THE HIGH HOLIDAYS: WHAT DO THEY SIGNIFY? AN EXAMINATION
LOS ANGELES -- For many Jewish youths around the world, the High Holidays are observed by following rituals and traditions that were taught to them by their family and rabbis. Some Jewish children may learn conservative traditions, while others may learn orthodox, messianic, reform, secular or other. When it comes right down to it,
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur may seem all about tradition, yet the Days of Awe are much more.
In this article, Director of the Jewish Studies Institute, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Ari Hier sheds some light on the significance of the High Holy Days. Traditionally, for both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, one highlight of the High Holidays is sitting around a loud, lively dinner table with their parents, cousins,
grandparents and friends. During this holiday meal, a special Kiddish is recited over red wine or grape juice emphasizing the beginning of creation and the day of remembrance. While twisted or braided Challah is a staple for Shabbat, on Rosh Hashanah we eat round Challah reflecting the cyclical nature of the year and our hope that our lives will continue without end. On Rosh Hashanah, not only is the food specific to the holiday, but also the finest dishes and glasses are used for the occasion. The menu may consist of tender brisket, simmering in cranberry sauce with little red potatoes, turkey with gravy to top and matzo ball soup filled with noodles, chicken and carrots. Of course, a Rosh Hashanah meal would not be complete without mention of the apples and honey. We eat this specific fruit and preserve to ensure a "sweet and happy New Year."
It is also a time when synagogues are filled to capacity. However, seldom do we stop and ask ourselves the why of it all. Why do we as a family come together for this special holiday? Why do we eat certain foods on this holiday?
Why do we attend temple and ask forgiveness? Why is the shofar blown? We are told by the rabbis that by following the paths of Teshuvah, repentance, Tfiloh, prayer and Tzedakah, charity, we can strive to mitigate G-d's decree. But only after we have truly realized our wrongdoings can we say that we want to change for the better. We want to nd therefore pray to be pure, a clean slate if you will, and ask G-d for forgiveness.
People who live in a post modernistic society tend to believe that punishment is out of vogue, and this idea that I will have to stand in judgment, in front of G-d, for the type of spouse I was, or the type of teacher I was, or student or person, is not sophisticated, Rabbi Hier said in an interview with The Jewish Observer in years past. But, he continued, they know deep down that there is still something gnawing at them. Rosh Hashanah unleashes a power that forces you to face who and what you have become. Your own actions create consequences, and they are real.
This one time out of the year is when we have to deal with that and face repercussions and reality, he said. "It’s about seeing where I’m going and what I’ve become."
With the first of Elul as the starting date (Elul is the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah which is usually September), G-d gives us plenty of time to repent for our wrongdoings and sins to ensure a positive verdict.
According to Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals, Yossi Prager noted that 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, on the first day of the month of Elul, many Sephardic Jews rise before dawn every morning to recite the selichot, prayers of repentance. Ashkenazic Jews begin saying selichot a week before Rosh Hashanah.
Biblically, Jews are to celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the first day of Tishrei. However, in the galut a second day is added -- although the first two days of Tishrei were not called Rosh Hashanah until Talmudic times. The reason is that festivals were common among pagan religions, therefore it was not customary to hold large celebrations around
an autumn new year.
Sara Shendelman and Dr. Avram Davis suggest in Traditions: The Complete Book of Prayers, Rituals and Blessing for Every Jewish Home that Rosh Hashanah in the Torah was originally called Yom Teruah, which literally means the Day of Sounding the Shofar. By the fourth century B.C.E., when Jews returned from Babylonian exile to build the Second Temple, Rosh Hashanah was well instituted.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Ten Days of Repentance, or the Days of Awe. These particular days offer a chance for spiritual renewal. "These are 10 days of reality to take a look at yourself ... and get our acts together, even if just for 10 days," Rabbi Hier explained.
It seems, the prominent thought on everyone’s mind during the final day of judgment is the fasting. Just making it through the day without eating, one almost feels like a better Jew. But there is meaning behind why we fast and what we need to learn from that experience. According to Rabbi Hier, G-d is asking us to take a step back from life
and remember what is important. Along with not eating, Judaic law states that similar to Rosh Hashanah, we do not work. Traditionally, our clothes must be white symbolizing a return to a pure state of being.
