Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטֹאתיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

Leviticus 16:30

Five times on Yom Kippur, we say the Ashamnu, the shorter prayer of confession. As a community, and with musical accompaniment, we read out a list which might be considered slanderous if attributed to any of us by another person. However, we freely admit to all of the sins on the list.

What have we really done? What do we think we have done? What do others think we have done?

There are generalized sins which we admit to, because that’s how the liturgy goes.

There are the sins we think of in private prayer.

There are sins we don’t know about which somebody else thinks we have committed.

With certain hurts, such as being snubbed or bullied – it’s easier to know when we suffer from them than it is to know when we do them.

What I’d like us to discuss, the bottom line, is how we feel when we say the prayers of repentance; whether we can identify with the words or if they don’t feel right. The print out is about the prayer beginning Ashamnu, We have sinned, and it lists quite specific types of sin.

There is a prayer (Days of Awe pp644 – 645), written by Rabbi Lionel Blue, z”l, which includes a confession of insincere confession.

Apology, confession and repentance – how far do they overlap? Can apologies and confessions be insincere? Repentance, which, perhaps, takes place in the heart, seems less likely to be insincere.

Does gratitude have any common borders with repentance? And – perhaps more likely – does forgiveness?

Sometimes unfair things are leveled against us, either by strangers eg, a driver in a hurry or a zealous tweeter; sometimes by our nearest and dearest, eg ‘You never listen,’ ‘You don’t help.’

We admit our shortcomings to a person unlikely to judge us: a therapist, or a counsellor or God.

Is the sense of guilt an index of wrongdoing or is it a personality trait?

We live in a society where there is sometimes a requirement for a public apology, even for historical events. The American House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery, as well as an apology to Native Americans and to Hawaii for the overthrow of their kingdom. Tony Blair is often pressed to apologize for the war in Iraq. If a nation apologizes for an historical wrongdoing, is it worth anything unless they pay reparations?

We say sorry to each other, especially ahead of Yom Kippur. I know of one case when the person receiving the apology was on the point of gracious acceptance when he realized it was Shabbat Shuva and then interpreted the carefully timed apology as an act of pious passive-aggression.

There is a view that an apology should have three components, regret, which means owning one’s deed and not evading responsibility;  compensation, which means doing one’s best to put it right, and a promise that one will at least try not repeat the offence

Let’s look at the sins listed in the Ashamnu. We should note that, unlike the Al chet shechatanu lefanecha, the Ashamnu is specific about different types of sin or wrongdoing. But the prayer is introduced by a reference to sin: aval anachnu v’avotenu chatanu’ (‘…but we and our ancestors have sinned’).

Edith Piaf declared in her moving song, ‘Je ne regrette rien,’ that she regretted nothing. Is there something to be said for regretting nothing? Is it an authentic recognition of the good and the bad in one’s life? The metaphor of sweeping away has something in common with our own prayer, taken from the prophet Isaiah (44:22): ‘Behold I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’


The discussion took place on Yom Kippur 5778 while the Mussaf service was in progress in the main synagogue hall.. Most people felt that apologies could occur for outward form, without genuine repentance. Being on the receiving end of an apology was valued; regarded as a healing experience. Gratitude and forgiveness were discussed. Institutional apologies were discussed and the view was expressed that they too had a healing effect. We noted that the Ashamnu prayer was translated in Yamim Noraim in a way which kept the acrostic form of the prayer but was very free with the line by line translation. There was discussion of the sin of gossip/lashon hara in particular. A distinction was made between gossip and betrayal.

Although the Ashamnu lists sins we have committed, there was an interest in what would be a proper response to perceived injuries against us.

As always, the point of the discussion was not to reach conclusions, but for its own sake.

We returned to the main hall in time for the Minchah service.

Yom Kippur 2016/ 5777
For afternoon study at XXXX XXXX Reform Synagogue

While the Yom Kippur mussaf service is going on, there’s room for the whole congregation in one hall, but when we join the main service for Minchah, the numbers gradually increase so that, by the time Yizkor starts, both halls will be filled, more or less to capacity. People who, for one reason or another, leave the synagogue during the course of the day, tend to come back for Yizkor, the service for remembering the dead. Some have been bereaved this year, others in years past and some come supported by families, perhaps their children, most of whom, we might reasonably hope, have not yet experienced bereavement.

Mourning, loss and remembering play a great part in our lives, as does the certain knowledge that our own days are numbered.

The comfort of believing that we’ll be reunited with our loved ones after death is not available to many of us, these days, even though, every time we recite the Amidah, we say that God revives the dead,.

