Ten Minutes of Torah: Kol Nidrei

REPRINTED FROM THE UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM’S: REFORMJUDAISM.org Ten Minutes of Torah Series –

In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, at the beginning of their first date, Woody asks Annie for a first kiss. As he explains it, he knows both of them will be thinking about it all through the night so wouldn’t it be better to get it out of the way and then enjoy the evening?

I think something similar happens on Kol Nidre as we listen to this most beautiful of melodies, asking God to forgive our shortcomings and transgressions. After the Kol Nidre chant is finished, traditionally – and included in the Mishkan HaNefesh pilot – we feature a verse from Numbers 14:20 wherein God says “I forgive you.”

At first glance, this verse seems strangely misplaced. We just asked that our vows be released and our failures forgiven. The service literally has just begun. The observance of Yom Kippur is barely started. And God says, “Okay. I forgive you.” Talk about anticlimactic! It would be understandable if we said, “Great. Let’s go home before God changes God’s mind!

Tisha B’Av and the Spirit of Chayim’s Violin

Very rarely would a person walk the streets of Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av) and hear the sweet Kabbalat Shabbat niggun (melody) of:

Zamru Adonai b’kinor, b’kinor v’kol zimrah.

“Praise Adonai with harp, with harp and voice of song.”

Psalm 98

Yet from under an open tent on the outdoor grounds of a nature museum in Jerusalem, these words wafted gently over a mourning city. On Tisha B’Av, we commemorate the many calamanities that befell our people, especially aching over the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. A week ago, I sat on cushions in this large open tent and listened to the chanting of Eicha (Lamentations) interspersed with modern poetry. Afterward, I raised my voice with others in the singing of kinot (dirges). The vivid images of the destruction of Jerusalem and the brokenness of the people who dwelled there inspired those around me to share spontaneous reflections and meditations on shattered souls. An older man shared a story that his uncle once told him when he was a boy.

Tisha B’av: Ancient Day of National Mourning

This year, the sacred and solemn day of Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) falls tonight (July 15) and tomorrow. The day commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People. Many Jews fast for a full twenty-four hours (as on Yom Kippur) and mourn the passing of the Temple. The biblical book of Lamentations is sung as a dirge. It is a dark day. Nevertheless, the day has a hopeful side in that, from Tisha B’av we start counting off the seven weeks that lead to the New Year. Tisha B’av is a sad day, but it is also a day of hope.

Over the last one hundred and fifty years Reform Jews have often chose not to commemorate Tisha B’av. In the beginning, since Reform Jews did not look to at the ancient Temple as something they wished to restore, the day did not make sense. In more recent times, feeling sadness at a time when the State of Israel is so robust appeared unreflective of reality. Even so, many Reform Jews appreciate the sadness of the day and are more willing to consider its importance as a day of somber reflection.

Although Temple Sholom has no scheduled activities for Tisha B’av, we hope you will consider participating in one of the many community opportunities that are available. Our neighbor, Anshe Sholom will be offering services and a check of the Chicago Jewish News website will provide other ideas.

We are told by the ancient Rabbis that the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry and the Second because of gratuitous hatred between Jews. I no longer worry about idolatry but the gratuitous hatred is still a threat. So I pray that, on this Tisha B’av, we can remember how important it is to befriend each other and honor the divinity within.

Where is God? Wherever you let God in.

Where is God? Wherever you let God in.

– The Kotzker Rebbe

As the Shabbat sun reached far into the west, and the first relief of the afternoon’s heat sighed over Jerusalem, my husband, two young sons and I set out on foot for the Western Wall (the Kotel). Our five year-old son Eli protested leaving the cool air of our hotel room for this place that he did not want to go.

It wasn’t until half-way up the meandering path on a hill that leads to Zion gate that he asked:

“Wait, are we going to the KOTEL?”

I replied: “Yes.”

He said: “I thought you said HOTEL. Oh, the KOTEL… I love that place!” (as though he’d been there before).

A Sweet Story

So, I am teaching on my new book at a local temple in Miami and someone comes up to share with me a Temple Sholom of Chicago story. Back in 1999, she was a new college graduate, singing in the Lyric Opera of Chicago and doing some work with Second City. She was alone in Chicago. She lived a few blocks away from Temple Sholom. Rosh Hashanah was approaching and she felt so lonely for her home back in Miami. She was an advertisement for practically free membership for twenty-somethings at Temple Sholom and she decided to check out Friday night services. While hazy on the details she remembers feeling an overriding wave of welcome and friendship from the moment she walked into the building.

Almost fifteen years later she still smiles as she remembers the warmth. She only stayed in Chicago a couple of years, but the friendliness of Temple Sholom of Chicago made all the difference.

I thought the congregation should know!

Ten Minutes of Torah: The New Reform Machzor and the Shofar Service: Part 2

Part Two: Chevruta (Intense Text Study) With A Thousand People
REPRINTED FROM THE UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM’S: REFORMJUDAISM.org Ten Minutes of Torah Series

Last week I wrote about the decision of the Machzor editors to break the shofar service into three parts, with each part appearing in a different section of the service. As I mentioned, the three parts of the shofar service carry different themes: God’s sovereignty, God’s remembrance of us, and God’s redeeming us. When these three themes are presented one after the other, especially towards the end of the Rosh Hashanah morning service, it is hard to reflect on the spiritual depth of these insights. By dividing the shofar service into three, more attention on each section is possible

Ten Minutes of Torah: The New Reform Machzor and the Shofar Service: Part 1

REPRINTED FROM THE UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM’S: REFORMJUDAISM.org Ten Minutes of Torah Series

Part One: Don’t “Bury the Lead,” or Why We Have Placed the Shofar Service into Three Parts of the Service


The traditional High Holy Day prayer book, as opposed to the Reform versions produced in the last century and more, includes a service, musaf, that evokes the ancient sacrifices. Reform Judaism abandoned this service, due to its musty connotations of “barbarian” rites but a key element of this service on Rosh Hashanah, the sounding of the shofar was maintained. Sounding of the shofar was retained no doubt because the very essence of Rosh Hashanah is bound up in the peal of the shofar. Can you imagine Rosh Hashanah without it?

Will the New Pope Be Good for the Jews?

Quite a lot of Jewish ink has been spilled over the last few weeks analyzing the pontificate of the now retired Benedict XVI, prognosticating on who might be his successor, and, once announced, reporting every detail of Francis’ history with the Jewish community.