Civil-Ritual Judaism in the 21st Century
For those of us who are a part of Civil-Ritual Jewish communities, being Jewish is not about adhering to and worshiping religious ideology, rather being Jewish is about celebrating, remembering, and preserving Jewish culture and identity by living it, this ethnic way of ours, on a daily basis. We achieve this through observing Torah established civil-ritual law, mitzvot, and emphasizing humanistic social justice actions both within Israel and in whatever host countries our communities happen to reside in. At first appearance we appear as a community of Jews to be very ethnic in look and behavior and very religious about this, very similar in a manner to more traditional “religious” Jewish communities. But, the similarities pretty much end here, for we do not spend our days living in prayer books or turning every movement of our lives into a ritualistic “commanded me to do” lifestyle. We are about living life, living it ethnically like our ancient Jewish ancestors, albeit in a modern evolved but rooted in the past humanistic way. We are about living life in the present and very pragmatically. We are about embracing our humaness in geniune honesty, rather than attempting to (futilely, we believe) transcend it. We are not practitioners of religious Judaism! We respect the religious works of Talmud and Mishnah, even seek counsel with them, but do not adhere to religious Judaism’s halakhah as binding upon us. Instead, we embrace Torah’s Judaism and Torah’s nationalistic oriented mitzvot, civil-ritual laws, with an emphasis on rendering them relevant to our generation’s day and age in historical time. In other words, we bring into the present world our ancient Israeli way of civil-religious life, without the added hermeneutics and legal trappings of modern tenet/faith based halakhic lifestyles. We strive within our communities to be a real and relevant representation of ancient Israeli ethnic way of life, and to encapsulate through our represented lifestyle the ancient Torah focus on nationalism, ethnic uniqueness, and social justice. We emphasize humanistic action over theology, leaving theistic to non-theistic beliefs to the inner realms of each community member’s individual psyche. We espouse Torah’s theology of formless immanence, the responsibility of citizen behavioral action, and its simple and clear eschatology for the family-nation-hood of Israel. We are about mitzvot in our lives, about community action to remember and enhance Jewish history and language and way of life, and showing with our actions – not so much our words – what being Jewish is really all about. In the next paragraphs you will get a taste of what a Civil-Ritual Jewish community – a Traditional Humanistic Jewish community – looks and feels like.
For us, being Torah Jewish is all about living life together as a Torah centered ethnic Jewish community. It’s about living a modern traditional ethnic life focused on the continuance of our family-nation Israel into the future, in whatever land based form this ultimately takes. We recognize that wherever our traditional ethnic Jewish communities reside within this world, we are a living representative piece of Israel within our homes and communities centers, establishers of Israeli civil-ritual ground. We strive to be geographically local based as much as possible, meaning members of our traditional Civil-Ritual Jewish communities living as relatively close to each other as possible, to make possible walking to and from each other’s homes and our community center of learning, celebration, and ritual. We are always open to and welcoming, as well, of all Jews who happen in to visit us and share time with us. We emphasize the importance of living by Torah law, as we modern-ly humanistic-ally apply it (local customs), within our homes and community center and when congregating together as a community (social gatherings, business interactions, ritual events, etc). Outside of Israel proper, the land boundaries of Israel, these are the only places where mitzvot legally applies in any true sense of the word. Beyond our community boundaries, it is the local host nation’s civil-ritual laws that are binding and mitzvot is not “legally” enforceable (but, highly encouraged, none the less!). This “orthodox”-like understanding is based thoroughly in what Torah establishes about Israel, her laws, the responsibility of her citizens, and the purpose for Israel’s existence. Hence, the traditional Jewish campfire zimrot, “Make aliyah to Israel, for the mitzvot don’t count here.” Well, we believe they do count, at least in our Israeli represented places.
When it comes to what we look and feel like as a community, it is all in how we approach mitzvot. We believe the fulfillment of Torah eschatology is in the humanistic application of Torah’s nation-based civil-ritual laws. Torah is our document of Teaching. It is the embodiment of our ancestor’s legends and national constitution for the family-nation of Israel. It is our foundation and guide from which to define ourselves as a Jewish ethnicity within this world. We believe that every generation makes this covenant of responsibility to preserve and protect what our ancestors started, and expresses it in a way relevant to our present day human awareness of this reality we call Life. So, tradition and, thus, Torah is an ever evolving experience for the Jewish family-nation. We embrace all of it, the good and the bad, and seek to sanctify the present living of ancestral established Torah life in a way that is meaningful and evolves Jewish experience in a positive way for our future generations.
So, how do we do this – preserve the Torah way of life – as a community of Traditional Humanistic Jews? As Jews that may or may not be theistic in personal beliefs of expression but are committed to living Torah as an ethnic way of life for our people? It starts with the wrestling with and observance of mitzvot within our individual and community lives, adding on to this a directed attention upon living the Jewish experience through our ritual and social actions. This starts within the home of every Jewish family. Being Jewish is about living the Jewish way of life. You don’t have to subscribe to “tenants of faith” and “religious ideology” to achieve this within your home, unless this happens to be what you need to live the Jewish life. You can equally be “religious” in a secular way, albeit a ritualized secular way, and Torah’s intent for Israel and the Jewish people is authentically being fulfilled in doing this. See our page on what Torah establishes is a Jewish way of life and who is legally a Jew.
