Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah 2016

For 2016, from sunset Sunday October 16, through sunset on Friday October 25 is a string of Jewish holidays including Sukkot, Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Sukkot, the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, is a major holiday in Judaism, celebrating the harvest. 

The major festival days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah come at the close of the festival (although technically they are separate holidays).


Jews of all denominations who observe the holiday spend the first morning of Sukkot at synagogue  or temple services. Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside of Israel also spend the second morning in religious services.  

Jews of all denomination may also attend services on Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Many Jews of all denominations (especially those with children) may also attend celebrations and services at the synagogue or temple on the eve of Simchat Torah.  

For general purposes, we can view the week as having major celebrations at the beginning and end of the festival period. The breakdown for all of these dates is a bit complicated, so I have set these down in bullet points the days on which the different holidays fall in 2016 as follows:

Ø   Sukkot: Sunset October 16 continuing through sunset on sunset on Sunday October 23  NOTE: The first day is observed fully by many Jews of all denominations and the first two days by Orthodox and Conservative Jews as a major holiday

Ø   Hoshanah Rabah: Sunset Saturday October 22 continuing through sunset on Sunday October 23 (technically, the last day of Sukkot)

Ø   Shemini Atzeret: Sunset Sunday October 23 through sunset on Monday, October 24. NOTE: Since this is one of the four times of years for formally remembering the dead who have passed away, this holiday may carry strong significance to those who have lost loved ones.

Ø   Simchat Torah: Sunset Monday October 24 through sunset on Tuesday October 25.

Because the holiday of Sukkot continues for 8 days, throughout the week of Sukkot, evenings are often spent visiting the booths in other people’s houses. For planning purposes for those trying to accommodate employees or students, this should not interfere with evening schedules during the week, but might affect them on the key holidays noted below.

One should be careful not to assume that because one Jewish student or employee is not observing the holiday that this is the same with all of Jewish students and employees. While levels of observance vary on an individual basis, the fact that some Jews may not attend services does not diminish its importance as a holiday to those Jews who do observe the holiday.

For a more comprehensive discussion of the variations in practice see the “A More In-Depth Explanation” below.


There are several names for the holiday, which may be a bit confusing. In Sephardic Hebrew, Sukkot is pronounced “sue-COAT.” In Ashkenazic Hebrew, it is pronounced “sue-KOSE” (to rhyme with “two dose”). In Yiddish, the holiday is called Sukkos (to rhyme with “book us.”  

The spelling may also vary as the words are in Hebrew letters rather than Roman ones. Thus, some people may spell the same holiday Succot, Succos or Sukkes.


Sukkot is the Jewish Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles). The Bible indicates that Jews should dwell in booths during Sukkot:

“You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.” Leviticus 23:42

This practice is meant to recall the “sukkot” (Hebrew for temporary shelters or booths; singular “sukkah”) that the Israelites used during the Exodus from Egypt during their wandering in the desert on their way to the Land of Israel.  

This is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals of Judaism (when in the days of the Temple, Jews were required to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem). The holiday is especially closely associated with the Temple in Jerusalem as King Solomon dedicated the Temple on Sukkot.

Traditionally, Jews build their own sukkah outside their homes, temples and synagogues. The sukkah must be a non-permanent structure (so that it is a “temporary shelter”) and must have four walls at least part of which must include “schach” (plant material grown from the ground, such as branches, corn stalks, etc. with the requirement that the material not smell bad). It is also very common to decorate the sukkah (often with children’s artwork). Jews then spend all or part of their days in their Sukkot, and eat all or some of their meals in them.

Sukkot is a very festive and happy holiday, unlike the somber nature of the Jewish High Holidays which precede it. The holiday is a time for visiting friends in each other’s Sukkot, and many congregations have “sukkah hops” where people go from one sukkah to another over the course of one or more evenings during the holiday week.

At religious services in the synagogue or temple, Jews hold daily processions called “Hoshanot” in which they recite prayers for a good harvest while ritually shaking a lulav and etrog which make up the “four species” of plants. The lulav is comprised of three of these four plants: one palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches that are bond together. The etrog is a specific type of yellow citrus fruit (Citrus medica) often called in English a citron. In Ashkenazic Hebrew, the fruit is called an esrog and in Yiddish, an esrig. Not all of these fruits are of equal value, and a perfect etrog is something many Jews highly value. There are many specifications on the nature of what is and is not a kosher etrog, and among those what does and does not constitute a perfect etrog. The use of the four species has a symbolic meaning as a way to rejoice in the harvest. The specific species themselves are symbolic of the whole person carrying them: the palm represents the spine;  the myrtle, the eyes (they have eye-shaped leaves), the willow the mouth (its leaves are thought to be mouth-shaped), and the etrog, the heart.

Variations on these basic customs exist from country to country among Jews. For example, Moroccan Jews often decorate their lulav with silk ribbons and a bell. Moroccan Jews traditional also have an empty chair in the sukkah for Elijah the prophet (who is supposed to announce the coming of the Messiah).

For a more comprehensive discussion of the variations in practice see the “A More In-Depth Explanation” below.


