The New Humanism: What Is It?

Humanistic Judaism: Beyond God, Beyond No God – Summer/Autumn 2007

Is there any connection between Salman Rushdie and Humanistic Judaism? Now there is.

During the weekend of April 20-22, 2007 Rushdie was at Harvard, together with hundreds of hu­manists from North America and Europe. The occasion was the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. The mobilizer of the event was Rabbi Greg Epstein, a recent graduate of our Interna­tional Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and the current Harvard Humanist Chaplain.

Rushdie is an atheist and a humanist. He is also the man the Ayatollah condemned to death in 1989 for writing the book Satanic Verses. Born into an Indian Muslim family in Bombay and educated in England, Rushdie had already achieved fame as a novelist and commentator on Indian life. His surrealistic style of writing celebrated the absurdity of the human condition. Only laughter could do justice to the internal contradictions of Indian and Muslim life.

Condemned to assassination, Rushdie went into hiding for many years. Any public appear­ance was fraught with danger. Rushdie’s plight was testimony to the frightening terrorism of fundamentalist Islam. Rebelling against the life of recluse, Rushdie defied his enemies and be­gan to speak in public. Nothing has happened. But the decree of death has never been fully withdrawn. Courage now needs to be added to brilliance as one of his virtues. Rushdie’s ap­pearance at Harvard for a humanist conference was certainly an act of courage.

The theme of the celebration was the New Humanism. What is the difference between the “new humanism” and the “old human­ism”? The difference lies in the rejection or acceptance of the cultures of the past.

Humanism arose out of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century European intellectual movement that ushered in the Age of Science. It championed reason as the best method for the discovery of truth. It identified the consequences of human behav­ior as the best criterion for the determination of moral behavior. It celebrated human empower­ment and human dignity. It was this-worldly and optimistic, promising the improvement of the human condition here on earth.

The chief enemy of the Enlightenment was organized religion, especially organized Christianity. The war between reason and faith turned into an intense hostility between the two sides. The clergy saw secular human­ism as the ultimate foe. Secular humanists saw organized religion as the chief barrier to emancipation. The events of the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution gave testimony to the intensity of this battle.

When humanism was first turned into an organized movement in North America and Europe, humanists insisted on a clean break with the religious past. To be humanists was not to be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even a Jew. Humanists must organize themselves in opposition to traditional religious systems. This decision produced the “old humanism,” a movement profoundly hostile to churches, synagogues, and clergy.

But the old humanism was unable to mobilize most of the people who had become secular in the Age of Science. It cut people off from their cultural roots. It severed their con­nection to holidays and ceremonies, family memories and customs that possessed great cultural power. Whatever new celebrations were invented were sterile, lacking emotional and cultural depth. Humanist societies were small collections of intellectuals who felt especially wounded by dogmatic and fanatic clergy. The secularized masses that bore no conscious hostility to their roots were turned off by the perceived negativity of the old hu­manism, by the continuous denunciations of the religious enemy.

The dilemma lay in the word religion. Most secularized humanists resisted being called religious, even though they felt strong emotional connections to their religious past. Perhaps Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were more than religions. Perhaps they were cul­tural systems as well as religious systems. If you imagined that each religion was attached to a unique ideology, then such an assertion was invalid. But if it was the case that each religious system ultimately embraced many philosophies of life – some of them contradic­tory one to the other and all of them united by a single international culture – then the assertion corresponded to reality.

In every great world religion you can in­deed find many philosophies of life. That is how they became world religions. In Judaism you have Maimonides and the Kabbala. In Islam you have Osama bin Laden and Omar Khayyam. In Christianity you have Paul of Tarsus and Harry Emerson Fosdick. All that unites these dichotomies is a shared cultural system of family memories, holidays, cer­emonies, and literature. Philosophy is one thing. Organized religion is another, a cultural system that connects us to our ancestors.

Cultural religions were created by either conquest or dispersion. Christianity and Islam started with conquest. Judaism began through dispersion. World religions embrace many national traditions. Christians include Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Russians. Muslims include Arabs, Persians, and Turks. Jews embrace Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and the new mixed gene pool of Israelis.

Humanistic Judaism is part of the New Humanism. It does not protect the culture of the past. It does not repudiate ancestral roots. It embraces them and makes them a home for humanistic convictions and hu­manistic integrity.

At the Harvard conference, a Unitarian leader identified Unitarians as a version of Hu­manistic Confucianism and a Hindu scholar saw Hinduism as a cultural system that could offer hospitality to a Humanistic Hinduism. In all cases, the accommodation to roots is a bal­ancing act between continuity and integrity.

Can there be a Humanistic Islam? Given the prominence of fundamentalist Islam today, many people claim that such a designation is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. But Salman Rushdie, the man who was condemned to death by fundamentalist Islam, disagreed. He recalled his own childhood of secularized Muslims, of pious Muslims who preached toleration, of Muslim teachers who were more comfortable with the natural world than with the supernatural world. He saw himself as a secular Muslim, a secularist by conviction, a Muslim by culture. He saw value in presenting the connection with the past as a way of reach­ing millions of secular Muslims who could not be reached by rejectionist Humanism.

My dialogue with Salman Rushdie was one of the high points of my life: It confirmed my commitment to Humanistic Judaism and to the New Humanism.

RESPONSA – Hebrew Names

Family Values – Winter 1994

Question: Should Humanistic Jewish chil­dren be given Hebrew names?

Responsum: Giving names to babies is as old as human speech. Giving Hebrew names to Jewish babies is as old as the Jewish people and the Hebrew language.

Personal names, unlike family names or clan names, designate unique individuals. But, since they are usually limited in num­ber, they need to be reinforced by family names or clan names or even nicknames, in order to provide a unique identification. One name, like Yohanan, is insufficient. It is personal, but not unique. It needs surnames to make it more specific — a patronymic like Yohanan ben Ezra (Yohanan, bom of Ezra) or a place name like Yohanan Yerushalami (Yohanan of Jerusalem).

Historically, personal names often reflected the religious commitments and aspirations of the parents who conferred them. The name Eliyahu (Elijah) means “labored is my god.” The name Yehezkel (Ezekiel) means “God is strong.” Children were walking advertisements of cultic attachments.

Personal names also reflected the hopes of the parents. David means “beloved”; Etan means “mighty.” The chosen name pointed to some ideal characteristic the parent wanted the child to embody. The right name, it was hoped, would help to produce the right result.

In time two changes occurred. As Jews ceased to live in Hebrew-speaking envi­ronments, non-Hebrew names became more popular. In the Oriental world, non- Hebrew names simply replaced the Hebrew ones. In the Ashkenazic world, Jewish boys — and sometimes girls — received two names: a non-Hebrew name used for secular purposes, and a Hebrew name used for ceremonial purposes.

The second change was the tendency to give children the Hebrew names of ances­tors as a way of conferring immortality on the departed. Babies were named after deceased grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Ashkenazim refused to name children after living relatives out of fear that “stealing” a name would endanger the life of its owner. Sephardic and Oriental Jews, however, often named chil­dren after living family members. Today, in the Diaspora, most Hebrew names are sec­ondary and are derived from ancestral names. Hebrew naming is a way of honor­ing the family’s past.

In modern Israel, Hebrew names have become primary again; the secular name and the ceremonial name are one and the same. For secular Israelis, personal names and the new surnames some have adopted have less to do with ancestors than with the sound and meaning of the name. When David Green of Poland became David Ben Gurion of Palestine, the new surname was not cho­sen because it was ancestral. The meaning, “young lion,” was attractive and evocative of positive feeling.

For Humanistic Jews in the Diaspora, Hebrew names generally are secondary and ceremonial. But they are important. Since Hebrew is uniquely Jewish, a Hebrew name reinforces Jewish identity.

Humanistic parents have several options if they want their child to have a Hebrew ceremonial name. They can choose the Hebrew name of a deceased or living rela­tive as a way of honoring the dead or the living. Or they can choose a Hebrew name that reflects their hopes for the child, like Haim (life) or Aliza (joy). This second option is becoming increasingly popular. A third option that has become quite common is to use a biblical Hebrew name, such as Adam or Miriam, as the primary secular name.

Humanistic Jews are guided by the past but are not bound by the past. Folk super­stitions, like not naming children after liv­ing relatives, are no longer relevant. And to feel compelled to find a Hebrew ceremoni­al name that sounds like the secular name is absurd. If names are significant, it is better to give a girl called Lynne the Hebrew name of Ahava (love) than to choose Lenh (ewe lamb) simply because it begins with the let­ter L.

In an assimilated secular world, Hebrew names help to remind us of our Jewish identity. It would be wonderful if their meaning also would help to reinforce our commitment to humanistic values and ideals.


Death and Dying – Summer 1989

To cremate or not to cremate. That is a controversial question in the Jewish world.

Cremation is forbidden by the rabbinic tradition. The burning of the body is viewed with horror. Burial is the only legitimate way of dealing with the corpse.

The tradition prescribes not only burial, but burial on the same day as death, burial in shrouds, burial without embalming, and burial without a coffin.

In the Bible, burning is viewed as a form of humiliation and punishment. “If a man marries a woman and her mother it is depravity; both he and they shall be put to the fire” (Leviticus 20:14). “When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry, it is her father she defiles; she shall be put to the fire” (Leviticus 21:9). “He that is indicated for proscription and all that is his shall be put to the fire” (Judges 7:15).

In the Mishnah, cremation is identified as an idolatrous practice (Avoda Zara 1:3). Even the burning of sinners is discontinued, though this form of punishment is still regarded as legal.

Why is cremation forbidden?

The official reason is provided in the Shulkhan Arukh, the sixteenth century code book prepared by Joseph Caro. The prohibi­tion of cremation is justified by the resurrec­tion of the dead. Rabbinic Judaism main­tains that a final Judgment Day will take place and that the dead will rise from their graves to stand before the justice of God. No body means no resurrection. And no resur­rection means no access to Paradise.