Our synagogue has a Minhag Group, open to all members, where all aspects of our religious customs come under discussion. One topic which came up, time and time again, because members raised the subject, was the way we handled bereavements and yahrzeits, in synagogue services, for example, before kaddish and in the form of notifications: community email and notice board. There was sometimes a question of which mourners would be named. ‘Father of XXXX,’ would be typical at a yahrzeit, but what if the member isn’t in shul for the yahrzeit? Or, he’s in shul, but wants us to mention that the deceased was grandfather to his children or grandchildren, who are not in shul? Usually, the shaliach tsibbur will read all the names gladly.

Is the feeling which makes the reading of names important different from the feeling that makes us erect a tombstone, light a yahrzeit candle or visit a grave?

Are these questions connected with memorializing, rather than grieving, or is there an overlap? Do social norms influence the way we remember? People sometimes weep when the name of their loved one is read out before kaddish, so it must happen that the respectful ritual of the yahrzeit interacts with the painful sense of loss.

How do we memorialize? With prayers, tombstones, donations; a newborn child of the family may be named after the deceased. We speak of those we have lost, look at photos, movies, voice recordings, if we have these mementos. We research history and genealogy. We value things which belonged to them and things they valued. We feel the loss and, if we lose someone close to us, our lives are never the same.

Psalm 103 tells us that life is short and lives are forgotten, sooner or later. We know this is true for us, as well as those who have gone ahead. How do we want to be remembered, if indeed we expect to be remembered? Some of us contribute to science, the arts, education or the well-being of humanity. Some of us have children. Some of us write wills.

At the Bafta and Oscar award ceremonies, every year now, they play a montage of images of those from the film industry who died in the past year. The names and professions are written underneath the smiling faces. Some are world famous, others are cameramen or costume designers, whose faces most of us don’t recognize. The music accompanying the montage of images adds to their poignancy.

There is a memorial fountain in Hyde Park to Princess Diana. Rabin Square, formerly Kings of Israel Square, in Tel Aviv is named in memory of Yitzhak Rabin. The very famous have airports named after them – not just Kennedy, De Gaulle, Ben Gurion, Indira Gandhi, but Marco Polo and Leonardo da Vinci, and also John Lennon, John Wayne and George Best.

There are prescribed prayers for entering a cemetery, including mechayah hametim. In the El Male Rachamim, we pray for the peace of the soul of the departed; that God will shelter them eternally and bind their soul in the bond of life.

Is the survival of the soul taken for granted in these prayers, or is it a liturgical convention, to speak as if death were not the end of life?

If we are not convinced of a supernal afterlife, is the nature of memorializing in this world even more important?

While I was writing this, an item came on the news about Jo Cox, the murdered MP, and the work she was doing to support a volunteer civil defence organization of neutral, unarmed Syrians, called the White Helmets. It was said that the White Helmets rescue people from danger without ascertaining who they are, or what side they’re on. It seems to me that, if they save lives, and Jo Cox effectively supported their work, that would be one kind of everlasting memorial.

By the next time I open this document, I have read that the White Helmet organization has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It has also been referred to by those who oppose it, as a wing of Al Qaeda. The truth or falsity of this assertion cannot make an iota of difference to the way Jo Cox is remembered. Or can it?

Can we even know what will be memorable, what will have a good outcome and what will be ephemeral, a candle in the wind, as they say, or a flower of the field?

As for ‘everlasting to everlasting,’ me-olam v’ad olam, we invoke it in our liturgy, but, for many of us, it’s just an expression, the poetry and metaphor of prayer.

In death as in life, good intentions can be lost and legacies compromised, but those we loved, we remember with love as long as we live.

M Gottlieb 1878
Notes for a discussion on Yom Kippur afternoon

The Lord, The Lord, a God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, generous in love and truth, showing love to thousands, forgiving sin, wrong and failure; who pardons.

Yamim Noraim, Forms of Prayer for Jewish Worship, 1985

This prayer, listing the attributes of God’s mercy, comes from Exodus 34, when God passed by Moses on Mount Sinai. The first two attributes are God’s name, which is translated in our 1985 Days of Awe machzor as, ‘The Lord.’ More recent Reform prayer books have dropped the name ‘Lord’ in favour of ‘The Eternal,’ ‘The Almighty,’ ‘Sovereign,’ ‘The Living God,’ or, simply, ‘God.’ Does ‘Lord’ have too many secular and gender associations to be an appropriate way of addressing God in prayer?

