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What Does It Mean to be Jewish?

Fifth Biennial Conference
Moscow Russia, September 1994

In 1988, at its Second Biennial Conference in Brussels, the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews declared: “Â…a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identities with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.”


The worldwide Secular Humanistic Jewish movement has grown to include many individuals and communities that wish to participate in building a contemporary form of Jewishness and to define more precisely the meaning of their identification with the Jewish people.


There is no single way to be Jewish. Jewish identity is a developing historical phenomenon. Jews in many places throughout history have developed varied ways to affirm and express their identity. Secular Humanistic Judaism recognizes this pluralism, both within the Jewish people as a whole and among Secular Humanistic Jews, as an essential feature of Jewish life. An integral part of Jewish identity is a deep attachment to the state of Israel, its culture, and its people.


Secular Humanistic Jews seek to make their words and actions reflect their convictions.


Accordingly, the International Federation affirms that:


  • Secular Humanistic Jews make no distinction of any kind among Jews who, regardless of parentage, have chosen to identify with the Jewish people.


  • Secular Humanistic Jews derive inspiration, appreciation, and enlightenment from Jewish experience and creativity, both past and present, as well as from the experience and creativity of other cultures.


  • Secular Humanistic Jews encourage and support activities that promote the continued development of Jewish identity.


  • Secular Humanistic Jews, by forming and joining Secular Humanistic Jewish communities, organizations, and schools, gain the opportunity to reinforce their group identity, to enrich their Jewish experience, to learn more about the meaning of Jewishness, and to cultivate Jewish identification among children and youth.


  • Secular Humanistic Jews actively explore ways to make Jewishness a meaningful part of their solidarity with Jews everywhere. These ways may include:


Studying Jewish history, literature, and culture as a means of understanding the full scope of the Jewish experience, and particularly its secular and humanistic dimensions.


Celebrating Jewish holidays and life cycle ceremonies as cultural expressions of the cycles of nature and human life and of events in Jewish history. Secular Humanistic Jews feel free to adopt aspects of traditional observances that they find meaningful and to adapt others – or to create new forms – that meet the needs of present and future generations.


Learning and using one or more Jewish languages, particularly Hebrew, the historic language if the Jewish people and the modern language of the State of Israel, as well as Yiddish, Ladino and other Jewish languages. Each of these languages adds its unique contribution to Jewish and human culture, and each provides intimate contact with the memories, creativity, and values of the Jewish people.


Following ethical standards the rest on such humanistic values as personal autonomy, dignity, justice, and resistance to tyranny, exploitation, and oppression – values that flow from the experience and literature of the Jewish people.


Participating in the work of the wider Jewish community and defending the human rights of all people everywhere.We stand ready to serve the needs and the future of Russian Jewry.


The International Federation
for Secular and  Humanistic Judaism

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