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Our Humanistic Philosophy

We believe that human beings have the intelligence and wisdom to determine the
course of their lives, free from divine authority. Meaning and purpose are based on
what we can know: this world, this life, and each other. 
 
 
As secular, cultural, and Humanistic Jews, we believe:
 
  • The lesson of Jewish history and the human experience is the importance of human action. If there is to be justice and happiness in the world, if the world can be repaired (tikkun olam), we must make it so through our caring concern for each other.
  • This world and this life are the only existence we know, so it is up to us to make a positive difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. 
  • Being a good person means making choices based on human happiness, survival and dignity rather than following divine rules.
  • We should live our lives and celebrate our Judaism consistent with science, human knowledge and our power to promote human rights and human potential. 
  • Jewish culture was created by the Jewish people and has evolved over centuries. Instead of doing things because "that's the way they've always been done," we explore the meaning behind Jewish traditions and adapt them to be meaningful to us today.
  • Being part of our community is about meaning and not money. Our self-selected membership contribution approach reflects our values of inclusion, integrity and individualism.

FAQs

 
1. How can a person be both Secular or Humanist and Jewish?

Being Jewish is not a function of belief. Jewish identity is based on connection, community and personal meaning. In fact, in the 2020 Pew Research Center study of American Jews, more than two-thirds of the respondents said being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture rather than religion. Are Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman Jewish? Yes. Do either of them believe in god? The answer to the second question doesn’t affect the first one at all.

2. Do you believe in God?

We believe in people, and we believe in what we can know about the world and ourselves. Some members of Kol Hadash are atheists, certain there are no gods. Others are agnostic, living with an “I don’t know” that means they must rely on themselves and others instead. Some may believe in an as-yet undiscovered force for good or origin for the universe, but this is not the Biblical God who reveals scripture, created humanity, rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked, and cares what you eat or whom you love. This is why we call ourselves “Humanists,” based on what we DO believe rather than what we doubt. (By the way, the latest Pew Research Center study of American Jews said that only one quarter of American Jews believe in that Biblical God, so we’re in good company!)

3. If you don’t believe in divine rules, reward and punishment, why be good?

Humanistic ethics are based on how our actions affect other people: will this action help us survive, thrive, be joyful and have dignity? We care about others because we live in societies, and we “love our neighbor as ourselves” because we respect their needs and dignity as well as our own. We draw on centuries of human experience and practical Jewish wisdom to help us make these choices.

4. If you are not teaching your children to believe in God, what DO you teach them?

We want our children to believe in themselves and each other. For us, the purpose of Youth Learning is to educate, not indoctrinate. Our Sunday School students explore the entire range of the Jewish experience and are encouraged to think critically and decide what Being Jewish and Doing Jewish means to them. 

5. How do you answer children’s questions about God?

We affirm the value of asking questions! And the reality is different people believe different things. Rabbi Adam Chalom addresses this issue in a short essay, Dealing with the “God” Question, which raises six common questions children ask, with answers aimed at children ages 0-7 and 8-12. Adults might also find the answers helpful!

6. How is Humanistic Judaism different from Reform or Reconstructing Judaism?

All three movements recognize the importance of human action and the evolution of Jewish practice. Humanistic Judaism consistently expresses its nontheistic beliefs in Jewish study and celebration — both in English and in Hebrew (and any other language). For example, a Humanistic Shabbat service includes candle-lighting, wine, and challah (Jewish egg bread), but our blessings emphasize our appreciation for the human effort and inspiration that created wine and bread rather than gratitude to god. We say what we mean and mean what we say. 

7. If there’s no prayer, what happens at a Kol Hadash service?

Our rabbi leads Shabbat and holiday services by adapting familiar Jewish traditions to be consistent with our secular philosophy. Our readings and songs encourage reflection and meditation while resonating with our Jewish cultural heritage. For example, we have adapted the traditional “Oseh Shalom” (He will make peace) to “Na’ase Shalom” (WE will make peace); we can still sing the same melody and clap at the same moments, but we are singing what we truly believe. 

Learn more about how this philosophy influences our Cultural Judaism.

Wed, June 12 2024 6 Sivan 5784