The Secret History of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Yr that begins Wednesday night, is usually a powerful time for Jews in blended political households. In concept, the day is essentially about forgiveness and introspection. In observe, the day is commonly about loud, indignant political arguments on the vacation desk.

Actually, although, Rosh Hashanah is essentially concerning the themes dominating our political second—particularly, immigration, marginalization, and multiculturalism.

First, the Jewish New Yr isn’t truly the Jewish New Yr. Previous to the Babylonian Exile, Israelites celebrated the New Yr within the Springtime—on the brand new moon two weeks earlier than Passover. Actually, Rosh Hashanah isn’t even known as Rosh Hashanah within the Bible. It’s known as “Yom Teruah,” the Day of Sounding the Shofar. Whereas the Biblical texts aren’t fairly clear, the aim of the day appears to be to announce the interval that may culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In Biblical occasions, Yom Kippur was a bizarre, cultic, and finally joyous ritual, by which the excessive priest uttered the ineffable title of God and purged Israel of its collective wrongdoing. The Israelites would reply with celebration, which seems to have been considerably orgiastic in nature. (Girls happening to rivers, males discovering wives, et cetera—considerably completely different from the providers at your native Reform temple.) Yom Teruah was the notification that Yom Kippur was across the nook.

However then got here the exile, and the Israelites’—now Jews, after the one surviving tribe of Judea—encounter with the extra superior society of Babylonia. Jews adopted the Babylonian calendar, together with its extremely pagan month names, like Tammuz, named after a Persephone-like determine whose loss of life and resurrection aligns with the cycle of the seasons. And together with its new 12 months, the primary day of the autumn month of Tishrei.

Actually, these two parts have been associated. Tishrei was the start of the brand new 12 months as a result of it was after Tammuz’s resurrection, and marked the start of the wet season after the death-like summer time. (Sure, within the Historical Close to East, winter was life and summer time was loss of life. Make a journey to the Center East to see why.) Thus the obscure vacation of Yom Teruah turned the far more vital vacation of Rosh Hashanah.

In different phrases, the very event of the “Jewish New Yr” is a results of the Jews’ experiences as immigrants to Babylonian society, and their mixing of Jewish and Babylonian traditions. Historical Judaism was not practically as insular and scared of “international” influences as some Biblical texts counsel; in spite of everything, the rationale that some components of the Bible prohibit “idolatrous” rituals is that Israelites have been in truth practising them.

Even the prophet Ezekiel notices (with out objection) that Jewish ladies have been “weeping over Tammuz” on the Temple in Jerusalem. Opposite to the conceptions of some Jewish fundamentalists immediately, historic Israelite and Jewish faith have been merchandise of multiculturalism, immigration, and mixing.

Two millennia of subsequent historical past amplified these themes.

In all probability essentially the most well-known, and most controversial, of excessive vacation prayers—generally known as the Unetaneh Tokef — comes from the interval of the Crusades, and was allegedly written by a rabbi who had resisted church authority and been dismembered in consequence. Its haunting litany of the varied methods folks can die is theologically troubling immediately—does God actually ordain who shall die by hearth, and who by stoning?—however comes from a interval by which the oppression of Jews by Christians was certainly as unpredictable and violent because the prayer’s textual content suggests. Just like the Spirituals of former slaves, Unetaneh Tokef displays the non secular yearnings of an oppressed folks.

In fact, immediately, many Jews on the conservative facet of the political spectrum take a distinct lesson from this historical past than do extra progressive ones. For progressives, the central lesson of anti-Semitism is that oppression is improper and we should always battle it wherever we discover it. For some conservatives, the central lesson of anti-Semitism is that we should stick up for Jews always, and assist Jews defeat their enemies by being robust and self-sufficient.

Nonetheless, the very fact stays that the Excessive Vacation liturgy displays the hardship of oppression and exile. The limitless petitions for forgiveness, significantly on Yom Kippur however on Rosh Hashanah as nicely, should not merely remnants of a bygone theological period, by which God was understood as a sort of large puppet-master pulling the strings of destiny. Moderately, that theology is itself the product of centuries of Jewish struggling and marginalization.

The rationale folks used to imagine these items is that they needed, even wanted, to imagine it. They desperately sought solutions for his or her struggling: why the righteous suffered whereas the merciless triumphed, why even repentance was not sufficient to avert a horrible loss of life, how there may very well be any transcendent order in a world that appeared chaotic.

There’s a motive, in spite of everything, that the latter-day Jewish sage Leonard Cohen selected the phrases of the Unetaneh Tokef for his 1974 traditional “Who By Fireplace.” Cohen isn’t endorsing this theology a lot as affirming the craving beneath it. Life is precarious, usually merciless. We’re susceptible creatures, topic to forces past our management. And in Cohen’s model, even the craving for which means is denied, as God is questioned as nicely (“Who shall I say is asking?”).

Even the well-known melody of Unetaneh Tokef is resonant with non-Jewish cantorial music, simply as The Jazz Singer’s rendition of Kol Nidre displays the conflict between Jewish custom and the New World.

Personally, I discover it unattainable to sq. these themes with a political ideology that perpetuates oppression within the title of safety and denigrates immigration within the title of nationalism. I discover the Excessive Holidays’ insistence on fact and introspection inconsistent with the cavalier angle towards the reality on the a part of Donald Trump and his supporters.

However no matter how modern Jews interpret these themes, the very fact is that Rosh Hashanah bears the document of Jewish migration, struggling, and multiculturalism, from its title to its liturgy to its themes, even to its customary meals and melodies, all of which have roots in Jewish encounters with different cultures. This can be a vacation created by immigrants who knew each the richness of cultural change and the sting of oppression. It’s a 5,000-year-old ritual that appears created for 2017. way of=rss | The Secret Historical past of Rosh Hashanah


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