Thursday, March 29, 2018

Who is a Jew?


Who is a Jew? After more than thirty centuries Jews continue to debate this question.
At stake is the integrity of millions of Jews who do not find their Jewish identity in religious belief or religious practice, but who discover their Jewishness in the historic experience of the Jewish people. At stake also is the Jewish identity of thousands of men and women, in Israel and in other countries of the world, who want to be Jewish, but who are rejected by the narrow legalism of traditional religious authorities.
We, the members of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, believe that the survival of the Jewish people depends on a broad view of Jewish identity. We welcome into the Jewish people all men and women, who sincerely desire to share the Jewish experience regardless of their ancestry. We challenge the assumption that the Jews are primarily or exclusively a religious community and that religious convictions or behavior are essential to full membership in the Jewish people.
The Jewish people is a world people with a pluralistic culture and civilization all its own. Judaism, as the culture of the Jews, is more than theological commitment. It encompasses many languages, a vast body of literature, historical memories, and ethical values. In our times the shadow of the Holocaust and the rebirth of the State of Israel are a central part of Jewish consciousness.
We Jews have a moral responsibility to welcome all people who seek to identify with our culture and destiny. The children and spouses of intermarriage who desire to be part of the Jewish people must not be cast aside because they do not have Jewish mothers and do not wish to undergo religious conversion. The authority to define ‘who is a Jew’ belongs to all the Jewish people and cannot be usurped by any part of it.


In response to the destructive definition of a Jew now proclaimed by some orthodox authorities, and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people, we, therefore, affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.

Humanistic Jew | HuJew | Cultural Jew

My Tribe - My People

People come to Judaism through birth, marriage or choice.

Identifying with Jewish  culture, history, civilization, holidays, rituals and community.

Invested in Jewish future.

We believe in each other, the power of human transformation and that we are responsible for ourselves.

Judaism is the evolving civilization of the Jewish people. It has been created, lived and recreated in response to the needs and beliefs of each generation. In our days, we believe in the power of people to understand their world and to influence it for the better. We celebrate human freedom and responsibility for our choices and actions. And we know that if justice is to exist in our world, we must create it together. Secular Humanistic Judaism is a cultural Jewish identity lived through this human-focused non-theistic philosophy of life.

There are many evolutionary forebears to Secular Humanistic Judaism:

  • The Jewish wisdom literature tradition, exemplified by Proverbs and Job…
  • The encounter of Jewish culture with Hellenistic philosophy in Late Antiquity…
  • The emphasis on human action and mutual support in rabbinic Judaism…
  • The Jewish experience of an urban and literate people who used their talents and intellect to survive…
  • The rational philosophies of Baruch Spinoza and Enlightenment philosophers…
  • Nineteenth-century Jewish ethnic and national identities, such as Yiddishism and Zionism…
  • Secular Jewish schools, labor unions, political parties and social welfare organizations…
  • Modern Humanist philosophies of human power and responsibility…
Secular Humanistic Jewish celebrations and ceremonies, whether holidays or life cycle events, take place in both community organizations and in family settings all over the world. Secular Humanistic Jewish communities offer communal celebration, adult and youth education, ethical action, and emotional support. In North America, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations and the Society for Humanistic Judaism are the two community organizations that support the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and are served by its graduates.

In the summary of one of our founding thinkers, Rabbi Sherwin Wine,

  • Judaism is the culture of the Jewish people, which includes many religious and secular traditions.
  • A Jew is any person who chooses to identify with the fate and culture of the Jewish people.
  • After the Holocaust, it is clear that the meaning of Jewish history is that Jews must be responsible for their own fate.
  • Every person is entitled to be the master of his or her own life, subject to the final authority of his or her own conscience.
  • The power to achieve human survival, happiness, and dignity is a human power. (from Judaism in a Secular Age, p239)
To further explore the philosophy of Secular Humanistic Judaism, please visit our Resources. You can also learn more about our movement’s history and organizations, or listen to IISHJ Dean for North America Rabbi Adam Chalom discuss “What is Secular Humanistic Judaism” at Georgetown University in 2011.

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