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Jewish Calendar = Israeli Calendar?

The following is a transcript of Episode 57 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is Israelis and the High Holidays. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin and dive in. 

As the Jewish world prepares for Rosh Hashana, we’d like to devote this episode to explore how the high holidays are experienced here in Israel. What’s special about it? And what does the way that these holidays are celebrated or experienced tell us about the state of Judaism and Jewish identity in this country? 

During Israel’s early years, the relationship between Jewishness and Israeliness often seemed precarious. Many secular Israelis insisted they weren’t Jewish at all, only Israeli, especially when they spoke to Americans, when they wanted to aggravate them. Ani lo, ani lo yehudi, I’m not, I’m not Jewish. I’m Israeli. 

It sometimes seemed as if the country was divided, but you know, I’m right, right. The country was divided between a so-called Jewish camp that saw Israel as a natural continuity of three, 4,000 years of our story. And an Israeli camp that wanted nothing to do, certainly not with the last 2000 years of Judaism and the Jewish story that developed. 

But the place of Jewishness in Israeli identity has been resolved. There’s no longer any question about the importance to the strong majority of Israeli Jews and Jewish ritual, especially general holiday observances, not halakhic, what’s the term, fastidiousness? 

 Yossi: Yes.

Donniel: That’s, it came out. Shehekhiyanu, I got the word, but, it’s, the holidays are, they’re critical and they’re observed. While the law mandates the closure of shops and suspensions of public transportation on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Israeli Jews are otherwise free to observe or ignore the holidays, however they want to. You could travel, you could be in parks. You could do a lot of things. 

Yet there’s a sense that the overwhelming majority is choosing to actually participate in some form of holiday observance. And that’s what I want us to really delve into. But what is the nature of this observance? What specifically Israeli rituals and approaches have emerged in recent decades? How is Israeli observance different from that of American Jews? Here, Elana, we’re gonna need you a lot. What has been gained and what has been lost in the ways that Israelis choose to mark these holidays? 

Yossi, Elana, wonderful to be with you again. 

 Yossi: Wonderful. Donniel, Elana. Truly a joy. 

Donniel: So let’s paint a picture. Let’s tell a story. Uh, Yossi, you be the painter first. The whole Bible is like this, you know, where our tradition tells us what’s important, and what’s really important, but there’s very often a huge gap between what the tradition says we should do and what we do.

Jewish people and tradition have this interesting balance where God commands and we laugh. You know, there’s like, who’s laughing about what. Tradition could say the high holidays, but you know, they’re not so high. But here in Israel, something’s happening. Tell the story, Yossi.

Yossi: So for me, this story begins with very mundane details, an almost imperceptible shift in the public atmosphere. So for example, really a mundane detail, driving today with my wife, in Jerusalem. And she said, you know, there’s more traffic than usual because it’s the week before Rosh Hashana.

And I said, but it’s a whole week. And she says, yeah, but everyone knows that the country’s going to shut down for three weeks. Once Rosh Hashana comes in, we don’t really reopen till after Sukkot. And so there’s more of an effort, a push to get things done. And then I was walking the streets of Jerusalem later on, and you know, I haven’t had much uplift lately walking the streets in Jerusalem because of the difficult political atmosphere here, the, the anxieties that you and I have spoken about.

And today something changed. I was looking at all the people in the street. Everybody looked beautiful. They looked like they were glowing. Now, they didn’t realize they were, 

Donniel: Are you sounding like a dreamer right now? 

Yossi: Well, maybe, maybe I am. 

Donniel: I, I, there was a book I like, sounded like that. 

Yossi: But you know, it was this feeling of 

Donniel: You felt something.

Yossi: We’re all being slowly swept up into a major shift in time. And what’s so beautiful about it is that it happens naturally. We’re not thinking, oh, it’s, you know, it’s, we just all know it’s Rosh Hashana, we’re all moving in that direction. And I felt really uplifted in ways that I realized affect me every time we have a major holiday cycle. That’s what happened. 

Donniel: Beautiful. You know, on the first issue, do you know that just a few days ago, there was a major news item on the evening news, that um, we have to be careful, cause there’s not gonna be enough chickens. This is the news, chicken. We went, there was Iran. There was the queen. There’s the coalition crisis. There’s some terrorists, and there’s chickens. 

Why? Because they don’t kill chickens on Shabbos. So the holidays are Sunday night, Monday. So Friday they have a normal cycle of chickens for Shabbos, but they’re not gonna be able to replenish them for the holidays. So on Thursday you have to buy all your chickens for Rosh Hashana, and then you have to do the same. So the chicken crisis. 

Yossi: One more reason to be a vegetarian. 

Donniel: Oh, that’s right. But, but this, this is part of, you know, we joke about it, but one of the great joys is that the national cycle, in the most mundane way, is this calendar cycle.

Yossi: It’s, living in Jewish time has a momentum of its own.

Donniel: Has a momentum of its own. And ultimately, and this, like, you spoke generally about this feeling, that you’re in the streets, you were feeling something, you didn’t explain what it was. I wanna try about one part of it. And if there’s another part I want you to come in.

There is the cultural national dimension to it. But what makes the whole high holiday so interesting is unlike the Pesach, nobody’s getting into your kitchen. Nobody’s getting in your face. You know, even Shabbos, they’re getting into your face, cause they’re telling you every seventh day don’t travel, don’t do, don’t. You feel this don’t-ness of somebody else being the Lord of the holiday. And even Pesach, not completely, but what you’re allowed to buy, who’s open, are you allowed to have chametz? 

Yossi: You’re describing Judaism in the army. Everything is, don’t do this. Don’t turn off the lights.

Donniel: But also in the public sphere. There’s the rabbinate. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, they don’t happen that often, so you don’t feel as if there is this institution telling you what to do. And as we’ve learned, anytime, you don’t have an institution telling you what to do, individuals step up. It’s when they tell you what to do that you check out. 

And what I’ve noticed over the last number of years, more and more, is that this really is the beginning of the new year for us. In Israel, in December, nobody says, what’s your, you know, Sylvester is a party, you know, and I’m all for it, like, why waste an opportunity for a party? It’s like, I’m not, it’s not complicated. Is it my year? Not my year? Like nobody here counts that this is gonna be 5833. I hope that’s what, like, that’s not, but this is the new year. And it is connected, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and there’s a solemnity to it. 

And the idea of a year coming to a close and a new year opening. And there is public conversation about it, in the schools, on the television. What do we hope for the new year? So, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are solemn days, it’s a solemn way to open up the year and maybe what you were sensing. It’s not a hurrah, you know, it’s not what it does here. 

Yossi: No, no, no. 

Donniel: There’s a wait, there’s a

Yossi: There’s a quiet. 

Donniel: There’s a quiet, there’s, even if it’s not in shul, there is a quiet that encompasses, not everybody, and it’s one of the reasons why so many Israelis travel on Rosh Hashana, maybe, it’s like, the only way, but it’s interesting, you have to get out of the country because in the country, there’s a heaviness, there’s a solemnity, is the term. 

Yossi: Yeah, it’s not heavy. 

Donniel: It’s not heavy, but it’s, it’s serious, it’s serious. 

Yossi: Even, even Yom Kippur, isn’t heavy. 

Donniel: It’s, it’s serious. 

Yossi: It’s serious. It’s serious. 

Donniel: It’s cause Yom Kipper is a holiday in our tradition. So, you know, even the bike riding it’s, there’s something, Yossi, it goes beyond just the public sphere, but here’s an example where the public sphere pushes you, you know, Heschel has this famous line about the Shabbat, about prayer, where a student once came to Heshel and said, oh, rabbi, I can pray today. The Spirit’s not moving me. And Heschel said to him, young man, I think it’s time for you to move the spirit. 

One of the advantages of having a public sphere is that it can push you to move your spirit. Now I don’t wanna over idealize it, but this really is a new year. And people come back from their summer, that rhythm of starting the year with asking, who am I, who am I gonna be? What will be? I think there’s something very powerful about that. 

