The Jewish Humanist, February 1985
On February 15 we shall be honoring the four members of our congregation who are students of the Humanist Institute.
The Humanist Institute is a new development in the humanistic world which is very important to the welfare and future of the Birmingham Temple.
The Institute is a graduate school for the training of humanist leaders which was established by the North American Committee for Humanism in 1982. The Committee is an international conference of humanist leaders who firmly believe that the growth and development of a humanist constituency in the United States and Canada depends on the training of competent and dynamic spokespeople who will go forth to proclaim the humanist message and to organize humanist communities.
There are seven important humanist organizations in North America today – the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the American Rationalist Association, the Bertrand Russell Society, the Council for a Democratic and Secular Humanism, the Fellowship of Religious Humanists (Unitarian), and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. None of them is strong enough or rich enough to organize a leadership school of its own. Only if they pool their energies and resources is a working school possible.
That cooperation is exactly what began in 1982. Frightened by the assaults of the religious right, the leaders of these seven groups came together in Chicago to establish an institution of higher learning which would provide visibility and training for the humanist world.
Important progress has taken place since then. A home was found for the Institute in the prestigious building of the New ‘fork Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. A distinguished educator, Howard Radest, was chosen as Dean. Our most energetic humanist missionary, Roger Greeley of Kalamazoo, was appointed the Associate Dean in charge of student recruitment, and student placement. Twenty-five students, from different humanist backgrounds and from different parts of the country, were selected to be the first class of the Institute. A graduate curriculum of 90 credits (three full-time years of study) was designed to provide high-quality professional training for the leadership candidates. A part-time faculty of well-known academicians from Columbia, Harvard, State University of New York, University of Michigan and the University of Southern California were recruited as teachers. And a nation-wide fundraising effort was launched to secure the funds that the Institute requires for survival and growth.
Among the 25, students of the first class are four Humanistic Jewish candidates, who want to pursue careers in the world of Humanistic Judaism and who want special training and certification for their future roles as educators and community leaders.
Why is the Institute important to us in the Birmingham Temple?
The Institute is important to us because the ‘future of Humanistic Judaism demands well-trained rabbis, educators and administrators to lead congregations and communities. Without such leaders ‘established congregations cannot be maintained and new communities cannot be created.
The Institute is important to us because, until the Institute came into existence, there was no place where Humanistic rabbis and Jewish educators could be trained. Existing Humanistic rabbis are ‘refugees’ from the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College. Given its commitment to a theistic Judaism, the Hebrew Union College is unwilling to train openly humanistic Jewish leaders who will not provide their talents and energies for Reform enterprises.
The Institute is important to us because it is the first step in providing us with the leadership training we need.
Right now the course work is concerned with general humanism. In the near future a Jewish curriculum will be added to serve the Jewish students. This curriculum will be designed in cooperation with the new Israel Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Jerusalem and with Judaic Studies departments in major secular universities.
The Institute is important to us because we will be able to help design the program we need together with a sympathetic school administration, instead of being the victim of hostile institutions who are indifferent to our welfare and our future.
The Institute is important to us because it will become a visible public academic center where Humanistic Jewish scholars in North America can be motivated to dialogue and to create new essential literature.
The Institute is important to us because now we can recruit young talented people to train for leadership careers in Humanistic Judaism. We no longer have to wait passively for the ‘refugees’ trained by other movements to choose us. We can choose and train our own leaders.