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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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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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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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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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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