However, this official reason seems to be a rationalization, an ideological after­thought, rather than the real historic motiva­tion. The prohibition against cremation preceded the emergence of the resurrection idea. And the assertion that no body means no resurrection seems silly when one realizes what happens to the corpse after burial, especially without embalming. Time reduces the body to a dust that is almost in­distinguishable from the ashes of burning. Moreover, if the resurrection idea were true, wicked people could avoid the punishments of Gehenna by simply choosing cremation.

Anthropologists tell us that early cultures are divided into burial groups and crema­tion groups. Both dispositions of the dead seem to be equally ancient, with their roots deep in the behaviors and beliefs of the Stone Age.

Inhumation, or burial, seems to derive from a belief that the souls of the dead con­tinue to reside in their respective bodies and cannot successfully survive without this at­tachment. The preservation of the body assists in the preservation of the soul. The embalmed Egyptian dead are an exagger­ated testimony to this belief, as are the tombs filled with material possessions for the afterlife. Cremation, on the other hand, follows from an opposing conviction that the souls of the dead do not depend on the body for their continued existence. The destruction of the body in no way adversely affects the welfare of the soul. In fact, it may be liberating.

Another motivation for cremation is the belief that corpses are a source of defile­ment and dangerous to keep, even in a buried condition. Still another belief main­tains that fire is sacred and therefore purifying.

Many famous cultures featured crema­tion. In ancient Greece and Rome, much of the aristocracy chose burning. In India, cremation became the universal ritual of death and has remained deeply identified with Hinduism. Buddhism followed suit and planted this Indian practice in In­dochina and Japan.

In the West, the triumph of Christianity and Islam, both anti-cremation religions, made cremation a ritual taboo. Burning bodies was a no-no for orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Only criminals or apos­tates deserved the indignity of immolation.

But the arrival of the Enlightenment undermined this solid front of opposition. In the age of science, believing in the resur­rection of the dead was difficult even for Christians and Jews who tried to be loyal to ancestral tradition. Reason challenged the unconscious fears of many religionists. By the nineteenth century, immortality had be­come so ethereal that bodies seemed quite irrelevant to the project of eternal life. Romantic spirituality had no need for the physical. Enlightened religion was open to alternatives to burial.

This development was reinforced by new social realities. As long as people lived on farms, burial was easy and cheap. But city life added complications. Death specialists in the form of morticians and funeral chapels now intervened. Affluence and con­spicuous consumption made rituals and ceremonies more elaborate. What was once simple and inexpensive now became com­plex and costly. Burial involved a lot of money and a lot of time.

Overcrowding and mobility added to the problems. In an uncrowded world, giving land to the dead was no imposition. But in densely populated centers, cemeteries com­peted with the demands of the living for the rational use of scarce land. In the stationary world of farm life, the graves of ancestors could be revered and cared for by genera­tions of descendants. But in the fast-moving milieu of urban displacement, people hardly stay in one place long enough even to re­member where their ancestors are buried. Within two generations, graves are abandoned.

The consequence of all these changes was the emergence of an interest in crema­tion. In the 1870s, cremation societies were established in England and North America. Although religious opposition was strong and vocal, they continued to grow and flourish. An increasingly secular society now found what was once abhorrent ra­tionally attractive. Even many “spiritual” people chose cremation as an expression of their new, free religious commitments. By the middle of the twentieth century, in­cineration had become a major choice in northern Europe and in the antireligious regimes of the Soviet Union, its satellites, and China. In both Russia and China, the reversal was dramatic and revolutionary. Both nations had been deeply involved with the sacredness of burial. But ideology and necessity combined to produce a quick transformation.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Jews in Western Europe and North America followed the new fashion. Influenced by science and secularism, they found crema­tion an appropriate choice. In North America, cremation became so popular among liberal Jews that the Reform rab­binate, defying tradition, legitimized its use. Even Modern Orthodox rabbis — Hermann Adler in England and Zadoc Kahn in France — conceded “burial” rights to the ashes of Jews in Jewish cemeteries.

The influx of Polish and Russian immi­grants into Western countries dampened the new enthusiasm. Even the radicals among them retained a traditional prefer­ence for burial. And this traditionalism was reinforced by the events of the Holocaust. Cremation became associated, in many Jewish minds, with the horrors of Nazi bestiality. Even today, among secularists in Israel, cremation is an inconceivable option for Jews.

But cremation remains an important op­tion for Jews outside of Israel. A significant and growing minority are choosing it for themselves. For humanistic Jews like me who prefer cremation, the choice is gener­ally based on the following considerations:

  1.  Death is final. No significant part of the human personality continues to reside in the remains of the body. The preservation of the body through embalming is a meaning­less expense. Without embalming, the body will disintegrate in a short while into substances equivalent to ashes. Cremation is the affirmation of human mortality.
  2.  The monies expended on burial can be used more productively for the living. The best tribute to the dead is the support of pro­grams, causes, and institutions that were important to them while they were alive.
  3.  Where reason and tradition conflict, reason has a right to override. Both laws and customs ought to be responsive to human needs and human welfare.
  4.  The Holocaust is irrelevant to this issue. The extermination campaigns of the Nazis were as much associated with mass burials as with mass cremations. In both cases cruelty and indignity accompanied dying and disposal. Where there is love and respect, cremation, like burial, provides a setting of dignity.

If you choose cremation for yourself, you will need to deal with certain problems.

Your family may be strongly opposed to cremation and may resist carrying out your wishes. It is very important to be very ex­plicit with your spouse, your children, and your siblings. They should know in advance how you feel. You have a right to be the master of your own death. Written state­ments entrusted to your family and to your lawyer will reinforce your spoken desire. Since your family are the legal owners of your body after your death, their coopera­tion is indispensable. Refusing to discuss the matter before you die will leave your family open to manipulation by hostile funeral directors, rabbis, and relatives. Even families open to cremation will choose burial unless you say otherwise. The inertia of tradition has power.

Getting your body to the crematorium may not be as easy as you imagine. In most states and provinces, because of the lobby­ing of funeral directors, a coffin is required for cremation. The best procedure to follow is to contact a sympathetic funeral home or memorial society before you are too ill to act. In some states, cremation societies offer cremation services at moderate costs. If a sudden catastrophe occurs, your family will have to act on your behalf. Make sure that you tell them what to do, while you are still healthy, so that they will not deviate from your desire.

Many people who choose to be cremated also choose to donate their bodies to medical research. After the body has been appropriately studied, it is usually burned. The time to make arrangements for this donation with an appropriate medical school or medical institution is while you are still able to.

Your memorial service (whether public or private, whether formal or informal) generally follows the cremation at a time convenient for your family and friends. The place can be a temple, a funeral chapel, your own home, or a setting — indoors or outdoors — significant in your life. If you have any preference, you ought to indicate it while you are still alive. If you want the service to precede the cremation, then pro­vision has to be made for the presence of the coffin.

In most states, disposing of ashes by scat­tering (the choice of most people) is illegal for obvious sanitary reasons. Despite these legal prohibitions, many families choose to scatter the ashes of loved ones clandestinely in lakes, rivers, fields, and woods. The legal options are 1) retaining them in an unburied urn, 2) placing them in a mausoleum niche, 3) burying them in a cemetery plot, or 4) burying them in a memorial garden with no distinct plots. Many liberal religious organi­zations now set aside an area on their con­gregational grounds for a memorial garden where “cremains” may be legally buried. Quite often a memorial wall accompanies the garden. Names of the dead are inscribed on the wall.

Cremation is a legitimate and appropri­ate option for humanistic Jews. Since it is nontraditional and arouses hostility among many Jews, a special effort is required by both you and your family — if cremation is your choice — to guarantee your option. Discussing death after death is a humanistic impossibility. You have to make your ar­rangements beforehand.


Becoming Parents, Summer 1988

To circumcise or not to circumcise. That is the question. At least for a militant group of new opponents, many of them Jews.

Doubting the value of circumcision is something new in Jewish life. For most of Jewish history, such opposition would have been inconceivable. In the perspective of priestly and rabbinic Judaism, circumcision takes top billing with observing the Shabbat as one of the two most important signs of Jewish identity.

Even in modern times, Jews who have no connection with the Jewish community or with Jewish culture, who hate organized religion and all forms of conformist ritual, will still manage to have their sons circum­cised. Many are the calls I have received from peripheral Jews in out of the way places seeking some way to insure a “kosher” circumcision for their child.

Avoiding circumcision is not like eating shrimp. The emotional commitment to the brit milla is far more intense than to almost any other Jewish ritual. To announce to your fellow-Jews that you intend to remain a ham-eating atheist is far less traumatic than to declare that you intend to leave your son uncircumcised. The first provocation is by now ho-hum. The second is almost next to betrayal.

For traditional Jews, phallic circumcision is the basic initiation rite into membership in the Jewish people. Although the effect of the surgery can hardly serve as a visible public symbol of Jewish identity, like a beard or tsitsis —- except in a nudist colony — it symbolizes belonging more than any other procedure. Especially in the Christian world, where all historic nations avoided circumcision like the plague until this cen­tury, being circumcised was a unique condi­tion that defined the Jewish male.

During the past century in North America, religious circumcision received an important boost. Physicians decided that the surgery had therapeutic value. Ulti­mately, more than 85 percent of all newborn American males were circumcised for secular medical reasons. While this develop­ment certainly took away from the unique­ness of the Jewish condition and diminished the significance of circumcision as a sign of Jewish identity, it provided a rational hygienic justification for doing something that many modern people previously viewed as primitive and barbaric. What anti-trichinosis theories did for anti-pork- eaters, the new medical reasoning did for circumcision-lovers. Science had come to the rescue of religion.

