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Ask A Jew: What is Humanistic Judaism?

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By Hyphen Parent

I recently learned about ‘Humanistic Judaism.’ I understand it’s a movement within Judaism, but don’t quite understand. Can you help explain?

Humanism is the belief in attaching importance to the human being rather than the supernatural.  Humanistic Judaism is a branch of Judaism that focuses on relationship to others rather than a belief in G-d.

According to the website for the Society for Humanistic Judaism,

Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that celebrates Jewish culture without supernatural underpinnings. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life. We believe in the human capacity to create a better world.

Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. Humanistic Judaism’s focus is on the cultural aspect of Judaism. They believe in the history, ethics, and cultural aspects with no central religious belief and sometimes no religious belief at all.  Humanistic Jews celebrate Jewish holidays and life cycle events, but do so for their connection to the culture and community rather than based on the belief in a higher power.  Whereas traditional Jewish blessings contain many references to G-d, Humanistic Jewish blessings contain none at all and rather include references to elements (light, sustenance, sun, rain, etc.), people, and humanity. 

The first Humanistic Jewish congregation was founded in Michigan in 1963.  Various Humanistic Jewish organizations have been created since that time. There are nearly 30 congregations. The group trains and educates their own rabbis and other leaders. The group is a relatively small subset of Judaism. It falls fifth among the branches of Judaism after Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism. 

In 2008, NPR’s Faith Matters featured a segment on Humanistic Judaism that may provide more insight. 

Hyphen Parent

About Hyphen Parent

Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.

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