Tag Archives: Holidays

Yom Kippur Quick Guide

Kippur Quick Guide – Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Kippur Eve and Teshuva

• The guiding rule in observing Kippur is maintaining a balance between respecting the sanctity of the day and one’s physical health.
• According to Shulhan Arukh, the practice of doing Kapparot with chickens should be eliminated. (see appendix)
• We must ask for forgiveness and reconcile with those we have hurt. If applicable, payments should be made. A token apology will not suffice.
• Whether we repent for transgressions of laws between us and God, or between us and others, the steps of Teshuva should be followed: recognition of the wrongdoing, genuine repentance, a commitment to never repeat the act.
• The one being apologized to should be willing to forgive, but if the apology is not sincere it can be rejected, especially when dealing with a habitual offender. If you see a pattern of offenses and genuine apologies from the same person, it is better to keep a distance in the future, even after forgiving.
• Confession on Minha of Kippur Eve, as well as on Kippur itself, should be focused on things we are aware of and want to repent for. It is better to say your personal prayer than use the alphabetical lists printed in the Siddur, which should be viewed as a reminder what we might have done.
• It is recommended to eat the last meal an hour or two before the fast.

Prohibitions of Kippur

• Five actions are mentioned in Halakha as forbidden on Kippur, besides the laws of Shabbat which apply to Kippur as well:
Eating and drinking; Applying oils; Washing; Wearing leather shoes; Having marital relationships.
• Of the five, only eating and drinking are punishable, since they are the only ones with basis in the Torah. The rest are instituted by the rabbis and supported by biblical texts, and it is therefore easier to allow exceptions in observing them.

Water

• Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the fast is not drinking, and quite often people push themselves to the limit and put their lives at risk. One example is that of R. Yisrael of Ruzhyn, who resisted the urge to drink on Kippur, even against his doctor’s advice, and passed away shortly afterwards at the age of 54. (1)
• R. Yaakov Haggiz (1620-1674) writes that it is possible that by biblical law one is not forbidden to drink water, since it is not nutritious. We can rely on his opinion for cases of need, as shall be explained below. (2)

Medical conditions

• If there are clear doctor’s orders, they should be followed. Attempting extreme piety and fasting against doctor’s orders is a transgression.
• Expectant and nursing mothers can sip water all day in small quantities (less than 3 fl. oz.) and in intervals of no less than five minutes.
• Pills taken on a regular basis can be taken with less than 3 fl. oz. of water. The same applies for those who need to take pills for severe headaches, including caffeine pills.
• If one feels the need to eat or drink because of physical conditions, water and food can be consumed in small quantities (less than 3 fl. oz. and 2 oz., respectively). It is recommended to use high-energy foods. They should be consumed in intervals of no less than five minutes.
• If one feels that following these rules will not suffice, and might cause him damage, he should eat and drink regularly until he is no longer at risk.
• Using mouthwash or brushing teeth is allowed on Kippur, and maybe even mandatory because of dignity and respect towards others.
• Fasting before bar or bat Mitzvah is just a custom and children should not be pushed beyond their limits, or made to feel guilty if they “broke” the fast.
• Parents and caregivers should practice great caution during Kippur, since the children or adults under their care might feel too proud or religiously committed to ask for food or water.

Other Prohibitions

• Washing is forbidden only when for pleasure, and permitted when it is for cleanliness. In antiquity only hands soiled with dirt or worse were considered unclean, but today, with our heightened hygiene awareness, one can wash hands regularly with soap when needed. (3)
• Washing the face is allowed for those who otherwise will not feel dignified or relaxed. (4)
• The prohibition of applying oils to the skin refers only to actions done for pleasure, and it is therefore allowed to use medicinal creams, lip balm, Vaseline, deodorants of all kinds, perfume, or eau de cologne.
• If one who has only leather shoes and cannot walk barefoot because of danger, or discomfort, he can wear these shoes.
• Similarly, if leather shoes are essential to provide protection from rain or snow, or for orthopedic needs, they may be used. (5)
• Abstinence is limited to intimate relationships, and does not include other forms of affection.

Kol Nidre

• The Kol Nidre ritual, at the opening of Yom Kippur services, is largely symbolic. Though the text suggests that it is an official court session, meant to annul unwanted vows, the truth is that it has no legal validity.

• Those who view Kol Nidre as a legal process, argue that since a court cannot convene at night, the text should be recited before sunset. This causes some synagogues to struggle with Kippur Eve schedule. This should not be a concern, since Kol Nidre has no legal significance.

