What Are the Values of Humanistic Judaism?
by Rabbi Adam Chalom
TRUTH • We rely on what we can know about human experience and human needs. Was there something before the Big Bang? I don’t know. Will wishing and praying help a sick person to get better? There’s no way to prove it. But if I help you, if human power intervenes to improve the world, I know that the world gets better. My experience, your experience, the human experience and our knowledge of the natural world can be reasonably and scientifically used to discover new, powerful truths about human and Jewish history and human and Jewish potential. Do we know everything? Of course not; but what we can and do know about the world and ourselves is very important. We rely on what we can know, and we know a great deal.
INTEGRITY • Say what you mean and mean what you say in any language. We can be as true to our convictions as our ancestors were to theirs. The words we use are very important, especially at important times in our lives. What could be more satisfying than celebrating our connection to the Jewish people at holidays and life-cycle events with the integrity of believing what we say and sing, even in Hebrew? The joy of Humanistic Judaism is knowing that what you say and practice in your congregation is the same way you live your life--no acting, no guilt, just honest expressions of our values and our Jewish cultural connections. In this way, Say what you mean and mean what you say.
DIGNITY • The “Holy of Holies” for Humanistic Jews is human dignity. When Jewish tradition tells us to sit segregated by gender, and human dignity says otherwise, we follow human dignity. When our sense of dignity inspires us to modify Jewish tradition to appropriately articulate our values, we do. When our quest for truth leads us to conclusions that challenge sacred stories, we value our dignity and understand our founding narratives as powerful literary myths but not history. And as human beings, our dignity goes hand in hand with the dignity of all peoples. The “Holy of Holies” is human dignity.
REALITY • The most satisfying and honest approach to life is to face reality. If most Jews do not fast on Yom Kippur, why act like they do? It is more honest to champion the reality of choice that permits those who observe traditionally to do so, and those who celebrate their holidays differently to do that. We do not deny the reality of intercultural marriage by demanding families deny who they are--intercultural marriage is the result of an open society, and of the power of love, and we welcome all families who seek connections with Jewish culture. Once we accept reality, we can work with what we have to make our lives even better. The most satisfying and honest approach is to deal constructively with reality.
JUDAISM • The Jewish people created Jewish culture. Being Jewish means being part of a world family, to have a large attic of memories and traditions and ethics inherited from our ancestors, as well as those created in recent memory and in our own days. Our family made Judaism, and it is ours to use, to modify, and to create for our celebrations.
Connections with our Jewish family are very important to us, as are our sense of truth, dignity, reality, and integrity. Together, these values define our existence as Humanistic Jews.