This is part of a larger question about the problems of translating scripture and liturgy. In the case of the Torah, there is a history, in the Aramaic targums, of translating freely and explaining or rationalizing the text in the translation. Some targums differ from the Torah text enough to be counted as a kind of midrash. In the case of public prayer, the translator or author has a considerable degree of creative freedom. Our machzor has prayers and texts both ancient and modern and it is currently being revised by the Movement for Reform Judaism. When the new version is published, we can expect a significantly different High Holy Days machzor from the present one.

To narrow down our discussion, I would like us to think about how we translate the name of God, which is represented by orthodoxy as Hashem, except in prayer when it is pronounced Adonai and which appears in the traditional English of the King James Version as Lord.

There are understood to be various problems with the name Lord. It suggests maleness, entitlement, wealth. It has negative associations through literary creations such as Sauron – the Lord of the Rings and Lord Voldemort, or through peerage, as in The House of Lords.

I would like to ask if you have a preference about the name you use for God, and if you have a sense of there being a difference in meaning between the names of God which we read in scripture and in prayer. Is the meaning of the prayer different, if the name is Adonai or Elohim or El Shaddai or Ribon ha Olamim?

I wonder how you would translate the first sentence of the Shema, if asked to do so, without reflection.

In our translations when reading the haftarah in our synagogue, we substitute the name Eternal in texts which otherwise use the translation Lord. This is reasonable as there is only one Eternal and many lords. However, the computer settings result in the name Eternal occurring when someone is addressing a person as ‘My Lord’ which happens particularly often when there are kings involved.

The draft erev Rosh Hashanah machzor produced by MRJ in 2014, has a few solutions: substituting ‘Our Living God’ for ‘Lord’ in the Amidah, or using the translation God, where the prayer or psalm has Adonai in the original Hebrew. The words ‘You’ and ‘Your’, capital Y, are utilised, when they fit the context. A possible problem is that the names Adonai and Elohim are not distinguishable in translation, when both are translated as God.

‘Living God’ is an informed choice, because the tetragrammaton is similar to the verb to be, and because God tells Moses at the burning bush, ‘I am who am.’ Our Living God mostly translates the locution Adonai Elohenu; however, in the Nishmat, this is translated ‘God our Creator.’

Our siddur, published in 2008, has more than one way of translating the tetragrammaton. In blessings, it offers Blessed are You, our Living God. Melech is then translated as Sovereign to avoid gender specificity. Sometimes, the name is just God, which does not distinguish between Adonai and Elohim. ‘Source of existence and of all human strength’ translates ‘ribon haolamin v’Adonei haAdonim.’

The kaddish does not name God, although it speaks of His name and refers to God as the Holy One. The grammar referring to God is masculine, which is avoided in translation by saying ‘God’ instead of ‘He’ etc.

In the Shema, Adonai Elohenu becomes ‘the Eternal [is] our God.’

Adonai imloch l’olam vaed becomes ‘God alone will rule forever and ever.’

For Kumah Adonai veyafutzu oyevecha, the siddur has ‘Almighty God, rise up!’

Ki shem Adonai ekra is ‘I call out the name of the One God.’

For the Torah and Haftarah blessings, we say ‘Our Living God,’ as is the usual form for Adonai Elohenu.

In the Aleynu, we say ‘Almighty God’ and ‘the Eternal.’

There is a tradition of substituting Hashem for the tetragrammaton, or HaMakom, or, from Talmudic times, Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu.

Yah, short form of the name occurs 50 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible, of which 24 form part of the phrase Halleluyah. In Jewish tradition, there are many names for God. Some developed in the time of the Mishnah and the Talmud, such as Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu and Ha Maqom; a few are Kabbalistic, notably Ein Sof, Without End, and many of them are biblical, such as El Shaddai, El Elyon, Eloah, Yah and simply El which is also the name of a Canaanite god.

The date of the oldest known inscription of the tetragrammaton is 840 BCE, on the Mesha Stele.

In some of the earliest manuscripts of Greek translations of the bible, the Tetragrammaton was written in Hebrew letters; later it was translated as the Greek word, Kyrios, meaning Lord, while Elohim was translated as Theos. There is a view that Kyrios was not used in Greek translations of Hebrew texts until the time of the New Testament, which was written originally in Greek, and used the name Kyrios.

In Latin translations, Deus translates Elohim and Dominus translates the Tetragrammaton.

