Humanistic Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות הומניסטית Yahadut Humanistit) is a Jewish movement 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 lifecycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs) 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, 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 Lincolnshire, 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 (co-founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) ever envisioned. Kaplan redefined God and other traditional religious terms so as to make them consistent with the naturalist 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. Brit shalom (baby-naming ceremonies), similar for boys and girls, are performed rather than the brit milah. Those who identify as Jews and those who do not, as well as LGBTI members, may participate in all ways in all Humanistic Jewish rituals and leadership roles.
Humanistic Judaism ordains both men and women as rabbis, and its first rabbi was a woman, Tamara Kolton, who was ordained in 1999. Its first cantor was also a woman, Deborah Davis, ordained in 2001; however, Humanistic Judaism has since stopped ordaining cantors. The Society for Humanistic Judaism issued a statement in 1996 stating in part, "we affirm that a woman has the moral right and should have the continuing legal right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in accordance with her own ethical standards. Because a decision to terminate a pregnancy carries serious, irreversible consequences, it is one to be made with great care and with keen awareness of the complex psychological, emotional, and ethical implications."  They also issued a statement in 2011 condemning the passage of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” by the U.S. House of Representatives, which they called "a direct attack on a woman’s right to choose". In 2012 they issued a resolution opposing conscience clauses that allow religious-affiliated institutions to be exempt from generally applicable requirements mandating reproductive healthcare services to individuals or employees. In 2013 they issued a resolution stating in part, "Therefore, be it resolved that: The Society for Humanistic Judaism wholeheartedly supports the observance of Women's Equality Day on August 26 to commemorate the anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing women to vote; The Society condemns gender discrimination in all its forms, including restriction of rights, limited access to education, violence, and subjugation; and The Society commits itself to maintain vigilance and speak out in the fight to bring gender equality to our generation and to the generations that follow." 
In 2004, the Society for Humanistic Judaism issued a resolution supporting "the legal recognition of marriage and divorce between adults of the same sex", and affirming "the value of marriage between any two committed adults with the sense of obligations, responsibilities, and consequences thereof." In 2010 they pledged to speak out against homophobic bullying.
Brit Rechitzah (covenant of washing) is an alternative ceremony to Brit milah performed by progressive Jews who are opposed to circumcision as a blood ritual. It is often a part of the liturgy of ceremonies such as brit shalom ('covenant of peace') or brit b'lee milah ('covenant without cutting'). Those who perform it include rabbis in the Reform, Conservative, Renewal, and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism.
Rechitzah involves the washing of the baby's feet and has its origins in an account in Genesis where Abraham washes the feet of angels who appear as strangers to visit him. This is thought of as a way of welcoming a Jewish boy into the faith in a peaceful way.Moshe Rothenberg has developed Jewish liturgy that includes Rechitzah and has popularized this Jewish welcoming ritual.Brit shalom (naming ceremony)
Brit shalom (Hebrew: ברית שלום ("covenant of peace"), also called alternative brit (or bris in Yiddish and Ashkenazi Hebrew), brit ben, brit chayim or brit tikkun, is a naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys that does not involve circumcision. It is intended to replace the traditional brit milah, and is promoted by groups such as Beyond the Bris and Jews Against Circumcision. The term is generally not used for girls, since their naming ceremony does not involve circumcision.Brit shalom is recognized by organizations affiliated with Humanistic Judaism like the Society for Humanistic Judaism, The Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, and the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, but not by any of the major denominations in Judaism. The reform movement rabbis welcome these families in their community, but do not advertise this in public.City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1991, is the only Humanistic Jewish congregation in Manhattan, and the first Humanistic congregation in New York City to be led by a Humanistic rabbi. The aim of The City Congregation is to provide a welcoming, diverse community for cultural and secular Jews where they can celebrate and preserve their Jewish identity. As adherents of Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, TCC members rely on reason, inner strength, and the support of community to face life’s challenges and collectively improve the world.
TCC members come from throughout the New York metropolitan area and do not claim one specific neighborhood. While they reside predominantly in Manhattan and Brooklyn, they also live in Queens and the Bronx, as well as Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. The congregation meets for Shabbats at the Christopher Street location. For adult and child learning, they meet on the Upper West Side, and for High Holidays and Passover they meet in Midtown West.
