Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b), Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought “For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world.” Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, “To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world.”

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as “Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu,” the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify “so that rain shall fall all over the world”? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all.

For more on Sukkot and Water, see Jewish Treats: “Water, Water Everywhere."

The holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah begins tonight at sunset. Read more about the holiday.

This Treat was originally published on October 6, 2009.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Volunteer to help immigrants find a community in which to settle.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (III:31b): “This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King.”

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot. (Which is why some perform the tashlich ceremony until Hoshana Rabbah.) What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor. Because Hoshana Rabbah is considered a day of judgment, selichot (penitential prayers) are added to the morning service, in addition to the special prayers of Sukkot.

This Treat was originally published on October 6, 2009.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Not Quite Festival Meal

Tomorrow, prepare a special lunch in honor of Hoshana Rabbah.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their Redemption” (Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Talmud Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the Psalms are actually much older. These Psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings. An excellent example of these Psalms that pre-dated King David are those Psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?”(Pesachim 117a).

*Half-Hallel is recited on Rosh Chodesh (new month) and on the final days of Passover.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Psalm Break

Read/recite one of the Psalms from Hallel during the holiday of Sukkot.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ushpeezin (oo’shpee’zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our second home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Divine Presence (Shechina) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: May it please you, Isaac, my exalted...On the third night: May it please you, Jacob, my exalted...and so on throughout the week.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


If you have a sukkah, invite guests in to say a blessing or even just to hang out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Perfect Species

At this time of the year, Jews around the globe head out in search of the perfect Lulav and Etrog, the four species, waved during the holiday of Sukkot. Since the lulav and etrog are used for a mitzvah, it’s important to find a set that is as perfect as can be.

So what makes a lulav and etrog “perfect”?

Lulav/Branch of a Palm Tree: A lulav is actually the closed frond of a date palm tree. A nice lulav is green, with no signs of dryness. It should be straight, without any bends or twists near the top. The tip and top leaves of the lulav must be whole, and not split.

Hadassim/Three Myrtle Branches: The hadassim, which are bound on the right side of the lulav, should have moist, green leaves grouped in level rows of three. There should be no large, uncovered section of stem. The stem and the leaves should be whole, without any nips at the top and the leaves should cover the entire branch to the top. There should not be more berries than leaves and there should be no large twigs.

Aravot/Two Willow Branches: The aravot, which are bound to the left side of the lulav (slightly lower than the hadassim) should have reddish stems with green, moist leaves. The leaves should be long, narrow and smooth-edged, with no nips or tears.

Etrog/Citron: The Torah describes the etrog as “the fruit of a beautiful tree” (Leviticus 23:40). Ideally, the skin of this yellow (or green when not ripe) citrus fruit must be clean of spots and discolorations. It should be bumpy, not smooth like a lemon, and should be broad at the bottom and narrow toward the top. (Please note that the etrog is very delicate and should be handled with care. If dropped, the etrog can be damaged and rendered unfit for use!)

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Call Now

Call your local synagogue to find out where you can acquire a lulav and etrog.

Find out if a synagogue near you is participating in Sukkot Across America.

Monday, September 20, 2010

But Wait...There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just four days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as “z’man simchataynu,” the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot, (singular - sukkah), with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary “hut” becomes the Jew’s home for seven days and, therefore (weather permitting) everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life. 

It is time to celebrate! Just four days after Yom Kippur ends, the festival of Sukkot begins.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own!

For more information on the holiday of Sukkot, click here.

This Treat was originally posted on October 10, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

You Can Build It

Build a simple sukkah in your backyard.

Friday, September 17, 2010

All Vows

Yom Kippur begins this evening before sunset with the recitation of Kol Nidrei, which is actually the prelude to the evening service.

Kol Nidre, which literally means “All Vows,” is a declaration that any oaths or vows that a person made to God during the previous year should be cancelled, null and void. (Of course, not fulfilling one’s oath or vow is considered a grave sin.)

The purpose of Kol Nidre is not, of course, to absolve an individual of debts owed or a promises made to one’s neighbor. The vows nullified by the Kol Nidre service are only those vows made, or possibly made, with God. Indeed, the origin of the declaration is that the rabbis feared that people, in their overwhelming desire to have their repentance accepted, made vows that they would never be able to keep. You know the type:
“God, if you’ll just forgive me for lying, I promise I will give $1 to charity every day.”

“Lord, if you could just look the other way at that nasty outburst that the other day, I promise never to lose my temper again.”

Because vows may not be cancelled at night, the Kol Nidre service begins a few minutes before sunset. In Ashkenazi communities, the prayer leader begins the service in a soft voice that grows increasingly louder as the prayer is repeated three times. In this way, the haunting, dramatic tune of Kol Nidre sets a tone for the day and helps the congregation focus its concentration. In many Sephardi communities, Kol Nidre is recited by the entire congregation.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Quick Study

Be prepared for Yom Kippur by learning all you can. Check out’s Yom Kippur information site.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Post Labor Day Whites

When is it fashionably acceptable to wear white after Labor Day? On Yom Kippur!

Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. In the synagogue you will often see women dressed in white suits or dresses and men bedecked in a white garment known as a kittel (Yiddish for robe).

There are several reasons for this custom:

1) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which we ask God to overlook all of our mistakes. Consequently, it is customary to wear white as a way of emulating the angels, who stand before God in purity. In Hebrew, angels are known as “malachim” (singular-mal’ach) which means messenger(s). The malachim were created as God’s spiritual messengers and are pure, totally spiritual creatures. Human beings, on the other hand, were created of both matter and spirit. It is this combination that gives us “Free Will,” enabling us to make choices that, unfortunately, are not always the best. These unwise choices are what require us to engage in teshuva (repentance). On Yom Kippur, one wishes to emulate the malachim, the pure spirits who exist only to serve the Creator.

2) White garments, especially the kittel, are also reminiscent of the burial shroud. On Yom Kippur, one’s life is held in balance by the greatest Judge of all. When one is reminded of one’s mortality, a person is more likely to engage in honest introspection...Did I really act properly? Was there anything I could have done better? etc.

3) And of course, on Yom Kippur you don’t have to worry about food stains!

This Treat Was originally posted on October 8, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


At this time of year, tzedakah, charity, is particularly potent to avert an evil decree.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Facing The Challenge

Laws about food, business, relationships, worship, time and even the way one should speak...Is Judaism all about laws, about doing this and not doing that?

Human nature resists laws and limitations (ask any parent of a teenager). And yet, no matter what culture we live in, society needs laws in order to properly function. The purpose of halacha, Jewish law, is not to make life more difficult, but to make life more meaningful. The arguments are obvious: Why should a person restrict what they eat to only kosher foods? Why should a person not go out to a fund-raiser on a Friday night, (since it would be supporting a good cause)?

While there are halachot (laws) that, to our individual perceptions, might seem unnecessary--for example kashrut--one cannot doubt that their very discipline brings structure to people’s lives and shapes their values.

How can people be expected to learn all of the laws, especially if one’s education begins later in life? There is so much to learn! The Talmud, however, provides numerous examples of famous rabbis who began to learn Torah only later in life: Rabbi Akiva was 40 when he first learned the alef-bet and Hillel, who was too poor to receive a proper education, was found curled up on a study-hall roof where he could hear the lessons within.

God Himself addresses this fear: “For this commandment that I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off” (Deuteronomy 30:10-11).

The key, of course, is perception. Believing that something is too difficult to do makes it far more difficult to achieve. Those who believe in God's promise that “it is not too hard” have already taken the first, and most important step. After that, finding success often means taking life and learning one little step at a time (or, perhaps we can add, one Treat a day).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Transform Your Day

When confronted with a challenge, choose to view it positively.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Will I Forgive You for What!?

An ancient Jewish proverb declares: “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

Truth is, people do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Things done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind--they fly too fast to catch them and can never be taken back. Jewish law regards lashon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as the worst of the transgressions that one commits against fellow humans.

Here is the dilemma: During the months of Elul and Tishrei (before and during the High Holidays), repentance must be our top priority. Repentance for hurting another person requires that we personally ask that person’s forgiveness. What do I do if I spoke badly about someone, in a fit of anger? Now that we are friends once again, how do I ask properly for forgiveness?

The answer to this dilemma depends on the extent of the “damage.” If the gossip itself created negative consequences, then the person must be asked directly for forgiveness. If no harm was done, and it is known that the person will be understanding about the incident, then forgiveness should still be asked.

However, if informing a person that you spoke about them would result in embarrassment or hurt, it is acceptable to ask for general forgiveness, without going into detail. Indeed, causing additional embarrassment to the person would actually necessitate asking for mechila (forgiveness) once again.

This Treat was originally posted on October 2, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Forgive Them

Be as forgiving to others as you would want them to be of you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days during that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

The ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur are therefore known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12a).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).

These changes are discussed at length in the codes of practical halacha. The consensus rules that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Prayer

During the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, try and pray at least once a day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as
Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King.”

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, “Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!” Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: “Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us.”

By addressing God as both “our Father” and “our King,” we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashanah and throughout the day that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Talk To Him

Remember that God is always available to listen to you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the day of judgement, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’eitz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).

There is one type of food that is actually avoided on Rosh Hashana: Nuts. They are not eaten since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is equivalent to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.

Does your family have a special food they eat on Rosh Hashana? Tell us about it.

This Treat was originally published on September 17, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Produce Purchase

Purchase an array of symbolic foods for your Rosh Hashana meal.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Year Is Set

Rosh Hashana, the head of the year, is the day on which God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come. It is assumed that on this day God determines exactly how much money one will earn in the coming year. As it says, "All of a person's earnings are fixed in the time from Rosh Hashana until (& including ) Yom Kippur, except for his expenses for Shabbat, holidays and expenses incurred in teaching his children Torah" (Beitza 16a).