Prayers

• The prayers of Yom Kippur are peppered with many poems and supplications, many of which are difficult to understand even for Hebrew speakers, and others to which a modern reader might not easily relate. The time we spend in the synagogue on Kippur should be meaningful and purposeful, and we should avoid reciting prayers by rote or if we do not relate to them.

• The essential components of the prayers are Shema and Amidah, and one can choose to read only those parts in each prayer. Such was the custom of the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, who would spend hours reciting those parts.

• The purpose of Yom Kippur is to prompt us to acknowledge our mistakes and repent. If this is achieved by tuning in to and following the poems and Selihot, that is wonderful, and if not, it is better to use the time in the synagogue or home for reflection and contemplation.

• We should use whatever means available and appropriate to reflect on mending our mistakes and cultivating an aspiration for spiritual growth.

• Rabbenu Yaakov ben HaRosh mentions several practices of additions to the prayer. He writes that most of the additions are optional, and that the prayer should not be stretched to the point where Shema or Musaf are not recited on time. (6)

• In general, the religious and lay leaders of the synagogue should bear in mind that on Yom Kippur they get a mixed crowd, with varied levels of expertise and interest in prayers. The common working assumption is “let us keep them here while we can”, but from experience I have learned that a shorter and more meaningful service is beneficial to all. Those who are not well-versed do not feel that they were sitting in the synagogue as extras for prolonged periods, while the more seasoned shul goers are not distracted by the conversations of those who are bored. Those interested in more poems and Selihot can remain in the synagogue and recite them after the official services have been concluded.

• One can read portions of the Tanakh, especially Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Micah. Many synagogues offer Yom Kippur readers, and one can also read the writings of the Mussar movement, Hassidic teachings, or general literature such as Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

• Most Orthodox communities are reluctant to translate prayers into the spoken language. However, the Tur and Shukhan Arukh [codes of Jewish law] both rule that one could recite the prayers in any language he chooses. Especially when reciting the very long prayers of Kippur, it would be advisable to use that ruling of the Shulhan Arukh, and not only translate prayers recited in Hebrew, but replace certain segments with the translation, to avoid redundancy and burdening the community. (7)

• If this is not possible, it is recommended that during the Selihot and the repetition of Mussaf, classes and prayer workshops will be offered to those who find it difficult to follow the prayers and remain focused.

Neila and Ending

• Birkat Kohanim of Neila should be said, preferably, before sunset. However, in most cases the sunset deadline is not met, and if it is, too much time is left until the fast is over, and as a result, the cantors drag the prayer and burden the community. It is better therefore to rely on the opinion of Rabenu Tam’s that night starts much later, and push Birkat Kohanim to about 20 minutes after sunset, thus making perfect time for the end of Tefila and Arvit.

• In some synagogues, there is a massive exodus right after the Shofar is blown. Many congregants, who stay for Arvit, get very frustrated with the noise and commotion, and of course it disrupts the Arvit prayer. It is therefore suggested to wait with the Shofar, start Arvit about 15 minutes before the fast is over, and then blow shofar at the simultaneous end of Arvit and the fast.

• If this is not possible, it is better to conduct Havdala immediately when the fast is over and let people break the fast. Then, when most people have left the synagogue, and those who stayed have quenched their thirst and satiated their hunger, they can pray with calmness and intention.

• There is a custom of starting to build the Sukkah immediately after Kippur, but it is of course not mandatory. It is a symbolic act which shows that we are eager to observe the Mitzvoth, but it should not put anyone in a predicament. The sukkah can be built before kippur, or, if one is too tired after the fast, it can be built later.

May we all have an easy and meaningful Kippur, one in which we will be able to reconcile, forgive, and propel ourselves to new spiritual heights.

Shana Tova VaHatima Tova
Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Maurycy Gottlieb Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878, Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

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Sukkot outreach at restaurants and pubs

Most Jewish people are not observing Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) and Simchat Torah ( שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה). We could use innovative ideas to get the word about this holiday out. Here’s one possibility:

Sukkah in New Hampshire

Sukkot is one of the 3 Biblical pilgrimage festivals/harvest festivals /Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים.)  This offers food connections. One of the observances is to say kiddush/קידוש over wine: this offers drink connections.

Perhaps a Sukkot event could be held at a restaurant on a main street, especially one with outdoor seating. One could set up an event there, and perhaps add poles and s’chach (סכך) to create a Sukkah-like area. In fact, with the restaurant’s Ok one may easily create a kosher sukkah – even if it only exists for the duration of one event.