Yossi: And even Israelis who couldn’t name the Hebrew year that we’re entering know that it’s a new year and relate to it as a new year. And that’s a shared experience here. Look, I have Arab neighbors who will say Shana Tova and for them in some way, it also is a new year. In the same way that even Orthodox Jews in the diaspora can’t help but be somehow swept up in January 1st, that is a new year there. 

Donniel: It’s, it’s a new year. And it, it’s interesting, you know, that, my father once had this line about secular Zionism, cause he grew up very much in this period where it was either secular or Jewish and he once described secular Israelis as a teen rebellious teenager who went to their parents and said I hate you. I hate everything that you stand for. I hate the world that you created for me. I’m leaving. And they got up and went to the door and slammed the door shut, but stayed inside the room. 

Yossi: That’s great.

Donniel: That was his analogy. Now he thought that maybe Israel, the land was gonna do it, but in fact, I think ultimately owning the public space and where Jewish calendar took over, it didn’t have to, by the way, cause it’s not even called the Jewish calendar in Hebrew, it’s called the Hebrew calendar. It could have been a completely secularized version. I think when you look at them and we’re not gonna do all the holidays, but Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, you know, Chanukah, Tu B’shvat, Purim, Pesach, Shavuot, there’s so much potential there. 

Yossi: And it’s interesting because in the early years of the Zionist movement, there was a, a very intentional effort to secularize the holidays with a fair amount of success. And they they grounded the holidays in the agricultural cycle, which didn’t of course work for all the holidays, it didn’t work for Rosh Hashana, it certainly didn’t work for Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur was a workday on many of the kibbutzim in the early years. And that began to change as the country settled into itself, and stopped being so ideological. 

Donniel: Yeah. You know, I think one of the significant things that changed also in this, cause it wasn’t like this all the time. Certainly not in the fifties, sixties, but even in the seventies I think the mergence of Sephardi culture. And the mainstreamness for Sephardic Jewry, the Jewish calendar was always the calendar. It was celebrated in their homes. They were Orthodox in the same way that their home was an anchor of their Jewishness. And as they took more dominant space in Israeli society, what used to be just in the home became externalized and it became natural. 

Menachem Begin, I remember when he walked on Shabbat to the White House, it was like, that a Jewish state. That was the beginning of that process. And then ultimately the Jewish Renewal movement in Israel, which is a movement to renew the connection of Jews to Judaism in however they want to define it. It was like half a billion dollars or more was contributed by North American Jewry to Israeli society to create hundreds of Jewish institutions.

Hartman Institute participated in that, but not alone. We created avenues for people to be Jewish. All of a sudden there was no reason to create a public sphere that was Jewishly neutral. And so we really sense this in Rosh Hashana. 

Yossi: Yeah, no, it’s interesting because there is an implicit Jewishness in the public space, but there’s also a need to make it explicit. And I I’ll give you an example. My first Rosh Hashana, it was, uh, 1982. A fraught year. That was the first Lebanon war. 

Donniel: I, I know that year. Very well, Yossi. 

Yossi: You do. You do. 

Donniel: It’s like, I should have a song. Like the year I almost died. 

Yossi: Well, you know, who will live and uh, who will die 

Donniel: Who will die. Uh, actually, yeah, the year my brother-in-law died. So it’s like, literally, it’s the year who shall live and who shall die.

Yossi: And that’s, I noticed the change in secular Israel’s relationship to Yom Kippur happened on Yom Kippur in 1973. That was the year of the Yom Kippur War. I happened to have been a student here that year. I was at Hebrew University for my junior year abroad. And I saw how Yom Kippur became what it wasn’t for so many secular Israelis. This day of, of reckoning.

Donniel: A holiness.

Yossi: And ever since every year, there’s this, Yom Kippur has a heaviness.

Donniel: Interesting. Yeah. You know what holiness means in the Jewish tradition? Uh, holiness has nothing to do with spirituality. Holiness, literally, the term is kadosh, means distinct, separate, and yeah. And you’re right. Yom Kippur became holy, not because of the biblical, but because of the national experiences, but then since it was a war that demanded Yom Kippur, it was a war that demanded repentance and, um, 

Yossi: How amazing it is when, when you see our national events coincide or overlap with, with, with the, with the calendar. 

Donniel: Right, so like in Israel now it looks like after every Rosh Hashana, we have an election.

But, but, but it, all joking aside, election is a moment of introspection about the future of the country. So having the essence of the pre-election campaign is gonna be over the high holiday season. Well, it just didn’t just happen this year. It looks like it’s gonna happen like this for many years to come, or it did.

But also there is a mirroring of it. It’s almost as if you know, like how in the Bible, there’s the agricultural and historical. There is the rhythm of Israel. Each one of the holidays seems to somehow speak about values, which are critical for Israeli society. But let, let, let, let me use that as a segue. 

Do you feel that the holidays in Israel are principally national, cultural, or ritual or where are the values of the holidays? You know, Shabbat, Shabbat in general, the Jewish people have a problem with, cause the biggest problem with Shabbat is that it happens 52 times a year.

Like unless you’re focused and into a Halakhic system, anything that happens 52 times a year, you know, it’s just, you can’t take it too seriously. It’s like, it has a problem. But these, 

Yossi: I think the problem with Shabbat for religious Jews is that it’s too social. 

Donniel: So, so, but let’s leave Shabbat aside, you know, I, we it’s, that’s an interesting thing. Like what is the, the social,

Yossi: But that’s true as well, or even especially, for our holidays.

Donniel: For our holidays. Do you think there, what do Israelis celebrate? Like, is it part of the holiday? Is it, how thick is a holiday-based Jewish identity here in Israel?

Yossi: Okay. So let’s look at the high holidays. What are the values that the tradition is expecting us to confront? Rosh Hashana is, uh, well, you laid out the sense of, uh, newness, a new start, but looking at oneself deeply. And we have the month of Elul, which is a very serious time. The, the Hebrew month that proceeds Rosh Hashana. For me, Elul, in some ways is, is, uh, almost as powerful as, as the high holidays themselves. Because that’s the transitional moment from the mundane year. And you’re looking at who you are and what you’re carrying into Rosh Hashana. And you say, is this who I really wanna be?

So it’s the opportunity for transformation. I think there are many Israelis who are at least aware that they’re supposed to be going through that process. And there is something in the way that the newspapers, for example, this, the, the newspapers supplements, they’ll ask celebrities, in what way do you want to be different in the coming year?

Now, it’s thin, of course it’s thin. On the other hand, there is something about the values that’s permeating the conversation and then each person takes that as far as you can. 

Donniel: As, as far as they, 

Yossi: That’s the opportunity, that’s the opportunity. 

Donniel: I, I, I tend to agree with you. My general sense is that he Jewish calendar in Israel is principally a cultural ritual calendar. I don’t think we, you know, like a Heschel line about the Shabbat, that to have more doesn’t mean to be more, or that Pesach is about the core value of freedom and human dignity and whatever they are, each holiday stands for an essential value.

I think the public rhythm of it creates a focus on these communal rituals. Sukkos is building a Sukkah, nothing else. It’s not about the environment. It’s not about, it’s not about the idea of living in a transitional home. And what does it mean to be a stranger in your land, and all the speeches that I would’ve given as a rabbi in a shul for every single holiday, which would’ve moved me very deeply. 

Like the there’s no, there’s no, they’re not there. The national dimension takes over and the individual dimension is by and large absent and that’s okay. We’re living in a Jewish country, you know, we’re living Jewishly and we’re doing Jewish things and it creates a strong Jewish identity.

There isn’t careful analysis. What is the message of Purim? And you know, you have this great lecture about being a Purim Jew as distinct from being a Pesach Jew. 

Yossi: Which I’m never going to say again, because, 

Donniel: But you have this great line, I love that, the first time I heard that I said I love this, like

Yossi: How about the hundredth time you heard it?