The first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, said that it is lawful to utter God’s name only in a holy place, which would be the Sanctuary of the Temple, by the High Priest. He said: ‘If any one should even dare to utter the name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death.’
According to the Mishnah and the Talmud, the name was pronounced only on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies, as we know from our Avodah service, which quotes the rabbinic sources.
The Masoretes, who added vowel points (niqud) and cantillation marks to the manuscripts added the vowels for ‘Adonai’ to the Tetragrammaton, so that the name could be read from the Torah, or in liturgy.

LXX Exodus 34:6
κύριος ὁ θεὸς οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων μακρόθυμος καὶ πολυέλεος καὶ ἀληθινὸς
Deuteronomy 6:4 Shema
’Ακουε Ἰσραηλ, Κυριος ὁ Θεος ὁ ἡμων, Κυριος εἰς ἐστι.

Vulgate Exodus 34:6
Dominator Domine Deus, misericors et clemens, patiens et multae miserationis, ac verax,
Deuteronomy 6:4
Audi, Israel: Dominus Deus noster, Dominus unus est.
French Ex 34:6
L’Eternel, l’Eternel, Dieu miséricordieux et compatissant
Je suis le Seigneur ! Je suis un Dieu compatissant et bienveillant
Deut 6:4
Ecoute, Israël! l’Eternel, notre Dieu, est le seul Eternel.
Écoute, peuple d’Israël : Le Seigneur notre Dieu est le seul Seigneur.
German Ex 34:6
HERR, HERR, Gott, barmherzig und gnädig
Deut 6:4
Höre, Israel, der HERR ist unser Gott, der HERR allein.
Italian Ex 34:6
Il Signore, il Signore, Dio misericordioso e pietoso
Italian Deut 6:4
Ascolta, Israele: il Signore è il nostro Dio, il Signore è uno solo.
Yiddish Ex 34
יהוה יהוה
איז אַ דערבאַרימדיקער און לײַ טזעליקער גאָט
Deut 6:4
הער, ישׂראל: יהוה אונדזער גאָט, יהוה איז אײנער

Outcome of the discussion
Some people said that they found male terminology obtrusive in prayer while others found the avoidance of gender specificity equally jarring. It was noted that the machzor, dating from 1985, used traditional terminology which the translators of the 2008 siddur had avoided. I did not get the impression that preferences regarding the English translation were an impediment to prayer for those in the discussion group. It was noted that the words of the Hebrew text are rarely changed, although the editing of the prayers may vary, due to theological differences. Editors seemed more willing to cut than to change. Those present expressed great esteem for tradition and the sense of being at one with other Jews across space and time, literally singing from the same hymn sheet! Yet they also esteemed enlightened, universalist values and thought it appropriate that these should be expressed in our Reform liturgy. Several people felt that the language of prayer resembled the language of poetry, being to some extent impressionist and euphonic, but not precise, least of all in the language used to and about God.

Yom Kippur 5772

Do Not Let Their Homes Become Their Graves


The prayers of the High Priest
The Avodah service, which takes place during Mussaf on Yom Kippur,  is based on the Temple service, as described in the Mishnah and the Gemara. The High Priest – the Cohen Hagadol – said penitential prayers on behalf of himself and the whole community.

When the High Priest emerged from the Holy of Holies, he prayed that the coming year would be fruitful, prosperous and peaceful, and then added the prayer v’al ha anshei Sharon… for those who lived in the region of Sharon, in danger of sudden earthquakes ‘…do not let their homes become their graves’.

Where does the prayer come from?

The source of this prayer is the Talmud Yerushalmi, also called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Palestine Talmud, or the Talmud of the Land of Israel (Tractate Yoma perek 5 hilchot 2).

The Jerusalem Talmud is shorter than the Babylonian Talmud, and was completed earlier, about 429 CE. As the name suggests, it is a product of the Land of Israel, probably from the academies of Tiberias, Caesarea and Sepphoris.

Life in Palestine had been more agriculturally based than amongst the Babylonian communities, so the Jerusalem Talmud  pays more attention to agricultural halakhah than the Bavli, and also more attention to the geography of the region, which may be why we find this focus on the Sharon Plain, the northern half of the coastal plain of Israel, running from Jaffa up to Carmel.

