Some Key Terms and Observances in Preparation of the High Holy Days
High Holy DaysThe days known as the High Holy Days in the Jewish calendar are the most intense, introspective, and deeply emotional days of the year.
These days begin with Rosh Hashanah(literally the head of the year, or the Jewish new year)—a day of both celebration and hallowed ritual.Yom Kippur (literally a day of atonement) comes ten days later and is marked by fasting and solemn prayer.
The days between these two auspicious holidays are known as the Yamim Noraim(Days of Awe); they serve as a time of introspection, reconciliation, and self- awareness.
The High Holy Days serve to bring us together. They help us to conclude another year gone by, and ready us to begin the new year to come. May these High Holy Days give us strength,growth, and community in the days ahead.
Rosh HashanahRosh Hashanah marks the new year for the Jewish calendar, and while it is indeed a celebration, it is a far cry from what you might see in Times Square for the secular New Year. Instead, Rosh Hashanah carries far deeper traditions, beliefs, and customs. It is a day whose prayers call us to be introspective and thankful, in addition to feeling celebratory.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to look back at the year just ending and look forward to the year that will be.Observances
The Torah mentions just a one-day celebration of Rosh Hashanah, but because the day depended on the sighting of a new moon, difficulties sometimes arose.To be sure that the exact day was observed as Rosh Hashanah, long ago, our ancestors celebrated two days of the holiday. In modern times, many Reform communities, including ours, reasoning that science can now tell us exactly when a day begins and ends, concluded that we should revert back to the biblical roots and celebrate only one day of Rosh Hashanah.
One of the most celebrated and exciting observances of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar. Traditionally, no less than 100 blasts are heard on each day of Rosh Hashanah. Some long, some short, the sounds of the shofar remind us of our higher purpose and serve as a clarion call to the importance of the High Holy Days.
The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah highlights three important themes: Tefilah (prayer), Teshuvah (repentance), and Tzedakah (responsible giving or charity). Each plays a significant role in our observance of the New Year.Teshuvah
Teshuvah is a key theme of the High Holy Day season. Repentance begins with the recognition of our faults, failures, and weaknesses. We move from recognition to a willingness to make amends with anyone we have wronged. We seek their forgiveness and understanding, just as we hope others will with us.Tefilah
Coming together for prayer marks one of the most noticeable rituals of Rosh Hashanah. We come to the synagogue to pray together as a community, dealing with our personal and communal shortcomings. We join together as a community both in celebration and in renewal.We seek forgiveness from others, and we hope to use the new year to build a better world together.Tzedakah
On Rosh Hashanah, most of our prayers of repentance are written in the plural form, meaning that we take responsibility for each other. One of the best ways to show our understanding of this important value is to give to those in need. One way to practice the value of Tzedakah is to bring non-perishable food items to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. While we fast out of choice, too many in our world are forced to fast. During these times of introspection, giving to others can help us reach our highest potential.
Yom KippurYom Kippur marks the most important, holy moment of our religious calendar. It is a time when we come to God seeking absolution and atonement for the past year. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, we were given the opportunity to rectify and atone for grievances to one another. On Yom Kippur, we are given the opportunity to atone for grievances regarding God, as a community.Observances
Yom Kippur is effectively one long service. As a result there are no closing prayers at the "end" of the morning service. Rather we end the service and continue the day immediately either in the meditation service in the Beit Midrash or with Mike Sachs of AIPAC discussing news regarding Israel in the chapel. The day's worship then continues with an intergenerational service, the afternoon service, Yizkor and Neilah.Kol Nidre
Liturgically, Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre services and the singing of the prayer by the same name. During Kol Nidre, we utter prayers that make the vows we have made during the previous year null and void.The prayers only refer to vows made between humans and God; as our tradition teaches, vows between people can only be voided by the people involved. This service is our opportunity to come together as a community to engage both our personal and communal shortcomings.
The service begins with Temple's Past Presidents and honorary trustees bringing the Torah scrolls back into the sanctuary as Cantor sings Kol Nidre.Tzom
The word tzom is the Hebrew word for a fast. Traditionally, on Yom Kippur, we fast from sundown (coinciding with Kol Nidre) until sundown the next day (at the end of Yom Kippur). The fast, which is mentioned in Leviticus and Numbers, is meant to help us focus completely on our prayers during this solemn day. Those who are under the age of 13 (before bar or bat mitzvah), or are ill or under doctors' orders to eat are exempted from fasting.Morning Prayer
Yom Kippur morning services are much like those of Rosh Hashanah. During these prayers, we liturgically seek repentance, and spend time recalling our actions during the year just ended.Afternoon Service
At TSTI the afternoon worship experience has been recreated by Cantor and member of our community. It is actually a series of services that from from one service into the next all the way to the end of Neilah in the late afternoon/early evening. While each specific element of the worship experience stands on its own the experience as a whole adds a vastly different dimension to this Sabbath of Sabbaths. As such we encourage all of the community to plan to stay through the end of Neilah and the final Shofar blast.Yizkor
During Yom Kippur, we take time to remember and honor family and friends who have died. This service is a special service (that also happens on Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot) that contains memorial prayers. As a community, we produce a special memorial book listing the names of the loved ones we remember. We mention all who are connected to members of our temple family and have died during the year by name as well as take time to silently remember all our deceased family members.Neilah
The final service of Yom Kippur is called Neilah.It is a beautiful service, and has a bit more uplifting tone than either Kol Nidre or the Yom Kippur morning service. Neilah concludes with a long shofar blast. We invite you to bring your children and grandchildren with you to our concluding service. As we have at TSTI for many years, we will invite all of children to the bima to hear the final blast of the shofar as well as everyone who owns and brings their shofar to join in the second to last blast.
Our thanks to our friends at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick for their permission to use their Holy Day Guide as the basis for the information here.