Within the Civil-Ritual Jewish community, living Jewishly begins at home, through performing the daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly civil-religious rituals that define who we are and what we are about as Jews, and that remind us to teach this way to the future generations. This means performing Torah established mitzvot in the modernly applicable way that brings about sanctity of life within the Jewish community, and that preserves the continuity in historical time with our ancient ancestors. From the home is then what we do as a community together, whether through civil-ritual functions, community education and support, or actions to encourage social justice in this world. It means dressing Jewishly when socializing together, and teaching our children to imbue and mark time with humanistic oriented rituals and blessings, so they are inspired to continue the Jewish way of life into the ever fast-paced and changing future.
Civil-Ritual Jews, aka Traditional Humanistic Jews, wear tefillin on a daily basis during morning remembrance and declarations. We wear the tallit with tzitzit during morning and evening remembrance and declarations, any time we congregate together for a meal or ritual festivity, and all throughout Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Both the men and women are encouraged to wear these ethnic Jewish dress-wear, kipas are a popular added form of wear during social gatherings and the type is the preference of the individual, and beyond this it is a matter of individual and predominant social custom as to what to wear or not to wear as a Jew. The concept of tsiniyut, not drawing attention to oneself, is dictated by what is most natural of attire within the greater community around us that we live. So, for an extreme example to clearly illustrate this point, a Civil-Ritual Jew or Jewish family living in a naturist community (social nudism) would wear no clothing most of the time, save for that of these ritual garments during Jewish civil-ritual moments (Torah does allow this!). If the community a Civil-Ritual Jewish family lives in requires clothing from head to toes, then that is what you’d wear (the local clothes custom), adding to this Jewish ethnic wear at Torah mandated and/or Jewish community times.
Civil-Ritual Jews keep the Shabbat, religiously! Secular humanistic religiously. It is the Taking-Rest day. We also keep the Torah mandated yearly seasonal chag festivals. On days where work is not permitted, we do not engage in employment activities, nor do we even talk about such activities. The only exception to this is when it is necessary to save a life. On days where kindling fire is not permitted, we do not cook meals during those sunset to sunset hours and leave powered devices connected to time-able, as needed, sources of ever flowing power. On shabbat days, we stay at home during the evening and welcome in Shabbat through humanistic worded and expressed rituals and blessings, and walk to the community center during the day to socialize with other Jewish families within the community. We perform a community Amidah on this day, then rest in playful freedom together from the busy-ness of our weekly lives. Community Torah readings are done throughout the six days of the week during evening hours, after evening remembrance and declarations.
Our community center of learning and ritual is comprised of a large assembly size center room that has an entrance from other rooms on the West side and an entrance on the East side that leads to a secluded garden for meditation/reflection. On the north and South walls are library shelves, housing the community books of study, and in the center of the room is a stand housing the Torah scrolls. The rest of the room is unfurnished when using it for chanting/blessing assemblies, or is furnished as needed for specific functions. The other rooms are for education classes, and their is a kosher kitchen. As Civil-Ritual Jews, we value the importance of providing our youth with a sound education in both secular knowledge and Jewish ethnic lifestyle knowledge. Outside of in the individual homes, this is where learning in language, archaeological history, science, the arts, and so forth occur. As a community we support the community center financially and in regular presence and participation. Instead of a Siddur, a “religious” prayer book, we utilize amongst our communities a common Sefer Mevarchim, a book of blessings and ritual how-to tips. This sefer is not a set in stone, never to likely change again institutionalized set of words. Rather, it is a living quick checklist that is ever evolving as our community evolves in understanding and in expression of Jewish rituals, done humanistic style.
Civil-Ritual Jews understand the importance of having and using regularly a mikvah to fulfill various Torah expected immersions and personal ones, as needed by Jews. Ideally, a Civil-Ritual community has two mikvahs, one natural and one man-made that is available for community use. The natural mikvah is for those inclined to seek a natural earth made body of water to ritually refresh (sanctify through dipping) his/her naked body before whoever is presence amongst the community at the time to witness the immersion. For those who are body shy and/or need a more individually private or gender-specific private, the man-made mikvah is located behind a natural stone wall to the side of the garden, and only requires the witnessing of those chosen to attend for this ritual immersion.
Civil-Ritual Jews are big fans of every established Jewish holiday we can get our hands on, for it is an opportunity to congregate together, to eat together, to sing Israeli folksongs together, to do Torah activities where such apply, to re-enact historical way of life and origins of holidays, and to make humanistic-ally worded blessings to mark these special occasions. We also observe bar/bat mitzvah for our coming of age children, perform Jewish weddings, brit milah for male infants, and respect our deceased loves ones through Torah mandated burial and yearly remembrances. Civil-Ritual Judaism, though humanistic and non-theistic in its approach to Jewish way of life is fully traditional. The reason for this is because we understand that there needs to be a degree of religiosity in our secular observance of ethnic Jewish lifestyle to ensure proper passing down of a living traditional way of life, as was first instituted by our Israeli ancestors multi-thousands of year ago. To preserve the continuity of Jewish tradition and culture throughout the generations, as insisted upon all Jews by Torah constitutional civil-ritual law.
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