Ethical Society??

What are the origins of “Ethical Society”? My sense is that it is a “religion” that is a spin-off of Unitarianism or Judaism. It seems that Jews (or at least former Jews) are members of an “Ethical Society”. I see in the marriage section of the NYTimes that people, often with Jewish last names, got married at the “Ethical Society” of this place or that. Or I have seen announcements about discussions, meetings, concerts, and similar taking place at an “Ethical Society”. A Jewish friend disagreed that Ethical Societies were an off-shoot of Judaism. Anyone have any ideas about where this religion or movement came from and what it believes? Is it uniquely American? More northeast U.S. than elsewhere?

it is a non-theistic organization, similiar to the Humanist Soceity.

Hmmm. According to this site,, it is a religious, philosophical and educational movement.

It’s a ‘religion’ for ‘religious humanists’ , many of whom are in agreement with the Humanist Manifesto I and/or II. Most are non-theistic, deistic, or believe in an impersonal God. People of Jewish descent, usually from Reform or irreligious backgrounds often are very prominent; so are people of fairly high academic achievement. Most members and attendees are upper-middle class or well-to-do. They tend to have relatively few minority members, except as noted a moment ago. The movement has no historic links to Christianity, unlike Unitarian-Universalism, and this gives them broader appeal than the U-U church. While some new-age or Eastern mysticism may be favored by some attendees, many find their ‘spirituality’ in political and/or social action (invariably liberal), the arts, or philosophy. I attended the St. Louis Ethical Society once or twice many years ago-dunno that I can fill you in much more than this, given my limited experience. Hope this helps though!

La Chiara,

The connection that is sometimes made between Judaism and the Ethical Culture Movement, the umbrella of the Ethical Societies, springs from the fact that Felix Adler*, the founder of the movement, was a Jew and the son of a prominent rabbi of the times. Flameburns has pretty well described the entity and it certainly maintains an attraction for humanistic Jews, who may be put off by the ties - however loose - of Unitarian-Universalism to Christianity.

Although I haven’t looked at it recently, the movement’s website, to which Tantum Ergo posted a link above, has always had a lot of info available on it.

Many years,


*If the name is familiar, Adler was a well-known social reformer of the early 20th century and has likely been encountered in that guise by any who ever took intro sociology, history of social work, history of education, etc. Should you want to learn more about him, personally, be advised that there was a famous Ringling Brothers clown by the same name, with whom he shouldn’t be confused. And, no, he was not related to Mortimer Adler.

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