The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the Israelites thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts of horns. On the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practise self denial, from evening to evening you shall observe this sabbath.” (Leviticus 23).
The above biblical citations refer to what have become the Jewish High Holy days, in the seventh month, known as Tishrei. The first day has been expanded over time into a two day holiday which Jews call Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. Being in the seventh month it is obviously not the Jewish New Year, for that is in the first month, Nisan, which contains the Passover freedom festival. In the seventh month Jews celebrate the world’s New Year, the anniversary of Creation. Often repeated throughout these days is the declaration: “Today is the birthday of the world. Today God will bring to judgement all the world’s creatures.”
Rosh Hashanah 2014 begins in the evening of Wednesday, September 24 and ends in the evening of Friday, September 26. It begins in a festive mood. “Blessed are you, Lord, Sovereign of the universe, who has sustained and supported us and enabled us to reach this moment.” We are grateful for the gift of life during the past year. However, the mood is both happy and serious at the same time. It is the beginning of a ten day period of judgment and therefore of penitential reflection. One is encouraged to examine one’s life during the past year, express regret for sins and errors, confess before God and resolve to improve conduct during the New Year ahead. We can then ask and expect God’s forgiveness. However, if our sin was against another person, we must first secure their forgiveness before expecting that of God.
Yom Kippur 2014 begins in the evening of Friday, October 3 and ends in the evening of Saturday, October 4. On Yom Kippur, the penitential mood is dominant. The prayers move around a wide range of religious emotions: awe and reverence before God’s majesty; tenderness and love as gifts of God’s love; tears of regret and noble resolve. The congregation, many dressed in white throughout the day, alternately bow and sway, cry and laugh as they move through the liturgy. The final hours are filled with intense spiritual passions and ultimate exaltation. We believe that God has indeed listened to our prayers and will forgive us. Now the New Year can begin in joy.
The prayers throughout this period are heavily dependent upon Psalms as well as other Rabbinic and medieval poetic writings. These reflect a wide range of spiritual moods and theological attitudes and may vary from community to community.
Pope Francis and the Jewish Community
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this year, Pope Francis met at Domus Sanctae Marthae on Wednesday January 18 with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashana. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials.
“We want to share with the pope our message of peace and prosperity for the New Year,” said Claudio Epelman, executive director of the LAJC and theWJC official in charge of relations with the Vatican.
As Christians, we remember over two thousand years that comprise the story of the Christian community, from its beginnings within the Jewish community in Jerusalem, through the dramatic evolution that occurred as the Church took root in gentile communities of other cultures, to its present situation as the largest faith community in the world. The early Church and Rabbinic Judaism both took shape about the same time, both rooted in Biblical Judaism. But very soon in the history of these sibling communities, negative stereotypes of Jews and Judaism dominated the Church’s relations with the Jewish community. That led to the demeaning of Jewish faith and the persecution of Jews, culminating in the role that the Church’s theology played in setting the scene for the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II.
Hymn by Judah HaLevi
Judah HaLevi was one of the great poetic liturgists in Jewish history. Here he captures the essence of the Yom Kippur experience, as expressing our yearning for God’s mercy, grace and help in coming closer to God and being the beneficiary of God’s blessings.
Lord, today I beseech you,
Hear my prayer, Lord!
Lord, reveal Your strong right hand,
Show us Your power out of love, Lord!
Lord, my heart so moved, moans within me,
The strength of this emotion leaves me faint, Lord!
Lord, when You think of me,
Let is be for good that I am remembered, Lord!
Lord, I hope for Your salvation
Your grace will comfort me, Lord!
Lord, You are my Creator, my Rock,
What, but You, can help me, Lord?
Lord, Turn Your tender mercy towards me,
Do not regard my sin, Lord!
Lord, You are all that I desire,
My thoughts focus on Your unity, Lord!
Lord, my heart grows weak in this out pouring of emotion,
My soul is in misery, Lord!
Lord, in your faithful love, hear me,
Hear the urgency of my prayer, Lord!
Lord, all my thoughts are in Your hands,
You know my inmost depths, Lord!
Lord, look at me with open eyes,
Heal my pain, my agony, Lord!
Lord, before the gathered crowd, I praise You,
Sustain me in a prayerful stance, Lord.
Lord, You know how I yearn for Your salvation,
Grant my soul rest, Lord!
Lord, incline Your ear to hear my cry,
You always show mercy, Lord!
Lord, my God, I hope in You,
I pray that my salvation is near, Lord!
Lord, confirm me now as Your servant forever,
Does it matter if my sin appears, Lord?
Lord, how long must I remain a prisoner,
How long must I be entombed in sin that sears my spirit, Lord?
Lord, I sing in praise of Your unity,
Still, tears of grief well up in my heart, Lord!
Lord, in my weakness, I exult You,
Redeem me from my fears, Lord!
Lord, I trust in You for good things to come,
Your magnificent reign is all encompassing, Lord!
Lord, be patient with me, I worship You,
I seek your grace, Lord!
Lord, be attentive to my plea
Respond soon to my call, Lord!
Lord, with tenderness bring me your healing,
Revive my heavy heart, Lord!
Lord, my soul grows weak from my distress,
Day and night I cry to you, Lord!
Lord, out of the depths raise me,
reverse my captivity, Lord!
As our Jewish brothers and sisters prepare to observe a day of repentance and reconciliation this year, and come before God with fasting and prayer, we join with them in expressing our fundamental solidarity of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With them we recall our common trust in God’s grace and mercy, which we have inherited from the Jewish experience of God. With them we honor the richness of Jewish prayer that is at the core of Christian prayer. With them we confess our sins, both personal and corporate. With them we name with sadness and shame the sins of the Christian churches towards the Jewish people, especially our contempt for their spiritual traditions. In solidarity with them we seek forgiveness and reconciliation and pray for peace among all people, cultures and religions.