The End of Jewish Guilt

Editor’s Note: The third and last Rabbi featured in the series on non-believing clergy guilt doesn’t feel any guilt! How did he manage to avoid it? By becoming a Rabbi at a humanistic Jewish congregation, a subject he wrote about earlier here. While he didn’t respond to my series of questions, he did respond with a hopeful message for all non-believing clergy.


By Jeff Falick

After reading over these questions about clergy guilt, I realized that they really do not apply to me. Once I realized that I could no longer function as a conventional “believing” member of the clergy, I was so fortunate to find meaningful work as a Secular Humanistic rabbi.

As I have entered the world of “Congregational Humanism,” as I like to call it, I have had the honor of meeting Humanistic clergy from other traditions, notably those from Humanistic Unitarian-Universalist congregations and from the American Ethical Union. One such meeting took place at Linda LaScola’s home on the morning of the June 2016 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. It was there that I met Amanda Poppei, leader of the Washington Ethical Society. The result of our conversation was the first ever modern-era gathering of Humanistic clergy this past March. Over two days at her congregation, we enjoyed a remarkable opportunity to discuss our unique roles in the vanguard of nontheistic religion.

humanist clergy 5-17

Throughout the event—which was covered by The Washington Post—I frequently thought about our colleagues in the Clergy Project, particularly those still in “the closet.” Here we sat openly discussing our work in godless congregations while so many others who believe exactly as we do are forced to suffer in silence. As a gay man, it reminded me of nothing more than my days in that particular closet as I watched “out and proud” LGBTQ+ people openly organizing.

The Clergy Project provides a crucial service to those who are transitioning from traditional belief systems and seeking support or even new careers. I would like to extend an invitation to the members to think about working as Humanistic clergy. We who do this work employ the same skill set as other clergy. But we put it to use in the service of Humanism, rather than God.

Certainly it is difficult—nearly impossible—to find full-time employment as we lucky few have done. Yet there is so much room for this movement to grow and we who are fortunate to do this work have discovered that a need absolutely exists. The number of nontheists in this country is growing and many of them will be seeking communities to replace the churches and synagogues in which they were raised.

For most who choose this path it will not provide full-time work. Yet I know many clergy, both conventional and Humanist, who work part-time with fellowships and congregations.

Imagine how much more quickly Congregational Humanism would grow if more members of the Clergy Project now exiting their closets chose to build new communities that reflect their newfound commitments! Who better to help build capacity for our hoped-for future wave of (nontheistic) religion?

Please consider joining us!

Bio: Jeffrey L. Falick is the rabbi of The Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Ordained by the (theistic) Reform Jewish movement, he later became associated with Secular Humanistic Judaism, an approach that combines adherence to nontheism with a celebration of Jewish culture and life. He serves as president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis and on the Executive Committee of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He blogs on the Patheos atheist channel as The Atheist Rabbi.

>>Photo Credits:  By Jeff Falick, personal photo 2017



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  • Maura Hart

    no guilt!!! are they lucky or what!!! they were deluded, now they see but whatever they said or did during their delusionary clerical lives, bingo bango bongo ! gone! and guilt! gone! lucky!!!

    • mason

      “they” really do not have the bingo bango bongo experience you describe Maura. Nothing could be further than the truth of what happens. Jeff is the first apostate I’ve come across, out of hundreds, to say there was no guilt (regret) for what the taught/preached. Possibly were dealing with semantics, but I’ve asked a couple follow up questions as I’m also curious.

      • Linda_LaScola

        FYI — Jeff responded (I saw it) but then his comment disappeared when he tried to correct a typo. Maybe he’ll try to recreate it later.

        • mason

          yep, notice the same … was wondering if I imagined it 🙂

        • ElizabetB.

          I had that experience a while back… email showed a reply to me, but it wasn’t on the site. I thought maybe the writer knew a way to send an email without its showing up publicly so didn’t respond except to add a reply to an earlier comment
          to say “Thank you for the additional input.” Wonder what’s up!!