The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabah (literally, the “Great Hosannah”).  This last day of Sukkot has special prayers with a procession around the synagogue or temple that circles seven times followed by the beating of the willow branches of the lulav on the ground. Because of the special prayers, some Jews who may not have attended services on the interim days of Sukkot may attend on Hoshanah Rabah.


The day immediately following Hoshanah Rabah is a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret (or Shemini Atzeres). This is the eighth day of Sukkot and the Shemini Atzeret actually means “eighth day of assembly). On this day, people leave their sukkot and eat in their houses again. This holiday also includes the prayer for rain Tefillat Geshrem. One of the four annual Yizkor services said by Jews to remember the dead are also said on Shemini Atzeret.


Literally meaning “rejoicing in the Torah,” Simchat Torah is one of the most joyous celebrations in Judaism. Traditionally, Jews read the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) from beginning to end in portions throughout the year.  This is the day that the end of the Torah is read and the beginning of the Torah is begun again.  It is a day of festive singing and dancing to honor the Torah.

Simchat Torah is celebrated with having as many people reading sentences from the end and beginning of the Torah scrolls and with singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls. In many cities, the celebrations are carried on with dancing and singing in the streets while holding the Torah scrolls. 

In Israel itself, Simchat Torah is combined with Shimeni Atzeret on the same day. Outside of Israel, the two holidays are celebrated separately one after the other.


In response to feedback from earlier holiday messages, I was asked to share that for all Jewish holidays, observance among the main Jewish religious movements varies both in level of practice and in interpretation of how long the main observance opening part of the holiday lasts. Generally speaking, though, the first day of Sukkot is a major festival day for all Jewish movements. I want to emphasize that, as with all of these religious postings and regardless of the religion involved, I am not passing judgment or suggesting as either correct or incorrect any practice of observance. The purpose of these religious observance posts is simply to give a bit of general background on our religiously diverse campus and to inform those who may not be aware of them so that can accommodate faculty, staff and students who wish to observe them. 

Regarding the differing stances for Sukkot, I will try to summarize some (though not all) of the major differences in observance.

For Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews, the first two days of Sukkot are observed as one long day (as with Rosh HaShanah). For most (although not all) Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, there is no "long day" so that the first day lasts one day only.  This long day does not apply to those celebrating the holiday in the land of Israel. In Israel, only one day is observed in place of the long day, regardless of denomination. 

For Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews, no manner of work can be done on the holiday.It should be noted that within the Orthodox community, length and manner of observance is not seen as a point of personal interpretation. For most Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, length and manner of observance, by contrast, may reflect personal interpretation. For many Conservative Jews, the length and manner of observance similarly are not seen as subject to individual interpretation, but considerable allowance is made for the actual (vs. the ideal) practice of observance.   

Most Orthodox and Conservative and some Reform and Reconstructionist Jews build their own personal sukkah by their home. Some Orthodox Jews interpret the commandment to dwell in booths literally and may actually spend all or much of the week in their sukkah, even sleeping in them  (barring inclement weather).  Many other Jews who build their own sukkot have one or more of their family meals there and spend as much time in them.

It should be noted that many Reform and Reconstructionist Jews do not build their own sukkot, instead using the sukkah build at their temple or synagogue. This is the case too for Jews of all religious streams who can not build a sukkah where they live for one reason or another. At many college campuses, for example, the local Hillel Jewish Student Association builds a sukkah for students living on campus.


Sukkot centers on eating something within the sukkah itself. As a result, several traditions have developed around special Sukkot meals.

Sukkot is a harvest festival. As a result, the foods eaten often reflect fruits and vegetables of some sort to symbolize the harvest. In particular, stuffed vegetables or main dishes and desserts made with fruit are common for the holiday.

Among the most common dishes of Eastern European origin are holishkes or meat-stuffed pepper. Holishkes are appropriate for two reasons. First, they make use of harvest vegetables. Second, when two holishkes are placed side by side, they look like the Torah scroll. A recipe for holishkes can be found on the Eastern European About.com site at


Among Turkish Jews, it is customary to eat bourekas, or oil-crisped pastry pockets stuffed with harvest vegetables. A particularly common version for Sukkot are borekas stuffed with sweetened squash or bourekas can be found on the Jewish Recipe Trader site at
pumpkin.  One recipe for pumpkin-stuffed


Etrog jam
Among Syrian Jews, the etrog is made into jam. Many Jews of Syrian origin still maintain this custom even after persecution and expulsion in the latter half of the 20th Century. Sadly, of the roughly 200,000 Jews who lived in Syria for 500 years from the time of the Spanish expulsion (1492) until the founding of the State of Israel (1948), only an estimated 80 Jews remain in Syria. Still, the thriving Syrian Jewish communities of New York (80,000), Israel (70,000) and Panama (10,000) carry on the customs of this venerable Jewish community. Indeed, within Israel, the use of etrog jam is becoming common throughout the country for many non-Syrian Jews as well. A recipe for etrog jam can be found at


Sukkot apple cake
A common Sukkot dessert among Jews is apple cake as the apples represent the harvest. In fact, eating apples themselves is also fairly common. One recipe for a traditional Sukkot apple cake can be found on the Kosher Food About.com site at 



As with all of the religious summaries provided in thes posts, I do not intend to indicate what is or is not a proper way to observe this or any other holiday. The intention here is merely to be superficially informative.