This should be easy to set up, affordable – and will create a publicly visible area that might draw positive attention. Why should only Halloween and Xmas get all the holiday decorations? We have beauty in our own tradition.

– Robert

Thou Shalt Not Forbid, IV Four-Inch Matzah

By Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Everybody “knows” that matzah can be made only from closely guarded wheat which was ground under strict supervision and baked into thin crackers. We also expect the hand-made matzah to be almost burnt, and we are aware of many observant Jews who would not eat “Gebrakht”, or wet matzah. There are even those who constantly sweep matzah crumbs from the table into bags to avoid their leavening. In a conversation I had with a colleague about this strange practice, he commented that God is surely very happy upon seeing his fervent believers keeping his commandments with such zeal. I concurred that if we could attribute human emotions to God, there we be some happiness there, but, again in human terms, it would be more like “yeah, my favorite sit-com is on”.

The obsession with matzah dryness, thinness, and ash-like qualities has become an economic burden and a social divider, even though it has been around only for three or four hundred centuries. Here is what R. Yaakov ben Hakham Tzvi Ashkenazi of Emeden, aka Yaavetz (1697-1776), has to say in his commentary to the statement of the Tur that one should not soak wheat before grinding it, as was customary in Talmudic time to make the grinding easier[i]:

The ruling of the Gaon [that one can buy commercial flour for matzah] is correct, and it follows the clear ruling of the Talmud that one could buy unleavened dough baked by non-Jews. There is only a requirement that the matzah eaten for the mitzvah of the Seder-night [מצת מצוה]will be guarded from the moment of kneading. Therefore, if one bought commercial flour and kneaded it for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah, he doesn’t need any other matzah… some Geonim were strict regarding soaking wheat, but that is only for מצת מצוה, and even that is an exaggerated stringency which goes against the Talmudic discussion which indicates that it is an obligation to soak the wheat… I therefore cannot fathom the great concern of the Magen Abraham[ii] regarding the ruling of a rabbi who allowed people to use commercial flour, and even demanded that the rabbi would fast and repent for his ruling.
Why do those who take a strict approach toil for no reason to forbid that which is permitted according to the Talmud? They would not even allow it at a time of need, and they demand atonement for nothing.

As history proved, the toil of the strict rabbis was not in vain. The exorbitant prices of supervised matzah, the anxiety of those who fear that their matzah will turn to hametz right there on the table, and the religious walls erected between people based on the fine print on their matzah packages, are all a result of the push for stringency.
In that context, it is interesting to read the following words of Shulhan Arukh[iii]:

If, on Pesah, one found a piece of bread at home, and he doesn’t know whether it is hametz or matzah, he is allowed to eat it.

מצא פת בפסח בביתו, ואינו יודע אם הוא חמץ או מצה, מותר אפילו באכילה

The Mishnah Berurah explains:

דין זה הוא לפי מנהג זמנם שהיו אופין מצות עבה קצת ולא היו חלוקין בתארם מככרות של חמץ
This law is in accordance with their practice of baking thick matzah which looked like hametz loaves.

R. Haim Mordechai Margulies (1780-1820) attests to that practice, and explains that the concern about wetting the matzah applies only to those very thick matzot in which pockets of unbaked dough can hide: [iv]

There is no concern [of unbaked pockets] with thin matzah… in places where they still bake thick matzah, the rabbis should warn them not to make them more than four inches thick.

To summarize the discussion so far, these are practices of baking matzah which were prevalent in our not too recent past:

  1. Soaking wheat in water to make grinding easer.
  2. Buying commercial flour for matzah baking, if other flour is not available.
  3. Requiring supervision from the moment of kneading the dough only.
  4. To be strict, one would require supervision from the moment of grinding.
  5. Matzah would be made very thick.
  6. Avoidance of making the matzah wet applied only to thick matzah.

The question should be raised: were there negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach, despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

Part 2

Yesterday I posed this question: Were there any negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach [not allowing commercial flour], despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

It would be difficult to answer the question objectively, since the results cannot be measured in clear-cut numbers, quantities, or phenomena, and are rather a matter of attitude. I, however, do believe that had other rabbis heeded the call of Yaavetz, they would have saved observant Jews a lot of trouble and heartache.