But the heyday of universal circumcision is over. During the past twenty years a vocal anti-circumcision lobby has emerged in America, especially in California. In 1971 the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that there is no observable medical value to circumcision. And by 1988 five states denied financial coverage for the pro­cedure. Books and periodicals featured anti­circumcision themes. And new organiza­tions arose to lead the battle against this in­fant surgery.

The opponents of circumcision fall into three groups.

The first group find no positive health value in circumcising boys. They do not believe that it either prevents disease or pro­motes cleanliness. In fact, they claim, the surgery may have negative effects. The trauma of the pain and the risk of infection may endanger the child’s welfare. The im­plication is clear. Even circumcision for religious reasons may be harmful. Perhaps Jewish parents will have to be retrained in their religious zeal in the same way that the anti-blood transfusion Jehovah’s Witnesses need to be held back by the law for the sake of their children.

A humanistic Jewish response to circum­cision separates the therapeutic from the ceremonial issues. As a medical proce­dure, circumcision needs to be judged by medical standards.

The second group are civil libertarian. They object to non-urgent elective surgery being foisted on babies by their parents. After all, once the foreskin goes, it is not recoverable. An issue of so sensitive a nature ought to be decided by the person who has to suffer the consequences. Men should not undergo this surgery without their consent. And infants are incapable of giving their consent.

The third group are feminist. Their resistance is directed less to the surgery and more to the ceremony. The idea of using phallic circumcision as the only required initiation rite is deeply offensive to them. The celebration is only for boys. Girls have no equivalent ceremony of their own. The patriarchal and male chauvinist premise that underlies the brit milla is inconsistent with the moral premises of a democratic and egalitarian society.

How valid are these objections?

Before I answer this question, let me pro­vide a little background information.

Traditional Jews believe that circumci­sion was ordained by God. The command­ment pre-dates Moses and goes all the way back to Abraham. In Genesis 17, Yahveh is reported to have said to Abraham: “This is my covenant which you shall keep between me and you and your seed after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. And it shall be a token of a covenant between me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circum­cised. . . and the uncircumcised male. . . shall be cut off from my people.” The penalty for the uncircumcised, then, is death or excommunication.

The Biblical commandment features some glaring omissions. No explanation is provided to clarify why foreskin removal is chosen among many other possible alter­natives as the sign of the covenant. Perhaps, in Yahveh’s mind, modesty precluded an explanation. Or, perhaps, phallic surgery was associated in his thinking with his cove­nant promise to guarantee Abraham num­berless descendants. The other omission is any justification of requiring circumcision on the eighth day. Why not the seventh day or the ninth day? Did Yahveh simply make an arbitrary choice for the sake of uniform­ity? After all, most other circumcising peo­ple impose the procedure much later. Some even wait to puberty.

From an anthropological view, Hebrew circumcision is not part of divine revela­tion. It is part of a human story that em­braces many people of the distant past. In the ancient world, fellow-Semites like the Phoenicians and Ethiopians practiced cir­cumcision. And the neighboring Hamitic Egyptians also indulged in the practice.

The real reasons for foreskin removal are lost with the reasoning processes of primitive peoples in dim antiquity. Quite certainly their motivation was hardly hygienic. Cutting away flesh with a dirty flint knife (shades of the Stone Age!) would cancel out any presumed health benefits from having a circumcised penis.

The most likely explanation is the ap­peasement of the gods in order to guarantee fertility. Part of the penis is offered to the deity in order to secure his protection of the rest. Since circumcision was originally done at puberty (the earliest known Semitic bar mitsva), it was intended to prepare the male for adulthood by guaranteeing his reproduc­tive future.

One of the grisliest stories in the Torah, an old literary fragment inserted into a more sophisticated text, suggests this motivation. In Exodus 4, this mysterious in­sert appears as Zipporah, the wife of Moses, leaves Midian with her son and her hus­band to journey to Egypt. “It happened upon the journey that Yahveh encountered him [the boy] at an inn and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Yahveh’s feet; and she said, ‘Truly you are a kinsman unto me by virtue of the blood of circumci­sion.’ Therefore, he (Yahveh) let him alone.” Yahveh in this story is appeased by the bloody foreskin and must now assume the role of a protective kinsman.

Whatever the real reason, by the time the Torah text containing the circumcision commandment was written, circumcision was so much a part of Jewish practice that no explanation for its choice as the sign of the covenant (Yahveh’s promise to protect and multiply the Jews) was required.

As for infant circumcision, the reason most likely imitates that of infant baptism. Christian baptism started out as an adult ceremony. But in time, it was moved for­ward to birth. Parents were fearful to leave their children unprotected, especially because of the threat of early death. Similar­ly, infant circumcision provided immediate protection from hostile deities. Caution turned a puberty rite into a birth ceremony.

The requirement of the eighth day simply tied the ceremony to lucky numbers. The seven-day week followed by the eighth day closing was a familiar pattern for calendar events. Both the autumn Sukkot festival and the winter Hanukka holiday followed the same format.

In time, the circumcision procedure turned into a full-fledged ceremony with fixed ritual procedures. By late rabbinic times, the ceremonial drama included six distinct parts: 1) the presentation of the child, 2) the seating of the child on the throne of Elijah, 3) the recitation by the father of the circumcision blessing (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, who has made us holy through your commandments and commanded us to initiate the covenant of Abraham our father”), 4) milla, the cut­ting and separation of the foreskin, 5) p’ria, the removal of the foreskin, 6) and mitsitsa, the stopping of the blood through oral suction.

In the beginning, the surgery was per­formed by the father of the boy. But, like most religious procedures, it was turned over to experts. The mohel, the professional ritual circumciser, made his debut. And the flint knife, reminiscent of neolithic times, finally turned into an iron blade.

It is important to point out that the Jewish identity of the male child never depended on circumcision in the way that Christian identity depended on baptism. A person born of a Jewish mother was Jewish regardless of anything he might choose to do or have done to him. An uncircumcised Jew remains a Jew, even by Orthodox standards.

Hostility to circumcision appeared early in Jewish history. The Philistines prided themselves on their foreskin retention. And the Greeks were absolutely revolted by the procedure and its effects. They regarded it as mutilation. Part of pre-Christian Greek anti-Semitism derived from this visceral response.

Of course, the objections were not hygienic. They were aesthetic, religious, and moral. To the Greeks, circumcision seemed almost as bad as castration. The human form, as intended by nature, was violated. To this day, Greeks and Latins re­tain this revulsion.

But what of the objections of our modern North American opponents? How valid are they?

The charge that circumcision is either unnecessary or harmful must confront con­temporary evidence. While the 1971 report of the American Academy of Pediatrics ruled circumcision unnecessary, it is impor­tant to note that the Academy is reviewing its earlier decision because of new evidence. Of fifty thousand known cases of penile cancer in North America only nine have occurred in circumcised males. Urinary tract infections occur less frequent­ly when the foreskin is removed. And ninety-five times as many uncircumcised males contract AIDS as do the circumcised. If all these assertions are true, then the pain and trauma, if they indeed exist, may be worth enduring.

The charge that infant circumcision, be­ing involuntary, violates the civil liberties of the child is valid only if the surgery has no therapeutic effect. The needless subjection of a child to pain without its consent is cruel. But, if there is therapeutic value, then the argument fails. It is the responsibility of the parent to protect the child from harm, whether it be through an involuntary smallpox vaccination or an involuntary tonsillectomy.

Quite frankly, the fury of many anti- circumcision militants is out of proportion to the provocation. Given the horrendous proportions of child abuse, a little foreskin removal (which may, in the end, turn out to be beneficial hardly deserves the hostility it receives.

We need a birth celebration that features at its center something Jewish, something easily given to both boys and girls…. Its main drama is the conferring of a Hebrew name on the infant.

The first two objections are directed primarily to infant circumcision itself and not to the brit milla, the religious ceremony. The third charge, the feminist complaint, denounces the ceremony, not the surgery. It maintains that the brit is inappropriate as a birth ceremony since it is designed for boys and not for girls.

There is little humanistic doubt that this complaint is valid. As the original purpose of circumcision faded from Jewish ken and the ceremony took on the significance of a birth celebration and an initiation ritual for membership in the Jewish people, the exclu­sion of female infants took on a political significance. A patriarchal society grants full membership only to men. Women are possessions and attachments who derive their identity from their connection to their fathers and husbands. No special celebra­tion is required for their arrival because they are secondary in importance. Their membership in the community derives from their membership in households of which men alone are the head. In a sense, the cir­cumcised penis protects not only the boy who possesses it but also the woman who will ultimately come to be attached to him. The brit milla, by its very nature, assigns an inferior status to girls.

A humanistic Jewish response to circum­cision separates the therapeutic from the ceremonial issues. As a medical procedure, circumcision needs to be judged by medical standards. If parents believe that it has health value — and there is much evidence to indicate that it does — then they should arrange to have their son circumcised by ap­propriate medical personnel, with all the guarantees of medical protection, at a time deemed appropriate for the child. If parents believe that it has no health value or that it is harmful, they should avoid the procedure for their son. The decision should be based on a scientific determination, just as one decides upon diet or vaccination.

But whether phallic surgery should be the central feature of a Jewish birth celebra­tion is another issue. Equality between boys and girls, men and women, is also an impor­tant humanistic value. And a ceremony that subverts that value is inappropriate for Humanistic Judaism.

Introducing female circumcision — a la East African practice — would be a rather bizarre way to solve the problem. And so would including women in the traditional minyan required for the performance of the ritual.

There is no way of making a happy celebration out of the performance of bloody surgery, even if you add female pa­tients and female observers. If somehow the ceremony was not so male chauvinistic, the surgery ritual might be worth enduring for the sake of tradition and continuity, in the same way that liberal Jews continue to observe the traditional dates for most holidays even when they are inconvenient. But surgery-as-ceremony is not worth en­during if it violates values more important than tradition or continuity.

