What does a Secular Humanistic rabbi do?

On every rabbinic ordination certificate are the words “to teach” and “to judge.”  That’s the core of what rabbis in every movement do.

First, we teach.  But before we teach, we have to learn.  Secular Humanistic rabbis learn Jewish history and language, about holidays and life cycles, about Jewish texts and about pastoral care.  We teach adults and children in formal settings and as part of our holiday and life cycle observances.

But we also teach by example.  We uphold Secular Humanistic Jewish values by visiting the sick, by exhibiting kindness and patience and humor, by speaking out against racism and violations of human rights.  We hope that when you see us embodying these values, you’ll also be inspired to act.

This kind of teaching is what all rabbis of all movements do.  But Secular Humanistic rabbis also teach about the diversity of the Jewish people.  We help you to find your place in the Jewish world by showing you that what you believe and what you are interested in exist in the Jewish universe and that your way of being Jewish is just fine, not less, not other, but perfectly legitimate.  We teach you that you belong.

The second job of the rabbi, to judge, is different.  Religious rabbis judge both ritual and ethical questions, from whether your chicken is kosher to whether someone has cheated at business.  Secular Humanistic rabbis – along with some rabbis of other liberal denominations – help you to judge.  When you come to us with an ethical dilemma, we know how to ask the questions that allow you to explore your own feelings and ideas about how to act.  We are not the authorities on the answers you should come to – we are the guides to help you find your own path to answers.

Although “smikah” – rabbinic ordination – gives the authority and responsibility to teach and judge, modern rabbis, particularly Secular Humanistic rabbis, have the responsibility of creating and supporting community.  Our primary connection to our Jewishness is not a relationship with a god, it’s a relationship with our community.  It’s really hard to be Jewish alone – our job is to make sure you are not alone, that you have a welcoming and supporting Jewish community that accepts and enjoys you and your family just as you are.

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