While the ruling of Yaavetz was not a call to drop all cautionary measures and use only commercial flour, he wanted people to understand the definitions of hametz and matzah for two reasons:
1. To allow them to rule for themselves in changing circumstances.

2. To eliminate the hametz-anxiety factor.

Unfortunately, Yaavetz’s attempts have failed and as a result, we look back at centuries of increasing anxiety around matzah consumption. The anxiety manifested itself in the decision of many observant Jews to not eat matzah on Pesah [except for the first two nights], the war against the matzah-baking machine [which originally was no more than a dough flattening device], many years of inability to have matzah in the Soviet Union, exorbitant prices for “extremely kosher” matzah, the fear of getting the matzah wet [which also ruins the Seder and does not let one enjoy any meal], and ridiculous articles in the papers about the black-clad Hassidim watching over parched wheat fields in the driest parts of the U.S. We can just imagine the next generation of wheat grown on waterless diet under umbrellas.

In that context, it is worthwhile to present another famous and “daring” ruling of Yaavetz regarding Pesah, where he explains why were people baking very thick matzah. It was, you guessed it, the disastrous result of another “strict” practice[i]:

אי איישר חילי, אבטליניה למנהג גרוע הלז, שהיא חומרא דאתיא לידי קולא, ונפק מנה חורבא ומכשול (תחת אשר חשבו להתרחק ממנו מרחק רב) באיסור חמץ גמור! כי מתוך שאין מיני קטניות מצויים להמון לאכול ולשבוע, צריכין לאפות לחם מצה הרבה. בפרטות העניים ומי שבני ביתו מרובים, ולא יספיקו להם תבשילים הרבה לשבר רעבונם, מוכרחים על כרחם להספיק להם מצה די לחמם לביתם וחיים לנערותם. מתוך כך אינם נזהרים בעסה כראוי וכחובה, עושים אותה גדולה הרבה ושוהים עליה מאד, וקרוב הדבר שנכשלים באיסור כרת, רחמנא ליצלן. גם המצות עומדים להם ביוקר, ואין יד כל אדם משגת לעשותם די הצורך לבני ביתו… וקטניות נמצאים בזול בלי טורח ובהתר. ואתו לאמנועי משמחת יום טוב, בסבת חומרא שאין לה טעם וריח! לכן אשרי שיאחז צדיק דרכו, יתן אוכל למכביר ונפץ את עלולי החומרות הזרות אל הסלע

If I were able, I would abolish this terrible practice, which is a stringency that leads to a leniency. It is destructive and (instead of guarding themselves from it, as they have hoped) it causes people to stumble with the prohibition of consuming genuine hametz! Because the masses are not permitted to consume legumes, which would have sustained them and satisfied their hunger, they must bake large quantities of matzah, especially poor people and those with large families, who cannot afford meat and vegetables, and they need to rely on matzah as their daily bread. They therefore make large batches of dough [also: thick matzah] and they are not careful to bake it as necessary. Those people probably transgress the prohibition of not eating hametz.
[Commercial] matzahs are also very expensive and many people cannot afford buying them for the whole family, while legumes are cheap, and can be easily and permissibly bought.
They lose the joy of the holiday for a stringency which has neither flavor nor fragrance [i.e. meaningless.]
Blessed be the righteous man [who will permit the consumption of legumes on Pesah], will provide food in abundance, and will smash on the rocks the consequences of these alien stringencies.

The last sentence of Yaavetz is very powerful and it shows his frustration with the “stringent” practices which flourished around Pesah. He laments the fact that the rabbis do not look beyond the immediate halakha and do not assess the long-term consequences of their “strict” ruling. He does not only call for the abolition of the practice, but also for that of its “alien consequences”.

He emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole picture, and also uses a Hebrew term החומרות הזרות which resembles the term עבודה זרה- idolatry. In other words, he believes that those who choose to add prohibitions to the original requirements of halakha are practicing paganism.

It is a dire warning to all those who pile stringencies upon stringencies to stop and think whether they adhere to the intention and will of the Giver of the Law, or maybe they are erecting an altar upon which they worship alien gods, the embodiment of their own fears and anxieties.