Chag Sameach! Happy Sukkot!


Sukkot on the Net

Judaism 101

About Judaism,com:

Union of Reform Judaism

Chabad .org

Board of Jewish Education (Australia).org


The clipart used here (unless noted otherwise) is free to download. You can find it at

Amazing Animations

and at
FREE-Bitsela.com at

The opening "Happy Sukkot" image is from

The closing Sukkot banner is from:

The Hoshana Rabbah image is from: http://www.yutorah.org/sukkot/

The food images are as follows:

Holishkes: About.com Eastern European Food: http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/maincourses/r/Jewish-cabbage-holishkes.htm

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yom Kippur 2017


Yom Kippur for 2017 begins at sunset on Friday, September 29 and continues through one hour past sunset on Saturday, September 30. All employees, students and faculty requesting so  should be accommodated. 

Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. It is a day to, in which "you shall afflict your souls" (Leviticus 16:29) and -- as the name indicates -- to atone for one's sins throughout the preceding year.

Together with Rosh HaShanah (which occurs 10 days earlier), Yom Kippur forms part of what are called the High Holy Days. The days following Rosh HaShanah and leading up to Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. As the culmination of the High Holy Days, Yom Kippur takes a special prominence. For more on this, please see my post on Rosh HaShanah at

Yom Kippur: Conclusion of the High Holy Days

On Rosh HaShanah, Jews traditionally believe (whether figuratively or literally depending on their interpretation) that God opens the Book of Life (Sefer Chaim) and writes in it the fate of each person including "who shall live and who shall die."

On Yom Kippur, that fate in the Book of Life is sealed.  Starting with Rosh HaShanah, through the Days of Awe and until the close of Yom Kippur, Jews believe that repentance, prayer and acts of lovingkindness (the somewhat lacking but rough translation of the Hebrews words tshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah) are able to "avert the stern decree." The decision is sealed and set at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

Importance Given Yom Kippur

Generally speaking, Yom Kippur can be considered the most important day of observance in Judaism.

Among observant Jews, traditionally, the weekly observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays is the most important Jewish holiday. In practice, though, for many Jews who do might not regularly attend weekly Sabbath services, do attend services on the High Holy Days, and, especially, on Yom Kippur.  (Please note that I am in no way attempting to take a stance on what is or is not proper observance for any religion in these updates, but rather simply trying to make the general community aware of the various religious practices as they affect activities for employees, students or others).

Dating Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, like all Jewish holidays, appears to wander in the secular calendar.  This is because the secular calendar is not consistent with the Jewish calendar. In the Jewish calendar, though, the holiday actually occurs on the same day of the Jewish calendar (the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri). 

Also, as the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, the day begins with sunset and ends with sunset. Traditionally, the holiday does not close until an hour past sunset to ensure that the sun has unarguably already set. This is a practice of adding an additional hour is usually observed by Orthodox and Conservative Jews but less often observed by Reform and Reconstructionist Jews.

The Fast

Yom Kippur is a complete fast day. This is a 25-hour fast that begins before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur and continues until nightfall of the following day. Throughout Yom Kippur Jews, Jews abstain from
  • eating or drinking anything (including water)
  • wearing perfume or lotion
  • bathing
  • having sexual relations
  • wearing leather (including leather shoes)
Most Jews interpret the fast to include abstaining from smoking as well.

As with all Jewish fasts, health takes precedence over the fast. Women in childbirth or women who have given birth within the past three days are, for example, explicitly forbidden to fast even if they want to do so. Likewise children under nine are explicitly forbidden to fast even if they want to do so. Women who are pregnant and children between 9 and 13 are permitted to fast but must break the fast if they feel weak. Similarly, people with diseases requiring that they eat regularly (such as diabetes) or with conditions of weakened health are permitted to fast but must break the fast if they feel their health is being affected.

On Yom Kippur, Jews are prohibited from work of any kind. This includes writing, using the phone or computer, physical labor and the like.

Because playing music is prohibited as well, the holiday concludes only after sunset so that it is possible to blow the shofar  (or ram's horn). Please see the post on Rosh HaShanah for more on this at


Yom Kippur Service

Length of Service

Yom Kippur is the longest worship service in the Jewish calendar. This holds true for all branches of Judaism.

While the length of services varies from one branch of Judaism to another, it is not uncommon for Orthodox and Conservative Jews to spend almost the entire day in the synagogue, leaving only to sleep at night. Even in the sometimes shorter Yom Kippur services of many Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, most worshippers still spend the vast majority of the day in services at the synagogue or temple.

Kol Nidre Service

The Kol Nidre Chant

The service on Yom Kippur eve is centered on the Kol Nidre prayer. The prayer takes its name from its first two words which are "Kol Nidre" meaning "all vows" in Aramaic.

The prayer begins very soon after the evening service begins. This is because, to be valid, the Kol Nidre prayer must be recited before sunset.

