Some years ago, a prominent Protestant clergyman offered the suggestion that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could very well be adopted as religious occasions for people of all faiths. He was intrigued by the predominance of the theme of universalism in the Days of Awe. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot convey their respective messages of human freedom, of man’s duty as a moral being, and of the thanksgiving man owes to God, in the context of the historic vicissitudes and experiences of the ancient Israelites. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, are not related to any particular event in Israel’s past. They are, as Yehezkel Kaufmann characterizes them, “cosmic holidays” linked with the hopes and the destiny of mankind. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yon Kippur is indeed suffused with the spirit of universalism.
“The Liturgy: An Introduction,” p. 13
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement
I suppose I’m crazy to post this, since most Christians wouldn’t even begin to “resonate” with the High Holy Days that are rapidly approaching. And yet, as Arzt notes, an anonymous Protestant clergyman of some prominence in a past era undeniably saw a more universal application to God’s judgment and mercy.
Isn’t that because God will indeed judge all the earth? Aren’t we all under His authority. Does He not have the right to elevate or to condemn? Did He not love Jacob, heir to the covenant promises, but hate Esau who was a descendent of Abraham and Isaac but not in line to receive favor as a Patriarch?
And yet at the end of days, God will judge the descendants of Jacob and Esau both.
The persecution to which R. Yehudai Gaon alluded is the injunction issued by Justinian in 553 C.E. against teaching the deuterosis, the oral interpretation of the Torah. Scholars had therefore assumed that when Judaism “went underground,” certain piyyutim replaced the prescribed liturgy and that other piyyutim of a more legalistic content served as a means of circumventing Justinian’s prohibition against teaching the Oral Law.
-ibid, p. 19
While many Christians today boast a love of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, we still bristle at the thought of the Oral Law, since it has long been a tradition in our own religious stream to love the Bible (and our own traditions) but disdain the traditions of other faiths, particularly Judaism. We may not physically burn volumes of Talmud anymore, but we continue to do so in our minds and hearts.
In America, Jews are free to practice their religious faith which includes Talmud study and worshiping according to the customs, but historically Judaism has survived, in part, by periodically going “underground” or at least maintaining a low profile. Some of the other Judaisms object to the behavior of the Chabad because they can be so “in your face” about being Jewish, and are very definitely “above ground”.
We like to remind people that America is a Christian nation (actually, it isn’t and never has been) but imagine how insecure that could make a Jew feel? Anti-Semitism isn’t extinct in America or any place else, it’s just waiting for the right environment in which to once again flourish.
It is generally agreed among scholars that the synagogue arose during the Babylonian exile and that it co-existed with the Temple in Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple…
…Thus the Synagogue was well prepared to assume its post-exilic role as the center of Jewish education, worship, and communal welfare. That the people recovered so quickly from the traumatic effects of the destruction of the Temple was due to the fact that for some centuries before 70 C.E., the Synagogue had been a functioning institution with a reasonably well-established liturgy. The Rabbis tell us that God prepares the healing before the hurt (Song of Songs Rabbah, 4:5).
-ibid, “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah),” p. 43
I’ve maintained over the years that it was indeed the synagogue, the liturgy, and the Talmud that preserved the Jewish people in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple and the initiation of the longest exile they would ever endure, particularly after two failed rebellions against the Romans and the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) betrayal of their Jewish counterparts. Apparently a Gentile sub-population could not be sustained within a Judaism in exile and under siege by the powerful nations around her scattered people.
That’s quite a statement and an indictment against collective Christianity, but it might not be entirely unearned. While I’m not the student of history I wish I were, I do know that as much as modern Christianity depends on the work of the men of the Reformation, its chief architect, Martin Luther, toward the end of his life, was no friend to the Jews.
According to Jewish Virtual Library, an excerpt from Luther’s work “The Jews and Their Lies” states:
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.
If I had lived in those days and had been a devotee of Luther, how could I have possibly imagined that God loved the Jewish people, had plans to restore them to their Land, and was continuing to uphold His covenant relationship with them? How could I even believe the words of Jesus when he said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22)?
Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes, “On Rosh Hashana we make an accounting of our year and we pray repeatedly for life. How do we justify another year of life? What did we do with the last year? Has it been a time of growth, of insight and of caring for others? Did we make use of our time, or did we squander it? Has it truly been a year of life, or merely one of mindless activity? This is the time for evaluation and rededication. The Jewish process is called “teshuva,” coming home — recognizing our mistakes between ourselves and God as well as between ourselves and our fellow man and then correcting them.”
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from his commentary on Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)
This leads us back to the “universalism” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is not an exceptionally depressing for fearful day for most religious Jews. My wife explained to me one year that it’s actually an opportunity to hit the reset button of our lives, to repair faults and faulty relationships, and to take advantage of an opportunity laid at our feet to become better people and build a better future.
While there’s been a great deal of improvement in the relationship between Jews and Christians since the Holocaust, there is still a lot of underlying tension. There’s still a lot of “unexamined baggage” both Jews and Christians are carrying around about each other. To be fair and given recent events, there’s also a lot of baggage I’m carrying around about other Christians that needs to be examined and cleaned up one way or another. I suppose the fact that Rosh Hashanah begins This coming Wednesday the 24th at sundown with Yom Kippur following at sundown on Friday, October 3rd could provide all of us the opportunity to do better and be better than we have been so far.
I know I need something like this. Sure, we can repent and draw nearer to God and to other people any time of year, but when do we have an engraved invitation from God to do so?
I’ve heard D. Thomas Lancaster call Yom Kippur a “dressed rehearsal” for the final judgment. Even if, as a Christian, you feel assured of your salvation, that doesn’t mean you are perfect. I know it doesn’t mean I’m perfect, not even close. Rehearsals are opportunities to practice an important event to make sure you get it right before the real thing happens. That’s a pretty good reason for all faiths, and truth be told, all human beings to observe the universalism of the Days of Awe, for indeed awesome days are coming and when they arrive, if we are not prepared, we never will be.
Christianity still has much to repent for about how we think, feel, and sometimes treat the Jewish people, particularly religious Jews. What have you done that you need to repent of?
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.