What was the problem for the people of Sharon?
Our translation explains that the region was in danger of earthquakes, but the Hebrew words do not refer to earthquakes, or name any specific danger.
It may be that this region was subject to flooding, being on the coast.
There is a geological fault called the Dead Sea Transform, which extends through the Jordan River Valley, and is part of the Great African Rift Valley and this may have caused seismic disturbances. The geography of Palestine in the time of the Jerusalem Talmud shows that the Sharon was a marshy, swampy area, not easily cultivated until deforestation, around the third century.
The Babylonian Talmud has a more oblique reference, when commenting on exemption from military service. Deuteronomy 20:5 states that a man is exempt who has built a new house and not had time to dedicate it. The Babylonian sages considered the exceptions to this rule:
R. Eliezer says: also he who built a brick house in Sharon does not return home. A Tanna taught: [The reason is] because they have to renew it twice in a period of seven years.
Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 44a

Why do the prayers of the Avodah service conclude with this particular prayer, for the safety of a particular section of the population?

Yehuda Kurtzer (President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America): ‘The route to a universal vision runs through our particular experience of the world…If we cannot identify with the particular, will we be able to pray for the universal?’ (YK 2010)

Are earthquakes mentioned in Tanakh?

Resh ayin shin means earthquake, from a verb to shake or tremble.

1 Kings 19:11-13
Alone in the wilderness, Elijah sees a whirlwind, an earthquake and a fire, after which God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice.

Isaiah 29:6
God tells Isaiah that he will bring thunder, earthquake and a tempest, save Jerusalem (Ariel) from her enemies.

Ezekiel 3:12
Ezekiel hears the sound of an earthquake, during a mystical, prophetic vision

Ezekiel 38:19
God tells Ezekiel that He will bring an earthquake and other upheavals on the day of a future, apocalyptic battle.

Amos 1:1
The time of Amos’s ministry as a prophet is said to be during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Zechariah 14:4-5
Zechariah prophesies about a future time when God will intervene to defend Jerusalem from her enemies, causing a rift in the Mount of Olives. The people will run away, he says, just as they fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah.

What did the sages say in times of danger?
Rabbi Joshua says:
One who is travelling in a dangerous place should offer a brief prayer, and say: Save, Hashem, Your people, the remnant of Israel; even when they distance themselves through sin, let their needs be before You. Blessed are you Hashem, Who hears prayer.
Mishnah 4:4

The scriptural source for this mishnah is Jeremiah 31:7:

For thus says the Lord, Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

Our Yizkor service includes a similar prayer:

‘Guardian of Israel, Guard the Remnant of Israel, and suffer not Israel to perish who daily declare Hear O Israel.’ p619 Yamim Noraim

The Talmudic sages used to add personal appeals to God following the set prayers and these were standardized in the Middle Ages, a time of danger for the Jewish people.

What is the modern Jewish response to natural disasters?
It is not to view the disaster as a punishment from God. I believe mainstream orthodoxy repudiates such a view as, of course, does Progressive Judaism. The modern Progressive Jewish response emphasizes human agency, regarding divine agency as a source of support rather than punishment. The modern siddurim include prayers where we ask God to make us strong and effective so that we are able to take responsibility, to withstand disaster and act for the good of the community; then as always, we ask God to spare us.
The High Priest prays for the safety of others, in the region of Sharon, but is it ok to ask God to give us things we want?
Hannah, whose story is told in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, is cited by the rabbis of the Talmud as exemplary in prayer, and she does indeed ask God for the thing she longs for, a child. God answers her prayer.

Said Hannah before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, of all the hosts and hosts that Thou hast created in Thy world, is it so hard in Thy eyes to give me one son? A parable: To what is this matter like? To a king who made a feast for his servants, and a poor man came and stood by the door and said to them, Give me a bite,8 and no one took any notice of him, so he forced his way into the presence of the king and said to him, Your Majesty, out of all the feast which thou hast made, is it so hard in thine eyes to give me one bite?
Berakhot 31b

Ribbono Shel Olam

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a Chasidic master of the eighteenth century, used to address God with one of the many names used in Talmudic times: Ribbono Shel Olam. He used to repeat this name as a mantra to enhance kavanah in prayer. When God is addressed as ‘Master of the Universe’, the person who says it relinquishes their sense of controlling the world. A person can control his response to a situation, but the situation itself may be outside his control. A mantra can be an expression of faith, when words fail, or when we can’t find the right words, or when too many words make excessively difficult demands on faith.

When all else fails, zog tehillim
Psalms are often specially recited in times of trouble or danger. The Yiddish expression, zogen tehillim, refers to the recitation of psalms, when all else fails. Tsadikim of the East European communities used to say:

Rabosai, Mir Ken Zich Mer Nisht Farlozen Oif Nissim, Kum, Laz Mir Zogen

My friends, we can no longer rely on miracles, come let us recite Tehillim.<a

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