The Kol Nidre Tune

The Kol Nidre chant is among the oldest tunes in the Jewish liturgy, and its melody is intended to echo the sounds of sighing or sobbing. The origin of the current tune dates to at least the late 13th Century with the so-called melodies of "MiSinai" (literally "from Sinai"). The "MiSinai" melodies are a group of 52 liturgical melodies of which by far the most notable is Kol Nidre Chant. Music historians date nearly all of the "MiSinai" music back to Maharam of Rothenberg (who lived from 1220-1293). That said, it is neither known how old the melodies were when Maharam of Rothenberg learned them nor if any of the "MiSinai" melodies post-dated him (since the tunes themselves were handed down without being written down for centuries).

While most versions of the Kol Nidre chant have a common origin in the "MiSinai" melodies, considerable variation exists within the interpretation of the music. Thus, there are, for example, German, Bohemian and Polish versions with minor differences. Additionally, each cantor or singer of the tune also adds a unique style as well.

Three regional variations of the Kol Nidre tune

In Classical Music

Ludwig van Beethoven first brought the tune of the Kol Nidre prayer was popularized to the non-Jewish world in 1821 (although never credited so indirectly) as the basis of the central theme of the sixth movement of his String Quartet No. 14 (Opus 131).

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded a famous version of
Bruch's Opus 41 Kol Nidre for Cello and Orchestra
The Kol Nidre tune was first explicitly brought to the non-Jewish world 60 years later through Max Christian Friedrich Bruch's 1881 Opus 41 (Kol Nidrei). This piece features a variation inspired by the main tune of the chant played on cello backed by full orchestra.

To hear Yo-Yo Ma's 2005 performance of this piece, please listen to


Other classical composers to include at least part of the Kol Nidre tune in their works are Arnold Schoenberg (in 1938 with Opus 39, Kol Nidrei) and most recently John Zorn's 1996 Kol Nidre for String Quartet.

In Popular Music

In the area of popular culture, Kol Nidre has also been frequently featured. In the early beginnings of film, Al Jolson sings a version of the prayer in the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer.

In popular music, recordings of Kol Nidre have been made by such varied singers as Perry Como, Neil Diamond and Johnny Mathis.

The Content of the Kol Nidre Chant

The content of the Kol Nidre chant itself is less of an actual prayer than a dry legal formulation. The wording is as follows:

All vows ("kol nidre"), obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called 'ḳonam,' 'ḳonas,' or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths. (translation from the Jewish Encyclopedia).

Because Judaism teaches to take any vow with the utmost seriousness, the purpose of the prayer is to be forgiven from any rash vows made to God in the coming year that one can not fulfill. The Kol Nidre prayer does not absolve one from vows made to other people; only vows made between the worshipper and God.

Debate Over Kol Nidre

Much debate exists over the prayer even within the Jewish community. This debate was  carried on throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times on theological grounds. In modern times,several leaders in the early period of the Reform Movement in the 19th Century attempted to abolish the prayer, but for different reasons than those traditionally argued but instead as a means of disarming its use for excuses of anti-Semitism (see below).

Versions of the Kol Nidre Chant: Liturgical Differences

The Kol Nidre chant is one of the oldest in Judaism, dating back in some version at least to the time of Amram Gaon during his leadership of the Jewish Talmud Academy of Sura (which means between 857 and 875 CE). Some sources suggest that this version itself was simply set down from a far earlier earlier version. In the prayer book (siddur) of Amram, the prayer is in Hebrew, not Aramaic (and thus is called Kol Nedarim vs. Kol Nidre).

The Kol Nidre Chant
in the Machzor of Worms, Germany
(ca. 1270-1280)
The Hebrew version was still widely used in the Roman Mahzor (prayer book) dating to the 1480's.  In the Hebrew version, the vows were absolved for the vows broken during preceding year (rather than the potentially unmet vows of the coming year). The Hebrew version was still the standard version for the Jews of Italy and Romanian (or Balkin) before their extermination during the Holocaust. Some of the surviving members of these communities continue this tradition of reciting the Hebrew version.

The majority of Jews, however, recite the Aramaic version. That said, the version of the prayer differs depending on one interpretation or the other. One formulation of the prayer (called the old version) retains wording regarding the vows being from the preceding year while a second formulation (called the new version) carries the modification from the past year to the coming year. The "new version" dates to the early 1100's when the French Rabbi Meir ben Samuel (called the Ram) modified it. 

The Jews of Spain  rejected the modifications of the "new version."  The descendants of this Jewish community are called Sephardi Jews (from the Hebrew for Spanish).  Today Sephardic Jews continue to recite the "old version" of the Aramaic prayer. The Ashkenazi Jews (the name for the Jews who settled in Central and Eastern Europe), by contrast, recite the "new version" of the Aramaic prayer.

The Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews today, though, are no longer geographically determined. Sephardic Jews are no longer to be found in Spain (Jews were only permitted to return to Spain in 1968), but are spread around the world. For more on this, please see my post on Tisha B'Av at


Following the forced expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews were distributed far from Spain, especially in the Netherlands, Morocco and (before the Jewish expulsions from most Arabic countries following the founding of Israel in 1948) from North Africa and the Middle East. Similarly, Ashkenazi Jews are similarly spread around the world, after the upheavals first of the 19th century Russian and Ukrainian pogroms, followed by the Holocaust and then the post-WWII persecution under the Soviet era.