[i]מור וקציעה סימן תנג: תשובה דגאון מתקנתא היא, אתיא שפיר אליבא דהלכתא כפשיטותא דגמרא דבצקות של גוים אדם ממלא כרסו מהם, ולמצוה הוא דלא נפיק עד דעבד שימור מלישה ואילך. הילכך אם לקח קמח מן השוק ולש אותו תו לא צריך למצה שמורה אחרת כמ”ש הרא”ש בפשיטות. והטור בודאי קאי ליה בשטתיה דאבוהי מסתמא, דלענין דינא לית בה ספקא. אלא שגאונים אחרים החמירו בלתיתה למצת מצוה בלבד, ואף זו חומרא יתרה היא נגד סוגית התלמוד דמסיק מצוה ללתות במצה דמצוה ורבא קבע בה מסמרות כדאיתא התם, אבל למלא כרסו מבצקות דגוים לית דין ולית דיין, דשרי אף לכתחלה ואצ”ל ליקח קמח מן השוק שלא בשעת הדחק, עאכ”ו בשעת הדחק, שאין בו בית מיחוש.
מעתה לא ידעתי מה החרדה הגדולה אשר חרד עלינו במג”א בהוראת חכם אחד שהורה ליקח קמח מן השוק, ושוב גזר תענית על שגגתו. ולא ירדתי לסוף דעת המחמירים הללו דטרחי בכדי במ”כ, לאסור את המותר מדעת חכמי התלמוד לכתחילה, ואתו אינהו וגזור תעניתא אף לדיעבד ושעת הדחק, כפרה בכדי לא אשכחן
[ii] R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, famous for his commentary on Shulhan Arukh, 1635-1682.
[iii]שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות פסח סימן תמו סעיף ד
[iv]שערי תשובה סימן תסא
וכבר כתבתי שהדבר שמואל כתב שברקיקין אין חשש נפוחה וכן נוהגים עתה שלא לדקדק כלל במצות רקיקין רק כשרואה האופ’ בביאת המצה לתנור היא מנפח ועולה כדרך עוגות חמץ והם בקיאים במעשה ידיהם להכיר אי הנפוח מחמת חימוץ או לא אך במצות עבות קצת יש ליזהר ולדקדק בחילוקים שנזכרו בפוסקים ובמקומות שאוחזין מעשה עבות בידיהם מוטל על המורה למדרש בפרק’ שיזהרו שלא תהיה עבה טפח

A Yizkor Meditation in Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful

A Yizkor Meditation in Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful. From Mahzor Lev Shalem, a new mahzor of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movement .

See the 7th page in this excerpt from the Yizkor service, Mahzor Lev Shalem

Dear God,
You know my heart. Indeed, You know me better than I know myself, so I turn to You before I rise for Kaddish. My emotions swirl as I say this prayer. The parent I remember was not kind to me. His/her death left me with a legacy of unhealed wounds, of anger and of dismay that a parent could hurt a child as I was hurt.

I do not want to pretend to love, or to grief that I do not feel, but I do want to do what is right as a Jew and as a child.

Help me, O God, to subdue my bitter emotions that do me no good, and to find that place in myself where happier memories may lie hidden, and where
grief for all that could have been, all that should have been, may be calmed by forgiveness, or at least soothed by the passage of time.

I pray that You, who raise up slaves to freedom, will liberate me from the oppression of my hurt and anger, and that You will lead me from this desert to Your holy place.

— Robert Saks, Mahzor Lev Shalem

About this mahzor:  It presents a complete traditional liturgy, as well as having creative liturgical developments presenting the theology and gender-equality of non-Orthodox Judaism. It contains a variety of commentaries from classical and modern-day rabbis, gender-sensitive translations, and choreography instructions (when to sit, stand, bow, etc.)  It offers more literal translations of the prayers than previous non-Orthodox mahzorim. English transliterations are offered for all prayers and lines recited aloud by the congregation. The page layout surrounds prayers with a variety of English commentaries and readings, as one finds in classical rabbinic commentaries.

To learn more about mahzorim for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur click here.

Mahzor Lev Shalem

Thanksgiving

Jewish prayers to recite on Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

(A) “Thanksgiving Day” “Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayerbook”, p.79, CCAR, 1977, Ed. Chaim Stern.

