Contemporary Humanistic Judaism


Contemporary Humanistic Judaism

Beliefs, Values, Practices

Edited by Adam Chalom and Jodi Kornfeld

JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought Series

342 pages
2 tables, 1 appendix, index


January 2025


$40.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Opening up multidimensional ideas, values, and practices of Humanistic Judaism to Jews of all backgrounds and beliefs, Contemporary Humanistic Judaism collects the movement’s most important texts for the first time and answers the oft-raised question, “How can you be Jewish and celebrate Judaism if you don’t believe in God?” with new vision.

Part 1 (“Beliefs and Ethics”) examines core positive beliefs—in human agency, social progress, ethics without supernatural authority, sources of natural transcendence, and Humanistic Jews’ own authority to remake their traditional Jewish inheritance on their own terms “beyond God.” Part 2 (“Identity”) discusses how Humanistic Judaism empowers individuals to self-define as Jews, respects people’s decisions to marry whom they love, and navigates the Israel-Diaspora relationship. Part 3 (“Culture”) describes how the many worlds of Jewish cultural experience—art, music, food, language, heirlooms—ground Jewishness and enable endless exploration. Part 4 (“Jewish Life”) applies humanist philosophy to lived Jewish experience: reimagined creative education (where students choose passages meaningful to them for their bar, bat, or b mitzvah [gender-neutral] celebrations), liturgy, life cycle, and holiday celebrations (where Hanukkah emphasizes the religious freedom to believe as one chooses).

Jewish seekers, educators, and scholars alike will come to appreciate the unique ideologies and lived expressions of Humanistic Judaism.

Author Bio

Adam Chalom is dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. Jodi Kornfeld is rabbi of Beth Chaverim Humanistic Jewish Community in suburban Chicago and past president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis. 


“Finally—a book that speaks wisely and powerfully to the secular Jew who seeks Jewish connection and meaning without traditional God-worship. Contemporary Humanistic Judaism is the crucial primer for all those who want to understand the foundational ideas of Humanistic Judaism and find the path to a vibrant Jewish life expressed through liturgy, ritual, education, celebration, and yes, the transcendent.”—Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew

Contemporary Humanistic Judaism is a must-read, especially for anyone who ever felt like a ‘bad Jew’ for not believing in God, for intermarrying, or for otherwise not conforming to traditional movements’ constructions of Jewish identity.”—Keren R. McGinity, author of Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America

“Through essays, case studies, liturgy, cultural offerings, and more, this important collection evocatively makes the case for deeply engaged, deeply principled, deeply intentional Jewish living that does not center God. Contemporary Humanistic Judaism demonstrates that, as ever, Humanistic Judaism raises essential questions about contemporary Judaism and offers piquant responses.”—Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president and CEO of Reconstructing Judaism

“I love it! Contemporary Humanistic Judaism is comprehensive, engaging, and compelling. I plan to assign it to my students.”—Phil Zuckerman, associate dean of Pitzer College

“Magnificent! The clearest and most engaging volume on the history and meaning of Humanistic Judaism ever written.”—Rabbi Evan Moffic, author of The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today

“This is an important anthology that ought to be widely read and studied. It is essential to any college or adult ed course addressing the complicated map of current liberal Judaisms.”—Rabbi Edmond Weiss, coauthor of Making Arguments: Reason in Context

“Humanistic Judaism’s contributions to the broader landscape of Jewish life are too often overlooked. Contemporary Humanistic Judaism will expand and challenge many traditionalist readers’ sense of what Judaism is and has been—while simultaneously offering much-needed affirmation to readers with less-traditionalist instincts.”—Lex Rofeberg, senior Jewish educator of Judaism Unbound

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Preface: Introducing This Volume
Introduction: Judaism Beyond God, Torah, and Israel
Part 1. Beliefs and Ethics
1. The Jewish Experience
Sherwin Wine, “Jewish History–Our Humanist Perspective” (1985)

