The Courage to Hope

The Courage to Hope

Sep 30, 2022 By Ayelet Cohen | Commentary | Vayeilekh | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

Shabbat Shuvah represents the place between hope and fear; between transformation and unrealized aspirations. We may have made big promises on Rosh Hashanah, resolving to make significant changes in our lives, entering the year with a sense of excitement and optimism. But as Yom Kippur draws closer, we become more attuned to our own shortcomings. So much is beyond our control. Changing old patterns is arduous, the path uncertain. Confronting our own limitations, we can feel afraid and alone. The spiritual work of this moment lies in discerning the difference between acknowledging our limitations and succumbing to fear.

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Confronting Our “Concealed Things”

Confronting Our “Concealed Things”

Sep 23, 2022 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The concealed things concern the Lord our God; but with overt matters, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching. (Deut. 29:28)
There is, however, another reading of this verse, given by Nahmanides (Ramban), in the 13th century, and it is one that forces us to a certain deeper level of introspection at this time of year.

Here’s a paraphrase of what he says: The “concealed things” are not sins committed by others that are out of our view, and thus out of our control. Rather, they are the sins committed by us, but that are nevertheless out of our view and awareness. As long as we are not aware of them, they will be known only to God. But they are only out of our control because they are not known to us.

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5781 High Holiday Message

5781 High Holiday Message

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Chancellor Schwartz shares her thoughts on the 5781 High Holiday season.

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Tip the Scales

Tip the Scales

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

“—who will live and who will die . . . who will come to an untimely end . . . . who by plague . . . who will be brought low, and who will be raised up?” (U-netaneh Tokef, from the High Holiday liturgy)

In my earliest memory of this prayer, I am a young girl standing between my mother and grandmother in synagogue amidst hundreds of others. Both women are sobbing uncontrollably, as they recited these words. I was puzzled by their outward display of anguish but knew enough not to interrupt them to ask what caused it. They grasped in a way I had yet to comprehend just how tenuous life is; they understood that this one prayer more than any other captures the fragility of human life that the Days of Awe magnify.

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Restoring Balance: Exploring an Ancient Paradigm for Moving Beyond Our Mistakes

Restoring Balance: Exploring an Ancient Paradigm for Moving Beyond Our Mistakes

Sep 14, 2020 By Julia Andelman | Public Event video | Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement—yet the concept of atonement itself is rarely explored. The text of the mahzor (High Holiday prayerbook) asks God to “forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement”—but how is atonement distinct from forgiveness and pardon? Through an examination of biblical and rabbinic sources, we will learn how our ancestors interpreted the concept of kapparah, atonement, and the great power it held in their understanding of how human beings—flawed in our very nature—can carry on in the world after we have sinned. 

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Faith, Forgiveness and Prayer: Finding Meaning in the Days of Awe

Faith, Forgiveness and Prayer: Finding Meaning in the Days of Awe

Aug 31, 2020 By Jan Uhrbach | Public Event video | Video Lecture | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

A series of online classes with JTS faculty and staff

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From Self-Interest to Self-Surrender: Confronting the Challenges of Prayer

From Self-Interest to Self-Surrender: Confronting the Challenges of Prayer

Aug 31, 2020 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Public Event video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Why do many modern Jews find tefillah so difficult? We’ll grapple with this question by exploring attitudes toward prayer among thinkers including Rambam and Heschel, and we’ll contrast assumptions about what makes for a genuine and meaningful prayer in Jewish tradition and in American culture. In particular, we’ll discuss our expectations of what happens when we pray and the possibilities that emerge when we don’t put ourselves at the center of the prayer experience. Along the way, we will touch on Thomas Aquinas, Quakerism, Thomas Merton and yoga, and the light they shed on traditional Jewish conceptions of prayer. 

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Seeking and Offering Forgiveness: What are We Doing and How Do We Do It?

Seeking and Offering Forgiveness: What are We Doing and How Do We Do It?

Aug 24, 2020 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Public Event video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Forgiveness is at the heart of the High Holy Days season, yet it is far from clear what we mean by this term. Employing insights from rabbinic sources, mussar literature and psychology, we will think out loud about what we hope to achieve and how to achieve it as we seek forgiveness for ourselves and are asked to forgive others.