Donniel: Doesn’t matter. I love you. I can listen to you give that lecture three times a year. So that’s 30 times already, we know each other, but, but in any event, there isn’t that, but the exception, I think is Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That’s the

Yossi: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Donniel: Because here, there isn’t, you know, so people fast, so there is a group who fast and they run after their kids who ride bicycles. But I think the solemnity, the fact that it’s the beginning of the year, the fact that it comes after the summer, the fact that there really aren’t, other than fasting, there is the shofar, there aren’t dominant food rituals. And so the dominant ritual about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is being serious, is being reflective.

Yossi: You, you know how we celebrate Shavuot here? With newspaper supplements of the latest cheeses. 

Donniel: Cheeses, right. 

Yossi: And that’s, it that’s really, that’s the focus. 

Donniel: That’s right, and all the holidays, the supermarkets shift. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, like it’s not a supermarket holiday. 

Yossi: That’s right, that’s right. And I do think that the lingering trauma of Yom Kippur, 

Donniel: That’s very interesting.

Yossi: 73, which we’re coming up to the 50th anniversary. 

Donniel: Wow. 

Yossi: Every year there is this sense of reliving those days. And it’s as if you know, that was the moment when in those first days, when the army was collapsing and the political and military echelon was in complete chaos. That was the moment when the country glimpsed its, its own mortality and we carry that deeply in us. 

Donniel: I think also the idea of Rosh Hashana, of rebirth, of a new year. 

Yossi: Oh, very much. Very much. It is. 

Donniel: It’s just so attractive. You know, it’s almost, anything is possible.

And so this moment on a national level is where, you and I both feel so deeply what a joy and a privilege it is to live in Israel. And we love being here. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a place where the personal, the value, and the national merge. And as you said, we have historical circumstances that contributed to it, it makes for a very special time here in Israel. 

I don’t know how many people from North America or from around the world come here. But if you came here, you’ll even see, it’s not mandated how the traffic, much less car driving on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, than there, there, the country enters another pace and, uh, it’s a real gift. You really feel what it means to be in a Jewish home. Very, very powerful. 

Uh, Yossi, let’s take a break and Elana will join us. 

Elana, my friend who liveth, on, on the, what is it, on the river of Babylon, who lives, oh, who liveth,

Elana: We live, the rivers of Gotham.

Donniel: Who liveth so far away in another world. First of all, how are you?

Elana: uh, doing great. I, I think I’m also a little bit swept up in this beginning of the year spirit in a good way. So it’s a little easier when things like the holidays, don’t start basically till end of September.

Donniel: So we could have a

Elana: Actually, you’re, I’m saying you’re not thrown into it. You can actually prepare. It’s a beautiful thing.

Donniel: That’s why Yossi said Elul, like Elul is the month before, you really can’t have a serious Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur if you don’t have a month beforehand, when it falls in early, it’s just you can’t, 

Yossi: It’s too much. 

Donniel: You can’t just say, okay, let’s be thoughtful. So I, I really appreciate.

Hearing us talk, where in the tradition, how does it make you where, as a Jew, who doesn’t live here, how does, how does all of this meet you?

Elana: You know, it’s a very funny thing. I, um, because I live in New York city, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are all around me. Really, um, whether it’s like stores telling us what they’re gonna sell us for the holidays, swag that has apples and honey all over it this time of year.

So it’s not like we’re living in this time where, oh my gosh, there’s such a difference between my inside and my synagogue life and my outside in terms of living in New York.

Donniel: So Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not like Shavuos. Whoops.

Elana: Exactly. It’s not, it’s not like, it’s not like Shavuot. Exactly. It’s not like Shavuot, but at the same time, I think that the idea of being able to think about things on a national level, not just that you might be immersed in something, but you’re thinking as a nation, I do think that there’s a big difference there, right? 

Cause I have two national identities. One is my Jewish identity and one is my American identity and they’re not always on the same calendar, even if I might be immersed in New York with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

And that’s actually what I wanna look at today is I, I wanna think about two instances that are in classical Jewish texts that are really trying to highlight what I think is a difference, which speaks to what you’re talking about one, and I’m gonna go out of order, cause I’m gonna take the diasporic one first. I mean, diasporic in the sense that actually Jews were living in the land of Israel, but there was a Roman emperor. So it wasn’t a Jewish Commonwealth. 