There is no doubt about it. We need a new kind of Jewish birth celebration and in­itiation rite that provides for relaxed festivi­ty and that features at its center something Jewish, something easily given to both boys and girls.

This new kind of celebration has been developing among liberal and humanistic Jews over the past thirty years. Its setting is the home, the temple, or the community center. Its main drama is the conferring of a Hebrew name on the male or female infant. Even in the traditional circumcision ritual, Hebrew names are announced.

There is no reason for tying circumcision to a humanistic Jewish birth celebration. Despite its historic importance, it is simply inappropriate in the same way that female segregation is inappropriate.

There are times to rescue the old. There are also times to invent the new. Judaism is the story of both.

Assisted Suicide: Ethical Issues

Aid in Dying Autumn 1996

Do people have the right to terminate their lives in the face of painful and humiliating ill­ness? Does a victim of cancer, multiple sclero­sis, or creeping paralysis have the right to end intolerable suffering? Do they have the right to receive medical assistance to ensure that suicide is successful and relatively painless?

These issues are now absorbing the atten­tion of the Western world. Dr. Jack Kevorkian has boldly defied Michigan authorities to stop him from assisting those who ask him for help. Some people admire his intentions and his tactics. Some despise both. Some approve of assisted suicide but are wary of his tactics.

Very recently the Northern Territories in Australia authorized medically assisted sui­cide — the first political entity to do so. (Hol­land forbids it by law but allows it by refusal to enforce the law.) The first “customer” in Australia has already been served. Public opinion in most Western countries supports this development.

But is it ethical? Does Humanistic Juda­ism justify such behavior?

Suicide — any kind of suicide — is for­bidden by rabbinic Judaism. Life belongs to God. Only he can authorize killing. He has authorized the killing of enemies, infidels, and apostates; but he has not authorized kill­ing oneself.

In authoritarian systems, no reason need be provided. But priests, prophets, rabbis and theologians often feel uncomfortable with such a naked and dismissive form of author­ity. They search for reasons to justify what appears to be arbitrary. In the case of suicide they appeal to the virtue of suffering. In a sin­ful world, suffering is the perfect repentance. Since sin is unavoidable, suffering is also unavoidable. Given the almost infinite possi­bilities for sinning, there can never be too much suffering. Killing oneself does not ulti­mately end pain or anguish anyway. Beyond the grave is eternal suffering for the wicked. You might as well suffer now as suffer later.

Of course, there are circumstances under which it is mandatory to allow others to kill you — a form of passive suicide. If you are being compelled under threat of death to wor­ship gods other than Yahveh, or to commit incest, then death is preferable. But the ac­tual killing is done by your enemies, not your­self. Killing yourself to avoid pain or humiliation is not a “kosher” alternative, nor is hav­ing someone else kill you for such a reason. The martyrs of Masada, who killed themselves rather than fall into the hands of the Romans, might be construed as being avoiders of forced idolatry; and the martyrs of the Christian Middle Ages were clearly defenders of the faith. They chose to die for one of the two available legitimate reasons. Refusing to sur­render to the sinful demands of enemies was not really suicide; terminating your life as an act of kindness to yourself was.

There is no legitimate — or devious — way of extracting approval for assisted sui­cide from rabbinic Judaism. It is as futile as seeking a vague endorsement of homosexual­ity. But in an aging population beset by de­bilitating illnesses, the right to end irrevers­ible suffering is an unavoidable ethical issue. The halakhic rabbis may say no; but Human­istic Jews do not have to accept their moral judgment, especially if we have come to be­lieve that their judgment is not moral.

Humanistic Judaism does not derive its ethics from rabbinic Judaism. It derives its eth­ics from human needs bumping into the real world. Food, shelter, and sex are bodily needs. Long-run survival, happiness, and dignity are equally important. When life can offer neither dignity nor happiness, survival loses all ethi­cal meaning. To survive merely in order to sur­vive makes no humanistic sense unless there is some modicum of pleasure and dignity. Even if there is a God and he wants us to suffer for the sake of suffering, his demand is illegitimate. Humanistic Judaism does not find relentless pain either therapeutic or romantic.

Ever since the Enlightenment, the right to happiness and the value of personal au­tonomy have been celebrated in much of the Jewish world. They reflect the importance most contemporary Jews place on the ability to choose the course of one’s life. When that control vanishes, the value of life is called into question. It is simply not rational for people to endure the humiliation of helplessness when that humiliation is avoidable and when there are compassionate experts available to offer relief.

Most public opinion in North America supports assisted suicide, with appropriate safeguards, in the case of terminal illness. The appropriate safeguards are three: (1) The dy­ing person should choose assisted suicide in the presence of reputable witnesses; (2) his or her physician should verify that the patient is suffering from a terminal illness; and (3) a psychiatrist or psychologist should verify that the dying person is sane and not momentarily depressed. (Of course, being depressed when you are dying is rational!) This right, with these safeguards, should be incorporated into legislation. The rule of law should replace the rule of Kevorkian.

What about intolerable chronic illness? What about paraplegics and handicapped people, emphysemics and organ defectives, who find life not worth living? Should they have the right to assisted suicide? I think the humanistic principles of dignity and happi­ness give them that right; but it is not wise to press for it now, since public opinion does not yet widely support it. The rights of the terminally ill will be lost if we ask for too much too soon.

What about depressed people who find no meaning in existence? The humanistic answer to them is no. Although they have no happiness, as long as they are mobile and without physical restraint they retain the pos­sibility of dignity.

There is no “slippery slope” if safeguards are provided. What exists now is useless pain. It is time for reason and compassion to replace reverence for suffering. Where human dignity is at stake, old laws must yield, and new laws must be created to defend it.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah, The Humanistic Way

Coming of Age Manual

Why bar mitzvahs?

Why do humanistic Jews have bar mitzvahs?

After all, the traditional bar mitzvah ceremony celebrates the arrival of a young man to Jewish adulthood at the age of thirteen and his eligibility to abide by all the commandments of the Torah.

Of what significance can a ceremony have which violates three fundamental principles of a reason­able and humanistic commitment?

We obviously reject, on the basis of present childhood development, the age of thirteen as the time when boys become men.

We also reject any celebration which derives from male chauvinism and which denies girls equal honor to that of boys.

We certainly accept the Torah as important Jewish literature. But we reject the validity of its worldview and the binding character of its laws.

Even classical Reform, which sub­scribed to only two. of these objections, dispensed with the bar mitzvah ceremony altogether and replaced it with a class confirmation.

So why?

There are several reasons why.

The bar mitzvah ceremony is an old ceremony. As in all ancient cul­tures, the celebration of puberty is an ancient practice. Throughout the centuries it has gone through many changes and has not remained the same for long. The first bar mitzvah ceremony had nothing at all to do with the reading from the Torah (since the Torah did not even exist at that time). It was a circumcision rite, which offered the foreskin as an appeasement to the gods, tested the boy’s ability to endure pain and pre­pared him for sexual activity as an adult male. The practice of calling bar mitzvah boys to do the final reading of the Sabbath Torah portion is comparatively recent. It goes back to the beginning of the fourteenth century, and started only as a local custom.

The essence of the historic bar mitzvah ceremony is not allegiance to the Torah. It is the celebration of the arrival of puberty. When the cir­cumcision ceremony was moved to birth, a long period of no celebration intervened before alternatives emerged.

Thirteen is an important age for both boys and girls in our culture. It no longer marks the advent of adult­hood. But it does indicate the arrival of adolescence. Adolescence is a recent development. In a modern industrial society, children are not able to enter the work force at thirteen. They require more training for the jobs they will choose. Adoles­cence is that difficult teenage period between childhood and maturity when the preparation for adult life continues. Entering the teenage years is an important turning point in a child’s life. His/her body changes. His/her school changes. His/her needs change. Reassurance from his/her community that he/she is competent and recognition from his/her family that he/she is important are psychic boosts along the way. Thirteen is a perfect time for a public ceremony — not to celebrate the approach of adulthood, but to mark the reality of adolescence.

For humanistic Jews, with a com­mitment to the philosophy of secular humanism, religion is not a matter of gods and worship. It is essentially the celebration of community and community bonds. Connecting with people in shared beliefs, shared emotions and shared celebrations is our religious experience. Holidays which honor ancestors and which commemorate group events are, therefore, important. Life cycle cere­monies, where significant changes in the lives of individual members are acknowledged by the community and related to the survival of the group, are also basic to fellowship. Celebrating the growth of a child is celebrating the continuity of the congregation. It is as important to the group as it is to the child.

The ceremony does not have to be male chauvinist. Both the Recon­structionists and the Reformers have been doing Bat Mitzvah for many years. It is just a matter of having the girls do what boys do. While it is difficult to turn the ceremony of phallic circumcision into a girl’s ceremony, it is easy to adjust a talking experience to accommodate female needs. In fact, there is no need to designate the celebration Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah), where women always end up inside the parentheses. One can simply name it the Mitzvah Ceremony. If you want to ‘Bar’ it, you can ‘Bar’ it. If you want to ‘Bat’ it, you can ‘Bat’ it. After all, in popular Hebrew and Yiddish, the word mitzvah means more than ‘commandment’. It also means ‘good deed’. And the ceremony is indeed a good deed for the child and the community.

Since the historic mitzvah ceremony has been changing throughout Jewish history, another radical change is not inappropriate. Obviously, a required reading from the Torah and from other parts of the Bible is inconsistent with a human­istic approach to Judaism. First of all, the Bible is essentially a theistic document. And, secondly, given the range of Jewish experience and literature, it is too narrow in its focus. Of course, there is no dearth of effective alternatives. Selecting a hero or role model from the Jewish past, researching his/her life and shar­ing that research with the community is one alternative. Presenting an answer to an important ethical or historic question of Jewish interest is another. Sharing a progress report on some activity of community service is still another. Whatever project is chosen should be more than nostalgia. It should celebrate the emerging talents and skills of the young adolescent. And it will provide families and humanistic congregations with bonding experi­ences that are more than nostalgia.

