Thursday, 21 July 2011

What exactly is Humanist Judaism?

Humanist Judaism is a mouthful, and anyway, what does it mean? I am hoping that by writing this blog, I might be able to answer some questions, and maybe raise others.

I can start by introducing myself: My name is Laura Miller, and I am a(at this time the only) Jewish Humanist Officiant in Great Britain. In the United States Humanist Judaism (or HJ, from now on) is considered the fifth group within Judaism. Here in Britain, it's pretty well unknown. I hope to change that.

Being an Officiant means I can officiate at marriages, baby namings, funerals, bar and bat mitzvas, as long as they can be considered HJ. I have done quite a few of each in Britain. I believe there is a community of people here, although not necessarily living close together, who want to follow a Jewish year cycle, celebrate Jewish holidays, live in an ethically and morally Jewish way, and yet who do not necessarily want to attribute this to a God or gods.

HJ does what it says on the tin. It brings together the social, ethical and life cycle parts of Judaism with believing that our only hope is in each other and not in a Supreme Being, whoever or whatever that might be to any individual. Belief in such a Supreme Being is a personal choice, we believe, and does not enter into our liturgy or discussions.

We don't have mantras, prayers or compulsory meditations. Each community writes its own liturgy. Some in the States have their own buildings, some meet in church halls, some meet in people's homes. Where they meet and what they sing, talk and argue about (because we are, after all, Jewish) is totally different depending on where they live and what kind of community they are. Some have liturgy all in English, some in Hebrew, some in Yiddish - and there are also groups in Europe, Latin America, Australia, in various countries of the FSU and other places.

The "mother ship", that is, the place where all this started, was in Michigan. A Reform Rabbi named Sherwin Wine began HJ in the 1950's and was it's midwife and unofficial guru until he was unfortunately killed a few years ago. Those of us who knew him still miss him - he was a wonderful teacher of history, ethics and all around Jewishness.

There is a small London group that meets once a month to share tea and cakes and argue about Judaism and the world. We'd like the group to be bigger, so if you think you might be interested do let me know. Or google "London Humanist Jewish Community, " leave an email, and someone will email you back .