So that’s somewhat ironic, but the Jerusalem Talmud tells this story about the emperor Trajan, who’s the end of the first century, beginning of the second century. And people think the background of the story is that he actually went in a temporarily occupied fertile Crescent, like Mesopotamia Iraq area, which is where most Jews outside the Roman empire lived. 

And, and maybe that’s what this story is talking about because it goes as follows. It says that Trajan had a son born to him on the ninth of Av and the Jews fasted, and his daughter died on Chanukah and the Jews lit festive lights. And so his wife sent a message to him, to Trajan and said, you know, instead of trying to conquer the barbarians and bring them under Roman empire, why don’t you go conquer the Jews who are clearly revolting against you? 

And the way that that Talmudic passage continues, this is in Sukkah five, one, in the Jerusalem Talmud, which is 55B, for people who actually go to the pagination, that it’s like, it almost makes me think of the queen of England’s death.

Right? It’s like the queen of England dies. And what are the Jews busy doing? The Jews let’s say would be lighting Chanukah candles. Let’s say if it was that time of year or the Jews would be celebrating Purim and getting drunk, right? There’s something that’s just off. 

When Trajan has a child who’s born, the Jews should not be fasting because their temple was destroyed, which is actually a national symbol of who they are, as the other national symbol of maybe who they’re wanted to be, people want them to be, is actually one of mourning. And the same in the reverse when Trajan’s daughter dies, they’re not living their affective national life on the same calendar and schedules as really the society in which they live.

I, I don’t find it to be as, um, disjointed as that example where it’s literally like Rome is in mourning and the Jews are celebrating or Rome is celebrating and the Jews are in mourning, but there definitely are those aspects of, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can get swag with, uh, you know, Rosh Hashana stuff on it, but does that really mean that like as a nation, am I thinking as part of the Jewish people, as a nation, like who are we? Who do we wanna be? Where do we wanna go? What’s our meaning as a people?

Right? And I, I look at that and I, I contrast it with something that comes from much earlier, which is the description of the Rosh Hashana that the Jews do when they return from Babylon to build a second temple. And by the way, not a huge group of people, 42,000 people, not a huge group of people, but it’s the group of people that is rebuilding, wants to see a Jewish Commonwealth in the land of Israel and in the book of Nechemiya, 

Donniel: Uh, Elana, this is in what like 520, I believe or so?

Elana: We’re thinking like,

Donniel: Sometime around there. 

Elana: Early, let’s say late sixth century BCE to somewhere in the fifth century BCE. People disagree with each other about it.

Donniel: Exactly. Right. I just wanted to locate the time. 

Elana: No, I appreciate that. 

So they’re coming back and they’re rebuilding and guess what? Like they have their first Rosh Hashana that they know about. And this is how it goes. And I think it has such a different flavor. 

It says at the beginning of chapter eight of Nechmiya that the entire people assembled as one in the square before the watergate, which is in relationship in Jerusalem. And they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the teaching of Moses, meaning the Torah, with which the Lord had charged Israel. 

And on the first day of the seventh month, that is, Rosh Hashana, the first of Tishrei, Ezra the priest brought the Torah before the congregation, men, women, anyone who could understand he read from it, facing the square, facing the people, big public show of it, right from the first light from early in the morning until midday.

This is Rosh Hashana. To the men and the women and anyone who could understand, and everyone was listening intently. And in fact, it describes that the people, as he opens up the scroll, they all stand up. It’s almost like um, like uh, constitutional convention, if we were to think of it in like secular national terms. 

It’s like, whoa, this is our constitution. This is our Torah. We’re gonna come in here. And it seems like people may have been, I don’t know, maybe a little bit upset, a little bit sad. And they realize, you know, when you’re starting to renew things, you realize what you’ve lost and maybe the fact that you’re only 42,000 people, and maybe the fact that you have a very uphill battle here.

