What does it take to become a Humanistic Jew?

10 characteristics of temperament that reinforce a humanistic commitment

As the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida completes its tenth year of activity, it’s appropriate to revisit the subject matter of an article published at the end of that first season. Its message, authored by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism, remains important a decade later.
He began, “It would be helpful to both searchers and prospects to know which people would be most comfortable with Humanistic Judaism.”
1. Cultural Attachments
If you enjoy being Jewish and like the cultural side of Jewish life – if you enjoy Jewish music, dance, poetry and humor, but are generally bored with theological discussions and praying – you are on your way.
2. Desire for Integrity
If you are bothered by saying things out loud in public services that you really do not believe – if sentimental traditional music cannot compensate for the discomfort of pretending to believe what you do not believe – you are on your way.
3. Consistency
If religious ‘schizophrenia’ bothers you, that familiar strategy of segregating religious attachments away from the other beliefs that guide your daily behavior – if you want the commonsense of normal existence to apply to the moral and ritual decisions of Jewish life – then you are moving in a humanistic direction.
4. Pragmatism
If you believe that people do not exist to serve rules but that rules exist to serve people – if you believe that the living do not exist to serve the ‘needs’ of the dead, but the past exists to serve the needs of the present – then you are moving in a humanistic direction.
5. Self-reliance
If you want to be the master of your own life – if you resent being told what to do without reasonable explanations, even when the commands seem to come with divine credentials – you are picking up momentum.
6. Openness
If new ideas do not frighten you – if changing familiar routines gives you a sense of excitement and pleasure – if viewing the Jewish experience from a totally new perspective does not make you dizzy – then you are picking up momentum.
7. Adventure
If you believe that the present has as much right as the past to be creative – if you feel that designing new celebrations is just as important as preserving old ones – if you are convinced that Jewish survival needs the flexibility to take risks – then you are almost there.
8. Universalism
If you believe that Jewish culture is one of the many good cultures – if you feel that the Jewish heritage does not need to be superior to be valuable – if you are convinced that we have as much to learn from other people as they have to learn from us – then you are almost there.
9. Courage
If you have no need to always be a part of the crowd – if standing up for conviction is more important than receiving approval of everybody – then you have probably arrived.
10. Sense of Humor
If you sense that the world is a ‘little bit crazy,’ that the agenda of the universe does not easily fit the needs and hopes of individual men and women – if you accept the fact that we often get what we do not deserve – if you maintain that the creation of a good world is up to us, and not to destiny – then you should probably face up to the fact that you are a Humanistic Jew.
So, do you identify as a Humanistic Jew? If so, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah welcomes you into our community.
© The Jewish Humanist, vol. 24, no. 1, August 1986