High Holidays

JNS.org covers the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with related news from around the Jewish world and Israel, and annual special sections containing features, advice content, op-eds and Rosh Hashanah holiday dinner recipes. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.

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For an increasingly large share of American Jewry, the High Holidays bring a new set of challenges that go to the very core of one’s faith. According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent comprehensive survey of American Jewry, 58 percent of Jews marry outside the faith, up from 46 percent in 1990. Unlike other Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, which sometimes overlap with major Christian or secular holiday periods, the High Holidays fall in September or October. Rabbi Jillian Cameron, a Boston-based regional director for Interfaith Family, a national organization supporting interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life, told JNS.org that the High Holidays “are an intense period of time in the Jewish world, full of introspection, difficult and complex theology, and thousands of years of tradition. For many families, interfaith or not, the High Holidays can seem overwhelming.”

High Holiday sermons are a rabbi’s chance to impart priorities and views to congregants with the maximum possible impact. Yet at a time when many synagogues are increasingly blurring the line between their activities and politics, rabbis must ponder just how far they want to go in either venting their own opinions or pandering to the prejudices of their audiences, writes JNS.org Opinion Editor Jonathan S. Tobin.

Judaism’s High Holidays are a time for prayer, introspection and for those fortunate enough, inspiration. Amid the headlines on terrorism and political disputes, some prominent newsmakers in the Israel and Middle East scene gave us something to smile about or admire during this past year. Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, JNS.org spotlights high-profile individuals who made a positive difference—sometimes in unexpected ways—during the Jewish calendar year of 5777.

Despite relative isolation from their Jewish brethren around the world for millennia, Ethiopian Jews have coveted the same dream of celebrating Rosh Hashanah “next year in Jerusalem.” Though unique, the Jewish New Year festivities in Ethiopia bear many similarities to the holiday’s observance in the broader diaspora. Limor Malessa, who grew up in a small Ethiopian village near the Jewish community of Gondar, recalled how “kessim” (religious leaders) would “rise before dawn on the holy day, to begin the first prayer service of the day before sunrise.”

Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison, says he's appreciative of the monumental efforts by the Jewish community in securing his 2014 release. 

 

As Rosh Hashanah approaches and the Jewish calendar turns to 5777, JNS.org takes a look at the biggest Jewish news stories covered over the past year.

 

There is a lot of beauty to the traditional synagogue experience. However, a traditional High Holidays service just does not speak to some – especially many young adults. If you think like Moses – considering skipping the tickets, and celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur outside the traditional four walls of your family synagogue – JNS.org offers nine alternative ways to connect to the High Holidays without stepping foot in a shul.

The concept of Jewish unity is one that comes up around the High Holidays due to the Torah portions read before the holidays: Nitzavim and Vayelech. In Nitzavim we read, “Today you are all standing before God your Lord - your leaders, your tribal chiefs…even your woodcutters and water drawers,” (Deuteronomy 29:9). Eighteenth-century Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained this in his famous work “Likkutei Torah” as all Jews standing equally and united before God despite their differences. During this upcoming High Holiday season, reporter Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman asks: Can Jewish people of different religious denominations truly unite and work together for a common good?

Ahead of the high holidays, JNS.org presents the following adapted excerpt and tasty chicken soup recipe from bestselling author Dawn Lerman's book, “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes.” 

Can a children’s book about the Jewish High Holidays help advance world peace? The award-winning children's book from National Geographic  “Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” that was first published in 2007 was reissued this year with a new cover—is one of the volumes included in National Geographic’s series, “Holidays Around the World,” which introduces children to the ways in which religious and cultural holidays are celebrated in various countries.

For the half of America’s 5.3 million Jews who fast on Yom Kippur, the temporary sensation of hunger provides an opportunity to consider how others experience real food insecurity and to commit to action, both over the holiday and in the New Year, David Eisner, president and CEO of Jewish nonprofit Repair the World.

