The Game Isn’t Rigged – A High Holidays Sermon

Judaism Beyond God is the title of Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s book that sought to lay out the rationale for Humanistic Judaism and set forth some of the “whys and hows.” Some of you may have read the book at some point.

And as I mentioned earlier today, “Judaism Beyond God” is also the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s new slogan, bringing in a bit of the old to renew our movement for the future.

The idea of Judaism beyond God starts by recognizing that the promises of the past—the promises of covenant and commandment—don’t bear up to examination in the modern world. Claims of an afterlife in which all this will be made right are, to paraphrase the rabbis of the Talmud, like laws on the absolution of vows: they are like mountains hanging from a hair.

There’s nothing there to support the claim of divine justice and a future reward for present suffering. And if there were evidence, it would be the mark of a terribly unfair god unworthy of adoration.

But all of that is Judaism without God.

Judaism beyond God is broader than what could simply be Jewish-flavored atheism. Rabbi Wine recognized that: he accepted that some Jews—perhaps most Jews—would desire positive connections to Jewishness but would willingly compartmentalize their modernness and their Jewishness by associating with conventional institutions serving their separate identities. This is, to be blunt, Judaism without God. It’s going through the motions but believing little—if any—of it.

“But,” Rabbi Wine said, “for those Jews who are not traditional, who want to integrate their Jewish identity with their personal convictions, the challenge is important.”

The challenge he posed is at the center of Judaism beyond God.

So what did he—and what do we—mean by Judaism beyond God?

It means that we are, as Rabbi Wine said, “clearly ideological in a Jewish world that avoids ideology.” We insist that the question of truth is more important than the question of Jewishness. We are not what Rabbi Wine called “negative secularists”—people who reject rabbinic tradition and advance no particular set of ideas of their own, but do traditional things on occasion because it makes them feel good. We can feel good—but a game of feel-good, backward-looking charades isn’t our calling card, because we say what we mean and mean what we say.

We are also not of the breed of newly-traditional or oddly-traditional reformers, like the Reform movement that moves more toward using the term mitzvah—commandment—to apply to not only ethical but also ritual activities. We are not like the many brave—and they are brave—women associated with Women of the Wall, who don tallis and kippah to pray at the Western Wall, wearing the symbols of full Jewish observance. We don’t seek justification from the Jewish past. It’s nice when it happens, sure. But we don’t demand equal standing in a religious tradition that would rather we not ask too many questions, and we don’t pretend that we can “kosherize” ourselves by pretending tradition gives us a patina of authenticity.

Kosher is not a Humanistic Jewish category. Authenticity is. And true authenticity runs deep.