For those of us coming to Secular Humanistic Judaism from outside that movement (e.g., my own start in Conservative Judaism), one of the biggest problems that comes in the transition is the change in liturgy, ritual, etc. Moving to humanistic practice and belief means taking a serious look not only at what one does but also what one says. And the personal integrity that moves someone to change their denomination because of their beliefs–rather than convenience or comfort, as is true of many individuals who change congregations (which can work incidental denominational changes)–also requires that the person look at how they practice, not only what they believe.
One area that has caused me special worry is liturgy. Many of the traditional texts used in Conservative and even Orthodox services are still very appealing to me–not the content of the texts themselves, I should say. But the melodies still hold me so that I can sort of sing them and it’s somewhat mantra-like for me; I love some of the traditional melodies for the piyyutim, love the melody for the Shabbat Kiddush, love much of the Birkhat Hamazon.
Then I actually read them–not the weird, sanitized, fuzzified translations, but the actual Hebrew text–and remember what those texts say. And that’s where the trouble starts. Because I can’t honestly say I believe much, if any, of that stuff.
And this is where I worry that Secular Humanistic Judaism may fall down. Looking at the publicly available Secular Humanistic Jewish liturgical texts (e.g., in Rabbi Wine’s “Celebration” or the materials that can be downloaded from various congregational sites), what immediately trips me up is that I can’t fit those words to any melody I know from the traditional liturgical materials. This makes the ritual of lighting Shabbat candles, for example, a somewhat alien experience–I can’t say the traditional blessing with a straight face, but I can’t seem to fit the traditional melody with the new texts that I’ve found.
It seems to me that this is a problem to be worked on. At some point–like, after all my exams are graded and the students’ grades are submitted–I might get around to doing something about the common stuff, if only for my family’s use at home. At the moment, I just haven’t the time.
So, here’s a shout into the ether: anyone got anything?