Today in the United States, Canada, Argentina, France, Australia and Israel, the two traditions live side by side. In some congregations, as a compromise, the prayer is repeated in both versions.

Anti-Semitism and the Kol Nidre Chant
It is important to clarify here that the Kol Nidre forgiveness of vows deals only with vows between worshippers and God. It does not negate vows between the one making the vow and any other person. The reason it is important to emphasize this is the long history of anti-Semitism associated with the misunderstanding of the Kil Nidre chant.  As the Jewish Encyclopedia explains:
The "Kol Nidre" has been one of the means widely used by Jewish apostates and by enemies of the Jews to cast suspicion on the trustworthiness of an oath taken by a Jew... so that many legislators considered it necessary to have a special form of oath administered to Jews ("Jew's oath"), and many judges refused to allow them to take a supplementary oath, basing their objections chiefly on this prayer. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre#anchor9
Attacks on Jews using Kol Nidre as a supposed proof of Jewish duplicity or untrustworthiness has a very long history. The earliest formally recorded accusation in a court dates back to 1240 when Jehuel of Paris was brought to trial to defend charges based on the Kol Nidre prayer.

In many European countries throughout the Middle Ages through the emancipation of the Jews in the 19th Century, Jewish testimony was either given extra restrictions or prohibited altogether based, at least in part, on the excuse that the Kol Nidre prayer made their testimony untrustworthy.

Well into modern times, the use of Kol Nidre chant to justify anti-Semitism was widespread ranging from Henry Ford's anti-Semitic diatribe in the International Jew (1921) through the citation of the prayer in anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda.

It continues to be a staple among dozens of anti-Jewish hate groups today, as exemplified by the title of Pastor Mark Downey's 2009 sermon "Why We Hate Jews, Part 3: Lies Kol Nidre" on the Kinsman Redeemer Ministry site (I have chosen to withhold the web links here so as not to further promote such hate-mongering). 

Other Yom Kippur Prayers and Practices

Extra Service Components

As mentioned before, Yom Kippur is the longest prayer service in the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur has five parts (for Reform and Reconstructionist Jews) or six parts (for Orthodox and Conservative Jews rather than the usual three of daily prayer in Judaism.

In daily prayer, traditionally Judaism has only three services: Evening Prayers (Ma'ariv, in this case with the additional Kol Nidre service), Morning Prayers (Shacharit) and Afternoon Prayers (Mincha). On Kippur, there are five (rather than three) services. To the three just mentioned are added the so-called Additional Prayer Service (Musaf) which is also recited on the other major holidays as well as the Closing Prayers (Ne'ilah) which are recited only on Yom Kippur.


Roses were given out at
Ne'ilah in Germany
before the Holocaust

The Closing Prayers or Ne'ilah last for roughly an hour and are said while standing the entire time as the day draws to an end. Because of the full day of intense pryaer accompanied by fasting, many people may feel faint or weak. By Jewish law, anyone who feels this way must sit down.

In several cultures, specific Nei'ilah traditions arose to add strength in the final hour of the fast. For example, it is the custom of Jews in Chile to pass around an orange or lemon in which cloves have been placed so that the scent will give strength as the hour grows late.

Similarly, for centuries it was the custom of the Jews of Germany to hand out roses to the women of the congregation to fortify them with its fragrance. Today, following the annhilation of Germany's Jews, some congregations regardless of origin continue this practice as a way of keeping alive the memory of those killed in the Holocaust.

Avodah Service

In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, there is also a special addition called the Avodah. This is not a prayer service in the same way as the other five but rather a form of re-enactment of the Temple service in ancient times. In the Avodah service, the descendants of the priests (the Kohanim) of the Temple in Jerusalem (more or less) conduct a version of what would have been the service done at the Temple had the Roman not destroyed it in 70 CE. The word "avodah" is Hebrew for work, referring to the work of the priests.

Other Special Prayers

While Yom Kippur is full of special prayers, three are perhaps particularly noteworthy:

  • the Ashamnu (short confessional
  • the Al Cheyt (long confessional and
  • the Unetaneh Tokef (more or less a prayer of being judged). 

It is customary to strike one's breast
during the Yom Kippur confessionals
All of the confessional prayers are in the second person plural ("we"). This communal confession serves many purposes, and is subject to much commentary in Judaism. Among these is the belief that by communally confessing, each person recognizes his or her responsibility for others. Thus, even if the individual worshippers may not have felt that they have committed this or that particular transgression, they remain culpable for not preventing others from doing so. Another often-cited commentary on the plural confession is that it allows the individual who may be too ashamed to confess a particular transgressing in public to confess it aloud to God as part of the whole congregation. In any case, while reciting the group confession, the individual also may include private petitions simultaneously.

The Short Confession or Ashamnu

The Ashamnu takes its name from the opening word of the prayer "ashamnu" which means "we have transgressed" or "we have incurred guilt."  The Ashamnu prayer consists of 24 lines written as an acrostic (that is the opening letter of each line begins with each successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet -- the Hebrew equivalent of an A to Z set of lines were the prayer to have been in English).

The Ashamnu is said out loud by the entire congregation in the first person plural form (e.g., "We have transgressed, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely" and so on).

