Opinion: It is a busy time for the Jewish community at the moment
PUBLISHED: 14:00 03 October 2019
© Caroline Penn
It is a busy time for the Jewish community at the moment.
We have just finished our New Year or Rosh Hashana celebrations. In a matter of days we will fast 25 hours for the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur and then continue with an eight day festival called Succot, or the Festival of Tabernacles. And these days are religiously intense days.
The Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, when we believe God judges the world and inspects its merits. The fast of Yom Kippur is a day when we ask for forgiveness of God and confess directly to God all of our misgivings.
Finally, the festival of Succot allows us to rejoice that we have moved on into the year and celebrate God's providence in the world by eating our meals in a Succah booth.
What I find is so Jewish about these festivals, is that they incorporate both a Godly element and a human element.
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Judaism is a religion that originates from the Jewish God. That is something enshrined as a core belief for Jewish people. But we also believe that God gave a Book of Law, the Torah to the Jewish people, in order to act on it and fulfil it. It contains a myriad of what we call "commandments" that are obligations on all Jewish adults.
But this Torah was not a one off gift and was not static. It was revealed with a side by side way of interpreting it and developing it which was passed down through the generations. It therefore means that Judaism may be a Godly religion, but it has a distinctly robust human element to it.
One sign of this, is that Jewish people historically liked to argue about their laws, customs and beliefs. There are historical Jewish texts that were set aside to record the arguments that Rabbis entered into on countless of points of Jewish law. The saying "two Jews, three opinions" comes to mind.
And so with the onset of this period of the Jewish calendar. The New Year is a time when we stand in front of God and ask for His mercy. But we are not powerless at this point. We have the commandment, listed in the ancient Torah, to blow a ram's horn or a shofar. It is blown 100 times on each of the days of the New Year, and one purpose is understood to be tempting God to temper His judgement on the New Year with mercy. In other words, through a human intervention, we believe that we can have an effect on decisions made by God.
Of course, society is made of those who believe in a God and those who don't, and this faith is quite rightly a very personal one. But religion can be something that is rooted in human lived experience and be rife with human input.
There is no test of belief for Jewish people on the New Year even though the festival has a deep divine connection. But Jews all over the world will want to hear the ram's horn, eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet year, and maybe even come to Synagogue to hear the Rabbi's sermon!