The High Holidays are full of traditions and rituals that are universally symbolic of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For many Jews worldwide, going to Shul, or temple, becomes one of the most important aspects of the High Holidays. "According to traditional Judaism, G-d is not equally accessible in all places," Hier said, adding that Jews should go to temple in order to access G-d in a meaningful way. A special Siddur, called a Machzor, is used in temple for the recitation of prayers and liturgy during the High Holidays and is usually presented to Jewish young adults at their bar or bat mitzvah. This special prayer book contains relevant Torah readings and Tfilot, prayers, for both days. The Machzor consists of piyutim, liturgical poems, and Selichot, prayers for forgiveness.
Rabbi Abraham B. Witty and Rachel J. Witty, authors of Exploring Jewish Tradition, explain that in antiquity all prayers were recited from memory. Subsequently, early prayer books set down groups of prayers and the laws for reciting them. Later editions included interpretations and textual references. As the prayer book evolved, it became more comprehensive, providing descriptions and explanations about religious observations for the entire year. Witty and Witty explored history to find that the piyutim dates back to the seventh or eighth centuries. Over several centuries, almost 1,000 different poets were known to have written these so-called synagogue poems. By the late 1500s the popularity of this form of poetry declined, and by the late 1700s, piyutim had virtually disappeared but were added back due to their popularity amongst Jewry.
Over the course of the two days of Rosh Hashanah, there are specific Torah portions that are read to the congregation. On one of the days, we read the Torah portion of the inding of Isaac, Rabbi Hier said. Shendelman and Davis add the Torah reading chosen at synagogue for Rosh Hashanah is not the story of creation (Gen. 1: 1) but the stories of the birth of Isaac and the birth of Samuel -- both accounts telling of new life from
On Rosh Hashanah, the most important prayer within the Jewish liturgy is known as the 18 blessings, the Shemoneh Esrei. (19, since one blessing was added.) "You stand and talk directly to G-d, no one else," Rabbi Hier explained. He added, that back in antiquity, Yom Kippur, more so than Rosh Hashanah, was an extremely Holy Day where the High Priest would go into the Western most room of the sanctuary, considered G-d’s most private chamber, and offer incense to pray for his people.
"The reason G-d gave animal sacrifices is because if He had not given the people that at the time, they wouldn’t have followed the religion -- that’s the way they were. Everyone was into animal sacrifices. If G-d would have just offered them books the way we do it nowadays with prayer and readings, they wouldn’t have gotten into it," Rabbi Hier explained.
In Celebration – The Book of Jewish Festivals, Prager adds insight into Yom Kippur service in the Solomonic days of the First Temple. "Historically, only on this day, the holiest day, could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies, to plead for his people. Five times the High Priest would purify himself in the ritual bath; five times he would change his priestly clothes. An unworthy High Priest would be struck dead upon entering the room. (A rope was tied tautly around his waist; should it go limp, he would be pulled out.) Another ritual of Yom Kippur sacrifice, Prager describes, is derived from Leviticus 16. "Two similar goats were set aside, and the High Priest drew lots to decide their destinies. One goat he sacrificed in the Temple; the other -- the scapegoat -- was led into the wilderness by a special messenger and thrown over a cliff. The scapegoat symbolically represented the people of Israel. Its purpose: to drive the Jewish nation to repent. While the First Temple stood, a red ribbon was tied around the scapegoat’s neck; if the Jews had repented, it would miraculously turn snow-white -- a divine sign of forgiveness."
The conclusion of the Yom Kippur service that invariably gets the Jewish community’s attention is the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn -- one of the most discernible and eminent traditions of the High Holidays.
The origin and meaning of the shofar goes back to Talmudic times when the patriarch Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, to G-d as proof of his loyalty to Him. Seeing his devotion and willingness to sacrifice Isaac, G-d made a ram appear and be killed in place of Isaac. (According to Judaic law, this sacrifice is believed to have occurred on the first of Tishrei.)
First blown at Mount Sinai when the Torah was revealed to Israel, the shofar illustrates the power of the moment when repentance is still possible in the eyes of G-d. Its sounds Tekiah (one long blast), Shevarim (three short blasts), and Teruah (nine staccato blasts) signify a time of new beginnings for our family, our community and all of Jewry.