The Ashamnu is recited while standing with one's head bowed. With each item, the worshipper strikes his or her chest to imprint the words on the heart.

The Long Confessional or Al Cheyt

 Maurycy Gottlieb
 Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878)
The Long Confession or Al Cheyt takes its name from the opening words of each of the 48 lines of the prayer "Al Cheyt" which means "For the sin" in Hebrew. The 48 lines of the Al Cheyt prayer all begin with the phrase "For the sin which we have sinned against You..." with the following word forming a double acrostic (double alphabetical listing).

The prayer is recited 10 times during Yom Kippur. As with the Ashamnu, the Al Cheyt is recited while standing with one's head bowed and with the worshipper striking his or her chest to imprint the words on the heart.

Significantly, of the 44 sins recited, 40 deal with sins of person against person and only 4 deal with sins of person against God. Particular importance is given to confessing sins of speech, of which 12 of 44 are concerned (e.g., "for the sin which I have committed against You through harsh speech" or "for the sin which we have sinned against You for deceiving a fellow human being", etc. ).

Unetaneh Tokef

Probably the best-known prayer of both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services after Kol Nidre is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer. The opening words of the prayer from which it takes its name means something along the lines of "We shall ascribe..." which leads into a longer introduction describing Yom Kippur as a Day of Judgement. 

The central section of the poem deals with judgement (see below). The prayer then closes with God's attributes and the worshippers' helplessness and ends with a recognition of God's enduring nature.

All parts of the Unetaneh Tokef are important but the middle part of the prayer is perhaps the most widely-known outside of Jewish circles. This part of the prayer deals with the balance of one's behavior resulting in the decision of who shall be inscribed in the Book of Life (Sefer Chaim) and who shall die and in what manner.

The wording of this section of the Untaneh Tokef prayer is as follows:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed
and on Yom Kippur will be sealed
how many will pass from the earth
and how many will be created;
who will live and who will die;
who will die at his predestined time
and who before his time;
who by water and who by fire,
who by sword, who by beast,
who by famine, who by thirst,
who by upheaval, who by plague,
who by strangling, and who by stoning.
Who will rest and who will wander,
who will live in harmony and who will be harried,
who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer,
who will be impoverished and who will be enriched,
who will be degraded and who will be exalted.
But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity
avert the severe Decree!”  
(translation from: http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshhashannah/unetanehtext.htm )

Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire"
is based on the Unetaneh Tokef 
This is because the prayer is commonly discussed in general theological discussions. It may also been known through its adaptations (as with Kol Nidre) in secular music, as in Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire" song.

Although central to all branches of Judaism, there exists considerable debate exists among them regarding how literally on should take the words of the prayer. These range from very literal among Haredi Jews to entirely symbolically among Reconstructionist Jews, with considerable variation in between.

Ending the Service and Breaking the Fast

The Yom Kippur service concludes with a single blast of the shofar. This is followed by a (usually rapidly recited) Havdalah service. "Havdalah" in Hebrew means "separation" and is used to mark a separation for all Jewish holidays from the ordinary days of the week.

After this, most congregations break the fast at the synagogue or temple before people leave with some sort of light food and beverage (cake and juice, for example). After this people go home or gather at the houses of relatives or friends for a larger meal to break the fast.

Egg noodle kugel
What people eat at the break fast meal differs from tradition to tradition. That said, most traditions break the fast with a dairy meal (as opposed to a meat meal) as this is easier to digest on an empty stomach. Often the meal is laid out in a buffet style featuring easy-to-provide offerings such as bagels with smoked fish and cream cheese.

Many traditions  include eggs or dishes made with eggs as a symbol of the birth of a new year. Egg noodle pudding (called lukshen kugel) often sweetened with raisins is a common choice.  For a recipe for sweet egg-noodle kugel, please see http://kosherfood.about.com/od/dairymaindishes/r/kugel_noodle_d.htm

Cheese blintz
Finally, it is common to feature include sweets, honey and jams to represent symbolically the coming of a "sweet" or good year. A popular choice for this is the cheese blintz, a sort of Jewish cheese-filled sweet crepe. For a recipe for cheese blintz with blueberries, please see:



Yom Kippur is a very important holiday within Judaism, and this is only a brief overview. Nearly every aspect of the holiday's practice and liturgy have been subject to centuries of debate. It is not my intention in any way to suggest that either this post is a comprehensive coverage of these or that I am in any way taking a stand on any of these. Please feel free to share your comments.

L'Shanah Tovah! To a Good Year Ahead!