There is no reason why a developing child should have only one development ceremony. While the mitzvah celebration marks the entry into adolescence, another cele­bration should be available to mark the beginning of adulthood (the origi­nal purpose of the bar mitzvah festivity). In many respects, the Con­firmation ceremony developed by the Reform movement is a precedent for such an event. During the past fifty years, the age of Confirmation has been moved forward to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. The drawback of the arrangement has been the exclusive use of class graduations, and the avoidance of individual celebrations. As a result, Confir­mation has never been able to equal the power of the bar/bat mitzvah event. A group ceremony cannot provide the ego satisfaction that an individual celebration confers.

As an experiment, the original Confirmation was a creative alternative. But it needs considerable reshaping. It needs to be an indi­vidual ceremony. It needs to be identified with a personal birthday. It needs to be linked directly with adulthood. Given our present culture and legal system, the eighteenth birthday anniversary seems an appropriate time. However, it is tied up with departure from high school and entry into college. There are too many distractions to allow the student to prepare properly for a sig­nificant celebration. Sixteen is less ‘adultish’. But it is an age which popular culture has associated with growing up parties and the right to drive. It is also the beginning of the child’s emergence from adolescence.

Confirmation (and the word, bor­rowed from the Lutherans, may not be the best word we can use), is for us an entrance into adulthood cere­mony. It is individual. It occurs near the student’s sixteenth birthday. It allows the student to demonstrate his intellectual and emotional skills as an emerging adult by encouraging him to present his research to the community on a subject of historic or ethical concern. It is distinct from the mitzvah celebration and requires different preparation.

Mitzvah and Confirmation do for us what the old bar mitzvah tried to do for our ancestors. In an age that invented adolescence, we need more than one ceremony.

The danger is that many human­istic Jews will assume that the mitzvah experience means more than it does — that it pretentiously suggests manhood and womanhood. Therefore, it is important to remember that Mitzvah without Confirmation is incomplete — and that, of the two ceremonies, Confirmation is obviously the more important.

A good Jewish growing up cere­mony should satisfy the following criteria.

It should provide for equality. It should be available to both boys and girls. Bar mitzvah should be comple­mented by bat mitzvah. In fact, calling it simply the mitzvah cere­mony avoids the hassle. The Hebrew word mitzvah means ‘command­ment’ and suggests that the celebrant is now eligible to be responsible for the requirements of his own life.

It should provide integrity. The symbols and words should honestly express what the celebrant believes and what the community stands for. If the Torah is only a famous book and no longer the constitution of humanistic Jews, it should not be the central feature of this important cele­bration. Above all, at a moment when a child is reviewing his/her idealism and testing his/her com­mitments, sincerity should be a minimal requirement.

A good ceremony should provide inspiration. The adolescent should be able to focus on his/her interests and his/her talents and find connection with those who share them. An arbitrary Biblical reading is too impersonal to be meaningful. Choosing a ‘heroic’ figure out of the Jewish past or present who can serve as a role model to the boy or girl and who captures the enthusiasm of the student, makes a lot more sense.

A good ceremony should provide a sense of competence, a feeling of achievement. The student should believe that he/she is now able to do something well that adults normally do. Presenting a competent lecture to an adult audience may be only one of many options. (On the secular kibbutzim in Israel, community service is stressed.) But it is certainly an effective one.

A good ceremony should reinforce a sense of roots. Jewish roots from the humanistic per­spective, are not only religious roots. They are secular ones also. Music, dance, humor, science and business are as much a part of Jewish culture as worship.

It is very important that the student feel that he/she has real roots in the Jewish past. He/she may not be able to identify with his/her grand­parents’ dietary habits. But he/she can identify with their love of family.

A good ceremony should allow the community to experience its own ideals and its own commit­ments. The celebration is not only for the child. It is especially for the assembly of adults who need peri­odic opportunities to affirm their own beliefs. A young adult is an important symbol to a congregation. He/she is an expression of hope.

A good ceremony, above all, should occur at the right age. In a modern urban culture, thirteen is hardly the entrance to adulthood. It barely makes adolescence. However, it is a time of important physical and mental changes. The most creative alternative is to have two optional ceremonies — the mitzvah at thirteen to celebrate the beginning of adoles­cence and a mitzvah (confirmation) at a later age (16 or beyond) to mark the entrance into adulthood.

Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation ceremonies are special opportunities to reinforce Jewish identity, humanistic behavior and community solidarity. We need them — and we need to mold them to our integrity.

The Rational Life

The Rational Life, Autumn 1982

The rational life. At one time, in the heyday of the Enlightenment, it was the ideal. The spokespersons of reason domi­nated the intellectual world and imagined that the life of reason would become the modus vivendi for all of humanity.

The early rationalists saw the life of reason in opposition to the life of faith. The life of faith, in their eyes, was dominated by the superstitions of traditional religion. It cultivated blind obedience and a self- destructive humility that denied men and women the power to be the masters of their own lives. It downplayed happiness here on earth and promised an illusory immor­tality of eternal bliss.

The men of reason believed that the life of reason would dispel superstition and would provide “salvation” through the truths of the new science. Made aware of its own power, humanity would seize the opportunity to transform the human condi­tion and to pursue human happiness in the only life that was ours to live.

The men of reason were naive. But were they wrong?

Many modern thinkers think so. Or, rather, we should say “postmodern think­ers,” since they associate modernity with the life of reason, which they claim is now passe. Postmodern thinkers hold reason responsible for the horrors and the disillu­sionment of the twentieth century. While not wanting to return to the life of faith, they often find it less objectionable than the life of reason. They accuse the rational­ists of fostering a narrow and elitist path to truth, which, in the end, produces a tyr­anny and emptiness worse than the life of religion.

Their chief accusations go something like this:

  •  Reason is cold and unemotional. It ig­nores the feeling side of human exist­ence. It does not pay attention to the parts of the human psyche that provide warmth and meaning to human life.
  •  Reason is wary of the power of intu­ition, which also may stand in opposi­tion to traditional faith and which also is the source of important truths. The truly free spirit cannot be limited by the pedestrian restrictions of the scientific method. It needs to use the power and the wisdom of the whole mind.
  •  Reason looks at the world through ana­lytic eyes. It cuts reality into pieces, labels them, and connects them with the categories of cause and effect. But it is incapable of synthetic truth. It cannot experience the world as a whole. And the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The analytic power of the left brain needs to be supplemented by the synthetic power of the right brain.
  • Reason leads to moral chaos. Without God and religion, everything is permit­ted. Reason can tell us how to do things, but it cannot tell us why we should do what we ought to do. Without some authority that lies beyond reason, fas­cism is just as reasonable as democracy. The terrible anarchy of modern urban life comes from the personal moral au­tonomy that reason grants.
  •  Reason fosters tyranny. The worst tyr­anny of modern times was the Marxist dictatorship of the communist empire. The leaders of that empire spoke in the name of secularism and reason and justified their actions on rational grounds. Their revolution elevated a new “clergy” of intellectuals who were more dogmatic, more arrogant, and more repressive than the clergy they sought to replace.
  •  Reason rests on the elitist notion of an objective truth, to which only the ex­perts of science have access. It fails to acknowledge the more democratic real­ity that truth is essentially subjective and that there are as many truths as there are people who experience the world.

I believe that this assault on reason is invalid. The postmodern critique is a dis­tortion of the truth and is, in a very real sense, responsible for the very danger it complains about.

Reason is not cold. Nor is it hot. It is a method for the discovery of truth, which can be used by either cold people or hot people. Most of the time it is attached to the heat of passionate desires. Desire moti­vates people to use reason. People want to survive and be happy. Reason helps them understand the reality they are dealing with. It helps them satisfy their desires by being responsible to the facts. It helps them tame their desires by reminding them of both their limitations and opportunities. Emotion and reason are not enemies. They go hand in hand.

Reason is not contemptuous of intu­ition. All great discoveries begin with intuition. The scientific method begins with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a hunch or intuition. Without brilliant hunches and intuitions, science would be powerless. But, while intuition is valuable, it is not enough. It has to be tested by the evidence of human experience. There are crazy in­tuitions as well as profound ones. There has to be some way of telling the difference between them. That is what science is all about.

Reason is not only analytic. It also entails synthesis. It deals with the macro­scopic picture as well as the microscopic picture. The theory of evolution is not about small facts. It ties them all together into a big whole. The “big bang” theory is not about a teeny event. It is about the whole universe. It synthesizes billions of events and makes them fit one into the other. Holistic insights are as integral to science as they are to art. But synthesis is not just the sudden flash of insight. It also depends upon the hard work of making sure that brilliant flashes of insight are what they claim to be.

Reason does not lead to moral chaos. God is no guarantee of moral order, simply because no one can agree on what God wants us to do. God is not available to be interviewed. Every religion can put words into his mouth, and does. The history of humanity is the story of religious people killing each other over disagreements about God’s commands. And faith is truly cha­otic because it provides no way of peace­fully arbitrating disagreement. Reason is less arbitrary. It requires that all moral commands or recommendations be tested by the consequences of choosing to act on them. Universal ethical rules are the result of common sense based on long-run hu­man experience. Failure to act on them threatens survival and happiness, both personal and collective. Reason is the only method for the discovery and justification of moral values that does not rely on arbitrary faith and intuition. The anarchy in our society is not caused by people who are rational. It is caused by postmodern hardline subjectivists who believe that truth and ethics are simply a function of what­ever their inner voices announce. Freedom that is not subject to the test of conse­quences is not rational and is dangerous indeed.