The shofar is a reminder of the animal that was sacrificed in place of Isaac, and the sounds are received as a wake up call for Jews to remember G-d and His position in our lives: first. The conclusion of Yom Kippur, the breaking of the fast, traditionally consists of dairy products because meats and poultry are harder to digest.
The 10 Penitential Days are the most solemn of the Jewish calendar, and this year the holiest day of all, Yom Kippur, begins at sundown Wednesday evening to sundown on Thursday evening.
SOURCES: Abramovitz & Silverman, Jewish Family & Life, (1997).
Hier, Ari (Rabbi), Director of the Jewish Studies Institute, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Prager, Yossi, According to Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals (1987). Shendelman, Sara and Dr. Avram Davis, Traditions: The Complete Book of Prayers, Rituals and Blessing for Every Jewish Home, (1998).
Witty, Rabbi Abraham B. and Rachel J. Witty, Exploring Jewish Tradition (2000).
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WHEN NAZIS TRIED TO TRACE ARYAN RACE MYTH IN TIBET
In 1938, Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of Germany's Nazi party and a key architect of the Holocaust, sent a five-member team to Tibet to search for the origins of the supposed Aryan race. Author Vaibhav Purandare recounts the fascinating story of this expedition, which passed through India. A little over a year before World War Two began, a group of Germans landed surreptitiously along India's eastern borders. They were on a mission to discover the "source of origin of the Aryan race".
Adolf Hitler believed that "Aryan" Nordic people had entered India from the north some 1,500 years earlier, and that the Aryans had committed the "crime" of mixing with the local "un-Aryan" people, losing the attributes that had made them racially superior to all other people on earth.
Hitler regularly expressed deep antipathy for the Indian people and their struggle for freedom, articulating his sentiments in his speeches, writings and debates. Yet, according to Himmler, one of Hitler's top lieutenants and the head of the SS, the Indian subcontinent was still worth a close look.
This is where Tibet came into the picture. Those who swore by the idea of a white Nordic superior race were believers in the tale of the imagined lost city of Atlantis, where people of "the purest blood" had apparently once lived. Believed to have been situated somewhere between England and Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, this mythical island allegedly sunk after being struck by a divine thunderbolt.
All the Aryans who survived had supposedly moved on to more secure places. The Himalayan region was believed to be one such refuge, Tibet in particular because it was famous for being "the roof of the world".
In 1935, Himmler set up a unit within the SS called the Ahnenerbe - or Bureau of Ancestral Heritage - to find out where people from Atlantis had gone after the bolt from the blue and the deluge, and where traces of the great race still remained and could be discovered.
In 1938, he sent a team of five Germans to Tibet on this "search operation".
Two of the team's members stood out from the rest. One was Ernst Schafer, a gifted 28-year-old zoologist who had been to the India-China-Tibet border twice earlier. Schafer had joined the SS soon after the Nazi triumph of 1933, long before Himmler became his patron for the Tibet expedition.
Schafer was crazy about hunting and loved to gather trophies in his Berlin home. On one hunting expedition, while attempting to shoot a duck from a boat he and his wife were in, he slipped when taking aim and shot his wife in the head accidentally, killing her.
The second key man was Bruno Beger, a young anthropologist who had joined the SS in 1935. Beger would take measurements of the skulls and facial details of Tibetans and make face masks, he said, "especially to collect material about the proportions, origins, significance and development of the Nordic race in this region".
The ship carrying the five Germans docked at Colombo in Sri Lanka early in May 1938. From there, they took another one to Madras (now Chennai) and a third one to Calcutta (now Kolkata).
British authorities in India were wary of the travelling Germans and thought them spies. They were initially reluctant to allow them to pass through India and the then British-run Times of India even ran the accusatory headline: "A Gestapo Agent in India".
The British political officer in Gangtok, in the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim, which was an independent mountain kingdom at the time, was also not enthusiastic about granting the men entry into Tibet through Sikkim.
But ultimately, the Nazi team's resolve won. By the end of the year, the five Germans, with swastika flags tied to their mules and baggage, had entered Tibet.
The swastika was a ubiquitous sign in Tibet, known locally as "yungdrung". Schafer and the team would have seen plenty of it during their time in India too where, among Hindus, it had long been a symbol of good fortune. Even today, the symbol is visible outside homes, inside temples, at street corners and on the backs of tempos and trucks.