The City Congregation is an affiliated community of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, which was organized in 1969 and comprises more than thirty secular Jewish communities in the United States and Canada.Congregation Beth Adam
Congregation Beth Adam is a Jewish congregation located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Beth Adam has a humanistic Judaism perspective. The congregation is led by Rabbi Robert B. Barr.Deborah Davis (hazzan)
Deborah Davis is the first hazzan (also called cantor) of either sex (and therefore, since she is female, the first female hazzan) in Humanistic Judaism. She was ordained in 2001. She is the lead singer of (and a founder of) the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble, which she also named.Felice Pazner Malkin
Felice Pazner Malkin (Hebrew: פליס פזנר מלכין; born 1929) is an Israeli artist.
She is on the faculty of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.Forbidden relationships in Judaism
Forbidden relationships in Judaism (איסורי ביאה Isurey bi'ah) are those intimate relationships which are forbidden by prohibitions in the Torah and also by rabbinical injunctions.
Some of these prohibitions—those listed in Leviticus 18, known as arayot (Hebrew: עריות)—are considered such a serious transgression of Jewish law that one must give up one's life rather than transgress one of them. (This does not necessarily apply to a rape victim.) This is as opposed to most other prohibitions, in which one is generally required to transgress the commandment when a life is on the line.
Some of these prohibitions (such as those related to homosexuality), while still observed by Orthodox Jews, are currently observed to a lesser extent or not at all by some of the non-Orthodox movements.International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ) 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 Farmington Hills, Michigan. 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. It has also trained music leaders and cantors, though those programs are not currently active.
The Institute began offering its Leadership Program in 1986 as a joint program serving the communities of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. It began a rabbinic program in 1992, and its first rabbinic ordination in North America took place in 1999; subsequent ordinations have happened biennially. The Israeli rabbinic program of the IISHJ began in 2004 and held its first ordination in 2006.
The IISHJ's founding co-chairs were Rabbi Sherwin Wine and Yaakov Malkin of Tel Aviv University. Rabbi Wine led the IISHJ in North America until his death in July, 2007. The current Dean for North America is Rabbi Adam Chalom, and the Dean for Israel is Rabbi Sivan Malkin Maas.Kahal B'raira
Kahal B’raira is a congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. Affiliated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, Kahal B’raira (pronounced ka-HAL breyra) has offered a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life since 1975.
The congregation aims to welcome all who identify with the history, culture and fate of the Jewish people,including multi-faith families and LGBTQ families.Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism
Machar is the Washington, DC metro area affiliated congregation of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Founded in 1977, the nontheistic congregation celebrates Jewish culture, education and celebrations. The congregation has a Jewish cultural school, social action committee, and regular newsletter, and welcomes interfaith couples."Machar" (מחר) is the Hebrew word for "tomorrow."Miriam Jerris
Miriam Jerris was the president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis, and is the rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. She has been a member of the Society since 1970. In 2001 she was ordained as a rabbi by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. She also has a PhD in Jewish studies with a specialization in pastoral counseling from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. In 2006, she received the Sherwin T. Wine Lifetime Achievement Award.Or Emet
Or Emet is a Humanistic Jewish congregation in Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Minnesota and is a member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. It is a community of cultural Jews, secular Jews, Jewish humanists, and other humanists, united by a commitment to humanism and by respect and support for Jewish culture, traditions, and Jewish identity, and by those traditional Jewish values most consonant with humanism -- "tikkun olam", social justice. Or Emet embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines rational thinking and scientific inquiry with the celebration of Jewish culture and traditions.
The name "Or Emet" means "Light of Truth" in Hebrew. It was chosen as the name for the congregation because it reflects the tradition of enlightened inquiry in Jewish thought that dates back to the debates of the ancient Talmudic scholars. It also reflects the flowering since the Enlightenment of secular science and logical reason as new Truth-seeking tools. These took hold in the Jewish community and began to transform it in part into a new culture of secular Jews ("Haskalah", or Jewish Enlightenment), personified by such major thinkers as Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn. Spinoza of course was one of the architects of the modern democratic world. Consistent with this background, Or Emet is a "learning community" committed to study and inquiry as well as an "action community" committed to justice. The former is reflected in its many adult education and speakers' programs in the course of the year, and the latter in the fact that Or Emet's Social Justice Committee is its most active committee.
