The High Holidays, known in Hebrew as the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), are a time of introspection, evaluation, repentance, judgment and celebration. During this time, we examine our behavior, deeds and relationships with family, friends and God.
92Y offers High Holiday services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, led by Rabbi Jen Krause and Cantorial Soloist/Musical Director Josh Nelson. 92Y also offers family services with Karina Zilberman for those who are more comfortable bringing their small children to a child-centered gathering. 92Y's High Holiday services are non-denominational, offering people with a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, knowledge and sensibilities a variety of ways to connect at this special time of the Jewish year.
Rosh Hashanah, which translates as the head or first of the year, is celebrated on the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishri. The two days of the holiday commemorate God's creation of the world and the beginning of the Jewish year. Despite the seriousness of this time of year, Rosh Hashanah is a festival of celebration. It is customary to eat apples and challah dipped in honey, a symbol of the sweetness we hope to enjoy during the coming year.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, many Jews observe the custom of tashlich (literally translated as "to throw"). Jews gather at a river or any flowing body of water and throw pieces of bread into the water, reciting prayers of repentance as they watch the pieces drift away. This symbolic gesture of discarding one's sins first arose in the Middle Ages and is derived from a verse in Micha, "And you shall throw their sins into the depths of the sea" (7:19).
One of the special rituals that enhances our celebration of the High Holidays is the blowing of the shofar. The shofar is a ram's horn, which is blown somewhat like a trumpet. The Biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Teruah—The Day of the Sounding of the Shofar. It is suggested that the shofar's loud blast is a call to repentance and awakening.
A total of 100 notes are sounded with the shofar each day of Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat.
There are four types of notes:
Tekiah—One sustained blast
Shevarim—Three short blasts
Teruah—Nine short blasts
Tekiah Gedolah—Literally "Big Tekiah," a long, sustained blast.
A major element of the High Holidays is teshuva. Loosely translated as repentance, the word teshuva comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to return." Tradition teaches that on the High Holidays, God judges us according to our actions of the previous year. The High Holidays afford us the opportunity to evaluate our actions and to return to the correct way of behaving and acting, both towards others and towards God.
During this time of self-reflection, we are encouraged to examine our behavior. If we have acted poorly, if we have hurt our friends or acted unkindly, we must ask for forgiveness. It is important to remember that God cannot forgive those sins committed by one person against another; He can only forgive those sins committed against Him.
Asseret Yemei Teshuvah
The Ten Days of Repentance
One of the ongoing themes of the High Holidays is the concept that God has books in which He inscribes our fate for the coming year. In these books it is written who will have a good year, who will prosper, who will fall, who will be blessed and who will suffer. It is said that the books are written on Rosh Hashanah but are not sealed until the final blast of the shofar on Yom Kippur. During the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, known as the Ten Days of Repentance, we are given the opportunity to influence God's decree through teshuvah—repentance, tefilah—prayer, and tzedakah—acts of charity and loving kindness.
From this concept comes the traditional High Holiday greeting, "L'shana tova tikateivu—May you be inscribed for a good year."
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year. The seriousness of the day is marked by the prohibition against eating and drinking. By fasting and refraining from the festivities of large meals, we focus our attention solely on the importance of the day as one of prayer and repentance. Some of the other restrictions include bathing, wearing leather shoes and engaging in sexual relations.
Yom Kippur is the only fast day mandated in the Bible. Those who are excluded from the obligation to fast include children under the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah (12-13 years old), pregnant women or those have just given birth and anyone suffering from a potentially life-threatening illness.
Much of the holiday is spent in the synagogue in prayer. The liturgy of the High Holidays is captured in a special prayer book called a machzor. One of the most notable prayers in the Yom Kippur liturgy is the Al Chet (For the Sin) confession, which is repeated throughout services. It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sin that many consider the be-all and end-all of Judaism. Rather, they focus on mistreatment of other people and moral and ethical behaviors. All sins are confessed in the plural, emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.
Services end at nightfall with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, one long blast on the shofar. The fast concludes (Sheimot) at 7:05pm.
92Y wishes you a year of blessings and sweetness.