Humanistic Rosh Hashanah Celebration Poster for Indianapolis in 2015

What a Humanistic Jew Does on Rosh Hashanah

Humanistic Rosh Hashanah Celebration Poster for Indianapolis in 2015

Sept. 15, 2015 in Indianapolis – Rosh Hashanah Celebration!

It’s less than two weeks before Rosh Hashanah begins this year. What do Humanistic Jews do?

Last year, I posted a bit on that subject. (As a disclaimer, I haven’t gone back to check the validity of all the links.) I’ve also blogged in one way or another about related topics:

But I realized that the post linked to a lot of sources, without explaining what it is Humanistic Jews actually do. Let’s correct that oversight, shall we?

There is something that is key to all of this for Humanistic Jews. We say what we mean.

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A Brief Announcement, then Heads-Down for a While Longer

I’ve been in and out of Indiana of late, once for a meeting of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis (because I’m a student rabbi), and once for a class on congregational leadership and management (also because I’m a student rabbi). Thus, limited posting here.

BUT…

Picture of the cover of the journal, Humanistic Judaism.

Humanistic Judaism

I wanted to announce that I’m now one of two co-editors (along with a fellow IISHJ student, Susan Warrow) of Humanistic Judaism, the journal for the Society for Humanistic Judaism. You can read recent issues online, subscribe, and even join the Society if you’re not a member. Who knows? You may even encounter something in the journal that was written by me or others you’ve encountered on the web, like Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in the Chicago area (blogging at Shalom from Rabbi Chalom), Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple in the Detroit area (blogging at The Atheist Rabbi–which is now part of the Patheos network!), or Rabbi Denise Handlarski of Oraynu in the Toronto area (blogging at her personal website), or Rabbi Susan Averbach (blogging at Musings of an Agnostic Rabbi).

Susan and I have been brought on board due to the passing of the prior editor, Ruth Duskin Feldman. Ruth was an amazing editor (there was never something of mine she touched that didn’t improve significantly as a result) and an amazing person. You can read her NY Times obituary here. It’s a little intimidating to step into her place.

Give the SHJ site a visit. Go for the journal, stay for the Humanistic Judaism!

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.

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.

“The Forward” Considered Harmful?

(This is a rant. I’m not overly concerned if you don’t agree with its conclusions. But sometimes, enough is enough.)

Way back when I was doing software development, I read an article (really a letter) by computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra called “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” Lots of software developers read it, because it’s about a basic bit of programming technique. And because I think The Forward has continued to make the same error, over and over, and does so at the risk of harming individual lives and the broader health of the Jewish community, consider this my Dijkstra moment.

I’ve lamented before the apparent backwardness of The Forward. Once in a while, The Forward does something that gives just a little hint of promise, like starting its Seesaw column. And then it takes steps back.

Oops, it did it again. Continue reading