The congregation was founded in the early 1980's in Minneapolis by Dr. Harold Londer and Dr. Larry Garvin. Dr. Londer, Minneapolis oncologist, had heard a lecture on Humanistic Judaism at the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis by Humanistic Judaism founder Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Or Emet began when he gathered like-minded friends to meet in various homes.
The home congregation of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, MI, remains the site of the offices of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Rabbi of the Society, Miriam Jerris, is based here and serves the two dozen SHJ congregations across North America. The executive director of SHJ is Paul Golin, previously associate executive director of Big Tent Judaism. He is based in New York City. The president of SHJ is currently Richard Logan, PhD, a past president of Or Emet, and based in Minneapolis. The SHJ vice president is Mary Raskin of Portland, OR.)
Or Emet runs two regular events a month that focus on celebrating Jewish culture in its many dimensions, providing meaningful Jewish community, and affirming Jewish identity, with rituals cast in humanistic and cultural terms. A monthly Friday evening humanistic Shabbat service is held at 7:15 PM at the Minneapolis Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, MN, followed by a brief speaker's program or discussion. A Sunday Jewish cultural school for children -- with a parallel speaker's program for parents and adults --is held one Sunday a month at 10 AM at Talmud Torah of St. Paul School
Or Emet co-founder Dr. Harold Londer was ordained as a Madrikh, or spiritual leader with virtually the powers of a rabbi, by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ) in 2007. IISHJ trains humanistic rabbis and officiants as well. (IISHJ is headed by its Dean, Rabbi Adam Chalom.) Dr. Londer conducted life-cycle ceremonies such as baby namings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals. As of 2018, former Jewish Cultural School head Eva Cohen is enrolled in the rabbinic training program of IISHJ, and has been formally designated as Or Emet's Ritual Leader. She is concurrently a graduate student in Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota. She also continues as both a Cultural School teacher of the Upper Elementary class and as "B'Mitzvah" educator. The position as head of the Jewish Cultural School has been taken over by Arty Dorman, retired high school principal.
Or Emet is managed by an Executive Committee with five members: The President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and two members elected at-large. In addition, Or Emet has a "Leadership Team", made up of the Executive Committee, the heads of all of the major committees, the other area directors (school, newsletter, press releases), and a few at-large members chosen from among senior members. The Leadership Team functions as an Advisory Board to the Executive Committee. It meets a few times a year to allow exchange of information across the various areas of the organization and to set overall goals and policies.
The Jewish Cultural School for children runs one Sunday morning at 10 AM each month at Talmud Torah in Saint Paul, where students learn about Jewish history, traditions, and secular philosophies. The school takes a secular approach and teaches Jewish history and culture chronologically and in age-appropriate ways to "Littles" (Preschool - Kindergarten), "Middles" (grades 1 - 3), "Juniors" (grades 4 - 5), and "B'Mitzvah Preparation (grades 6 - 7). Historically and culturally significant content is introduced at the Littles level via pictures, songs, and stories; it is then reprised at a somewhat more advanced level (with more reading for example) at the Middles level, and then at an even more advanced level with Juniors and later B'Mitzvah Prep who begin to discuss ethics and values involved in stories from history. Teens get involved in practicing the central value of tikkun olam and engage in more community-service activities and other projects they choose themselves. In Fall, 2012, basic Beginning Hebrew and Jewish Music were added to the curriculum for the three younger age groups.
In 2018, the organization had a membership of about 60 households (families, couples or individuals). Events such as High Holiday services and the Passover Seder and annual Hanukkah party can attract 100 or more people.In addition to the Society for Humanistic Judaism, Or Emet belongs to the Minnesota Council for Non-Profits, and has ties to other Jewish, humanist, and non-theist groups.
Oremet has a website at www.oremet.org, and can also be found on Facebook and Meetup. Announcements of gatherings can be found on the Calendar tab on the website, and on Meetup.Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1969, is Canada’s first Humanistic Jewish congregation. It is based in Toronto, Ontario and is affiliated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism.
