It is now a year since I became a Words of Faith columnist and we find ourselves coming near full cycle as the start of another Jewish High Holy Days draws closer.
The High Holy days will start this year on Sept. 24.
The High Holy days represent so many things to Jews across the world; a New Year, a celebration, a time to experience Awe of the Divine, and hope for our future, as well as a Day of Atonement. All this is intensely wrapped in approximately 10 days, usually falling in September or early October. The holiday lands on different dates each year; the Hebrew calendar is lunar-based.
And no matter where on the calendar the High Holy Days land, Jewish people respond, globally.
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Even if they do not attend synagogue services the rest of the year, they will likely attend services at those days, and fast on Yom Kippur.
High Holy Days open with Rosh Hashanah and the sound of the shofar, a ram’s horn, blowing. The sound of the shofar is soul stirring, as call to order and a command to remember and observe our relationship with God.
Our prayers outline the opening of the Gates of Heaven during these days, so that our prayers can better be heard by the Divine. Rosh Hashanah is accompanied by wishes for a sweet year, a hope echoed even by the foods shared on those days. Apples dipped in honey are commonly found, and other dishes are accented by honey.
The High Holy Days conclude with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, or of reconciliation. This day is specifically dedicated to making amends for mistakes made by the individual towards God. Yom Kippur starts at sundown, with a recitation of the Kol Nidrei prayer.
The Kol Nidrei prayer is a renouncement of all vows between an individual and God. It can be traced from the 8th century of the modern era. Kol Nidrei has undergone some changes over the centuries, and assumed additional meaning during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, under threat of death. For many of those Jews, forced to participate in the Roman Catholic rituals of the day, Kol Nidrei would have been a welcome opportunity to renounce something done under duress.
The next 25 hours are spent in fasting and praying to God to atone for one’s transgressions against God. Human transgressions are outlined in the Al Chet prayer, which translates as “the Great Confession.” This is a lengthy confession of sins including obstinacy, profanity and malicious thoughts, among numerous others. Atonement for transgressions between individuals are included in these High Holy Days, with the expectation that these other issues have been addressed in person, prior to Yom Kippur.
The High Holy Days close at sundown on Yom Kippur, and the final prayers include the Shema, the essential prayer of Judaism, “Hear oh Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.” Again, the shofar sounds, symbolizing a closing of the Gates of Heaven for another year.
The horn’s blast also symbolizes divine forgiveness, as we shift into the New Year.
Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.