Celebration is a human need. Celebrations dramatize our commitments to people and ideas. Community festivals reinforce group solidarity. Because ancient peoples deemed supernatural power essential to human welfare, prayer, worship and divination accompanied traditional festivals. A festival with worship rituals was a holyday, or holiday.
Priestly and rabbinic Judaism promoted rituals, both for holidays and for daily living that reinforced Jewish solidarity and sought to guarantee divine support for group survival. Humanistic Jews recognize the value of celebration as a vehicle for group togetherness. Humanistic celebrations dramatize the accomplishments of people, the importance of community and the natural phenomena that exist to support it. Humanistic Jews observe Jewish holidays and life cycles, drawing on the full spectrum of Jewish tradition and culture to create meaningful ceremonies that enrich our lives and connect us to our history and our future as one people.
Bringing in Shabbat
Shabbat is the only Jewish holiday celebrated weekly. Congregation Beth Adam brings in Shabbat on the 3rd Friday of each month with a family potluck dinner and service. It is a wonderful time to join with family, friends and the Jewish community and to affirm our connection to Humanistic Judaism. We celebrate three rituals during our Shabbat.
Humanistic Jews find in candlelight a reflection of the human spirit. In lighting candles we seek connection with the past, with each other and with ourselves. Candles, at their brightest, communicate strength, vitality, vision and warmth. As they burn down to nothingness, they demonstrate the fragility of life. Humanistic candle blessings are blessings of peace and light in the world.
Wine is as familiar in Jewish ceremonies as are candles. Since the beginning of the rabbinic period, the blessing of wine has been a part of the Jewish celebration in addition to weddings and birth ceremonies.
Wine is the fruit of the vine, the symbol of earth’s bounty. It is symbolic of prosperity and joy, an affirmation of life. Rather than praising divine power, the humanistic blessing of wine is a blessing of peace, an acknowledgement of the accomplishments of human beings.
We bless the bread in the same spirit as the wine. It is a symbol of the fullness of the earth and the labor of mankind in bringing it to our tables. We are thankful that we are sitting with family, friends and members from the community, enjoying the peace and joy of our celebration.
A blessing, (b’rakha) is a statement that begins with the word b’rukh (“blessed”). It is a verbal formula that did not exist in biblical Judaism, but was created by the rabbis. As a statement of worship, it became the central feature of rabbinic, or Orthodox, Judaism. According to the rabbis, a b’rakah should be uttered upon engaging in any positive activity, whether practical or ritual.
Humanistic Jews affirm human power. Humanistic Jews respond verbally to human achievement and to natural beauty. Even the word b’rukh is appropriate, with the understanding that human beings, not an external supernatural force do and receive the blessing. B’rukh may be freely translated in many ways: precious, radiant, wonderful, beautiful, as well as blessed.
Humanistic Jews see Rosh Hashanah as a time for renewal, reflection and new beginnings. Our focus is on the affirmation of human power and human dignity. Rosh Hashanah is a time to consider the possibilities for change, improvement and happiness we can create for ourselves as human beings. Through acknowledging human courage and independence we can achieve human dignity.
As the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah marks a turning point, a separation between what was and what can be. It offers a time for Humanistic Jews to pause in their daily lives and reflect on their behavior and renew their commitment to their highest values. The creative liturgies used by Humanistic Jewish communities on Rosh Hashanah reflect these themes.
Congregation Beth Adam views Yom Kippur as a time for continued reflection, a time to examine human behavior and contemplate beneficial change. History has taught that we must rely on ourselves to create change in our society.
Adapting the form of our meditations to the context of our message, Humanistic Jews make Yom Kippur a celebration of inner strength and a time for self- forgiveness.
Passover, which begins on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, is the great spring celebration of the Jewish people. The holiday commemorates the Biblical exodus or escape from slavery in ancient Egypt. The familiar tale is retold each year at the traditional seder dinner. Humanistic Jews view Passover as a celebration of freedom and national unity. Many times in their history Jews have struggled for freedom or have sought escape from persecution. Passover is the time to celebrate the modern as well as the ancient quest for freedom. Congregation Beth Adam has a tradition of holding a community seder with a special Haggadah, meaningful music and festivity, on the second night of Passover. It is a great time to celebrate with family, friends, both old and new.
Congregation Beth Adam also enjoys celebrating Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim and Tu B’Shevat with the students in the Children’s Education Program.