    • My career was pretty much always more about cultural Judaism. Please see what I wrote above in my comment.

      • Maura Hart

        sure. and how did you treat women in your congregation or what you had? and gays? so loving the jewish god. murderous racist capricious god you finally reallized was myth and allegory and metaphor and garbled oral history! without guilt! yaya!!!

        • Maura: I’m sorry if this comes off rudely, but you really need to update yourself about the varieties of Judaism. Your comment reveals a great deal of ignorance on these matters. Reform Jews have been fully inclusive of women for decades. Gay rabbis abound. One of the most prominent rabbis in the movement is transgender. When I came out as gay I was working at Hillel at the University of Miami. They celebrated me and my decision and later embraced my partner (now husband). When I was hired at the JCC, I was openly gay and it came up exactly zero times. Everyone knew. I grew up in the neighborhood. An Orthodox rabbi who lived nearby tried to make an issue of it and my future boss told him to shove it up his hoo-hah. Clearly Orthodox Judaism has a loooooooooong way to go on all of these issues. But I was NOT an Orthodox Jew. I was a Reform Jew surrounded by a bunch of left-wing liberals. (And, by the way, young Orthodox Jews are beginning to rebel against their rabbis’ and parents’ feelings about LGBTQ+ people. But that’s another story for another time.)

          • mason

            Thanks, very elucidating Jeffry.

  • mason

    Jeff, “Non-Theistic Religion.” That sure has a lovely ring to it and maybe be an excellent spring board of hope for those making their exodus from irrational religious beliefs. I’ll share this article with The Clergy Project. Thanks.

    • Linda_LaScola

      Clarification — I did not mention any “teaching and preaching” in Jeff’s past. As I recall, he was not in congregational ministry before becoming a humanistic rabbi. Perhaps he will clarify further.

      • mason

        In the previous article link you provided Jeff writes, “As an administrator and programmer with no liturgical duties.” So technically that’s not preaching-teaching but is a General behind the front lines exempt from what the troops do in battle? An administrator is certainly a part of the propaganda machine.

        So what’s Jewish Alzheimer’s disease? You forget everything but the guilt. 🙂 I thought Jews were the connoisseurs of guilt, taking it to an art form. Maybe Jeff is the exception? 🙂

        • Linda_LaScola

          I remember the first time I really got to know a Jewish guy, it was clear that we had a lot in common, just in conversational style. When we talked in depth about his upbringing, I learned how similar his culture (not his religion) was to my experience in an Italian-American family – Lots of food, holidays, yelling, straight-talk, guilt. But in both cases, the guilt wasn’t related to religion, it was related to our mother’s expectations.

          I’m not saying this is the case with all Jews/Italians — I know the Catholic church pushes a lot of guilt on people for not following the rules of the church, but I wasn’t engaged enough (and my mother wasn’t really engaged at all) with the church to feel that.

          • Maura Hart

            catholics say the jews invented guilt but the catholics refined it

          • ElizabetB.

            At a dinner party we were invited to years ago, a Catholic was talking about ‘Catholic guilt.’ A Jewish man exclaimed, ” ‘Catholic guilt’?! We *invented* guilt!’ ” I don’t remember how the contest ended but I was impressed. I had always felt pretty guilty myself as a Protestant! : )

        • Maura Hart

          what is irish alzheimers? you forget everything but the grudges

          • mason

            🙂 or where to find the whisky ….

        • I wrote a new reply and addressed Jewish guilt above.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Jeff is a member of The Clergy Project. That’s why he was at my Reason rally Breakfast. My husband invited Amanda Poppei, as he is a member of The Washington Ethical Society.

    I’m delighted that it worked out the way it did.

  • ElizabetB.

    Thanks so much for the great links and resources! It’s fascinating to see the evolution and new connections. These congregations may be seriously important politically, as per this Vox piece: