A future for Humanistic Judaism

A free and open society presents many dilemmas for Jews, but a free and open society breaks down barriers between ethnic and religious groups and mixes people, eliminating old identities and forging new ones. Above all, it creates the “autonomous” individual who refuses to be dictated to by any group. Most Jews will choose the free and open society. Moaning about Jewish survival will not change things.

According to the recent Pew survey, most Jews do not believe one has to be “religious” to be Jewish. The younger Jews identify as cultural, and their everyday behavior is strongly secular. The secularization process will continue and expand because it provides personal power, prosperity and options that traditional religious observance cannot create.

In the coming years the aggressive tactics of the ultra-Orthodox in both Israel and America will produce an unbridgeable dichotomy in Jewish community life. On one side will be the traditionalists, stressing continuance of the old order. On the other side will be the overwhelming majority of the Jews. This majority will, in turn, be divided between those who are ambivalent, embracing the modern world and complaining about it all the time, and those who accept it as the best of all possible available alternatives – a world of stress and change and positive excitement. This second group is the focus for the Humanistic Jewish movement.

The foundations for Humanistic Judaism have been established. To date, thirty communities and congregations serve the needs of Humanistic Jews and more communities are in the works. We have a growing body of literature to articulate the message. In North America there is the Society for Humanistic Judaism to serve the needs of the communities and to raise their visibility. There is the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism to train rabbis and leaders. There is the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews to coordinate the work of our national organizations throughout the world. There is the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews and the Association of Humanistic Rabbis to provide a voice for the professional leaders of our movement.

There is recognition by the United Jewish Communities of our place in the Jewish world as a fifth denomination of Judaism. There is the legacy of important leaders and thinkers all over the world like Shulamit Aloni, Yehuda Bauer, Yaakov Malkin, Albert Memmi, Felix Posen, Dan Friedman and Sherwin Wine, who have provided inspiration. There are the creative voices of our present and future – Rabbi Adam Chalom, Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, Rabbi Eva Goldfinger and Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, to mention a few, who are currently active and who enrich our future.

There is the promise of future significant contributions from the students in our rabbinic and leadership training programs who have made strong commitments to Humanistic Judaism. There are dedicated lay people in the thriving communities throughout North America.

It is incumbent that Humanistic Judaism serve the Jewish needs of people who want to be Jewish in a fashion meaningful to current times and to treat all people with dignity to which they are entitled. Things will change so fast we cannot know what will happen in 10 or 20 years, but we can take the energy we devote to useless anxiety over Jewish survival and turn it into guiding Jews to live productive, ethical and culturally Jewish lives in a free society.

Above all, there is a large mass of unaffiliated cultural Jews out there who will choose to be Humanistic Jews when they discover that we can serve their needs.

Taken from writings of Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine in A Life of Courage: Sherwin Wine and Humanistic Judaism (Milan Press 2003)