Chichester Humanists is a local branch of West Sussex Humanists and represents the interests of the non-religious residents in and around Chichester.

Each month we discuss issues concerning religion and belief, ethics, equality, human rights and science, including current events.

We liase with Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council on matters concerning equality of religion and belief, and monitor Council activities, including proposals for new "faith" schools.

We are keen to campaign on behalf of non-religious residents who feel disadvantaged because of their beliefs, e.g. access to a community school, discrimination at work or through the delivery of local services.

We organise events and displays, invite prominent speakers, and give talks to local organisations, including schools and colleges.

We meet once a month in Muchos Nachos140 Whyke Rd, Chichester PO19 8HT (tel: 01243 785 009)

Meetings are from 7.30pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Instead of membership subscriptions, there is a £3 entrance charge for meetings with speakers (usual concessions).

If you would like to meet some local freethinkers and have a chat, please come along and join us at the next meeting. Look out for the poster above.

For more details, email Julian.

Being freethinkers there are many things secular humanists will not agree on, but there are some matters on which we do take a firm and unanimous stand. We do not condone prejudice of any sort. Nor do we hate religious people. Such views are entirely contrary to any humanist philosophy and we reserve the right to exclude any person promoting them.

Who is a Jew? talk by Ivor Richards at Chichester Humanists 18th August 2014


Ivor Richards, vice president of the Sussex Jewish Representative Council, began by giving us a brief history of Judaism. It all started with Abraham 3500 years ago, who is said to have founded the world's first monotheistic religion.

His son was called Isaac. The sons of Isaac were Jacob and Esau. Jacob's name was changed to Israel by an angel. He fathered 12 children corresponding to the 12 tribes called the children of Israel. These tribes inherited the promised land and divided it into sections so that there should not be a dispute over land. The southern part was called Judea; hence the name Jew.

Ivor went on to describe the types of Jewish group that exist today.

  • Ultra orthodox: absolutist, extreme right, proliferating in Israel through a high birth rate (go forth and multiply)
  • Traditional modern orthodox: based on the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) and the Talmud (how to apply the rules of the Torah) and the Mishna (commentaries on the Talmud)
  • Reformed: how to apply the rules for living well in the modern world, started by Mendelssohn in Germany
  • Progressive: mostly in America, Jews can be fathered by a Jew (unlike in the UK, where the line of descent is matriarchal, a practice dating from the 13th century based on the fact that there is certainty who the mother of a child is)
  • Secular: born of Jewish parents, ignorant of Judaism

Ivor estimated that there are around 5000 Jews in the Brighton area. Usually around 200 attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Worldwide there are around 15 million Jews, mostly in Israel and the USA. There are around 280 000 Jews in the UK. Spread throughout 104 countries, there is no stereotypical Jew. Israelis have a 'can do' approach to life.

Of the three types of historical Jew (Priests, Levites and Teachers), Ivor is a Levite. Along with Priests, they no longer have a role in Judaism. Rabbis are the teachers and the reason why Judaism has survived for so long. They conduct prayers in the synagogue and organise charitable works. Women can now be rabbis in reformed and progressive Judaism.

Regarding Christianity, Jesus is considered a pdrophet. The Messiah is yet to come and will unite the Northern (destroyed) and Southern kingdoms. He will be a descendant of David and reign at the end of days.

On the Torah, Ivor said that the most repeated rule is Respect the stranger.

There followed a question and answer session.

Q: Are Jews cleverer than the average person, bearing in mind the number of Nobel prizes they have received?
A: The Jewish community has a strong cultural support of education, which probably explains a lot of the achievements of Jews in many areas, including music, entertainment, science and commerce.

Q: What is a Jewish marriage?
A: A Jewish marriage is a contract given by the husband to the wife's mother and which protects the wife/widow/daughters more than UK law. It existed at least 2000 years ago and was developed for land/wealth unions and other political reasons.

Q: What is the difference between the Jewish Beth Din courts and the Sharia courts?
A: The Beth Din says that the law of the land takes precedence and is only used when both parties agree to participate; there is no coercion on the Jewish population or the state. Sharia wants its priniciples to be recognised in UK law; some claim that women are coerced into attending a Sharia court rather than a UK court. Related to the marriage question, a woman in a religious Jewish marriage can only get divorced if the husband gives her a GET. If this is refused, the (chained) woman may spend years trying to get a GET in the Beth Din courts. Ivor considers this a stain on orthodox Judaism.

Q: Jews are considered a race in UK law. Are Jews a race?
A: Although Jewish identity has multiple threads, genetic research shows that Jews are a distinct group of people.

Q: What is Zionism?
A: It is the love of the land of Israel. Political Zionism started in France following false accusations against an army officer named Alfred Dreyfus. Philosopher Theodor Herzl argued that it was impossible for Jews to be fully assimilated in Europe and that they should form their own state in Argentina or, his preference, Palestine. In the early 1900s the British government offered Jews part of Uganda but this was rejected on the grounds that there were no historic ties to the land and that it might prevent Jews creating a state in Palestine.

Q: How does the Hebrew language cope with the modern world?
A: Hebrew was a dead language. Following the influx of Jews into Israel in 1860-1880, modern words were gradually added to the mere 8000 in the bible (the bible is difficult to translate because of the impoverished language). Yiddish is a combination of German and Hebrew.

Q: Do you need religion to be a good person?
A: No, it's common sense.

Q: Is religion divisive?
A: It is a structure that can be abused.

Q: Is circumcision child abuse?
A: It happens at the age of 7 days so the person has no memory of it. There is no reason for it in the scriptures. It is one of the requirements to enter into a covenant with God. [We can assume from Ivor's answer that he does not consider circumcision to be child abuse]

Q: What about Kosher meat and animal cruelty?
A: UK law requires animals to be stunned prior to slaughter. [This is incorrect. Kosher and Halal slaughter is exempt from the normal requirement to stun prior to slaughter]

There was also a discussion about present day Israel and the conflict in Gaza. Ivor took the view that, following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas (elected by 40%) launched rockets from inside mosques, schools and hospitals. The Israelis recently tried to destroy Hamas' ability to attack them. He considers Hamas to be unaccountable to the population, in contrast to the government of Israel.

We also touched on the case of a Jewish couple not being able to have their child join a Jewish state school, despite the father being Jewish and the Italian mother converting to Judaism. The court ruled that the school was being racist. We didn't have time to discuss Ivor's views on the place of religion in schools.

We thanked Ivor for a most interesting and friendly talk.



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