Reason does not foster tyranny. As both Baruch Spinoza and John Stuart Mill pointed out, reason cannot survive where there is no freedom. Without the give and take of a free society, conclusions freeze into dogma. Tentative answers turn into absolute proclamations. The Marxists of the Communist empire claimed the author­ity of reason, but they were much more comfortable with the style of the religion they insisted they hated. All forms of dogma are inimical to reason, whether they be Jewish, Christian, or Marxist. And all forms of dictatorship are subversive of the integrity of reason. Tyranny flows quite naturally from absolute certainty, the vulnerable need to be protected from error. When the boundary between truth and error is unclear, only freedom suffices.

Reason is elitist in one sense but egali­tarian in another. The one person with evidence to support a stand does win out over the masses who have not done their empirical homework. But this one person can come from any class, ethnic, or educa­tional background. The peasant or the plumber with the evidence wins out over the king with none. On the other hand, an egalitarianism that claims that all opinions are subjective and, therefore, of equal value is opposed to reason. Reality is not the creation of our minds. It is not invented; it is discovered. Equating ignorance with knowledge may be democratic. But, in the end, it is foolish and dangerous. Reason does not imagine that truth comes from an act of will. It is the product of training, discipline, and hard work, Rational free spirits pay attention to outer evidence. Crazy free spirits listen only to inner voices.

The rational life may not be as euphoric as the early Enlightenment philosophers imagined. But it is the best alternative available. To live the life of reason is to be able to do the following:

Face the Facts

Rational people can respect themselves only if they are strong enough to face reality. Painful truth is more desirable than painless illusion. You cannot take control of your life if you are dancing with fanta­sies. Rational people do not believe be­cause they want to believe or need to believe. They believe because the evidence provides them with no other alternative.

Live with Uncertainty

For many questions there are presently no clear answers. Evidence is too slim or ambiguous. The best you can say is “I don’t know.” Some people find uncer­tainty unbearable. They prefer any answer, however absurd, to no answer at all. Ratio­nal people do not like uncertainty. But they are strong enough to live with it. They do not insist on an answer when none is really available. They do not admire in­tense faith. They are afraid of it. Where evidence exists, strong convictions are appropriate. But waiting for the evidence can take equal strength.

Live with Ambiguity

There are no absolutely right or wrong decisions. All decisions have good and bad consequences. Recognizing ambiguity is part of being rational. When we make decisions, we may choose the alternative with the least number of disadvantages or the greatest number of advantages, but we can never escape mixing the two. Rational people are never self-righteous. They never claim moral purity. They are too practical and good-humored for that.

Dismiss the Past

The past is unreachable and unchange­able. No magic can transform it. Learning from the past is rational. Worrying about the past and wishing it were different are a waste of time. Rational people turn their energies to what they can change and improve. They do not cultivate full-time regret. For them, being sorry does not last forever. It turns into constructive action. Guilt is not a profession. It is the rational prelude to making actions produce better consequences.

Resist Resignation

There are many things we cannot change, including the law of gravity. But there are many things we can change. No matter what happens no sacred or holy power has ordained it. It happened because — like a hurricane — blind, unconscious, and un­caring forces made it happen. Or it hap­pened because — like cruel violence — people made it happen. If something is bad, we may not have to accept it. And if we can change it, we do not have to pretend that it is besherrt (destined). Pas­sivity in the face of our power to make a positive difference is not rational.

Pursue Happiness

Suffering may be unavoidable, but it is not a rational goal. Rational people may suffer because they cannot avoid suffering or because they cannot achieve what they want without pain. But they do not choose to suffer because of a belief that suffering is ultimately good. Happiness is the satisfac­tion of basic human needs and desires, including the desire for community. Happy people know that their happiness is inter­twined with the happiness of others. We are social beings who thrive on the help and approval of our peers.

Direct Our Emotions

Emotions are facts. Denying them when they are uncomfortable does not make them go away. They simply go into hiding and cause more trouble than before. Nor do our emotions exist in perfect harmony, each complementing and cooperating with the others. Fear, anger, hate, and love compete for our energy. If left to their own devices, they produce emotional chaos. We end up indulging the wrong feeling at the wrong time. Rational people never deny their feelings. They try to become more and more aware of them. But they do not surrender to them. They control them. They respond with fear when fear is appro­priate. They offer love when love can be nurturing. Reason does not stand above emotion. It is the managing director, mak­ing sure that our emotional energies work for our happiness and the happiness of others.

Acknowledge Our Power

It is dangerous to imagine that we can do what we are not able to do. But it is equally dangerous to imagine that we cannot do what we are able to do and need to do. Too much humility provides a rationalization for cowardice and makes us wary of useful action. Reasonable people do not claim powers that reason denies. But they do not hide behind the excuses of convenient modesty. Most of us have the power to do more than we give ourselves credit for. Self-esteem is owning up to our own power, especially in a world where religion gives the credit for everything to outside powers.

The rational life is a fulfilling life be­cause it negotiates between what we want and what is possible. That balancing act needs the discipline and good humor of reason.

Ethical Guidelines

Humanistic Judaism Anthology – Spring, 1986

An adequate philosophy of life provides two guides. The first is a description of reality. The second is a prescription for how to respond to reality. The first con­cerns itself with what is. The second con­cerns itself with what ought to be. The first is called metaphysics. The second is called ethics.

Ethics is concerned with human be­havior. Applying moral judgments to the actions of animal behavior is inappropri­ate. Where self-awareness is absent, the only value judgment that is fitting is aesthetic.

Although metaphysics covers a much wider area of reality than ethics, it is not as compelling. Being human, we see things from the human perspective. And from the human perspective, nothing is more important than making decisions about our behavior.

If I am a humanist, I make ethical deci­sions in the context of the following restrictions and acknowledgments.

I refuse to accept the legitimacy of au­thoritarian demands. No behavior is right simply because some important person says that it is right. Neither God nor Moses can make an action ethical by his endorsement. Right and wrong do not derive from the authors of rules. They are a function of the consequences of behavior. Right behavior produces good consequences. Wrong behavior produces bad consequences.

I relate good and bad to basic human needs. Right action satisfies human needs. Wrong action frustrates human needs in some fundamental way. A morality that is indifferent to human survival, human pleasure, and human dignity is no morali­ty at all. It is a morality without human motivation and, therefore, irrelevant.

I acknowledge that human needs are not always compatible. We cannot always pursue our survival needs, our pleasure needs, and our dignity needs simultan­eously. Eating sweets to my heart’s content may enhance my pleasure. But it may destroy my life. Betraying my friends to the enemy may spare my life. But it will compromise my dignity. This “dishar­mony” is intrinsic to the human condition and defines the agony of moral decisions.

I recognize that, because of this dishar­mony of needs, there is also a disharmony of ethical demands. Morality is not a neat and orderly set of rules that fit comfor­tably one into the other. If I choose dignity as my primary need and my primary value, as I believe most humanists do, I do so with the full awareness that survival and pleasure are also morally compelling. Since dignity is related to our vision of the ideal ruler, and self-rule is an axiom of hu­manism, it seems to have the edge. But the edge, as we know from experience, is not always wide and secure.

I am good-humored enough to admit that ethical rules are not absolute guide­lines dropped to earth by some infallible heavenly commander. They are useful summaries of past wisdom. If I wish to teach people (especially children) how to defend their dignity and the dignity of others, I need to convey the experience of the past in the easiest possible way. Rules, or operating principles, serve that pur­pose. Since they are too brief to be all- inclusive, they are bound to have excep­tions. Telling all the truth to a dumb and ugly person may not be the best way to protect his dignity.

I acknowledge that it is impossible to motivate people to satisfy needs that are not their own. Parents nurture children and friends help friends because they un­consciously do not distinguish between their own needs and the needs of their families and loved ones. Human drives are individual. And so are satisfactions. Phrases like “the general will” or “the general welfare” conjure up social monsters that do not really exist. An effec­tive ethic is able to motivate the individual to serve the needs of others as though they were his very own.

I recognize that there are few actions in which an individual may choose to in­dulge that do not affect the lives of others. The famous liberal prescription that grants the individual the right to be the total master of his life in those areas of his existence that do not touch the interests of others sounds good on paper. But it does not work very well in reality. In an over­crowded world, almost every personal ac­tivity involves somebody else. Sex, the col­or of one’s house, smoking, and the noise level of one’s stereo are “private” activi­ties that have social consequences. Even the failure to take care of one’s own health may create an intolerable social burden.

I refuse to make behavioral demands on myself and other people that we are, by nature, unable to fulfill. Asking people to dismiss all anger, hate, and jealousy — dis­positions intrinsic to human nature — is an exercise in futility. There is a human nature. The human potential is not unlim­ited. Nor is the human personality infi­nitely malleable. To dismiss what is not dismissable is to program human beings for failure. Morality is not always easy. But it is attached to realizable goals. A ra­tional ethic may tame anger, hate, and jealousy in the same way that it tames love. However, it does not seek to arrange what reality cannot arrange.

For most humanists, the criterion of dignity becomes the ultimate arbiter in moral decision making.

I make a distinction between behavior and motivation. Some people are devotees of the cult of intentions. They are always concerned with why people do what they do. They are absorbed with inner thoughts and feelings over which the individual has absolutely no control. If love is primarily a feeling, it is absurd to demand it. If love is a behavior, it is something we can choose to do, even if we do not feel like it. Most ethical people have large amounts of anti­social thoughts and feelings. For that reason, morality requires a great deal of discipline. In the end, from the ethical point of view, people are their behavior.

I recognize that moral intuition (or con­science) is, in reality, a form of uncon­scious reasoning in which the conse­quences of my behavior are tested by memory. I may tell the truth because my conscience tells me to. But what appears on the surface to be a dogmatic rule may not be dogmatic at all. It may be derived from human experience. A society in which people cannot trust each other to tell the truth will not long endure.

