In the coming days, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the five most important festivals on the Jewish calendar. The Pluralism Project has an in-depth explanation of both holidays and the Union for Reform Judaism has a page of resources.
Rosh Hashanah begins this year at sundown on Oct. 2 and marks the Jewish New Year and the creation of the world. Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown Oct. 11, is a more solemn holiday that commemorates the covenant between the Jews and God and is a “Day of Atonement,” a time for seeking and giving forgiveness.
This edition of ReligionLink offers seven ideas for the High Holy Days and is meant as a supplement to our Judaism source guide, where you will find more background, more issues and more sources.
Anti-Semitism remains a global problem and spiked during the recent conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Leaders in Europe have responded as incidents there have risen sharply. Anti-Semitism is not dead in the U.S.: In April 2014, three people were shot and killed outside an Overland Park, Kan., Jewish Community Center and a nearby Jewish retirement community. The killer has been described as a neo-Nazi and was known for his anti-Semitic statements, but none of the victims was Jewish. Why does anti-Semitism persist? How concerned are American Jews about anti-Semitism overseas? Is there any difference between anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe and the U.S.? The Middle East? How big a concern is anti-Semitism in your area? How do local Jewish communities respond to anti-Semitic events?
- Read a July 26, 2016, story by Paul Miller for The Observer about anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses.
- Read a Jan. 14, 2016, story by Aron Heller of The Associated Press about record-high migration to Israel due to spiking anti-Semitism in Europe.
- Read a May 13, 2014, story by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about an Anti-Defamation League survey that found one-quarter of all adults worldwide have anti-Semitic views.
- Read an Aug. 7, 2014, story in The Guardian about anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.
- Read an Aug. 20, 2014, story from BBC News comparing anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and the U.S.
- Read a May 30, 2014, Time magazine essay by Rabbi Eric Yoffie suggesting that anti-Semitism need not worry American Jews.
- Read a June 11, 2014, blog post by Kenneth L. Marcus of the Louis D. Brandeis Center rebutting Yoffie’s essay.
- Kenneth L. Marcus is president and general counsel for the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a civil rights advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. Contact 202-756-1822, email@example.com.
- Eric Yoffie is a rabbi and former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Andrew Roberts is a British historian and author of The Modern Swastika: Fighting Today’s Anti-Semitism. He is an expert on anti-Semitism in Europe. Contact email@example.com.
- Yale University’s Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism brings scholars from various disciplines to discuss the issue in lectures, conferences and other special programs. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2014, the Tikvah Fund held a three-day conference on the history and evolution of the ways Jews think about God, and Tikkun magazine ran a cover story on how Jews, Christians and Muslims understand God. What do Jews mean when they talk about God? Is God a spirit or a force? Is God gender-specific or gender-neutral? Do the ideas of God change across the various branches of Judaism? How are those ideas expressed during the High Holy Days? How do Jews in your area visualize or think about God?
- Read the Summer 2014 issue of Tikkun, which examined the way different religions, including Judaism, think about God.
- Read an essay on “The God Concept” on the website of Congregation Beth Adam of Loveland, Ohio.
- Michael Lerner is a rabbi, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and editor of Tikkun magazine. For the Summer 2014 issue he contributed an essay exploring the idea of God as a creative force and how that is needed in Judaism. Contact 510-644-1200, email@example.com.
- Micah Goodman is a Jewish philosopher and scholar based in Israel. He led the Tikvah Fund’s May 2014 conference called “The Jewish Idea of God.” Contact via Alan Abbey at the Shalom Hartman Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org/.
- Clifford Orwin is a professor of political science, classics and Jewish studies at the University of Toronto. He participated in the Tikvah Fund’s conference on “The Jewish Idea of God.” Contact 416-926-1300, email@example.com.
- Meir Y. Soloveichik is director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. He also participated in the Tikvah Fund’s conference on “The Jewish Idea of God.” Contact 212-873-0300 ext. 206, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jacob L. Wright is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Contact 404-727-4157, email@example.com.
During Rosh Hashanah, many Jews engage in the practice of “tashlich,” the ceremonial casting away of sins into a lake, river or other body of water. Water is a central element and symbol in the rites and rituals of every major world religion, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three Abrahamic faiths. What does water mean to Judaism? How does it compare with the way other religions interact with or think about water?
- Read an article about the history and development of tashlich by Lesli Koppelman Ross on My Jewish Learning.
- Read a tashlich service used by Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C.
- Francesca de Chatel is an independent scholar and journalist based in Amsterdam. She has written widely on water in the Middle East — its history, use and meaning across three religions and multiple cultures. Contact via her website.
- Lesli Koppelman Ross has written widely about Jewish holidays. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Carrie Bornstein is the executive director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters, a mikvah and Jewish learning center in Newtown, Mass. Mayyim Hayyim has constructed original Jewish rituals based around water. Contact 617-244-1836 ext. 201, carrieb@MayyimHayyim.org.