And Nechamiya, actually, and Ezra and the Levites say to the people, today is holy, it’s Rosh Hashana, don’t mourn and don’t weep because the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the teaching. It said something to them about who they are and who they wanna be. And in fact, he says to them, go eat choice food, and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, which by the way, is the same terminology that we use for Purim, mishloakh manot, you’re gonna send portions to each other.

Cause this day is holy to God. And don’t be sad because your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength. And that’s what people did. They ate, they drank, they sent portions, they made great merriment. And I just think that’s gorgeous. It’s the beginning of their year. They’ve returned. They’re a people who clearly doesn’t know a heck of a lot about their own tradition because they start crying when they hear the Torah being read, they don’t even know what this is. By the way, the next verses say that they discover Sukkot. They don’t know what this is. 

Donniel: So Rosh Hashana was like a re it was a renewal, it was a renewal movement. It wasn’t just the beginning of a new year. It was the beginning of, of, of a new era.

Elana: A new people. 

Donniel: Anew people. 

Elana: A new era. Exactly. And I think it’s interesting that as part of that, they have to take care of each other. They have to send portions to each other. They, right, it’s not okay, go into synagogue and pray all day. And later it becomes this combination of, okay, you’re gonna go into synagogue, 

Donniel: Synagogue and then you’re gonna eat.

Elana: You’re gonna have a festive meal, right?

You’re gonna, but it’s, it’s this joy. And I loved Yossi the way that you described, even though maybe you were hallucinating, but you described people’s faces glowing and I’m

Yossi: It’s not the first time, Elana. 

Elana: You woke up too early. You didn’t get enough sleep.

Donniel: Too much, it’s too much information, Yossi.

Elana: But, but it’s beautiful, what you’re talking about. So that’s the first thing that I wanna start with is just, I actually think you can see this in our tradition. 

Donniel: In our tradition. Beautiful. Beautiful. 

The second point, in many ways, mirrors the type of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that we’re, it doesn’t have this moment of return from exile, but there is a certain reenactment when you have a national celebration or commemoration to be able to do what Nechemiya is talking about.

I really appreciate. And on the first one, you know, I wonder, Yossi, like relating to Elana, what would’ve happened if the Yom Kippur War was on Purim. Purim would’ve changed. We would’ve integrated. We would’ve spoken about the danger and the, we like, we would’ve shifted, but it wouldn’t have had, we live in which the national experiences of our community shape the Jewish calendar and, uh, they have to mirror each other. And there is that wholeness, that oneness of each one speaking to each other, is very, very powerful. 

Before we, before we come to a conclusion. Any last thoughts, Yossi? Last thoughts, Elana?

Elana: I actually wanna add one more piece, cause I’m intrigued by what you say about, you know, to what extent are these things superficial? To what extent are they going beyond the skin deep to something that individuals experience? 

And I wanna note that in some ways, not knowing to what extent things are going beyond the superficial level is a function that ritual does for us all the time. Ritual, when it’s shared, it’s ambiguous, you and I are sitting at a Seder table together. I have no idea what you’re thinking and what you believe and why you’re here. And you don’t know what I think and what I believe and why I’m here. But we both decided to show up.

And I think there’s something in our like hyper-individualized age and in an age where everybody has to like, well, if it’s not the way that I understand it, then I can’t be here with you. The idea that you could have a ritual life that is shared by people who have vastly different belief systems is, is really a, it’s a treasure. It’s an actual treasure.

Donniel: So that’s a beautiful way to bring this to, like, Israel, encourages you to show up and then that’s the ritual. And now welcome, however you’re gonna, you’re gonna be deeper, less deep this way that, but as a community, we show up.

I think that’s a beautiful way to conclude. Yossi, Elana, it’s beautiful being with both of you.

Yossi: Wonderful to be together. 

Donniel: Um, I wanna wish both of you a Shana tova. All our listeners, a Shana Tova. A great year. 

Yossi: Shana Tova.

Elana: Shana Tova.

Donniel: For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manner manager is M. Louis Gordon.

Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at We wanna know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. 

You can also write to us at [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you in two weeks. Thank you for listening. Shana Tova everyone.

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