Salt Lake Jews this week ushered in the 10 days of introspection and rededication known as the High Holy Days or Days of Awe. Beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the holy days are a time of fasting, praying and worshiping for observant Jews.
Rabbi Frederick Wenger said the observance comes early this year as the new year 5749 begins. "This is a very busy time for me as this major festival is one in which the congregation gathers together in the synagogue. Most of the other observances are home-centered," the rabbi said.Marked by the blowing of the shofar or ram's horn, the 10 days known as yamim noraim in Hebrew began with the two days of Rosh Hashana. Rabbi Wenger conducted services Sunday evening, Monday morning and Monday evening for Rosh Hashana. Cantor Lawrence Loeb and the synagogue choir provided music.
Blowing the shofar is decreed in the Torah (the five books of Moses) and mentioned in Psalm 81:4-5 and Exodus 19, but the symbolism is not clear. One commentary suggested the sound is meant to awaken the slumbering soul or as a clarion call to war against the worst part of our natures. The shofar blowing comes a number of times during the Rosh Hashana services, at one time right after reading from the Torah.
Traditional greetings exchanged by Jews during the holiday time are Shanah tovah, "A good year" and Le-shanah tovah tikatevu, "May you be inscribed for a good year (in the Book of Life)."
Expressing the themes of judgment and repentance, the services invite humility and soul-searching. During the Sunday evening service, Rabbi Wenger spoke of the incident in New York years ago when Kitty Genovese was murdered while her neighbors looked on and failed to summon help. "Psychologists have determined the cause of this tragedy was `diffusion' of responsibility," Rabbi Wenger said. "Everyone thought someone else would call the police and so no one did."
Rabbi Wenger then suggested that the 2,500 to 3,000 Jews in the Salt Lake Valley need to be contacted and embraced, but in an organized effort. A Mitzvot Club is preparing to meet that need and the rabbi challenged those present at the Rosh Hashana services to reach out to their fellow Jews.
One of the songs Cantor Loeb sang during the service was a traditional song called the Yigdal, based on the 13 principles of faith set down by Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Echoing softly throughout the sanctuary of the synagogue, the music of the cantor and the choir was conducive to reflection.
Many break-the-fast dinners were given throughout the Jewish community and Jewish children gathered at the synagogue to eat the traditional dish of apples and honey that signifies the wish for a sweet year to come.
The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is viewed as part of the process of aseret yemei teshuvah, the days of repentance. This is a time in which a Jew can repent and be sealed into the Book of Life. The Talmud advises, "Inasmuch as the world is judged in accordance with the majority of its deeds, and the individual is judged in accordance with the majority of his deeds; if he performs one mitzvah (good deed), happy is he, for he has tipped his scales and the scales of the world toward merit. If he commits one sin, woe unto him, for he has tipped the scales toward sinfulness for himself and for the world."
Rabbi Wenger will conduct Kol Nidre services (named after its opening prayer) Sept. 20, and other Yom Kippur services will be Sept. 21, morning and evening.