I am fully aware that there is no such thing as Jewish ethics. As an ethnic group, Jews have exhibited a wide variety of moral attitudes. The Jewish Defense League can find as many Biblical and Talmudic quotations to support its posi­tion as can Peace Now. Since a Jewish humanist has to be selective about which historic Jewish advice to accept, there must be a higher, more universal criterion by which he renders judgment. A Jewish humanist and a Gentile humanist have more in common ethically than a Jewish humanist and a Hasid. What binds all Jews together is a shared ethnic and na­tional experience.

Humanistic Jews view this history differently from traditional Jews. Traditional Jews look at Jewish history and find support for the virtue of trusting in God. Humanistic Jews look at Jewish history and find (especially after the Holocaust and despite all the contrary Biblical and Talmudic quotations] the moral necessity for human self-reliance.

A personal ethics for Jewish humanists requires just as much self-discipline (if not more) than traditional morality. The vi­sion of a strong, self-reliant, trustworthy, generous person, who strives to remain consistent in the face of an absurd universe, is quite different from the ideal of a humble, obedient servant who relies on the justice of destiny. That vision is the ultimate guideline for humanist decision making.

Humanistic Judaism and God

Humanistic Judaism Anthology – Spring, 1986

Judaism without God is a difficult con­cept for many people to grasp. If they are not outraged, they are puzzled.

For traditional Jews who see Jewish history as the evidence for the presence of God in the world, removing God is remov­ing the reason for Jewish survival.

For people who view Jews as a religious denomination and who see religion as the worship of God, an atheistic secular Judaism is a contradiction in terms.

For religious naturalists who have re­jected supernatural beliefs and who have redefined the word God to refer to nature or to some part of nature, the elimination of God is an unnecessary step.

For traditional moralists who derive their ethics from divine authority and who insist on clearly defined rules with ab­solute certainty, morality is not possible without God. And Judaism without moral­ity is not much of a Judaism.

For atheists who agree that there is no God but who cannot imagine a religion without one, doing religion without God is like doing elections without candidates.

For people who may not be sure about God but who are sensitive to human needs, dispensing with God violates the requirements of human happiness. A Judaism without God cannot be emo­tionally satisfying.

To understand Humanistic Judaism is to understand why these six responses are inappropriate.

  1. Finding a just God in Jewish history is like finding icebergs in Brazil. If God has been the friend of the Jewish people, we do not need enemies. In the century of the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish experience is a solemn testimony to the absence of God. If Yahveh is indeed the lord of history, he cannot hide behind the excuse of Jewish sinfulness. Too many innocents perished in the slaughter.

Some theologians seek to rescue God in strange ways. The Lubavitcher Rebbe sees the Holocaust as a fitting punishment for the secular Jews of Eastern Europe. Richard Rubenstein views him as so high and mighty that the petty events on the surface of a small planet invite only his in­difference and moral neutrality. Harold Kushner describes him as limited, a deity who means well but who does not possess the power to get what he wants. And his desperate defenders see him as the in­genious divinity who arranged the Holocaust so that the state of Israel could follow.

What can be said for such ludicrous defenses? Why would a just God slaughter the “innocent” religious together with the “wicked” secular? Why would anybody be interested in a God who did not care what happened to people and who viewed our suffering with the same indifference as he viewed our pleasure? Why would an in­competent and powerless God be more important to people than an incompetent and powerless human being? As for ar­ranging a Holocaust to guarantee a Jewish state, that behavior is about as intelligent as burning down a house to get roast meat.

If there is a God and he is either unjust, indifferent, or dumb, then he does not deserve our praise and adoration. At the most, he deserves the appeasement cere­monies of frightened victims. At the least, he is worthy of our indifference and con­tempt.

  • Defining Jews as a religious deno­mination is as appropriate as defining Anglo-Saxons as a theological persuasion. Even the Bible views the Jews as a tribal nation and art ethnic race. Biblical writers may denounce “bad” Jews who refuse to worship Yahveh exclusively, but they never deny the Jewishness of the people they denounce. From the very beginning, Jewish identity was a kinship identity, in­dependent of theological beliefs and reli­gious commitments.

Even the rabbis preserved the “racial” classification of the Jews. Despite their in­sistence on public religious conformity, they conferred Jewish status on the children of Jewish mothers regardless of the personal beliefs of the child or of the mother. Bible-believing Gentiles needed conversion. Atheist children of Jewish women did not.

Anti-Semites who refuse to accept the conversion of Jews to other religions as a sign of genuine change are simply follow­ing age-old Jewish tradition and popular practice. Changing publicly proclaimed beliefs does not alter Jewish identity earned through birth. As for converts to Judaism, they are less converts than adopted children; they must change their ancestors as well as their religious prac­tices. In traditional conversion, Abraham and Sarah become their “parents.”

If Mr. Cohen decides to indulge himself in Zen Buddhism, neither he nor his neighbors will think of him as any the less Jewish. And if he decides to take Jewish history seriously and to dispense with God, neither his friends nor his enemies will see any significant change in his Jewish identity.

Jewish identity is a kinship identity, in­dependent of theological beliefs and religious commitments.

  • Saving the word God by redefining it is both evasive and immoral.

It is evasive because a word that can mean anything the definer wants it to mean is no longer intended for communi­cation. Its purpose is either psychother­apy or social security. Either the definer “needs” the word for emotional reasons that have nothing at all to do with its historic meaning, or he finds it useful for social respectability. (Many people are afraid of being accused of atheism even if they are atheists.

Redefining God is immoral because or­dinary words are entitled to their ordinary meanings. God is an old word with an old historic denotation. For the ordinary user, God refers to a supernatural father figure who made and runs the world and who consciously interferes with the operation of his creation. The vocabulary of prayer is directed to a personal power who can respond to praise and petition. Even after all the liberal theists redefine God to their personal satisfaction and social comfort, even after they insist that the term refers to some abstract non-anthropomorphic natural force of goodness or creative energy, they still end up talking to it as though it were a personal “papa figure.” The historic meaning of the word makes that response inevitable.

It is immoral to steal words from every­day communication and to alter their meaning arbitrarily — especially if the ac­tion serves your personal advantage. Theology as a cloak for atheists is like the emperor’s clothing in the Anderson fairy tale. It is shoddy business.

The traditional God — if he is believed to be real — makes a difference. A per­sonal God who watches our behavior and who judges it with rewards and punishments may be terrifying, yet he cannot be ignored. His presence is related to our survival and happiness.

But a God who is no more than the One, the Absolute, the Potential for Goodness and Creativity, the Ground of Being, Universal Love — or any of a dozen and one liberal redefinitions — is either too vague to be interesting or too familiar to be unique. If God is Love, how is that dif­ferent from Love is Love? And if God is Nature, how is that different from Nature is Nature? Conservative theists need the word God because it refers to a being that no other word denotes. But liberal theists do not need the word. Perfectly ordinary words already exist for whatever they mean by God.

  • As for morality, God is hardly indis­pensable.

It is quite obvious that the word God does not, of necessity, imply good. Gods can be wicked as well as benevolent. Otherwise, why all this insistence on demonstrating from human experience the “goodness” and “justice” of God?

If God’s behavior can be evaluated, then the evaluator must already know what good means. He does not need God to tell him what is right or wrong. He is aware of what is right or wrong before he judges God.

Notions of right and wrong arise out of the social setting of parental discipline and are later attributed to a heavenly superparent. The human need to live in groups for survival demands trust, worthi­ness, sharing, and abstinence from vio­lence. Social groups in which promises are never kept, food is not shared, and children assault their parents have little chance to survive.

Even the Bible recognizes that divine endorsement is not enough to make com­mandments morally convincing. The system of rewards and punishments that the authors of the Torah so neatly ar­ticulated is evidence that divine authority is inadequate. The Hebrews are promised fertility and prosperity for their obe­dience, drought and devastation for their resistance. The satisfaction — or frustra­tion — of human needs becomes the sell­ing argument. The implication is clear. Right behavior leads to pleasant conse­quences. Wrong behavior leads to unpleasant consequences.

In the reward and punishment system, the importance of God does not lie in his moral authority. It lies in his power to satisfy human needs and to provide for human pleasure — which, quite obviously, have their own intrinsic moral merit. A god that does not care about human welfare has no moral clout.

Practical humanism is the harsh aware­ness that the quality of human life is up to human beings.

  • A religion without God, a secular re­ligion, appears to be a contradiction in terms. After all, religion is often defined as a belief in God. But equating religion with theology is sociologically incorrect. Beliefs are private, passive, and not easily detected. Many people, for social safety, pretend to believe in God even when they do not. Although their behavior is reli­gious, it may not reflect internal convic­tion.

Religion — as opposed to theology — is a behavior, generally a publicly observed behavior done in groups. Worship and submission are postures that most people describe as religious, even when their spoken theology is insincere.

Religious behavior is an appeasement behavior. It is the human response to situations of helplessness, when human power seems inadequate to deal with over­whelming danger or disaster. The more helpless people feel, the more religious they become. People tend to be most reli­gious when they are confronted with the reality of death.

Now, “submission” or resignation is a perfectly rational response to situations of helplessness. What is irrational is imagin­ing that the assaulting forces are a super­human person you can talk to.

A non-theological religion would cer­tainly recognize that human beings are limited, that certain life situations are ir­reversible, and that there are times when “surrender” or resignation is perfectly ap­propriate. We cannot bring back the dead. We cannot prevent earthquakes. We can­not abolish the law of gravity.

But a non-theological religion would avoid theological descriptions of “destiny” that transform the impersonal forces of nature into superhuman parents. Worship — with all its verbal flattery, de­meaning postures, and endless gift- bringing — would be avoided. In its place would appear the good-humored submis­sion of shoulder shrugging.

Theological religions, by their ex­cessive use of worship behavior, tend to make people feel more helpless. If humanists do submission from time to time, they do so reluctantly. They much prefer problem-solving.