Further Reading

Marsha Bryan Edelman, Reform Judaism Magazine, "Sounds of Kol Nidre," http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1274

Chabad.org, "What Is Yom Kippur?": http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/177886/jewish/What-is-Yom-Kippur.htm

Rhodora Dagatan, Toptens.com, "Top 10 Traditions on Yom Kippur": http://www.tiptoptens.com/2011/10/07/top-10-traditions-on-yom-kippur-day/

Dan Ehrenkrantz, PBS.org Relgion and Ethics Newsweekly, "Interview with Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz" (on the Yom Kippur service): http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/september-26-2008/rabbi-dan-ehrenkrantz/648/

Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Kol Nidre":  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/321300/Kol-Nidre
Holidays.net "The Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur":   http://www.holidays.net/highholydays/yom.htm

Ellen Frankel, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, " "A Reconstructionist D'var Torah: Yom Kippur Unetanah Tokef -- In the Wake of the Decree":  http://www2.jrf.org/recon-dt/dt.php?id=195

Lewis Eron, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, "A Reconstructionist D'var Torah: Yom Kippur Eleh Ezkarah -- Sacrifice and Martyrdom": http://www2.jrf.org/recon-dt/dt.php?id=196

Sherwood Goffin, The Kosher Spirit, "Kosher Music":  http://www.kosherspirit.com/Article.asp?Issue=17&Article=217
Jewish Encyclopedia, "Kol Nidre," http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre

Avi Lazerson, Jewishmag.com, "Customs and Traditions of Yom Kippur": http://www.jewishmag.com/47mag/yomkippur/yomkippur.htm

Elazar Meisels, Partners in Torah, "Yom Kippur in 60 Minutes (or Less)": http://www.partnersintorah.org/jewish-holidays/yomkippur

Shaul Rosenblatt, Aish.com, "Yom Kippur: A Day of Reconciliation": http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/theme/48970706.html?s=mpw

Shraga Simmons, Scribd.com, "Exploring the Al Chet Prayer": http://www.scribd.com/doc/6390128/Al-Chet-Prayer

Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center.com, "Al Cheyt: For the Misdeeds We Have Done Before You": https://theshalomcenter.org/node/238

Michael Weiss, Slate.com, "The Anti-Semite's Favorite Prayer" http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2008/10/the_antisemites_favorite_jewish_prayer.html

Clip Art Sources:

Opening banner: http://www.theholidayspot.com/yomkippur/

Book of life with scales:  http://www.rats2u.com/clipart/holidays/clipart_holiday3.htm

Yom Kippur star:  http://www.catch-allclipart.com/holiday/yom_kippurclipart.html

No eating clip art: http://www.tiptoptens.com/2011/10/07/top-10-traditions-on-yom-kippur-day/

Three regional variations of the Kol Nidre tune: http://d5iam0kjo36nw.cloudfront.net/V07p542001.jpg

Yo-Yo Ma: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4955739

Johnny Mathis Kol Nidre album: http://www.bangitout.com/uploads/6Johnny_Mathis_Kol_Nidre_single_copy_2.jpg

Kol Nidre in the Machzor of Worms, Germany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kol_nidre_in_the_machzor_of_Worms.jpg

Worshipper striking breast: http://www.tiptoptens.com/2011/10/07/top-10-traditions-on-yom-kippur-day/

Book of Life: http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/yomkipur/booklife.htm

Leonard Cohen album: http://www.technodisco.net/img/tracks/l/leonard-cohen/1221589-leonard-cohen-lover-lover-lover--who-by-fire.jpg

Rose clip art: http://bestclipartblog.com/clipart-pics/pink-rose-clip-art-3.png

Maurycy Gottlieb,  Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878): http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/7536/1681/1600/yom_kippur_3.0.jpg

Egg noodle kugel: http://hungrygerald.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/kugel.jpg

Cheese blintz: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/holidays/highholydays/yom-kippur-recipes-kugels-blintzes/recipes/food/views/Cheese-Blintzes-with-Blueberry-Sauce-232828

Closing clip art: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_jf1gQxsUfRM/TJMV0a2FosI/AAAAAAAACX8/1Z4FVbAB1pQ/s1600/yom_kippur.jpg

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumnal Equinox, 2012

Today is the Autumnal Equinox. This is celebrated as a one of the four Major Sabbats in the eight points of the Wheel of the Year by people practicing Wicca, neo-Druidism and Paganism.  This holiday marks the time at which day and night are in total balance, and is accompanied by personal efforts of members of these faith to find a similar balance in their lives.   

While this is a significant holiday for these faiths, it is not normally a day that would require the absence from class or work of faculty, staff or students. That said, the holiday is a time in which believers may wish to celebrate with family and could affect extra activities beyond the normal class or work day.
Different Approaches Toward the Autumnal Equinox
The Autumnal Equinox has several other names. These include the Harvest Moon or the Harvest Home for general usage. For Wiccans and many neo-Pagan groups, the preferred name is Mabon. For other neo-Pagan groups, the name preferred is Alban Elfed.  For neo-Druids, the preferred name is Mea'n Fo'mhair. 
The separate holiday of  Michaelmas in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian and Lutheran Christianity comes at the same time of year but is separate from these other holidays.  
Relationship to Michaelmas
The separate holiday of  Michaelmas in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian and Lutheran Christianity comes at the same time of year but is separate from the other holidays discussed here. Still, Wiccans, neo-Pagans and neo-Druids teach that Michaelmas actually was an attempt by the early Church to co-opt earlier pre-Christian worship practices associated with the Autumnal Equinox. 
When Christianity first spread in the Celtic regions, the Roman Catholic Church placed great emphasis on Michaelmas which, falling on September 29, came near the same time. In this tradition the Archangel Michael came to represent the power of light over darkness, an important attribute as the length of daylight began to shorten.  
After Michaelmas, British custom
holds that it is unlucky to harvest berries
Religious services honoring the Archangel Michael are still practiced in some Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran congregations, especially in the United Kingdom.  