- Rick Jacobs, a rabbi and president of the Union for Reform Judaism, can speak about the history and customs of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Contact Lauren Theodore, public relations and communications manager, LTheodore@urj.org.
Judaism is not a proselytizing tradition. Jewish law requires that a rabbi refuse a would-be convert three times. Are there any converts in your area who are celebrating their first High Holy Days as a Jew?
- Read “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and published on Oct. 1, 2013.
- Read a Jan. 11, 2014, story by The Economist about conflicting ideas on who is a Jew and about conversion.
- Read an essay by Rabbi Jason Miller posted on My Jewish Learning about the pros and cons a major celebrity’s conversion brings to Jews.
- Lawrence J. Epstein is a New York-based writer on Judaism and author of Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook. Contact email@example.com.
- Ari Goldman is a journalism professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. He is a former religion reporter for The New York Times and is the author of several books on Jews and Judaism, including Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today and Living a Year of Kaddish. He can discuss major issues in Judaism, both in the U.S. and in Israel, where he is a frequent visitor, and the practice of Judaism. Contact 212-854-3878, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sylvia Fishman is a professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which focuses on women in contemporary Judaism. She is the author of numerous books, including The Way Into the Varieties of Jewishness. She is also an expert on Jewish identity, marriage and conversion. Contact 781-736-2065, email@example.com.
- Jason Miller is a Michigan-based rabbi with a popular blog. He has written about Gwyneth Paltrow’s conversion. Contact via his website.
Many synagogues tighten security during the High Holy Days. Will they take additional protective measures this year because of the recent conflict in the Middle East? Some synagogues say yes. Are synagogues in your area heightening security during the High Holy Days?
- The Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism maintains a page of resources on synagogue security.
- The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism maintains a similar page.
- Read a Dec. 1, 2015, article about synagogue security concerns in the U.S. after the Paris bombings of that year. The article is by Jonathan Mark for The Jewish Week.
- Read a Sept. 8, 2014, story in The Jewish Daily Forward on guns in the synagogue.
- Read a Sept. 27, 2007, story in the Jewish Herald-Voice about a gun going off during Rosh Hashanah services in Dallas.
- Paul Drazen is a rabbi and director of special projects at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, where he maintains its resource page on synagogue security. Contact 646-519-9310, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Guy Sapirstein is a psychologist and the author of the Synagogue Council’s guide for securing synagogues. He is based in Massachusetts. Contact 617-964-6543.
- MPS Security is a Murrieta, Calif.-based security company that provides security for synagogues during the High Holy Days. Michael Julian is its founder. Contact 951-677-3500.
Fasting is a traditional and central part of Yom Kippur. How does Jewish fasting compare to fasting in Islam and Christianity? Is there anyone in your community — a child, a convert — who will be fasting for the first time at Yom Kippur?
- Read “Fasting and Feasting in Three Traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam,” part of a series on interfaith conversations at the University of Indiana.
- Read an essay by Jay Michaelson, posted on Reality Sandwich, about the spiritual benefits of fasting.
- Rabbi Arnold L. Bienstock is the rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Salisbury, Md. He contributed a chapter on Jewish fasting to “Fasting and Feasting in Three Traditions.” Contact 410-742-2564, email@example.com.
- Jay Michaelson is a rabbi and visiting scholar at Brown University and a frequent writer about religion, including Judaism. He has written about the spiritual benefits of fasting at Yom Kippur. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's make a shofar!
The blowing of the shofar — a musical instrument made from an animal horn — is part of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. A growing number of synagogues are conducting shofar-making classes before the High Holy Days, ranging from cardboard and paper shofars for kids to elaborate rams’ horn shofars for adults. And what if you are a Jewish vegan? Can you blow the shofar? Can you buy a vegan shofar? Darned right you can — and other vegan Jewish objects such as tefillin.
- Read a step-by-step description of how to make a shofar, posted at My Jewish Learning.
- Read a Sept. 15, 2013, story in the Florida Jewish Journal about “shofar factory” classes for children conducted by Chabad.
- Read a July 22, 2012, blog post by shofar player Michael Chusid about vegan shofars and other Jewish religious objects.
- Just as Christians form choirs to sing to the hospitalized and shut-ins at Christmas, some Jews participate in the Shofar Corps to sound the shofar for those who cannot get to a synagogue for services. Contact email@example.com.
- Jim Barbarossa is “The Shofar Man,” who says that making shofars and teaching people to sound them is his ministry. Contact 219-250-2187.
- Michael T. Chusid is the author of Hearing Shofar: The Still, Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn, where he has written about vegan shofars and tefillin. He also conducts classes on the shofar. Contact 818-219-4937, firstname.lastname@example.org.