Humanistic Judaism is a topic that raises a lot of questions and offers many intriguing answers. See if your question appears below… if it doesn’t, let us know!
Q. What does the name “Kol Haskalah” mean?
A. The literal translation of Kol Haskalah is “Voice of Enlightenment,” referring to both the Humanistic tradition of open-mindedness and the Jewish Enlightenment of the 19th century, which marked the beginning of the wider engagement of European Jews with the secular world. “Enlightenment” is reflected in our commitment to engage with people and the ever-changing world around us and consider how we might best protect, explore and expand that world in our lifetimes.
Members of Kol Haskalah: A Humanistic Jewish Congregation consider ourselves ambassadors (“the voices”) for the core values of our community: a profound respect for science and rational thinking; a place of honor for our Jewish heritage and legacy; a passionate commitment to social justice; careful stewardship of our natural resources; and a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment for all who would like to join us.
Q. Do Humanistic Jews believe in God, or are you just a bunch of atheists?
A. Our philosophy does not hinge on an “is there or isn’t there” question of God’s existence, nor is there some litmus test of skepticism required for membership. Members of our congregation observe varying degrees and definitions of “spirituality” but we all share a deep commitment to humanism, expressed Jewishly.
Humanistic Judaism celebrates and respects human power, responsibility and rational decision-making as the best tools we have to live this life to its fullest. Humanists believe that people can make ethical judgments and choices without living in fear of some supernatural punishment. Jewish Humanism adds the imperatives to care for the earth and repair the world (tikkun olam), as well as the core value of social justice
Even for non-believers, to call yourself an “atheist” is to define yourself by what you do NOT believe. Humanists possess positive value systems that are just as real and valid as those of theists but instead focus on human capabilities and responsibility for the world we live in today.
“Humanist” can have several synonyms: rationalist, freethinker, secularist, and a particular favorite: philosophical naturalist (credit actressJulia Sweeney with this one).
Q. If you don’t pray to God, then what makes you Jewish?
A. We have had several invigorating discussions among ourselves about “what makes a Jew.” Humanistic Jews believe that a person can be Jewish by virtue of any number of things: ancestry, a sincere desire to be part of the Jewish tradition, an appreciation for the traditions of learning, questioning and caring, or commitment to a Jewish partner and desire to raise mensch-y Jewish kids.
Judaism is not just a religion; it is a culture, a people, an ethnic identity. There is an ethical core that exists independent of any belief in a supernatural authority, and it is that ethical core that is the essence of Humanistic Judaism.
Q. My partner is not Jewish; would we be comfortable at Kol Haskalah?
A. Absolutely. As a Humanistic Jewish congregation, we welcome any members who identify with the Jewish values that we hold dear: learning, questioning, caring and personal responsibility. If your partner or spouse has a sincere interest in supporting your connection with Judaism, we say “Shalom!” to you both, as well as all the members of your family.
Q. I might believe in God, I’m not really sure. Can I still be part of your congregation?
A. Of course. What you will not find here are traditional prayers and supplications to God as the source of all good things. If that is something important to you, you might prefer a more traditional congregation. However, as long as you are genuinely interested in exploring the humanistic perspective, we welcome you – doubts and all.