  • Being nice to the masses because you think they need God even though you do not believe in God is an excuse for cowar­dice. It provides people who are afraid of revealing their humanism with a reason for not doing so.

Therapeutic strategies that turn people into protected children undermine their rights. To be sheltered from the truth is to lose your dignity. If indeed there is no God, pretending that there is one neither enhances your self-esteem nor improves your ability to deal with reality. Yielding, without question, to an authoritarian superparent is hardly the avenue to decent maturity.

But, even if you prefer security to digni­ty, the God-route is, most likely, the wrong way to go. Living with a cosmic “peeping Tom,” who continuously watches your behavior and judges it, is liable to make you nervous. And praising a Power that is ultimately responsible for all events, even the unjust ones, may lead to the pent-up anger we call depression.

Judaism without God may be a surpris­ing concept. But it is a perfectly appropri­ate one. It is a healthy non-theological religion that derives its morality from human need and that finds in Jewish history a reflection of the “absurdity” of the universe.

Zionism and Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism, An Anthology – Spring, 1986

The state of Israel.

No expression of Judaism can be com­plete unless it deals with this reality and with the political movement that spawned it.

Zionism is the most successful and the most dramatic Jewish movement of the twentieth century. It is also the most uni­versal. Theology and ritual divide Jews. But loyalty to the state of Israel unites them. Both the religious and the secular can be comfortable with Zionism. Although anti-Zionism was, at one time, powerful, it now condemns its devotees to the role of the peripheral and the pariah.

The roots of Zionism are both ancient and contemporary. Throughout Jewish history, the Bible, the Talmud, the Siddur, and the folk literature preserved the memory of a Jewish territorial nation. Jews living in lands other than Israel believed that they were residing in exile. They believed that, in the future, they would be rescued by the Messiah and would be returned to their homeland.

The modern source of Zionism was the sense of nationhood that Western Ashkenazic Jews experienced in Central and Eastern Europe. United by folk memories and the Yiddish language, the Russian and Polish Jews saw themselves as neither Russian nor Polish. They viewed themselves as national Jews, with a language and culture all their own. This ethnic self-awareness was reinforced by the rising power of nationalism in Europe. Germans, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Romanians were beginning to feel more German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Romanian. One of the devices they used to create greater internal solidarity was to in­vent an external enemy. Anti-Semitism turned the Jews into the national enemy, excluded them, and made them, ironical­ly, feel more Jewish.

If the Jews were indeed a distinct na­tion, they required a territory of their own, like every other nation. Nostalgia and the desire for territorial roots offered no alter­native but Palestine.

Zionism, as a political ideology, comes in many varieties. Bourgeois Zionism wants Israel to be a free enterprise capital­ist state. Labor Zionism prefers a socialist Israel where the workers control. Reli­gious Zionism wants a Jewish state where God rules and where the constitution is the Torah.

But, regardless of the differences, most Zionists agree on ten principles.

  1.  The Jews are a nation. They are more than a religious group, more than a theolo­gical fraternity, more than a cultural enti­ty. Jews are Jewish in the same way that Frenchmen are French.
  2.  Every nation, including the Jewish nation, needs a territory all its own. A unique territory allows the nation to cultivate its own language, promote its own customs, and be the master of its own destiny.
  3.  For the past 2,000 years, Jews have been abnormal. Until 1948, they were a nation without a territory. They will be normal again when the majority of the Jews of the world return to their homeland.
  4.  Israel is the only feasible Jewish homeland. The personality of a nation cannot be separated from its memories and from the territory where it evolved.
  5.  Hebrew is the national language of the Jewish people. English is too univer­sal. Yiddish is too parochial. A unique language becomes the cultural bond of both secular and religious Jews.
  6.  Immigrating to Israel is more virtu­ous than staying in the Diaspora. If Jews refuse to move to Israel, there will be no viable Jewish state. Jewish life in a Jewish state is qualitatively better than Jewish life in the midst of a Gentile nation.
  7.  The establishment of a Jewish state will reduce anti-Semitism. If Gentiles can see Jews as members of a normal nation, they will no longer fear them. If Jews leave the countries where they arouse hostility, anti-Semites will have to find other scape­goats for their envy and hatred.
  8.  Jews who remain in the Diaspora will ultimately assimilate to the majority culture of their host nations. In a modern, urban, industrial, secular culture, assimi­lation is the gradual assumption of a new patriotism. Jews can remain Jews only where they can be Jewishly patriotic.
  9.  Israel is the viable solution to the problem of Jewish survival. In an age when ritual segregation is rejected by most Jews, territorial segregation is the only feasible means to ensure group integrity.
  10. For every Jew, his primary identity is his Jewish identity. He must be prepared to do first what is necessary to insure Jewish community survival. Aliyah (moving to Israel] is a primary mitzvah.

How does Humanistic Judaism relate to these ten principles?

The Humanistic Jew accepts the fact that the Jews are a nation. Like the Zionist, he makes a distinction between citizen­ship and nationality. It is quite reasonable to describe oneself as an American citizen of Jewish nationality. Because of the Jewish fear that such a statement may be construed by modern governments as an act of dual loyalty, the word people is usually substituted for the word nation. But, in essence, it means the same thing.

The Humanistic Jew accepts the fact that, in the past, a nation needed a specific territory in order to remain a nation. But, in the age of industrial technology, this re­quirement no longer applies. Today, the time it takes to fly from New York to Tel Aviv is far less than the time a traveler took to donkey from Jaffa to Jerusalem a century ago. In former times, isolation from a nation’s territory meant isolation and ultimate assimilation to the host culture. In modern times, both literacy and advanced communication and trans­portation make it possible for a dispersed nation to preserve its sense of community. The Greeks, the Armenians, and the Irish know that, as well as Jews.

The Humanistic Jew recognizes that many people regarded the Jew as peculiar and abnormal because he had no ter­ritorial base. But what was Jewishly ab­normal is now rapidly becoming humanly normal. In an age of labor mobility, an in­ternational nation is no longer bizarre. It is avant garde. Territorial nations are becoming territorial states. A territorial state is a political entity where people of different nationalities discover that they must share the same piece of land. The connections among the inhabitants are geographic and economic rather than ethnic. America is no longer an Anglo- Saxon nation. And Israel is one-third Arab.

The Humanistic Jew recognizes that Israel is the Jewish homeland. As the mother country of the Jewish nation, it is the appropriate headquarters and center of that international corporation. Memories cannot be manufactured. Like nations, they develop their power over long periods of time. New York may have more Jews than Jerusalem. But Jerusalem includes the armies of the faithful dead, not just the living.

The Humanistic Jew values the Hebrew language. Every viable ethnic community that is not racially distinct cultivates its own language. The greatest of all the Zionist achievements was the revival of the Hebrew language as the spoken tongue of the masses. Since Hebrew is not a world language like English, it requires for its survival a special territory where a majority of the inhabitants use it for their daily speech. One of the major reasons for the preservation of the state of Israel is the maintenance of Hebrew-speaking culture. With Israel as the Hebrew center, the language becomes available to the world Jewish community as a resource for com­munity expression.

The Humanistic Jew understands that Israel cannot accommodate the majority of the Jewish people. The reason is not only that Israel is too small; it is also that Israel cannot suitably employ the mem­bers of a nation, the overwhelming major­ity of whom now belong to the managerial class. Israel does not need more lawyers, accountants, and psychiatrists. She needs farmers, porters, and construction workers. Immigrating to Israel is a virtue if the immigrant’s talents will be fully utilized in that environment. To waste managerial potential is a waste not only for the world Jewish community but also for the human community.

The Humanistic Jew does not believe naively that the existence of the state of Israel will reduce anti-Semitism. In the Middle East, Zionism has increased anti- Jewish feeling. In Europe and America, loyalty to Israel reminds many people of the multiple attachments that they suspect all Jews have. Above all, Jews are hated because they are conspicuously successful in an urban industrial society — out of proportion to their numbers. A small Jewish state ironically depends for sur­vival on Jewish success in the Diaspora. Israel needs the very power out of which anti-Semitism grows.

The Humanistic Jew does not believe that living in the Diaspora means ultimate assimilation. Since Jewish communities are no longer isolated from each other and can maintain effective contact with the Israeli center, Jewish self-awareness has increased, not declined. Moreover, it is quite clear that all nations, even large territorial ones, are assimilating to a new culture. That culture is the world culture of science and technology, which has secularized most of our planet and created a world of shared work styles, shared pro­ducts, and shared values. In the past 20 years, the Oriental Jew in Israel has expe­rienced more assimilation than the Jew of New York. In future years, the differences among all nations will be reduced because of this shared culture. From the humanis­tic point of view, this shared cultural bond with all people is something good.

The Humanistic Jew is well aware of the fact that no small territorial state is the master of its own destiny. Even large states, like America, are heavily depen­dent on external resources. The fate of the Jews in Israel is not separable from the fate of the Jews in America. The key to Jewish continuity remains what it was before Zionism. The Jews should be as widely dispersed as possible, so that the destruction of one community will not result in the destruction of all.

The Humanistic Jew affirms the value of Jewish identity and works to express it within the setting of the Jewish commu­nity. But he chooses his human identity as his primary identity. A healthy Jewish community can be realized only if it sees itself as part of a larger community with its own needs and demands. Without this transcendent ideal, Zionism becomes chauvinism. Jews and Arabs can learn to share the same territory if they have the vi­sion to go beyond their national identities and to celebrate their shared human identity.

Humanistic Judaism and historic Zionism share some important convic­tions: the values of Jewish nationhood and of Hebrew culture. But Humanistic Judaism finds value in the reality of the Jews as a world people, an international nation.

Israel as the be-all and end-all of Jewish existence is too much. Israel as the cultural homeland of a planetary people is just fine.