Oraynu Congregation is a Canadian voice of Jews who are secularists, humanists, agnostics or atheists, and who express their Jewish identity culturally rather than through prayer. Recent surveys have shown that an increasing number of North American Jews live ever more secular lives and are less likely to believe that God exists. Humanistic Judaism makes sense to thousands of Jews worldwide with organizations now in Israel, the United States, Mexico, Australia, South America, Europe, and in countries of the former Soviet Union.Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who first articulated an approach to Judaism based on the humanistic values inherent in Judaism, and Jewish writings over the millennia. Congregations are liberal and egalitarian, welcoming intermarried families and the LGBTQ community. Humanistic Jewish communities encourage and motivate people to maintain meaningful ties to Judaism and to give their children a Jewish education.
Humanistic Judaism is one of five denominations within Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist being the others). It combines attachment to Jewish identity and culture with a human-centered approach to life. It defines Judaism as the historical and cultural experience of the Jewish people. Humanistic Judaism affirms that people are independent of supernatural authority and responsible for themselves and their behaviour. The secular emphasis on personal responsibility can lead to a stronger, more committed Judaism.In an interview with Toronto writer Bill Gladstone, Rabbi Wine stated that “The Judaism of the ancient world is not the Judaism of the modern world. Judaism adapts itself to new environments. It’s more accurate to view Judaism as a culture, because a culture can accommodate a wide variety of belief systems. Throughout Jewish history, a wide variety of belief systems have risen and fallen on the basis of whether they’re appropriate to their time. The reason Judaism has survived is because of its adaptability.”Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture
The Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture is a centre for secular Jewish culture and humanistic Judaism in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The stated purpose of the Peretz Centre is to "provide a quality alternative approach to Jewish life through the appreciation of Jewish history and culture in the context of world history, and the celebration of secular (non-religious) and humanist Jewish traditions."
The Peretz Centre is affiliated with the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.It is associated with Vancouver's Jewish left community.Rome and Jerusalem
Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question (German: Rom und Jerusalem, die Letzte Nationalitätsfrage) is a book published by Moses Hess in 1862 in Leipzig. It gave impetus to the Labor Zionism movement. In his magnum opus, Hess argued for the Jews to return to Palestine, and proposed a socialist country in which the Jews would become agrarianised through a process of "redemption of the soil".Sherwin Wine
Sherwin Theodore Wine (January 25, 1928 – July 21, 2007) was a rabbi and a founding figure in Humanistic Judaism. Originally ordained a Reform rabbi, Wine founded the Birmingham Temple, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism in 1963, in Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan (the temple later relocated to its current location in Farmington Hills, Michigan).
In 1969 Wine founded the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He later was a founder of several other organizations related to Humanistic Judaism, a humanist movement within Judaism that emphasizes secular Jewish culture and Jewish history rather than belief in God as sources of Jewish identity. Wine was also the founder of several humanist organizations that are not specifically Jewish, such as the Humanist Institute and the International Association of Humanist Educators, Counselors, and Leaders, as well as the cofounder of Americans for Religious Liberty, which promotes separation of church and state. Wine was the provost of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism at the time of his death.
Wine lectured on a wide array of topics after 1976 under the auspices of the Center for New Thinking, which he also founded. The American Humanist Association named him Humanist of the Year for 2003.Sivan Malkin Maas
Sivan Malkin Maas is the first Israeli to be ordained as a rabbi in Humanistic Judaism.Society for Humanistic Judaism
The Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ), founded in 1969 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to secular humanistic values and ideas.
The Society for Humanistic Judaism is the central body for the Humanistic Jewish Movement in North America and assists in organizing new communities, supporting its member communities, and in providing a voice for Humanistic Jews. The Society gathers and creates educational and programmatic materials, including holiday and life cycle celebrations. It sponsors training programs and conferences for its members. HuJews, the Humanistic Youth Group offers programs for teens and young adults, including an annual conclave. The Society for Humanistic Judaism publishes a monthly e-newsletter and a biannual topical journal and member newsletter.
The Society participates in both the Jewish and the Humanist worlds as a Hillel International partner, a participant in the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America and as a member of the Secular Coalition for America.
Miriam Jerris is the rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.Tamara Kolton
Rabbi Tamara Kolton is the first rabbi ordained in Humanistic Judaism.She was ordained in October 1999 at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, having received her PhD in rabbinic studies in August 1999; her dissertation was written on the experience of female rabbis.Rabbi Kolton describes herself as a "Rabbi Beyond Denominations", drawing from best Jewish practices as well as great teachings from indigenous and Buddhist traditions.She is married to Isaac Kolton, an Israeli born in Petah Tikva. They have two children, Lior and Maya.