In Tibet, meanwhile, things were changing. The 13th Dalai Lama had died in 1933 and the new one was only three years old, so the Buddhist Tibetan kingdom was being controlled by a regent. The Germans were treated exceptionally well by the regent as well as by common Tibetans, and Beger, who made face masks, even acted as a sort of stand-in doctor for locals for a while.
What the Tibetan Buddhists did not know was that in the perverse imagination of the Nazis, Buddhism, just like Hinduism, was a religion that had weakened the Aryans who had come to Tibet - and had resulted in the loss of their spirit and strength.
Just when it appeared that Schafer and the others could spend more time exploring for their real "research" in the guise of carrying out scientific investigations in areas such as zoology and anthropology, the German expedition was abruptly cut short in August 1939 by the inevitability of the war.
Beger had, by then, measured the skulls and features of 376 Tibetans, taken 2,000 photographs, "made casts of heads, faces, hands and ears of 17 people" and collected "the finger and hand prints of another 350".
He had also gathered 2,000 "ethnographic artefacts", and another member of the contingent had taken 18,000 metres of black-and-white film and 40,000 photographs.
As their trip was cut short, Himmler made arrangements for the team to fly out of Calcutta at the last moment and was himself present to greet them when their plane landed in Munich.
Schafer took most of his Tibetan "treasures" to a castle in Salzburg he moved to during the war. But once the Allied Forces came in 1945, the place was raided and most of the Tibetan pictures and other material were ruined.
The other so-called "scientific results" of the expedition met the same fate in the war: they were either lost or destroyed, and the shame of the Nazi past meant no-one after the war tried to trace the material. Vaibhav Purandare is the author of Hitler And India: The Untold Story of His Hatred For the Country And Its People, published by Westland Books.--BBCi
6 PALESTINIAN PRISONERS ESCAPE ISRAELI JAIL THROUGH TUNNEL; FOUR CAPTURED
Israeli authorities have launched a massive manhunt after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from one of the country's most secure jails overnight. The men are believed to have dug a tunnel from their cell over several months that led to a road outside Gilboa Prison's walls.
Officials were alerted by farmers who noticed them running through fields. The fugitives include a former leader of the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and five Islamic Jihad members. An Israel prison service official described the escape as "a major security and intelligence failure"; Palestinian militant groups hailed it as "heroic".
The six fugitives include Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the Palestinian militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the West Bank city of Jenin, as well as five members of Islamic Jihad.
The Times of Israel said five of the six were serving life sentences in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis, while Zubeidi was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.
Israeli border police and army troops involved in the manhunt have reportedly set up roadblocks to stop the men reaching the nearby occupied West Bank or Jordan, which is about 14km (nine miles) to the east of Gilboa prison.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and "emphasized that this is a grave incident that requires an across-the-board effort by the security forces" to find the fugitives.
Islamic Jihad described the jailbreak as "heroic" and said it would "shock the Israeli defence system", while Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was a "great victory" that proves "the will and determination of our brave soldiers inside the prisons of the enemy cannot be defeated". Gilboa Prison is a high-security facility known as "the Safe". Thus far, four have been captured.--BBCi
MUSEUM OF THE SOUTHERN JEWISH EXPERIENCE RE-OPENS 9/15
AFTER HURRICANE IDA CLOSURE
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – Following closure for Hurricane Ida and subsequent widespread power outage, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) will reopen to the public on Wednesday, September 15th. The museum will be closed in observance of Yom Kippur on September 16th and resume normal hours of operation on Friday the 17th.
On the weekend of September 18-19th, the museum will offer free admission to all first responders and linemen in appreciation for those who have worked tirelessly to restore power and assist the people of South Louisiana.
“It is important to us to reopen and serve as a place of respite for our local community,” said museum director, Kenneth Hoffman. “As restaurants, hotels, and museums continue to reopen, we hope that folks from across our 13 Southern states and throughout the country will consider a trip to New Orleans soon.”
The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience opened in downtown New Orleans in May of 2021. Exhibits and interactive experiences explore the many ways Jews in the American South influenced and were influenced by the distinct cultural heritage of their communities, covering 13 states and more than 300 years of history – including the Colonial era, Civil War, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.
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7-13 Tishrei 5782 Sept. 13-19, 2021 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES--658th Web Ed.
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