Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

Why Do We Blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

For every five Jews there are ten reasons for blowing the Shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana. The Orthodox have their reasons, the Conservatives have their reasons, the Reformed have their reasons, the Reconstructionists have their reasons. Everyone has their reasons! For Humanistic Judaism, Rosh Hashana is a time of looking backwards and looking forwards. Backwards at the year we have just finished, forward at the new year to come. A good time for reflection. A good time for commitment. And so there are a few reasons why we Humanistic Jews blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.

1. Because our Ancestors blew the Shofar on Rosh Hashana!

The attitude of “We’ve always done it that way!” is not always helpful, we know. Clinging to the past can be a problem, if it gets us stuck there and prevents us from enjoying the present or moving into the future. But “Tradition” is not all bad! It helps us remember who we are, where we came from, and the generations who lived and died in this world so that we might also live and die, and pass on a heritage to generations yet to come.

In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra – and He spoke), our Ancestors proclaimed:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying:
In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

and in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar – in the Wilderness):

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you

You want the chapter and verse for these proclamations? Better you should look it up yourself!

As our ancestors did before us, so we do, and so shall our children shall do after us. It is a way of remembering that we are Jews, and proclaiming that memory to the ages.

2. It is our Annual Alarm Clock!

From the end of the High Holidays to their beginning, we go through all the rest of the year about our business of living. And we do not always remember the important things. Especially, we may grow lax in the three principles of Rosh Hashana: Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.

Teshuvah (Returning): A return to our true selves, an honest self-evaluation of the life we have lived during the past year.

Tefillah (Repentance): Being honest about our ethical failures, what can we do in the year ahead to improve?

Tzedakah (Charitable Giving): Giving of ourselves to others in need is a moral obligation, and by offering hope and healing to others, we ourselves become better persons.

Of course we intend to practice Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah every day of the year! But, sometimes we forget, sometimes we fall asleep. The Shofar is our alarm clock.

3. It Makes a lot of Noise!

The ending of the old year is a time of celebration! And what is a celebration without a lot of Noise? On The fourth of July we shoot off fireworks. On Decmeber 31, the civil New Year, we blow horns and employ noisemakers of all kinds. On Erev Rosh Hashana, we blow the Ram’s Horn! For our ancient Ancestors, back before our Jewish ones, all this noise on New Year’s Eve had another important purpose: to scare away any evil spirits that might slip into the world through the crack between the old year and the new. Could this be helpful today? Who knows? It couldn’t hurt!

4. It Honors the King!

Okay, today most of us do not have a king. But our Ancestors did. And whenever the King showed up, trumpets were blown. Today we blow the Shofar to honor what is regal in every human being!

5. The Primal Scream!

Some people say the Shofar sounds like a primal scream out of the depths of time. And they are right. It is the scream of humanity born of fear, hope, rage, joy – the eternal cry for meaning in this universe where we find ourselves.

You know, we could go on and on. Doubtless you know many other good reasons for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, from announcing dinner is served, to reminding our neighbors there are Jews in the neighborhood, to simply “that’s what my family (or my congregation) always did.”

But most of all, it is to proclaim L’Shana Tovah: For A Good Year, a Sweet Year, a Year of Joy and Hope!

~ Walter William Melnyk
Rosh Hashana 5778

Celebrate Erev Rosh Hashana with Am HaHar

HAPPY 5778!

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

The People of the Mountain (Am HaHar) will celebrate Erev Rosh Hashana here on Monteagle/Sewanee Mountain on –

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Gathering: 6:00 – 6:30 PM
Dinner at 6:30 PM

Please make a Reservation, so we know how many people to plan for.
We’ll be gathering at Sue’s house.

If you need directions, just ask in your RSVP message!

Use the contact form on this site or email us at humanisticjewishsewanee@gmail.com

 

A Humanistic Rosh Hashana

Referred to as the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the first month of the lunar calendar. It is the beginning of the 10-day Jewish new year festival, which culminates with Yom Kippur.

Humanistic Jews see Rosh Hashana as a time for renewal, reflection, and new beginnings. Our focus is on the affirmation of human power and human dignity. Rosh Hashana is a time to consider the possibilities for change, improvement, and happiness that we can create for ourselves as human beings. Acknowledging human courage and independence, we can achieve human dignity. 

Humanistic Jewish communities have adapted many of the ceremonies that are part of the rabbinic celebration of Rosh Hashana. As the first day of the Jewish year, Rosh Hashana marks a turning point, a separation between what was and what will 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 Hashana reflect these themes.

Many Humanistic communities sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana, evoking memories of a time when the blasts of the ram’s horn called the Jewish community together in times of danger. Today, the shofar summons Jews around the world to a celebration of renewal, reflection, and commitment to values in action. The four sounds of the shofar are: t’kiah (one long blast), sh’varim (three short blasts), t’ruah (nine quick blasts) and t’kia g’dolah (one very long blast).