Babka. Strudel. Stollen. Danish pastry. Not to mention Gugelhopf and Charlotte. The names set the mouth to watering and conjure up lovingly concocted pastries that feed the body and comfort the soul. If you didn’t have a grandmother who baked these delicacies, you wish that you had. The newly published “A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets,” arriving just in time for Rosh Hashanah, enables the cook to bring a meal to its magnificent conclusion. The concoctions are so numerous and sound so delicious, one wonders how the author was ever able to choose what to bake.

Leading up to Rosh Hashanah, Cindy Sher suggests closing your eyes and imagining yourself in the synagogue listening to the blasting of the shofar. Feel the power of the sound reverberate throughout the sanctuary. Close your eyes again and look back at the year behind you. Finally, close your eyes a third time and look ahead to next year. Jews are lucky to have a chance to take stock—to awaken from their slumber—and then press reset for a new year, writes Sher, the executive editor of Chicago’s JUF News.

The High Holidays reach their crescendo with Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidre prayer, which deals with the importance of words in shaping our lives and setting the tone for who we are. Jewish tradition teaches that words have the intensity of fire. They have power not only in their explicit meaning—the ink of the black letters—but in the less explicit messages they imply. Those are the white spaces. A discerning listener of language can read the "white fire," revealing its meaning. This is an important message as the debate surrounding the Iran nuclear deal gains intensity, writes Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York City.

In the fast-paced world we live in today, in which many social interactions are already conducted online, can apologizing for Yom Kippur on social media be considered true atonement? JNS.org surveyed Jewish religious leaders across denominations on the subject. “I’m a fan of face-to-face communication or, when not possible, a phone call. It’s important for people to hear your voice when you apologize. Sending an email, text message, or Facebook message is a good start, but it’s not sufficient for the performance of teshuvah,” says popular Jewish blogger and social media expert Rabbi Jason Miller. Others say the suitability of atoning on social media depends on the preferences of the apology's recipient and the medium through which the sin was committed.

“It’s said that during this time [between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur], the Book of Life is open and it’s decided who will live and who will die this year,” writes blogger Derek Powazek, whose posts focus on being young and Jewish. “As a kid, I imagined it like Santa’s list of naughty and nice, just with more severe consequences.” For many Americans, whether they’re Christian or Jewish, a desire to compare Christmas and Yom Kippur might very well be the result of the popularization of the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and its lyrical focus on reward and punishment. But does a Christmas-Yom Kippur analogy actually make sense?

Tishrei is among the most well-known months on the Hebrew calendar because it contains the High Holidays and marks the beginning of the year. Or so it seems. Indeed, to modern-day Jews, Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish New Year. But traditionally, the Hebrew calendar actually has four “New Year” days: the first of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah); the first of Nisan; the 15th of Shevat (Tu B’Shevat, or the New Year of trees); and the first of Elul, the New Year of animal tithes (taxation). The Torah specifically names Nisan as the first month of the Jewish calendar. So where did Tishrei come from, and how did it gain New Year status?

Tradition dictates a glass of champagne on the secular New Year. But what can give you a nice buzz to celebrate the Jewish New Year? These unique Rosh Hashanah drinks from “Queen of Kosher” Jaime Geller’s Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller Magazine could very well start a new trend.

The holiest day on the Jewish calendar isn’t among the 10 holiest days on the United Nations calendar. But Israel and many other countries hope that changes by the time next year’s Day of Atonement arrives. In July, U.N. ambassadors from 32 countries wrote a letter to a U.N. General Assembly committee that urged the recognition of Yom Kippur as an official U.N. holiday. The committee begins deliberating on the Yom Kippur issue this month, with a possible decision coming by December. “[The recognition of Yom Kippur] can be an issue that bridges divisions and speaks to the universal values we all hold closely, including reconciliation, forgiveness, and tolerance,” Yotam Goren, a diplomat who works for Israel’s U.N. mission, told JNS.org.  

As Rosh Hashanah approaches and the Jewish calendar turns to 5775, JNS.org takes a look at the biggest Jewish news stories from the past year, including the Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian unity and failed peace talks, anti-Semitism in Europe, the rise of Islamic State, and more.