Meetup Mania!

Hey, guess what!? There are Humanistic Jews in Indianapolis Meetup and Facebook pages! They’re still works in progress, but an initial get-together for coffee is planned for June 7 at 10:45 a.m. If you’re in the area, come out and maybe we’ll meet! (You can RSVP for the meetup on either website.) The ultimate goal will, hopefully, be a durable community for cultural, secular, and humanistic Jews and their families in Indianapolis.

Meetup Page: http://www.meetup.com/Humanistic-Jews-in-Indianapolis/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HumanistJewsIndy

James Tissot's "Two Priests Destroyed," depicting the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (image from Wikipedia)

What Can We Do with the Holiness Code? A Humanistic Jewish Reading

James Tissot's "Two Priests Destroyed," depicting the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (image from Wikipedia)

James Tissot’s “Two Priests Destroyed,” depicting the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (image from Wikipedia)

(Warning: this is a long read.) The Torah has lots of laws. Lots of them. And in the traditional Torah-reading cycle, we’re neck-deep in them.

These laws make using the Bible today more than a little problematic.

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Two Days in One

Today is Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day. It is also Openly Secular Day.

So, you know, it’s a pretty big day for a Secular Humanistic Jew.

You can be Jewish and something else. Need evidence? Me, and many others. There’s a thriving, formalized Secular Humanistic Jewish movement in the United States and in Eretz Yisrael.

Secular Jewishness. It’s a thing–even in Israel, where many secular Jews worry that the vision of Hatikva (the Israeli national anthem) of being a free people in the land, is threatened by the ever-expanding authority of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

From April Rosenblum’s “Offers We Couldn’t Refuse,” in the May-June ’09 issue of Jewish Currents:

He had worked for years with an organization founded by a secular Jewish radical, and was inspired politically by Emma Goldman and other prominent secular Jews of the early 20th century, yet when I remarked that his lack of religion was no reason to question his Jewishness, it was something of a revelation to him.

Among Israeli secular Jews whom we can celebrate this Yom Ha’atzma’ut? David Ben-Gurion. Moshe Dayan. Golda Meir. Yitzhak Rabin. Amos Oz. Yehuda Amichai. A.B. Yehoshua. Shulamit Aloni.

You can be secular and Jewish, and claim both proudly.

I do.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism is a partner organization in Openly Secular Day. You can learn more about the Society for Humanistic Judaism here: http://www.shj.org.

You can learn more about the Israeli movement here (assuming you read Hebrew; I’m not sure I’d go around trusting Google Translate): http://israelijudaism.org.il.

You can learn more about Openly Secular Day here: http://www.openlysecularday.org.

The Forward’s Issues with Secular Jews

I sometimes feel as though I could keep the blog filled with articles playing media critic to The Forward.

My latest thing? This article, a kind of interview cum review cum puff piece on David Brooks and his latest book. (And while we’re at it, I’m not over the moon about The Forward’s new logo and on-computer site design–lots of wasted white space and hidden navigation–but whatever.)

Jane Eisner, The Forward’s editor, interviewed David Brooks about his latest book, which is a series of personality profiles on different aspects of building good character. Eisner appears genuinely puzzled that the “liberals’ conservative” of the New York Times, who is Jewish and has a child in the IDF, didn’t remember that it was Passover and that Eisner might not be eating bagels. Brooks reacted with genuine embarrassment when Eisner pointed out why she would not eat a bagel.

In her article, Eisner appears genuinely perplexed that there are no Jewish persons profiled in Brooks’s book, and wonders at why Brooks’s work often reflects no apparent Jewishness at all. Brooks, she notes, is purposefully private about his own faith.

All the while, Eisner tells us that she and Brooks talked about the new book within a strongly Jewish frame of reference: Adam 1 and Adam 2, concepts set forth by none other than “the Rav,” Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his book (initially an article in Tradition), The Lonely Man of Faith.

So, what gives?

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Yom Ha-Shoah

Yehuda Bauer and others have observed that genocide, while inhumane, is not foreign to humanity at large. Humans are remarkably good at ignoring the prospect of punishment for their misdeeds–they were long before Hitler, and they have continued to be so–assuming, of course, that they viewed their murders as misdeeds. The field of genocide studies suggests some perpetrators did not view their actions as moral wrongs. And humans are remarkably able through cognitive dissonance to ameliorate or obliterate their own personal senses of guilt.

Specific genocides are special. But genocide, no matter where it occurs, though evil, is also thoroughly human. It is up to us to prevent and stop it, though we may never see its end.

Thoughts this Yom Ha-Shoah, the 70th anniversary year of the end of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust.

On Second Thought

I said here (in a comment to the repost of Rabbi Adar’s blog post responding to my prior post, which in turn was a response to a post of hers) that there is no real dispute between Rabbi Adar and myself over sacrifice vs. trade-off.

Upon reflection, I think that’s not entirely true, but not for the reasons either of us discussed in our posts (which I think sort of turned into an example of “things rabbis do in Talmud and midrash”).

The difference on our positions stems from a in baseline set of conclusions about what’s actually happening in Jewish tradition. If you ever wondered, “Why not just be Reform, Humanist Jew in Indianapolis?,” well…you’re about to get part of the answer.

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Sacrifices for Shabbat?

sjewindy:

It’s not a makhloket, really–it’s a davar akher. :-)

Ah, the imprecision and semantic degradation that is English! Where I meant sacrifice as “trade-off” alone (which I thought was pretty clear in context), Rabbi Adar brought the other, “avodah” meaning–service in the Temple through sacrificing animals, oil, wine, and produce–in.