2. The God Question
Sherwin Wine, “Judaism Without God” (1983)
Yaakov Malkin, “God as a Literary Figure” (2007)

3. Positive Humanism
Sherwin Wine, “Believing Is Better than Non-Believing” (1986)
Greg Epstein, “What is Humanism?” (2009)
Peter Schweitzer, “Purpose” (2022)

4. Ethics
Daniel Friedman, “After Halakha, What?” (1996)
Adam Chalom, “Are There Jewish Values?” (2009)
Amos Oz, “Jews Argue with God” (2017)
Denise Handlarski, “Truth and Reconciliation on Race” (2016)

5. Spirituality
Yaakov Malkin, “What Makes the Secular Need Spirituality” (2003)
Judith Seid, “A Secular Spirituality” (2001)
Terry Toll, “Lighting Candles” (1994)
Humanistic Judaism Facebook Discussion on Kippot (2020)
Part 2. Identity
6. Jewish Self-Definition
Sherwin Wine, “Kinship” (1985)
International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, “Statement on ‘Who is a Jew’”
Association of Humanistic Rabbis, “Statement on Conversion/Adoption” (2005)
Karen Levy, “Changing Perceptions, Changing Realities” (2002)

7. Welcoming and Inclusion
Tamara Kolton, “Healing the Jewish People Through Pluralism” (2005)
Jeffrey Falick, “Dancing at Two Weddings” (2014)
Miriam Jerris, “Gate Openers: Reaching Out to the Next Generation of Children from
            Intermarriage” (2017)
Society for Humanistic Judaism, “Radical Inclusion” (2021)

8. Israel/Zionism and Diaspora
Sherwin Wine, “Being a Secular Humanistic Jew in the Diaspora” (1993)
Shulamit Aloni, “One Hundred Years of Zionism, Fifty Years of Statehood” (2000)
Tzemah Yoreh, “Constructive Conversations About Israel” (2019)
Part 3. Culture

9. Cultural Judaism
Amos Oz, “A Full Cart or an Empty One? Thoughts on Jewish Culture” (1983)
Yehuda Bauer, “Judaism is…” (1995)
Daniel Friedman, “Recovering Our Stories” (1995)
Sivan Malkin Maas, “Cultural Zionism: Reclaiming Convention” (2009)

10. A Cultural Jewish Canon
Julian Levinson, “People of the (Secular) Book” (2009)
Jodi Kornfeld, “Of Course There’s Jewish Art!” (2022)
Jonathan Friedmann, “Music By, For, As Humanistic Jews” (2023)
Nathan Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (2012)
Etgar Keret, “My Lamented Sister” (2016)
Nicole Krauss, “Adding to the Jewish Story” (2017)
Part 4. Jewish Life

11. Living Humanistic Judaism
Eva Goldfinger, “Is Judaism Worth Preserving?” (1995)
Society for Humanistic Judaism Statement of Values (2021)

12. Liturgy
Marcia Falk, “Honoring Torah” (1996)
Adam Chalom, “Our Quarterback, Our King: Two Problems with Liberal Theology”
Adam Chalom, Jodi Kornfeld, Jeremy Kridel, Peter Schweitzer, Frank Tamburello, “Liturgical Readings” (2019)
Yehuda Amichai, “A Man Doesn’t Have Time” (1986) and “The Waters Cannot Return in Repentance” (1986)
Peter Schweitzer, “The Passover Symbols” (2006)

13. Life Cycle
Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, “Statement on Circumcision and Jewish Identity” (2002)
Camila Grunberg, “The Meaning of Life” (2016)
Association of Humanistic Rabbis, “Ketubah Texts” (1999)
Sherwin Wine, “Sitting Shiva” (1992)
14.  Education
Mitchell Silver, “Treasures of the Legacy” (1998)
Ruth Duskin Feldman, “Jewish Education and the Future” (1991)
Sherwin Wine, “The Torah” (1985)
Denise Handlarski, “The Torah, the Ten Commandments, and Us” (2019)
Society for Humanistic Judaism Curriculum for Children’s Education, “Philosophy” (2013)
Afterword: Choosing To Live as a Secular Humanistic Jew
Go Forth and Learn
Appendix: American Jews’ Identity and Beliefs
Source Acknowledgements

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