The ceremony of Tashlikh, which typically involves visiting a moving body of water and symbolically casting off one’s sins by throwing bread crumbs into the water, often is included in a Humanistic Rosh Hashana observance. Tashlikh allows Humanistic Jews to reflect on their behavior, to cast off behaviors they are not proud of, and to vow to be better people in the year to come. Some Humanistic Jewish communities incorporate the writing of New Year’s resolutions into their Tashlikh ceremonies.

Family Celebrations

In creating family celebrations for Rosh Hashana, you will want to select readings and music that create a balance between self-reflection and renewal of commitment to Humanistic Jewish values. The readings and music should encourage children to begin articulating their values and the behaviors in which they want to engage. Rosh Hashana is a good time to teach children about role models of Humanistic Jewish values. The Tashlikh ceremony can be very powerful (and fun) with children, as can the blowing of the shofar and eating apples and honey. By examining our past behavior, we can learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves and the world around us.

Tashlikh can be done in many different ways. If a flowing body of water is available, take advantage of the opportunity to involve the children in this outdoor ceremony. Use this as a lesson about identifying and letting go of undesired behaviors by throwing bits of bread into the water. It is possible to use bird seed as well. If no such body of water is available, throw bird seed outside and explain that just as we throw the seeds or bread crumbs, so too do we cast off unwanted behaviors. Another alternative is to use large jugs of water and a large bowl or collander. Have the children (and adults) write down behaviors or qualities that they would like to change on slips of paper and pour water over the paper until all the ink disappears.

The shofar is a call to action and commitment to our values. Children love being able to blow their own shofar (inexpensive plastic shofarot are available from most Judaica stores).

Apples and honey are a fun and memorable way to mark the new year together as a family. The sweetness of the honey combined with the tart taste of the apple represents our hope for a year that will be tempered by sweetness and joy. A round challah, often with raisins, also may be dipped in honey, then eaten. The round shape is said to reflect the ongoing cycle of days, seasons and years that make up our lives.

The creative possibilities for this holiday are endless. Although the holiday has serious themes, it is a time for children to begin participating in the behaviors we value. Use this time to make group resolutions about the upcoming year, which can be re-examined the next year, or for children to write short paragraphs on their commitment to Humanistic Jewish values.

Themes of Humanistic Rosh Hashana Celebrations
Self-reflection
Renewal of commitment to Humanistic values and ethics
Putting Humanistic Jewish values into action
New beginnings
Forgiveness
Change
Endings and beginnings
Resolutions for new behavior
Letting go of undesired behaviors or attitudes

We hope you will join us, to bring in the New Year, 5778!

Elul: The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism

Preparing for the High Holidays: How Do You Elul?

Elul ShofarRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of the most well-known days of the Jewish year. Much less famous is the month that precedes them, Elul, which is also considered a time of asking for forgiveness — though unlike the traditional High Holiday liturgy of repentance to God, Elul is when we ask forgiveness directly from the people in our lives who we’ve wronged.

For this reason, David Steiner suggested that Elul, which beings on August 21 this year, is “The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism.” He wrote:

While I appreciate that the Jewish calendar has a ten-day period set aside for personal accounting, I prefer the 29 days set aside for peace between hu/man and her fellow hu/man. This is the month…when we assign ourselves the task of making peace with the people in our lives. One might even say that since Elul precedes Tishrei [the month beginning with Rosh Hashanah], and 29 days are greater than 10, that Judaism puts greater significance on peace among people…. In other words, these are the days that Judaism has set aside for secular humanism, and our efforts — whether we believe in an immanent god or not — should be focused on humanity.

An activist and filmmaker, David Steiner was also studying to become a rabbi at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism when his life was tragically cut short this past December. The coming holiday season without him will no doubt be extremely difficult for his family and to those of us in the movement who knew and loved him.

We take some solace knowing that David’s ideas live on through his films and writing. And we hope that all of us remembering lost loved ones during the High Holidays can draw strength from being part of something larger than ourselves: a community of people that care for one another.

If you do not yet have a place to experience Humanistic High Holiday services, please click here to see times and locations where they are being offered in the U.S. and Canada.

Or join People of the Mountain for our Rosh Hashana celebration.  See details elsewhere on this site.

This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 20th.

God-Optional Judaism

A newly revised book of “Alternatives for Cultural Jews,” by Secular Humanistic Rabbi Judith Seid.

“God-Optional Judaism” is a wonderful, chock-full respource for families and individuals who want to find their place in the Jewish world without necessarily believing in God.  Funny, accessible, and open-minded, the book touches on key elements of Jewish history and philosophy, all of the major holidays (food recipes included!), and contemporary issue of intermarriage, education, conversion, feelings towards Israel, and spirituality.