Now you can see the little semantic shifts we all use to write midrash and sermons! (I’d argue that there are several semantic shifts in Rabbi Adar’s post: she moves from “avodah” to trade-off and back as the discussion went from my comment to the Heschel idea and back again, no? Lawyers with philosophic and rabbinic training are the most annoying lawyers of all! :-) )

Rabbi Adar and I both know that lots of Jews regard the halakhic restrictions of Shabbat–or the traditional conduct they engage in without participation in the full halakhic regime (not that it can be done perfectly anyway)–as a set of trade-offs. Some Jews do not see any trade-off (sacrifice?) because they believe themselves commanded to take these actions. Even then, some of these decisions are reluctantly made and produce stress. Hopefully those making the trade–and Shabbat observance in all its forms is in most situations an exercise in opportunity cost–see greater benefit in observance than in non-observance. (Otherwise, why make that trade absent external compulsion?)

Then again, the “avodah” meaning isn’t in itself wrong at its core for many–it’s just that rabbinic interpretation has fritted away at what “avodah” can be permitted mean in certain contexts. Of course, on a more realpolitik view of it…

Originally posted on Coffee Shop Rabbi:

I was delighted to see that sjewindy at A Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis left a pingback this morning to my post, Why Can’t Jews Get Married on Shabbat? entitled Jewish? Want a Saturday Wedding? Find a Humanistic Jew. He’s right about that; a humanistic Jew is one of the alternatives if you want a Saturday wedding.

However, I have an issue with something in his summary of my post, and I think it merits a post of its own. He wrote, “traditionally this [foregoing weddings on Shabbat] is a sacrifice Jews have made.” [emphasis mine]

Jews went out of the sacrifice business in 70 CE, when the Romans pulled down Herod’s Temple and burnt the broken fragments. As a Reform Jew, I am not praying for or looking forward to a restoration of that edifice, although there are folks in other movements of Judaism who are. (There’s another post for another day.)

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"Mazel Tov! wedding" by Brian Johnson - originally posted to Flickr as Mazel Tov!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg#/media/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg

Jewish? Want a Saturday wedding? Find a Humanistic Jew.

Rabbi Ruth Adar, the Coffee Shop Rabbi, has a post explaining why it’s so difficult for Jews to get married on a Saturday. She gives three basic reasons:

  • Tradition: weddings are, in part, about tradition, and traditionally this is a sacrifice Jews have made. The tradition reason is a sort of emanation from two other reasons:
  • Shabbat: halakhically, Shabbat and a number of other Jewish holidays are off-limits for weddings, and the special nature of Shabbat and its biblical bases in particular militate toward leaving Shabbat as a day without weddings,etc.; and
  • Rabbis: most rabbis will not officiate on Shabbat, because Shabbat is the preeminent Jewish day of the week, rabbis care deeply about Jewish tradition, and rabbis have erected boundaries to permit their own observance of the holiday.
"Mazel Tov! wedding" by Brian Johnson - originally posted to Flickr as Mazel Tov!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg#/media/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg

“Mazel Tov! wedding” by Brian Johnson – originally posted to Flickr as Mazel Tov!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg#/media/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg

So, what can you do if you want a Jewish wedding on a Saturday? You can try to find a Reform (or maybe a Reconstructionist) rabbi who will officiate. You can wait until very late on Saturday night to get married (in Indiana this week, Shabbat on traditional reckoning ends at a little after 9 p.m.). You can have a Jewish officiant who is not an ordained rabbi perform the ceremony, and build Jewish elements in.

Or…

You can find a Humanistic Jewish rabbi or madrikh/madrikha. A madrikh/madrikha is a secular Jewish leader who has completed rigorous coursework and has been ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, but not one who has completed the full rabbinical program; many madrikhim lead or teach in Humanistic Jewish communities, and others lead or teach in other secular Jewish communities. (The Jewish Renewal movement, through its ALEPH Institute, also ordains pararabbinic leaders).

Humanistic Jews are committed to Jewish culture and identity, but we are more flexible when it comes to what can or can’t happen on Shabbat. Why? Because of how we value tradition and the role of the Jewish people in defining, refining, and remaking tradition:

For Humanistic Jews, Shabbat is a time of joy, a celebration of our connections to Judaism and to family, friends, and community. It is an affirmation of our Jewish identity, an expression of solidarity with the Jewish People. It is a chance to relax from the busy week, a space for self-exploration and discovery.

(This is from a fuller discussion of Humanistic Judaism and Shabbat here.)

Jews today routinely share families with non-Jewish members; a Sunday wedding may be difficult for non-Jewish relatives to attend, and connecting with family is one crucial function of weddings.

Humanistic Jewish rabbis and madrikhim will perform marriages between Jews and non-Jews. They will perform same-sex marriages. They will happily co-officiate with other clergy. Traditional Jewish elements can and are worked in in consultation with the marrying couple so that the ceremony reflects that couple’s interaction with and identity within Jewish life.

As a student rabbi, I have done almost all of the above–in one ceremony–though the couple in that case was not a same-sex couple. On a Saturday afternoon, so the couple could celebrate with their non-Jewish friends and family.

To be clear, all of this is a question of relative values, and of how one understands and interacts with Jewish traditions. As a Humanistic Jew, I recognize that all of Jewish tradition is the product of the Jewish people, and that we have the authority to remake it. This is one way that Humanistic Jews remake the tradition in light of the needs and demands of modern times.

And what’s more necessary in our world today than love?

Need a Saturday wedding? There’s a rabbi for that.

See This

I’m tempted to do no more than link to an article, because it’s almost a case of res ipsa loquitur–the thing speaking for itself. But I think it’s important to talk about this issue a little more: making your own Haggadah.

The prompt for this post? This article at Tablet Magazine. (The link will open in a new window.)

Take a close look at that Haggadah. What do you see in its language?

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