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God of the Faithful, God of the Faithless: Belief and Doubt in Prayer

God of the Faithful, God of the Faithless: Belief and Doubt in Prayer

Aug 17, 2020 By Jan Uhrbach | Public Event video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Do we need “faith” in order to pray? Can synagogue services be worthwhile and meaningful even if we’re not sure what we believe? We are hardly the first generation to struggle with contradictions among our intellectual beliefs, traditional Jewish liturgy, and the act of prayer. What do biblical and rabbinic texts about prayer, and the prayerbook itself, teach us about these conflicts, and how can they help us connect to prayer even in times of doubt or faithlessness?

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The Value of Doubt

The Value of Doubt

Oct 4, 2019 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

The more one invests in trying to have a meaningful and genuine High Holiday prayer experience, the more one stands to lose if the words of the mahzor fall short of one’s aspirations. The mahzor is conceptually and theologically dense. If one takes the time to meditate upon the assertions of the prayers as they go by, one is sure to eventually encounter a text that rings false, problematic, or even alienating.

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We Need Each Other

We Need Each Other

Sep 27, 2019 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of a rabbi is to train candidates for conversion to Judaism. Such people are often spiritual seekers, and their questions challenge teachers whose Jewish identity and practice are well established. Why do you do this? What do you believe? What does this text mean? Will this practice make any difference? Faced with such inquiries, it becomes harder for teachers to treat ritual as habit, and faith as dogma. The questions posed by converts, children, or adults who are first discovering the depths of Judaism are exciting to those of us who teach Torah, forcing us to reexamine our own beliefs and practices.

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The Great Escape

The Great Escape

May 3, 2019 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Aharei Mot | Yom Kippur

Last year, the eminent Bible scholar Robert Alter completed a project that only a handful of people have ever even attempted: a brand-new translation of and commentary on the entire Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The work comprises more than 3,000 pages and took him almost 25 years to complete. Professor Alter is rightfully the subject of much admiration for this outstanding achievement, but one of his predecessors did not fare as well.

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Cantillation for High Holidays

Cantillation for High Holidays

Oct 23, 2018 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Prayer Recordings | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Recordings by Cantor Sarah Levine (CS ’17). EXPLORE MORE HIGH HOLIDAY CONTENT

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Metaphorically Speaking

Metaphorically Speaking

Sep 14, 2018 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

I am sometimes surprised at how literal liberal Jews can be. Many wonder whether they can refer to God as מחיה מתים, Restorer of Life to the Dead, if they do not believe there is life after death. Many wonder whether they should recite the blessing which praises God for choosing Israel from among the other nations, אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים, if they do not believe that God chose Israel.

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Living With the Fragility of Life

Living With the Fragility of Life

Sep 29, 2017 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is one 25-hour day that is capable of entering and enriching every day of the year. On Yom Kippur, we peel back some of our denial and make space for the fragility of life. The rituals help us and the liturgy helps us. At the center of the High Holiday Amidah, the collection of prayers known as Tefillah (Prayer), stands U-netaneh Tokef. It begins, “Let us speak of the sacred power of this day—profound and awe-inspiring” (Mahzor Lev Shalem). The list of ways in which we can die included in the prayer certainly captures our attention, and can feel overwhelming.

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Teshuvah / Repentance

Teshuvah / Repentance

Sep 29, 2017 By Joanna Katz | Commentary | Yom Kippur

“What you can change is looking at and approaching the things in your life differently.”
“This Elul, I have had an opportunity to examine and reexamine my life so I might do things differently.”
“All the teshuvah work we do is inner work; the system does not care about the work we have done.”
“I want to be a better person.”

—Remarks made to me by Jewish inmates during the month of Elul

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Justice and Ritual

Justice and Ritual

Sep 25, 2017 By Daniel Nevins | Short Video | Yom Kippur

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Is This the Fast I Desire?

Is This the Fast I Desire?

Oct 11, 2016 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Yom Kippur

When I was a congregational rabbi, my practice was to offer a sermon on Yom Kippur morning relating to social justice. I would raise an issue of ethical concern in the world; share my reading of what Jewish texts and tradition had to say on the matter; and suggest actions for individuals and for the community.

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The Art of Fly Fishing and Teshuvah

The Art of Fly Fishing and Teshuvah

Oct 11, 2016 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Yom Kippur

I went fly fishing this summer with my son and a very patient instructor, and came away with three lessons directly relevant to the work of teshuvah.

First, fly fishing is hard, very hard, and if my skill at casting that day is any indication, it’s unlikely I will ever be very good at it.

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The Bluebird Inside Our Hearts

The Bluebird Inside Our Hearts

Oct 7, 2016 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

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