Yom Kippur commemoration for secular humanistic Jews

You are invited to attend the Humanistic Jewish Havurah Yom Kippur commemoration on Saturday, September 30 beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the East Clubhouse of Vi at Bentley Village. The evening will begin with a short Nizkor, a ceremony to preserve our memory of the dead. Nizkor (“Let us remember”) is a meaningful observance adopted by secular humanistic Jews to carry on the traditional observance that ends Yom Kippur.

Immediately following this observance, a delicious break-the-fast will be served. The cost to participate in this event is $30 per person payable to “HJH” and mailed to Maraline Rane, 6955 Carlisle Court, D-219, Naples, FL 34109. Reservations must be received by Monday, September 25.

For many Jews, the High Holidays are the two times during the year when they feel compelled to do something Jewish. Secular Jews had trouble with the High Holidays from the beginning. As festivals of national liberation, Passover and Chanukah could easily be purified of supernatural connections. As nature holidays, Sukkot and Shavuot could, with little effort, be connected to the seasons and to all the secular responses they aroused.

But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as they had evolved in the Judaism of the rabbis, seemed inseparable from supernaturalist tradition. There was no seasonal happening they pointed to. Both holidays were fraught with ideas of divine power and judgment, sin and repentance. Early Jewish secularists discarded these holidays as hard-core traditionalism and irrelevant to the new secular nationalism.

Today, secular humanistic Jews incorporate the High Holidays into their Jewish observance, recognizing that their continuing hold is too strong to be ignored. But why do these holidays remain so compelling for Jewish humanists?

The Enlightenment and Emancipation undermined the old belief framework of the High Holidays and removed some of the dread. Divine recordkeeping, supernatural rewards and punishments, and the value of appeasement ceremonies seemed less credible than before. Kol Nidre, with its dismissal of the binding character of promises, became a moral problem. Long confessions and breast-beating appeared unseemly. Even fasting developed a bad reputation, offending “rational” people who found no ethical value in self-inflicted suffering.

Humanistic dimensions appear throughout the traditional observance of the Days of Awe, despite the heavy emphasis on divine justice and divine mercy. Guilt leads to self-reflection and self-evaluation. Resolutions to improve behavior in the coming year are made. People seek out friends and neighbors to ask for forgiveness for past wrongdoings and to effect reconciliation.

While many secular Jews find the High Holidays too religious for their tastes, Humanistic Judaism realizes that these holidays have special significance. If human judgment replaces divine judgment, and if human power becomes the alternative to divine power, then Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur become perfect vehicles for celebrating a humanistic philosophy of life. It is appropriate for Jews at the time of the Jewish New Year to reflect on the moral quality of their behavior and to make decisions to improve it.

Introspection and goal setting are traditional. They are also humanistic.

Humanistic Judaism offers a positive voice about the Jewish present. The contemporary society of secular study, individual freedom, and sexual equality is morally better than societies that spawned the Torah and the Talmud. There is no need for reverent nostalgia and sentimental guilt.

We offer more future and less past. The scientific spirit refuses to worship the past and to imagine that the greatest wisdom was uttered 3,000 years ago. We must invent behavior to serve human needs – not make human lifestyles fit rigid, outdated behavior.