Available through Jewish Currents:

Judaism God Optional

 

 

Tisha B’Av is July 22nd

TISHA B’AV

Tisha B AvTisha B’Av is the ninth day of the month of Av, which falls during the month of July or August. This day of mourning and fasting traditionally commemorates national calamities, such as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem (by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. and by the Roman general Vespasian in 70 C.E.), the fall of Bar Kokhba’s fortress in 138 C.E., and the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492. Some scholars believe the origins of the holiday lie in primitive people’s fear of the scorching sun at the height of the summer.

Traditional observance of Tisha B’Av focuses on fasting, prayer, reading the Book of Lamentations, and observing prohibitions against certain activities such as getting a haircut, wearing freshly pressed clothing, drinking alcohol, and, in some communities, eating meat.

Humanistic Jews do not observe Tisha B’Av by looking forward to the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, they use this time for reflection and to affirm the power of human connection in times of need and tragedy.

The picture above is of the burning of the Olomouc Synagogue on March 15, 1939, in the first months of the Holocaust.  Observe Tisha B’Av this year with a remembrance of the plight of European Jews in World War II.  Resolve to engage in Tikkun Olam, Repairing of the World, to insure that such horror is never forgotten, and will never happen again.

A Brief Humanistic Observance for a Shavuot Picnic

shavuot

Shavuot literally means “weeks,” so named because the festival is exactly seven weeks (plus one day) from the second night of Passover. It is also called Festival of First Fruits, Hag HaBikkurim, Pentecost, and the Feast of Weeks. This feast, one of three pilgrimage festivals – the other two are Sukkot and Passover – marked the end of the barley and beginning of the wheat harvest. In ancient times, it was probably a midsummer festival taken over from the Canaanite

We rejoice in this blessed time of Shavuot.
                 May everyone have a bountiful harvest.

(The Candles are lit.)
Barukh ha-or ba-olam
Barukh ha-or ba-adam
Barukh ha-or ba-shavuot

                Radiant is the light in the world
               Radiant is the light within people
              Radiant is the light of Shavuot

B’rukhim hamotziim lehem min haaretz.

    Blessed are those who bring forth bread from the earth.

Shavuot is a minor, ancient pilgrimage festival that marked the harvest of barley. Shavuot literally means “weeks,” so named because the festival is exactly seven weeks (plus one day) from the second night of Passover. It is also called Festival of First Fruits, Hag HaBikkurim, Pentecost, and the Feast of Weeks. This feast, one of three pilgrimage festivals – the other two are Sukkot and Passover – marked the end of the barley and beginning of the wheat harvest. In ancient times, it was probably a midsummer festival taken over from the Canaanites.

On this festival in Temple times, according to the book of Leviticus, two loaves (shetei halehem) were “waved before the Lord.” These had to be offered only from the best new wheat, from produce grown that year in Israel. Shavuot was associated with the bringing of the bikkurim, “the first ripe fruits,” to the Temple of Jerusalem.

In rabbinic times, a radical transformation of the festival took place. Based on the verse from the book of Exodus: “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai,” the festival became the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. In the traditional liturgy, Shavuot is zeman mattan torateinu (“the time of the giving of our Torah”). The ancient agricultural feasts were recreated into festivals marking the anniversary of significant legendary events in the life of the people. Both Passover and Sukkot are connected with the Exodus as well.

Unlike Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot has just a few special rituals. In modern Israel, some kibbutzim have tried to revive some of the harvest ceremonies. In the synagogue, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. It is customary in some congregations to decorate the synagogue with plants and flowers. It is also customary to eat dairy products in the home on Shavuot. In some communities triangular pancakes stuffed with meat or cheese are eaten because the Hebrew Bible has three parts (Torah, Prophets, and Writings).

Early Passover Seder Planned


Community Passover Seder April 1 (Yes, Early)

People of the Mountain – Am HaHar

Saturday, April 1  —  4:00 PM  — at Sue’s in Clifftops

challahOne of the benefits of being a small group is that we can adjust things here and there to be sure everyone can participate. Because some of our folks will be out of town on April 10, we will be holding our Passover Seder on the evening of Friday, March 31. That also gives us the special experience of a Shabbat.
This will be a traditional format haggadah.  It will be held at Sue’s home. which has lots of room for people and parking. To help accommodate families, it will begin at 6:00 PM. Please plan on 3 hours for the Seder and related social time. (Bring PJs for little ones if you like!)  Please feel free to invite friends!
We need to get an attendance estimate as soon as possible, so please RSVP here or to humanisticjewishsewanee@gmail.com with number of adults and children. We’ll suggest dishes to bring as the day gets closer.
Another plus to our early celebration is that you get to celebrate twice, if you have somewhere to go April 10th.