But if God decides on Rosh Hashana that a person is to earn $80,000 for the year, what need is there for that person to remain “good”? Since judgment has been already rendered, can’t we just relax until next Rosh Hashana?

The Talmud addresses this question on a communal level (Rosh Hashana 17b):

Let's say that on Rosh Hashana the Jewish people were judged to be in the category of the completely righteous, and Heaven decreed abundant rainfall for that year. But, later, they went off the straight and narrow. Reducing the total amount of rainfall is impossible, because the decree has already been issued. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, may make it rain during the wrong season or on land that does not require rain.

On Rosh Hashana a judgment is rendered. How that judgment is executed (whether in a single check, a monthly increase, or random $1 bills that are spent without thought) is up to each of us.

This Treat was originally published on September 25, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Truth Of Giving

When you give tzedakah, charity, remember that you are only a conduit for money God has already designated that the needy should receive.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Light Of The First Day

When most people think of natural light, they think of the sun. Strangely enough, the sun (along with the moon and stars) was not created until the fourth day. So what was the “light” that God placed in the world on the first day?

Rashi, commenting on Genesis 1:4, explains that God “saw that it was not proper for the wicked to use it [the first light] so He separated it for the righteous in the world to come.” Obviously, the light that Rashi is describing is not our everyday light. That first light is frequently construed to be a form of righteousness “spiritual light.” In fact, the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah explains the first light as the light that shone when "God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of its splendor shone from one end of the world to the other" (Bereshit Rabbah 3:4). This description implies that the light refers to a Divine radiance, a pure form of righteousness.

Rabbi Elazar states that with this first light “a person could see with it from one end of the world to the other”(Chagigah 12a). After God created the light and saw that it was good, He separated it from the darkness. Or, as our tradition explains, He hid it in the Torah!

The idea that the righteous light was hidden in the Torah, brings a new dimension to the verse Psalm 97:11: “Light is sown for the righteous.” The righteous, through their relationship with Torah and mitzvot, can uncover this holiness.

But what about the rest of us, the not so righteous? Proverbs 20:27 declares that “the soul of man is the candle of God.” Just as a candle holds a small bit of light, each human is invested with a spark of the Divine light with which we are able enlighten the entire world.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Light Of A Smile

Throughout each day, look for ways to make some one else smile.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God” (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following “Thirteen Attributes of God” and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).
Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).
Ayl: He is powerful.
Rachum: He is compassionate.
V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.
Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.
V’rav Chesed : He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.
V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.
Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.
Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.
Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.
V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.
V’nakay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenzi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are recited prior to the morning service.

(*Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.)

This Treat was originally published on September 11, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Somewhere Nearby

Find out where Selichot are being said in your neighborhood, or say them on your own.

If you don’t yet have plans, find a High Holiday service near you. Rosh Hashana begins next Wednesday night.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mordecai Manuel Noah

While one of the founding principles of the United States of America is freedom of religion, any historian would agree that in the early days this was often more principle than practice. Mordecai Manuel Noah, a lawyer, politician, journalist, diplomat and playwright (and a few other things) who was born shortly before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, firmly believed that his government would uphold this principle. The breach of this trust led to one of the most bizarre initiatives in Jewish American history: Ararat*, a would-be Jewish refugee settlement on Grand Island near Buffalo, New York.

Alas, the farthest Ararat ever got was the cornerstone that Noah displayed at the dedication ceremony in Buffalo in September 1825. Noah’s plan, which was financially supported by Freemasons and Christian Zionists, was to create a place where all Jews who wished to come to America could come. Noah, an ardent Zionist (even before there was Zionism), viewed his settlement as a temporary measure until the Jews could return to the real Holy Land. And while his plan sparked enthusiastic discussions, it did not have the support of the Jewish community (whom Noah intended to tax to support Ararat).

It has been speculated that much of the inspiration for Ararat stemmed from Noah’s time in the diplomatic service. Beyond the fact that during his diplomatic travels he saw many restrictions placed on Jews in other countries, the real “eye-opener” for him was his dismissal from the position of U.S. Consul to Tunis in 1815, purportedly because he was a Jew. Noah’s outrage fueled his future career as a journalist, which, in turn, led him into politics. He was also a successful playwright (e.g.: She Would Be a Soldier; or, The Plains of Chippewa-1819, The Siege of Tripoli-1820, Marion; or, The Hero of Lake George-1821).

Mordecai Manuel Noah died in 1851.

*The name is a play on his own name. Mount Ararat is where Noah’s ark came to rest when the waters finally receded after the Flood.

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Plan It Now

If you don’t yet have plans, find a High Holiday service near you. Rosh Hashana begins next Wednesday night.