Thursday, April 20, 2006

First Humanistic Rabbi to be formally installed in New York

The following is from a press release by the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism:
What's a rabbi to do when he realizes he's secular?

When he understands that Jewish history is a human saga; that reason is the source of truth; that we live our lives independently of supernatural intervention?

Well, I expect he would quit. But obviously I’m wrong; there are quite a few bishops who believe exactly the same thing, and they didn’t quit. Why should a rabbi?

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer left the Reform rabbinate in 1982 in great part because of these personal beliefs. Twenty-four years later, he returns to the rabbinate in a community where these beliefs are accepted, welcomed and celebrated. On May 5, 2006 at The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Rabbi Schweitzer will be formally installed as the first Humanistic rabbi in New York. Special guest, Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, will officiate at the ceremony.

[…] Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963, is one of five denominations in Jewish life and has communities and congregations throughout the world. Humanistic Jews define Judaism as the human-centered history, culture, values, and shared experiences of the Jewish people. Humanistic Jews celebrate holidays and life-cycle events with innovative rituals and language that are consistent with their secular humanist values and beliefs.

Secular holidays? Reminds me of an NPR skit from April Fool’s day some years ago, involving the Church of Secular Humanism. Every year on Darwin Day, the children would dress up as gorillas and go from house to house asking for bananas.

[…] In 1979, newly ordained, Rabbi Schweitzer served a congregation in Indianapolis. But doubts arose as he questioned the message he was espousing. Yet his commitment to Jewish life was deep. The son of a German refugee, he was also the great-grandson of the renowned constitutional lawyer and Jewish civic leader, Louis Marshall. Even though he left the rabbinate, he continued to foster and study Jewish identity. For 25 years, he amassed one of the most significant collections of Jewish Americana, with more than 10,000 items and artifacts, which he recently donated to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

In 1992, when he discovered Humanistic Judaism, he realized that he had found a home again. "Humanistic Judaism was not a choice in my youth," Rabbi Schweitzer said, "otherwise it would have been very compelling. But now we can raise our children in this movement and also find a meaningful identity for ourselves. Equally important, today we have our own rabbinic institution. Young women and men can choose this route and not take the long away around that I did." Today, Rabbi Schweitzer also serves as president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.

Since joining Humanistic Judaism, Rabbi Schweitzer has been a prolific writer. In addition to writing the congregation's Humanistic services for High Holidays, Shabbat celebrations, weddings, babynamings and funerals, he contributes to Moment Magazine's "Ask the Rabbi" column, he is the author of "The Liberated Haggadah: A Passover Celebration for Cultural, Secular and Humanistic Jews," "The Guide for a Humanistic Bar/Bat Mitzvah" and "A Modern Lamentation: A Memorial to 9/11."

Why do you celebrate the Sabbath if you don’t really think it’s a commandment from God? If it's just a party, what difference does the day make? Why celebrate the Passover if you don’t really think someone or something actually passed over? It reminds me of the fake Druids that run around Stonehenge every Samhain – who are they trying to kid? Us? Or themselves?

[…] 7:15 pm, at the Village Community School auditorium, 272 West 10th Street in the West Village of Manhattan. Information is available online at or at 212-213-1002.

I’m sure Humanistic Jews will soon have full intercommunion with the Humanistic Christians in the Episcopal Church (USA) and other mainline denominations.

I can hardly wait for someone to found the Society for Humanistic Islam. They will still blow you up; they just won’t have any particular reason for it.