The Cry of the Shofar: Rosh Hashanah 5774

My sermon for the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5774.

Shofar image

The Cry of the Shofar
Congregation Dorshei Emet
Rosh Hashanah Day 1: September 5, 2013
Rabbi Julia Appel

The Torah describes Rosh Hashanah in the following way: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.”

We see here and elsewhere that the oldest name for the holiday is not “new year,” but “Yom Teruah,” the day of loud blasts, the shofar blasts.  The shofar defines the day, which otherwise is like every other holy day of the Torah. So the shofar is important. It has a message for us. What is the shofar trying to tell us?

On Rosh Hashanah, the rabbis of the Talmud teach, the shofar trumpets to announce the re-coronation of the King, of God. We shake with fear and awe as we proclaim the Greatest Sovereign’s reign anew. They quote God telling us to recite before God on Rosh Hashanah “verses of Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. Malchuyot (kingship) in order that you crown me over you; Zichronot (remembrance) in order that your remembrance should rise up before me for good; and with what? With shofar.” (RH 16a) There is authority, power, control.

The far away King, grand and stern. The trumpeting ceremony, the sovereignty. The Ruler deciding our fate. These become the meaning of the day and of the shofar. But what if these images are unrelatable? It makes the holiday unrelatable as well.

Today, I want to offer a different take on the shofar. It’s a counter text, a narrative of the holiday that is equally present in the texts and traditions of Rosh Hashanah, and yet is the very opposite of the far away king.

Continue reading

Fighting for religious freedom in Israel — Women of the Wall

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says "Ha-kotel l'kulam/n -- the Kotel for all" with all being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says “Ha-kotel l’kulam/n — the Kotel for all” with “all” being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Exciting news in the fight for religious freedom in Israel. After years of Rosh Chodesh prayer services at the Kotel (Western Wall), with minimal disturbance until the last few years, when participants have been detained and arrested for simply wearing a tallit (prayer shawl), Women of the Wall are poised to win a great victory.

As reported in the New York Times, a proposal has been brought forth to add the Robinson’s Arch area, currently out of the way and only accessible at certain times, to the main complex of the Kotel, thereby equalizing access and honor to the area.

Women of the Wall had rejected a solution the state had already offered of holding egalitarian services at Robinson’s Arch, saying that was not an equal option. Currently part of an archeological garden, the area is tucked around a corner, out of sight, and access is limited to certain times.

Mr. Sharansky’s vision calls for unfettered access to the area and for platforms to be used to bring it to the same level as the rest of the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount revered by Jews as the site where their ancient temples once stood in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The renovated area must be connected to the wall itself, Mr. Sharansky added, and there must be one entrance for all worshipers, regardless of the section in which they choose to pray.

I appreciate what Rabbi Anat Hoffman said about the plan, because she is trying to make it work. Compromising now, I think, can leave room for further pushing later, as women’s roles in prayer are normalized in the Kotel complex.

“It’s very ambitious, a dramatic change, and it will make history,” Ms. Hoffman, who is currently in the United States, was quoted as saying. “It’s not everything we were hoping for, but we will compromise. You don’t always have to be right, you have to be smart, and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here.”

Continue reading