Atheism in Judaism

Sherwin Wine: Humanistic Rabbi

soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Who We Are (2/10) - 2.7. What about other movements?

Humanistic Judaism

   Humanistic Judaism practices a non-theistic form of Judaism.
For those involved in Humanistic Judaism, Judaism is the culture and the
historical experience of the Jewish  people. Jewish history has taught us to
rely on human power to discover truth. It is a break from both Reform and 
Reconstructionist Judaism because it does not use theistic language in its 
liturgy.  Additional information may be found in the Humanistic Reading List, 
available as:    
 or    ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists/humanistic
part of which includes:
This message is intended to provide readers of soc.culture.jewish with a list of references to allow them to learn more about the current practices, past practices, beliefs, and history of the Humanistic Judaism Movement. Humanistic Judaism is less well known than Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. But, on a behavioral level, it claims to represent many more American Jews than any of these official ideologies.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of the movement, identifies three kinds of Jews who are neither honestly Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. He calls these types the involuntary, the ethnic, and the humanistic. Rabbi Wine defines the involuntary Jew is the individual of Jewish descent who finds no meaning either in his past or in the unique practices of his ancestral religion. He defines the ethnic Jew is the person of Jewish descent who bears a strong attachment to the Hebrew and Yiddish cultures out of which he emerged.

Rabbi Wine feels that these affiliations are negative. He prefers the positive definition of Humanistic Jew: The Humanistic Jew is an individual, of either Jewish or non-Jewish descent, who believes in the ultimate value of self-respect and in the principles of humanism, community, autonomy, and rationality. He also finds meaning in the celebration of life as expressed through the historic Jewish calendar and seeks to interpret this calendar in a naturalistic way. He perceives that the power he possesses to determine and control his own life is the result of two billion years of evolutionary history. Therefore, his religious feeling re-enforces his sense of human dignity.

On the last page of his book, "Judaism Beyond God," Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine says: "Humanistic Jews want to bring their belifs and their behavior together and to find their integrity. They are eager to affirm:

  • That they are disciples of the Secular Revolution.
  • That the Secular Revolution was good for the Jews.
  • That reason is the best method for the discovery of truth.
  • That morality derives from human needs and is the defense of human dignity.
  • That the universe is indifferent to the desires and aspirations of human beings.
  • That people must ultimately rely on people.
  • That Jewish history is a testimony to the absence of God and the necessity of human self-esteem.
  • That Jewish identity is valuable because it connects them to that history.
  • That Jewish personality flows from that history -- and not from official texts that seek to describe it.
  • That Jewish identity serves individual dignity -- and not the reverse.
  • That the Jewish people is an international family that has its center in Israel and its roots in the Diaspora.
  • That the humanistic Gentile has a positive role to play in the life of the Jewish people."

Humanistic Jews want to translate these affirmations and commitments into an effective life style -- for themselves and for those who share their convictions. They need a community of believers to worth with and to share with in this pioneering venture. They also need a cadre of trained leaders and spokespeople to provide scholarship and guidance along the way. Humanistic Judaism was organized by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, who founded its first congregation, the Birmingham Temple, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In 1969, Rabbi Wine helped to found the Society of Humanistic Judaism, whose membership comprises 19 congregations and chapters, plus over 1300 families and individual members, as of June 1993.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism is the US affiliate of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews. The Federation's academic institution, the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, matriculated its first class of rabbinical candidates in September of 1992. An overview of the current status of Humanistic Judaism, written by Egon Friedler, of the Uruguayan Movement for Secular Humanistic Judaism, recently appeared in _Midstream_ (October 1992). Additional information on Humanistic Judaism, as well as publications on Humanistic Judaism, may be obtained from:
Society for Humanistic Judaism
28611 W. Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills MI 48334
phone +1 810 478-7610
The executive director of SHJ is internet-accessible. Her name is Miriam Jerris; she can be reached at msjerris@umich.edu. SHJ publishes a quarterly journal, Humanistic Judaism. Ordering information is in the periodicals mailing list. Membership in SHJ is $50 per household per year. Reproduction of this posting for commercial use is subject to restriction. See Part 1 (general) for more details.

re. other cultural/Jewish/Catholic/atheists, see also
Mordecai Kaplan, Ahad Ha-Am,
Graham Greene, Charles Maurras, Miguel de Unamuno and Michael Harrington.

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created 1jun1996, revised 20mar98     |     comments on this site? tpkunesh@atheisms.info