The most frequent holiday in the Jewish calendar is Shabbat. Though the celebration has its origins in the obscure and sometimes mythical past of the Jewish people, in modern Jewish life Shabbat has become a time when Jews gather to celebrate who they are.
For Humanistic Jews, Shabbat is a time of joy, a celebration of our connections to Judaism and to family, friends, and community. It is an affirmation of our Jewish identity, an expression of solidarity with the Jewish People. It is a chance to relax from the busy week, a space for self-exploration and discovery.
Shabbat allows opportunities for both home and community celebrations, featuring candlelighting, wine, and the eating of braided bread (challa), with blessings that express human power and responsibility. Shabbat celebrations for Humanistic Jews are tributes to Jewish culture and history, to the shared Jewish past, present, and future. The celebrations incorporate Jewish texts, both ancient and modern, original meditations, poetry, and music. Some community Shabbat celebrations are based on a theme of Jewish history or humanistic philosophy, while others based particular Jewish works or authors. Some can even be based on the concept and history of Shabbat itself.
Humanistic Shabbat blessings over candles, wine, and challa celebrate the human elements of each Shabbat symbol. The Shabbat blessings are contained within this model Home Shabbat Celebration and within this model Community Shabbat Celebration.
A Humanistic Havdala
Havdala (distinction/separation), celebrated at home or within a community, marks the end of Shabbat. It offers us an opportunity to reflect on the past week, to examine the meaningfulness of our experiences, and to use the insights gained to help us prepare for the coming week. The symbols of the Havdala celebration – wine, spices (cinnamon and cloves, which remind us to savor the sweetness of Shabbat), and the light of the braided Havdala candle – help us mark the distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week.
The symbols of Havdala have meaning for us as Humanistic Jews. The goblet overfilled with wine symbolizes joy and fulfillment, while reminding us that there is bitter within the sweet. The scent of the spices gives us a sense of renewal, recalling all that is good and beautiful and offering hope for happiness and peace in the coming week. Maimonides explained the sweet, lingering fragrance of the spices as cheering to the soul, saddened by the departure of Shabbat. The twisted candle represents the many sources of wisdom and beauty, the uniqueness of each of us, and the strength and power that comes from the blending of individuals. As we extinguish the candle in the wine goblet, we are reminded of the combination of joy and knowledge, the struggle between light and darkness, good and evil in our world.
A Humanistic Havdala is a celebration of unity, just as Shabbat is a time of reflection and peace.