The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (CHJ) hosts a full roster of evening services and day programming to celebrate the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays. The Congregation offers a creative, meaningful, understandable services that are relevant to contemporary life and thought. All events are free and open to the public, though donations are welcome. Child care is provided for day programming.
ROSH Hashanah literally means "head of the year", which we translate today as "New Year." But the words "Rosh HaShannah" are not mentioned in the Torah nor did the day mark the year’s beginning in biblical times. How then did it come to pass that Rosh Hashanah became such an important day?
At the time of Solomon’s Temple (900 BCE), Judaism was a priestly religion. The three major festivals were Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. All were agricultural in nature and used supplications to a benevolent Yahweh to assure rain and bountiful harvests. The first month, which would later be called Nissan, was in the Spring. It was the time for planting, the celebration of Passover, and the Spring equinox. An ideal time to begin the new year.
When the Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled to Babylon (586 BCE), new forms of Judaism were developed. Without a priesthood, ritual observances became the duty of the individual. Sages and scribes, who someday would be called rabbis, collected and wrote down the ancient stories and codified what would become the Torah. Some scholars believe that a sentence was added in Leviticus: 23v24, which says: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, there shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation." In practice the holiday was elevated to New Year to conform to the secular celebrations of the Jews' Babylonian neighbors, who had such a pagan celebration in the Fall.
After the Persian Liberation, Jews returned to their homeland and the second Temple was built. Once more, Judaism became a priestly religion. It was the practice of the Jewish shepherds and farmers who lived outside of the city to come to Jerusalem to observe the "Great Day" (Yom Kippur) and to combine the two events into a ten-day holiday. After the destruction of the 2nd Temple (70 CE) Jews were scattered to the four corners of the world. At that time, Rabbi’s came to the fore, the Scriptures were revised to reflect their thinking and synagogues were build as meeting places. The "Days of Awe" became the most religious observance of the Jews of the Diaspora and Rosh Hashanah was born.
Our Congregation celebrates the holiday in contemporary ways. Evening Services are written by members and focus on an appropriate theme that expresses our humanistic philosophy and its emphasis on personal responsibility. The service is largely in English and any Hebrew is is translated. Families sit together. Music and group singing are always part of the program. When the service is completed, there is an "oneg," a refreshment table, around which participants socialize. On Rosh Hashanah Day, congregants convene in the afternoon for discussion programs. Rosh Hashanah is a contemplative and spiritually satisfying time in our Congregation.
Here is a CHJ Evening Rosh Hashana service and to the Daytime Family Service, both in Word format for downloading.