A folk custom still in evidence in the parts of the British Isles warns that it is unlucky to harvest blackberries after Michaelmas, as they have been cursed at that time by Lucifer.  This custom that it is unlucky to harvest in the woods most likely has its origin in the woodland offerings of the autumnal harvest in pre-Christian Britain.

Mea'n Fo'mhair and the Neo-Druid Tradition
For neo-Druids and some pagans, the holiday is called Mea'n Fo'mhair.

The woodland harvest offerings described above are still practiced by neo-Druids and modern pagan  
Woodland offering, Germany
(largely in British, Irish and German traditions but with increasing practice in the US, Canada and New Zealand).  In this tradition, neo-Druids gather in wooded areas and  give offerings of the fall harvest (not only of berries but also of pine cones, acorns, apples and cider) to honor the Green Man of the Forest.   
Alban Elfed and the Neo-Pagan Tradition
In some neo-Pagan traditions, the holiday is known as  Alban Elfed  or the “Light of the Sun.”  In this tradition, woodland offerings are proferred but to “The Lady” who is also called the “Spirit of the Land.”
Mabon and Wicca
The autumnal equinox holiday with the largest following is that associated with the religion of Wicca where it is called Mabon.  Unlike many other Wiccan holidays, no corresponding name exists in ancient pagan traditions. Instead, the name was coined by the US Wiccan leader Aidan Kelley soon after the formation in 1967 of the  NROOGD  (New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn), one of the most important popularizers of the Wiccan faith.  Kelley’s adoption of the name Mabon was to honor the early Welsh pagan divine son deity Mabon fab Mellt.   
It should be noted that while Wicca (and with it the name Mabon) has been growing most rapidly in popularity among these tradition, in the UK and Ireland, many neo-Druids strongly oppose the term as a neologism. As a result, while it would be appropriate to wish a Wiccan a “Happy Mabon,” this may not be as appreciated for some neo-Druids and modern pagans.
The Cornucopia is the traditional
symbol for the Autumnal Equinox

Both in ancient Druidic tradition and in modern neo-Druidic, pagan and Wiccan practice, offerings are often proffered in a horn of plenty called a cornucopia. As a result, Cornucopia is another name some practitioners use for the holiday.
As as side note, this is the same cornucopia that has been co-opted in the US tradition for the Thanksgiving symbol in November, itself an oddity since by this time the harvest has long been passed.
In most traditions, altar offerings of the harvest are proferred. In Wicca, altar offerings are customarily at home. In neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic traditions altar offerings are customarily set in the woods or forest.
Wiccan Mabon home altar, USA
In all three beliefs, the altar is normally set with symbols of the closing harvest. This includes dried corn and sheaves of wheat. Typical fall harvest items such as squash and gourds as well as nuts in their shells, root vegetables are also common offerings.
In many traditions, practitioners use agricultural implements (or lacking that, images or miniature agricultural implements) to complete the altar set-up. These usually involve baskets but also might include scythes and sickles.
In Wicca in particular, symbols of balance -- such as an evenly set of hanging scales -- are also used on the altar to symbolize the balance of day and night in the equinox.

Traditional Foods
In all of the autumnal equinox traditions -- Wiccan, neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic -- believers traditionally both make offerings of harvest foods as well as eat food and drink associated with the harvest.
Mother Bread
Seasonal harvest items such as root vegetables and squash are common foods for the holiday. Nuts and things made with nuts are also commonly featured.
To incorporate the grains of the autumn harvest, bread (often called "mother bread")  is often a central food eaten during the holiday. One recipe for "Dark Mother Bread with Honey" is at
Finally, cider, juice and wine made from berries and apples are also common reflections of the harvest. 
In my discussion of this holiday -- as with my handling of all others on this blog -- I am not attempting to indicated that one practice or another is proper or improper. My hope is only that this serves as a brief overview for general informational purposes. As always in these write-ups, I welcome your feedback. Please feel free to send me corrections or things you would like me to include next time (and feel equally free to let me know if you find these worthwhile). 
May you have a balance in your life on this Autumnal Equinox.
Further Reading
Ellie Crystal, Crystal Links, "Autumn Equinox," http://www.crystalinks.com/autumn.html
P. J. Deneen, "Pagan Holidays: Autumn Equinox, Mabon, September 21,"  http://www.squidoo.com/autumnequinox
Janet Farrar and Stewart Farrar (1988). Eight Sabbats for Witches, revised edition. Phoenix Publishing.
Ireland's Druidschool, "Celtic Druid's Autumn Equinox," http://www.druidschool.com/site/1030100/page/874527
Mystic Familiar, "Alban Elfed -- Autumn Equinox," http://www.mysticfamiliar.com/library/witchcraft/alban_lfed.html
Tryskelion.com, "Mabon rituals," http://www.tryskelion.com/tryskelion/mabon6.htm
Patti Wigington, About.com: Paganism/Wicca: "All About Mabon," http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/mabontheautumnequinox/a/AllAboutMabon.htm