(B) Some rabbis have proposed this order of tefilot: Page numbers are from “Siddur Sim Shalom” (Ed. Jules Harlow, 1985). Most of these readings can also be found in the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Weekday Prayer Book” (Ed. Gershon Hadas), the “Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book” (Ed. Morris Silverman.), “Siddur Hadash” (Ed. Sidney Greenberg) and the newer versions of Siddur Sim Shalom.

a) Pslam 100 (Mizmor L’Todah) [p.60]

b) Prayer for Thanksgiving. p.816. One version has verses from Psalms, Ben Sirah/Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah

c) “America: Founded on Biblical precepts”, p.821-823. Verses from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and Biblical verses which inspired these documents.

d) Shulkan Orekh: The Thanksgiving meal

f) End with the traditional grace after meals (Birkat HaMazon)

Also see:

A Seder for Thanksgiving, by Reform Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
A Prayer for Thanksgiving By Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ)

Halakhah

Many in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish hold that there are theological and halakhic issues with Jews observing Thanksgiving as a holiday – as “observing a holiday” is a specific theological and halakhic issue within Judaism. This isn’t an issue of fundamentalists attacking secular culture; they are asking some deep questions about (a) what does it mean when the government asks us to observe a holiday, (b) especially one involving prayer, and (c) does accepting this annual celebration as obligatory become tantamount to adding a new holiday to the Jewish calendar?  The great majority of religious Jews in Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism accept Thanksgiving as valid and meaningful. An overview of the issue is here. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/is-thanksgiving-kosher/

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Jews should not say tachanun (penitential supplications) during Shacharit (morning prayers) on Thanksgiving.

Question: What would Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, as we give thanks every day in our prayers?

Answer: Jews have three separate Thanksgiving / harvest festivals in Judaism: Shavuot (feast of weeks), Sukkot (feast of tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover). The first Thanksgiving was actually based on Sukkot by the Pilgrims, who were very much influenced by the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.)

Question: Why commemorate a holiday instituded by Pilgrims, as they were Protestant Christians, who neither shared our faith, nor shared our belief in religious and national freedom?

Answer: It is true that first Protestants that came here were not seeking a country in which to have religious freedom, but rather to have religious freedom for themselves only. All other religions, including all other forms of Christianity were anathema to them. Their thanksgiving was on July 8, 1630, and marked the first Thanksgiving of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However – and this is not well known – this was only the beginning of an evolutionary process. That event is actually _not_ the Thanksgiving festival that we observe today.

Over a century later, the first issue of the First Continental Congress as they met at Carpenters Hall was “Can we open the business with prayer?” Despite their diversity of religions, after fierce debate, inspired by delegate Sam Adams, their first official act was prayer. The First Prayer Proclamation of 1775 asked the whole continent to set aside a day to pray and fast together. It had an electric effect, uniting the American people in spirit, a year before the Declaration of Independence.

The next act in the evolution of Thanksgiving was from the era of President George Washington. A few months after his inauguration, he issued “Presidential Proclamation Number One”, his Thanksgiving. He voiced his personal conviction that “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.” His last Thanksgiving in 1795 captures a nobility never exceeded by any president when he asks God to: “…impart all the blessing we posses, or ask for ourselves, to the whole family of mankind.”

Thanksgiving was celebrated by Americans for a number of years, but eventually fell into disuse. Then in 1863 president Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven…we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God.” He restored the neglected Presidential proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving during the tragic years of Civil War. “Intoxicated with unbroken success,” he wrote, “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and reserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in many years; since then every President has issued at least one a year. And it is _this_ which is the root of the modern Thanksgiving.

Some material quoted and adapted from the Thanksgiving Square homepage:
http://www.thanksgiving.org/

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America’s Biblical Heritage

From Siddur Sim Shalom

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution of the United States
 
Justice, justice shall you pursue,
That you may thrive in the land
Which Adonai your God gives you.
– Deuteronomy 16:20
 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
– The Bill of Rights
 
Proclaim liberty through the land for all of its inhabitants.
– Leviticus 25:10
 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
– The Declaration of Independence
 
Have we not all one Creator? Has not one God created us?
– Malakhi 2:10
 
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln – Second Inaugural Address
 
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift sword against nation,
and they shall not again experience war.
People shall dwell under their own vines, under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid.
– Micah 4:3-4.
Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays

The Scroll of Pain and Sorrow

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations….

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief and heartbreak….

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Two days in the Jewish year stop for the reading of a scroll that is not the Torah. On Purim, we listen to the Scroll of Esther. On Tisha B’Av, we listen to the Scroll of Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations.*

Eicha does not mean “lamentation.” As with all the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible, it is the first significant word of the text, in this case, the very first word. It is both a word and a howl of pain: “HOW?”

Eicha was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonian army. It is written in a literary form that we don’t hear much in the 21st century: it is a lament, a passionate expression of grief. It is both highly structured (an acrostic) and full-throated in its expression of heartbreak.

We don’t…

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