top of page
  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick


After a short break for my Dr Seuss Purimspiel, this week I return to the new posters in our lobby with a look at the one called "Beliefs."

When encountering Humanistic Judaism for the very first time, many people are likely to focus on what is probably the biggest difference between us and theistic Jews, namely, God. Or the absence thereof. Over the years I have found that some Humanistic Jews find any focus on this a bit discomfiting. I'm frequently part of that group! No one wants to be defined by what they do not believe. More to the point, Humanistic Judaism is filled with beliefs. It's why we define ourselves as a branch of modern humanism, leaving it up to individuals to reveal—or not—whether they are atheists, agnostics, agnostic atheists, ignostics, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes this gets a bit tricky. When some groups of Humanistic Jews have set out to write mission statements, ignoring the elephant that's not in our room has lead to producing statements that sound a good deal like those of a typical Reform temple. Our movement and our congregation usually solve this by emphasizing our independence from "supernatural authority." But since few would conclude that this supernatural authority is Zeus or Baal or Ishtar or Casper the Friendly Ghost, it's pretty obvious that we mean Yahweh-Adonai-Elohim, the only deity that matters to theistic Jews.

In any case, we choose to lead with our beliefs. And a key time and place to declare them is during our rituals and services. This is where people take notice of just how different we are. While just about every other movement, from the least traditional to the most Orthodox, builds its services and rituals on ancient rabbinical prayers. Only we go to the trouble of entirely re-thinking and re-writing every single word!

We do this because, as our poster emphasizes, "We say what we believe," and "We believe what we say." We do not ask God on High to make peace for us. We recognize that this is an exclusively human responsibility. We do not plead for God to bring complete healing for those who are ill. We pledge to be present to those who need us when sick or injured in the hope that this will contribute to their recovery. We do not ask that our dead find protection under divine wings of mercy. We acknowledge that the dead are gone and that caring for their survivors is now all that matters.

Lately, there has been a trend for Reform and other liberal theistic rabbis to openly welcome "those who do not believe in the God of tradition," as one of their websites puts it. Many of these welcoming rabbis point out that they, too, do not believe in such a deity. And yet, other than some creative supplements to their traditional prayers, they offer little to reinforce the human-focused consequences of non-theistic naturalistic philosophies..

What they do offer is guidance for how such people can pray from the ancient texts!

One site reminds them that since it's improbable that they understand Hebrew, they should just "let the words and music flow over" them. It continues:

Listen to the music of the Hebrew language! When prayers are in Hebrew, often they are prayers that have been said in just that way for hundreds or thousands of years. Some people are moved to listen to the Hebrew and simply reflect upon how many generations have said those prayers in that way. Think of the people who have listened to those sounds at some point in their lives: Maimonides, Jesus, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Albert Einstein, Hank Greenberg, Alan Greenspan, Ann Landers….

I do love the Hebrew language but sometimes I can't help thinking that maybe if I knew less Hebrew I would not have been so uncomfortable in the many Reform and Conservative synagogues I attended over the years. 


But Hebrew or no Hebrew, the real power in our services and rituals is located in what we do say and what we do believe about the nature of reality and the responsibilities of humanity.

Since becoming a Humanistic Jew I have found that there is no religious experience that compares to the one where, surrounded by a like-minded community, I can do just that.


bottom of page