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Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume IV, Issue 2
November 2007   

Rabbi Lazar is World Religions Day guest speaker

The call of a shofar filled Holy Grounds coffee shop on Sept. 18 as Rabbi Eric J. Lazar of Temple Brith Achim concluded his talk on the High Holy Days of the Jewish faith. The audience learned that the shofar, a ram’s horn, is traditionally used to announce the beginning of Rosh Ha-Shanah or the New Year and birth of the world. Beginnings and endings, ancient scriptural commandments for living and contemporary Jews’ efforts to translate the essence of these traditions into modern life were recurrent themes in Rabbi Lazar’s talk, given in celebration of World Religions Day.

Rabbi Lazar, skillfully tailoring his talk to his audience, asked, “So what’s so high and holy about the High Holy Days?” The audience answered that these days are a time for fasting, atonement, celebrating a new year and abstaining from the use of technology. Passover, the commemoration of freedom from bondage and exodus from Egypt, Sukkot, a celebration of the bounty of the fall harvest, and Shavuot, the spring harvest festival, are the three major Jewish holidays marked by pilgrimage to the temple.

The High Holy Days of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are times for preparing for Sukkot. Rabbi Lazar said, “To really appreciate Sukkot you need to be renewed, cleansed.”

Rosh Ha-Shanah is when Jews apologize to friends, family and colleagues. Rabbi Lazar remarked that the participants’ load is lightened once they have sought and been granted forgiveness by a neighbor. Seeking the forgiveness of the community is a prerequisite for asking God for forgiveness.

The rituals surrounding Yom Kippur resemble Jewish weddings and funerals in that Jews mark these events by fasting from sundown to sundown and men wear kitels or plain white robes similar to a shroud signifying purity. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews go to the temple to pray, fast, sing hymns and do penance to reconcile with God. The individual’s dignity is preserved in the prayer called “al cheyt.” In this prayer the congregation asks God for forgiveness for the mistakes "we" committed, so that individuals can wholeheartedly participate and not feel singled out or embarrassed by their transgressions.

Rabbi Lazar explained that Judaism embraces a spectrum of theological practice, from Orthodox to Conservative and Reform.Varying degrees of individual responsibility are recognized for deciding how to observe God’s commandments. For Sandy Koufax, this meant not pitching in a World Series game played on Yom Kippur. For many Orthodox Jews the commandment to not create on the Sabbath is expressed in refraining from making something new by, for example, tearing a piece of toilet paper or switching on a light. For the character Joel Fleishman in the 1990s television series "Northern Lights," it meant employing military tactics to find 10 Jewish men to say Kaddish, prayers for the dead, for his uncle.There is a wonderful diversity of means for honoring the essence of Judaism.

Rabbi Lazur concluded his talk on the High Holy Days by inviting the audience to inaugurate a deeper understanding of the Jewish liturgy by attending services at Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia. The end was also an opportunity for a beginning.

Contributed by Linda Hauck; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer