The holiday that falls on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei has many names. Most famously, it is known as Rosh HaShana, the beginning of the year. Yet it is also called Yom Zikaron Tru’ah – the day of remembering the blast of the shofar, Yom Harat Olam – the day of the world’s beginning, and Yom HaDin, the day of judgment.
The High Holidays are a time of transition from one Jewish year to the next. During the week of September 12, 2016, the Schechter Institutes celebrated a number of milestones and transitions. The following is an edited version of my remarks on September 13th.
Asked by Rabbi Rachel Schwartz on the behalf of a pupil at a Hebrew school in the United States: Why is the kittel worn on the High Holy Days? When were Torah scrolls first dressed in white for the High Holy Days and what prompted this change?
Erev Yom Kippur, minutes before the storm. A point of time in the regular weekday that is nonetheless all holiness. It is the moment of awe as the Day of Judgment approaches, the eleventh hour, our last chance. Yom Kippur itself is a time of forgiveness, but what is the role of the day before?
Jewish sources posit different dates and meaning to the Jewish New Year.
The verses of the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading force us to ask ourselves how to define the essence of this day. Leviticus 23 tells us, “… In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. You shall do no manner of servile work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” In Numbers 29 it is written, “And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you.” These two descriptions, referring to a memorial and a blast of horns, are a far cry from the holiday we know as Rosh Hashanah. How did a day of rest and blast of horns become the day to mark the new year, and why on the first day of the seventh month?
With the high holidays approaching, the Schechter Institutes wish you and your loved ones a most festive and meaningful holiday experience. Dr. Tomer Persico, a respected researcher and lecturer on contemporary spiritual culture and frequent contributor to Israeli media, joined the Schechter faculty last year with the launch of our newest M.A. specialization – Spiritual Education. He is also a popular lecturer in TALI’s spiritual education program – Neshama Yetiera.
The article The Binding of Isaac: Piety and Protest explores this week’s Torah Portion “Vayera” in a totally new light: through the eyes of the artist. The article is one of 27 found on the TALI website Visual Midrash. The site, the first on-line fine and folk-art index of the Bible and its commentaries, was created by Dr. Jo Milgrom, Israel’s primary lecturer in “art as midrash” at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and biblical scholar, Dr. Joel Duman. The website is based on Dr. Milgrom’s archive of art images collected over a lifetime of teaching and pioneering the field of art as Biblical commentary. Over 950 catalogued images are now accessible on the Visual Midrash Web site, with essays in English and Hebrew on 28 biblical themes. Altogether, Milgrom has donated 3,000 slides from her personal collection to this project. To read more about the project, click here.
The Days of Awe, or High Holidays, constitute one of two beginnings in the Hebrew calendar. The second beginning of the year is marked in the spring at Passover, Holiday of Freedom.
All the Jewish festivals are tied up with one another as commemorating Creation, a cosmic event from which all life in the universe originated, and as commemorating the Exodus, an event of national significance to the Jewish people in particular. But it can be argued that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent more the cosmic aspect of traditional Jewish existence, while Passover, Shavuot and, to an extent, Sukkot represent more the national particular aspect.
What does it mean to tie the festival with ropes? Many scholars, following Ibn Ezra, claim that the reference is to the festival offering, an animal bound up in rope and brought to the edge of the altar, which was decorated with horns, or a sacrificial animal tied directly to the horns of the altar with rope.[note]However, the word hag, “festival”, is never used in the sense of a sacrificial animal, and we have no other reference to a procession in which the animals were led live, bound in cords, up to the edge of the altar, and there is certainly no reference to binding the animal’s leash to the altar horns themselves. This has led other scholars to claim that the reference is to a circular procession or dance (hag, hug) in which the dancers are linked to one another with branches (avotim), a poetic description of processions around the altar in which the people carried branches. One of the four species taken up on Sukkot, the myrtle, is referred to in Leviticus 23:40 as “the branch of an avot (leafy) tree”.[/note]
Of the midrashim that describe the creation of the world, one stands out that is short and puzzling. Breishit Raba 3:7 refers to God as the “Creator and Destroyer of Worlds.” This implies that our world is not the first that God created; there were earlier ones He created and destroyed. There is no answer given to the obvious question of why. Different explanations, sometimes contradictory, are offered elsewhere in Jewish philosophy and mysticism. The common premise underlying most of these is that creation and destruction are not dependent entirely on God’s Will.