Choosing to Live as a Secular Humanistic Jew
Eighth Biennial Congress
New York 2000
We live in a pluralistic world that is increasingly secular. There is a growing conviction that human problems need human solutions, that justice is a human creation, that ethics is the child of human need.
In the twentieth century the most successful Jewish movement was Zionism, led overwhelmingly by secular Jews. The state of Israel was the major achievement of that movement. In a secular century Jewish identity also became a national and cultural identity. To be Jewish was to be part of the Jewish people. And Judaism became the culture of the Jewish people. A cultural Judaism, secular and humanistic, emerged as one of the options in Jewish life.
In the twentieth century, Jews encountered tyranny and vicious antisemitism, including the horrors of the Holocaust. But they also discovered the pleasure of living in a democratic and free world in which the power and threat of political antisemitism declined.
In a free society Jewish identity is no longer just a matter of birth and social hostility. It has now become a matter of choice. Jews can choose to make their Jewish identity significant. Or they can choose to be absorbed into the larger community. In a free world a meaningful Jewish identity is a free choice.
One of the important options in contemporary Jewish life is choosing to live as a secular and humanistic Jew. For Jews who identify with the history and culture of the Jewish people and who no longer believe in the theology of theistic Judaism, this option is a choice of integrity, passion, and courage.
Secular humanistic Jews who make this choice build our Jewish lives through the following commitments:
- We strive to become the masters of our own lives and to achieve our own dignity.
- We pursue the truth about ourselves and the world around us through the light of reason, always willing to live with uncertainly where evidence provides no answer.
- We accept ultimate responsibility to work for justice in the world and strive to guarantee freedom and equality for all people.
- We study the history, literature and experience of the Jewish people, finding inspiration for our own struggle to achieve personal dignity and social justice.
- We celebrate the major events of Jewish history, the great moments of personal development and the seasons of nature through the holidays of the Jewish tradition, infusing these celebrations with our own convictions.
- We fill our lives with the flavor and substance of Jewish culture, cultivating Jewish languages, literature, music, art and symbols.
- We connect with experiences of beauty and self-transcendence, which give meaning to our lives and become the foundation of our own naturalistic spirituality.
- We work together with other Jews to guarantee equality of all Jews, traditional or non-traditional, religious and non-religious, and demonstrate by our action that diversity in Jewish life is a strength, not a weakness.
- We open ourselves to wisdom and beauty from other cultures and have adopted universal standards of tolerance, pluralism, democracy, equality of status for men and women and the pursuit of peace.
- We use creativity of the Jewish past whenever it addresses our needs and convictions, always understanding that the creativity of the Jewish present may speak with equal or greater authority.
In a world filled with injustice, pain and inequality, it takes an act of courage to live a life without guarantees and without reliance on supernatural power. This approach to life has deep roots in Jewish history. In defense of dignity through human determination, our ancestors passionately lived lives of integrity. Now, choosing to live as secular humanistic Jews, we continue that tradition which has long been part of the Jewish experience.