This video from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly shows Rabbi Alan Lew describing the spiritual transformation Jews experience by observing the High Holidays. The Jewish High Holidays are a 10-day period of prayer and penitence beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this sacred time of reflection and repentance, Jews around the world attend special services, gather with friends and families for ritual meals and observe a day of fasting.
Judaism Glossary (Document)
The Jewish High Holidays, the 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, are more properly known as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. It is a time when Jews reflect on their lives and try to make amends with one another and God.
Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "head of the year," is rich in customs and symbols. Jews enjoy a festive family meal on the eve of the holiday and each day it is celebrated. They bake challah bread in round loaves, rather than the traditional braided loaf, to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, and eat apples dipped in honey to signify hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Most Jews observe Rosh Hashanah over two days, although some Reform and Reconstructionist congregations observe it only one day.
During Rosh Hashanah, Jews attend extended prayer services during which the shofar is blown. The shofar, a ram's horn that makes a trumpet-like sound, acts as a wake-up call, reminding Jews of God's presence. A ceremony called Tashlich (Hebrew for "throw") is performed after services on the first day. During this ceremony, Jews symbolically cast away their sins by tossing bread crumbs into flowing water, such as a river, stream or reservoir.
It is said that on Rosh Hashanah God determines who shall live and who shall die, who shall have a good year and who a bad one, and on Yom Kippur these decrees are sealed. According to one of the most famous prayers in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, "penitence, prayer and good deeds can annul the severity of the decree." Thus, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time of reflection, self-examination and reconciliation. As Rabbi Lew notes in the video, for some Jews this period of introspection begins during the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, after the holiday of Tishab'Av.
The High Holidays culminate with the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Literally meaning the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, during which Jews confess their sins before God and the community. It is customary to wear white, symbolizing purity, and to refrain from wearing leather shoes, which is seen as a sign of luxury.
All Jewish holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date of the holiday. Yom Kippur begins with an evening service in which a haunting prayer called Kol Nidre (All Vows) is sung. In this prayer, Jews ask to be released in advance from any vows made to God and not kept. The holiday continues on the following day with a service that generally lasts until nightfall with only a few short breaks, culminating in the Ne'ilah service. The name Ne'ilah, meaning "locking," refers to the gates of repentance, open during the High Holidays and now closing. The 25-hour fast ends with a single long blast of the shofar.
Rabbi ALAN LEW (Congregation Beth Shalom, San Francisco): The point of the High Holidays is atonement, reconciliation, a restitution to wholeness. So it makes sense that a journey that ends that way should begin with an acknowledgment of alienation and estrangement, and that is the theme of Tisha b'Av.
Tisha b'Av is the time when the temple was destroyed, and the temple was the place where one felt the palpable presence of God.
After acknowledging that we are in fact estranged from ourselves, from others, from God -- for the next 30 days there's a very rigorous period of introspection. The essential gesture of this entire period is to become more mindful, to become more aware both of our own situations psychologically and spiritually, or those things that we've been doing that aren't so productive.
So the closer we are to being in the present moment, the more mindful we are, the closer we are to God. God is here; if we are elsewhere, we are estranged from God.
So the blowing of the shofar is connected to this mindfulness, this process of becoming mindful, it calls us to it. It wakes us up literally -- it's an alarm clock.
When we are really immersed in the act of prayer, we are not so much asking for things, and we are not so much trying to bend God's will to our own, which I think [is] what we ordinarily think of prayer, but we are really engaging in an act of self-judgment.
Part of the reason that we are able to effect a reconciliation with God during this season [is] because we realize how desperately we need God, we realize we can't do all these really difficult things without a sense of a transcendent consciousness beyond our own.
Rosh Hashanah is the day when the gates to heaven open, and it's a very rich symbol, suggesting both access to the presence of God during this time, extraordinary access, suggesting a time of transformation ... that if we read the book of our life, we can see ourselves and we can stop jumping into fires that we are wont to do and stop doing unconscious hurt to others.
Yom Kippur, the very end of this process, is a time when we literally rehearse our own death, and we intone this endless liturgy of who will live and who will die, and we abstain from all activities that living people engage in, like eating and sexual activity.
We can evoke the power of our death to show us our lives. The most intense times are those last several hours of Neillah when the gates are closing. I can literally hear and feel those gates clanging shut. And then the shofar blows and there is a tremendous feeling of lightness.
We spend the rest of the year in a greater state of awareness.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.