with a small secular, non-theistic congregation in Michigan, Wine developed a Jewish liturgy that reflected his, and his congregation’s philosophical viewpoint by emphasizing Jewish culture, history, and identity along with Humanistic ethics while excluding all prayers and references to God. This congregation developed into the Birmingham Temple, now in Farmington Hills, Michigan. It was soon joined by a previously Reform congregation in Illinois led by Rabbi Daniel Friedman, as well as a group in Westport, Connecticut.
In 1969, these congregations and others were united organizationally under the umbrella of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ). The Society for Humanistic Judaism has 10,000 members in 30 congregations spread throughout the United States and Canada.
The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1986. It is the academic and intellectual center of Humanistic Judaism. It was established in Jerusalem in 1985 and currently has two centers of activity: one in Jerusalem and the other in Lindolnshire, IL. Rabbi Adam chalom is the North American dean. The Institute offers professional training programs for Spokespersons, Educators, Leaders (also referred to in Hebrew as madrikhim/ot or in Yiddish as vegvayzer), and Rabbis, in addition to its publications, public seminars and colloquia for lay audiences.
Humanistic Judaism presents a far more radical departure from traditional Jewish religion than Mordecai Kaplan ever envisioned. Kaplan redefined God and other traditional religious terms so as to make them consistent with the materialist outlook, and continued to use traditional prayer language. Wine rejected this approach as confusing, since participants could ascribe to these words whatever definitions they favored. Wine strove to achieve philosophical consistency and stability by creating rituals and ceremonies that were purely non-theistic. Services were created for Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and other Jewish holidays and festivals, often with reinterpretation of the meaning of the holiday to bring it into conformity with Secular Humanistic philosophy.
Humanistic Judaism was developed as a possible solution to the problem of retaining Jewish identity and continuity among non-religious. Recognizing that congregational religious life was thriving, Wine believed that secular Jews who had rejected theism would be attracted to an organization that provided all the same forms and activities as, for example, Reform temples, but which expressed a purely Secular Humanistic viewpoint. The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which is sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, trains rabbis and other leaders in the United States and in Israel. The Society for Humanistic Judaism was organized with the mission to mobilize people to celebrate Jewish identity and culture consistent with a humanistic philosophy of life.
Within Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is largely a matter of self-identification. Rabbis and other trained leaders officiate at intermarriages between Jews and non-Jews, and the Humanistic Judaism movement, unlike the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish denominations, does not take any position or action in opposition to intermarriage, rather it affirms that "Intermarriage is an American Jewish reality -- a natural consequence of a liberal society in which individuals have the freedom to marry whomever they wish...that intermarriage is neither good nor bad, just as we believe that the marriage of two Jews, in itself, is neither good nor bad. The moral worth of a marriage always depends on the quality of the human relationship -- on the degree of mutual love and respect that prevails." Secular Humanistic rabbis and leaders will also co-officiate at intercultural marriages between Jews and non-Jews. These views concerning Jewish identity and intermarriage are criticized by those who believe that they will hasten the assimilation of Jews into the general society and thus adversely affect Jewish continuity.
Humanistic Judaism is egalitarian with respect to gender and gender identification, Jewish status, and sexual orientation. Baby-naming ceremonies, similar for boys and girls, are used rather than the brit milah. Those who identify as Jews and those who do not, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members, may participate in all ways in rituals and leadership roles.
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