In rabbinic Judaism, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are elevated to supreme importance, replacing the old stars of Sukkot and Pesakh. They constitute the beginning and the end of the Days of Terror. The seventh month has become the first month…the new year.
The theological rationale for the new structure is imposing. An omnipotent Yahveh, now promoted to world domination [from rain god] undertakes an annual judgment of humanity, especially of his chosen servants, the Jews. Descending from heaven, he enthrones himself in Jerusalem and for ten days sits in judgment, rendering his initial verdict on Rosh Hashanah, and his final verdict on Yom Kippur. In the face of this terrifying presence, the safest human response is to appear as pitiable as possible. Temporary starvation, torn clothing, weeping, and obsequiousness are effective procedures for arousing pity and reducing divine anger. In a sense, the annual judgment is a preview of the final judgment of Resurrection Day, when the living and the dead will confront their ultimate destination.
When the secular age arrived, much of the rabbinic theology became embarrassing. While the Rejectionists clung firmly to the old ideology, the Ambivalents searched for alternatives. The compromise was less than satisfactory. The prayer service would continue to talk about divine judgment, but the sermon would introduce the new humanistic themes of self-reflection and self-judgment. In the last two centuries, very few Conservative and Reform rabbis have preached divine terror. Under the influence of the new psychology, great emphasis has been placed on the human power to evaluate one’s own life and change if for the better.
Humanistic Jews find this compromise unacceptable and avoid it’s lack of integrity. They insist that meditation and message fit together. While they recognize the importance of relating destiny and the fates to individual existence and to Jewish history, they do not see it through the eyes of rabbinic theology.
From: Judaism Beyond God, Sherwin Wine, Milan Press 1995