Readers with introspective and questing spirits have three new books for the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanah begins on the evening of September 24; Yom Kippur on the evening of October 3). Marcia Falk (The Book of Blessings) takes a poetic approach in The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season (Brandeis, Aug.). The book offers an alternative liturgy for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, as well as for the “days between”--the ten “days of turning” between the start of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement that are commonly viewed as a final opportunity for focused introspection and repentance before the Book of Life is sealed. Most compelling is what she calls a “re-visioning” of the Un’taneh Tokef prayer, a central part of the High Holy Day liturgy best known for its lyrical “Who shall live and who shall die, who by water and who by fire” section, which is understood to describe the decisions God will make during the days between. Falk reimagines the prayer without the language of divine judgment many modern people find distracting or unpalatable. She tells PW, “ I hope the book will enrich the prayer experience for the full spectrum of the Jewish community, and that readers will use the book in whatever context and way that works for them—in synagogue or havurah, with family and friends, and in meditative solitude.” Even those staunchly wedded to the traditional liturgy will find this book illuminating, both as a counterpoint and a poetic commentary.
All The World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days (Jewish Lights, Aug.), edited by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, is his fifth anthology of essays in the Prayers of Awe series; this volume focuses on the tension in Judaism between universalism (commitment to the well-being of the planet and all humanity) and particularism (primary commitment to one’s own people, homeland, and future). The book, which includes 37 essays, explores the question of what it means to be Jewish in the context of the larger world. Contributors address the tension inherent in that question by focusing on some overlooked and unappreciated portions of the High Holy Day liturgy. The collection draws on the thought of Jewish clergy as well as scholars in various fields--philosophy, theology, literature, ethics, halakha (Jewish law), and history. Hoffman says he hopes readers “will leave services this year able to appreciate the spectacular claim that the High Holidays make upon us--the insistence that we Jews are a particularistic people with a universalistic mission, and that individually our lives can matter supremely if we dedicate ourselves to that mission.”
Rabbi Paul Citrin (Gates of Repentance for Young People) has edited a volume that, while not designated for the High Holy Days, still fits their self-reflective spirit. Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions (CCAR, Mar.) collects essays by Reform rabbis on matters of emunah (faith), a topic Jews have historically been cautious about articulating, lest their words be taken as dogma. The book is unusual for its candor on some key theological issues, but the broad variety of perspectives on God, humanity, and the Jewish people averts the danger that any one theological stance might seem prescriptive. Citrin writes, “Emunah flows from a searching heart, a heart of openness and yearning” and from the striving to embody “trust, confidence, loyalty and integrity.”
Chana Thompson Shor is an ordained Conservative rabbi who writes on a range of Jewish topics.