Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Shanah Tovah: The Tradition of a New Beginning

Sunset of September 25th, 2012 will mark Yom Kippur, the beginning of the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jewish population.  This “Day of Atonement”, carries essential themes of atonement and repentance. Often spending most of the day in synagogue services, Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days, which began with Rosh Hashanah at sunset this past Sunday, September 16th, 2012.

Rosh Hashanah, which literally translates to, "head of the year", is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of autumns High Holy Days, also known asthe "Days of Awe".
  Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei, the seventh month ofthe Hebrew calendar.It is described in the Torah as “Yom Teru'ah”, a day of sounding the shofar, which is traditionally made of a ram’s horn. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey.

Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. According to Jewish tradition, G-d inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Bookof Life on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" theverdict. During the Days of Awe, the Jewish community tries to amend his or her behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against G-d (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day ofYom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions, and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers oneself absolved by G-d.

The Yom Kippur prayer service includes several unique aspects. One is the actual number of prayer services. Unlike a regular day, which has three prayer services, or a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which have four prayer services, Yom Kippurhas five prayer services: Ma'ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; Mussaf, the additional prayer; Mincha, the afternoon prayer; and Ne'ilah, the closing prayer. The prayer services also include a public confession of sins (Vidui) and a unique prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

As Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. Additionally, Jews refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dressclothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited onYom Kippur.

As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labour begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, which symbolizes purity and callsto mind the promise that one’s sins should be wiped away.  Some that follow the Jewish faith also believe that humans are compared to angels on this day. It is customary to not wear gold jewellery as gold serves as a reminder of sins associated with the golden calf, a story passed down among the Jewish community.

While the day of Yom Kippur is the most solemn of the year, an undertone of joy suffuses it.
It’s a joy that revels in the spirituality of the day, which expresses the confidence that G-d will accept repentance, forgive sins, and seal a verdict for a year of life, health and happiness. The closing Neilah service climaxes in the resounding cries of "Hear OIsrael... G-d is one."   There is then an eruption of song and dance, followed by a single blast of the shofar. The service is capped with the traditional proclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem." which is then followed by a festive after-fast meal, turning the evening after Yom Kippur into its own festival.

Shanah Tovah (“a good year”) to all of Global Learning’s Jewish family, friends, neighbors and colleagues!

“Peace, peace to the far and to the near! “  - Isaiah 57.19

No comments:

Post a Comment