Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seliḥoth, Ro’sh hashShanah, and Fast of Gedhalyah

Jewish date:  7 Tishri 5772 (evening).

Today’s holidays:  The Ten Days of Repentance (Judaism), Feast Day of Francis of Assisi (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Buster Keaton (Church of the SubGenius).


It has been too long since I last posted.  For one thing, I have been busy with work, trying to get a paper to first draft stage, which helped tire me out.  For another, the previous month on the Jewish calendar, ’Elul, and the current one, Tishri, are themselves very good for tiring people out.  ’Elul is the season to prepare for Tishri and hence given over for repentance.  ’Elul also has a set of penitential prayers known as seliḥoth which are said either late at night or early in the morning.  How long selihḥoth are said varies by ethnic group; Sefaradhim (Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain and Portugal) and ‘Edhuth hamMizraḥ (Middle Eastern Jews) say seliḥoth all of ’Elul, while ’Ashkenazim (Mid- and Eastern European Jews) (such as myself) begin the week before Ro’sh hashShanah.  Even though, seliḥoth do not do a lot of good for getting a good night’s sleep.  And this problem has not ended yet, since seliḥoth are said until Yom Kippur.  So I am feeling somewhat zombie-like and expect to be this way for the rest of the week.  (Yom Kippur is this Saturday.)

OK, let’s try to say something meaningful about ’Elul and Tishri in Israel.  I hope this turns out somewhat intelligible, but considering my condition, if anyone needs translation or further explanation, feel free to ask.

Seliḥoth:  I pray according to the Lithuanian rite, or more precisely, (largely) according to the rite of the Ga’on Rav ’Eliyyahu of Vilna.  The synagogue I pray morning services at during the week does seliḥoth according to the Polish rite.  Ordinarily variations in ’Ashkenazi rites are not large, but the people in Poland included a somewhat different set of liturgical poetry among the seliḥoth, enough that I have found myself losing track of where we were in those early morning prayers.

Advertising:  Muted, as all the Jewish holiday advertising I have seen already.

Ro’sh hashShanah:  On Shabbath and major holidays, I pray in a synagogue known for two things:  1) a musical style of prayer pioneered by Rav Shelomoh Carlebach, taken to the point where I have compared praying there to being in a musical, and 2) being crowded on Shabbath and major holidays.  (People who come late have to stand for the entire service).  Ro’sh hashShanah prayers everywhere tend to be more musical than normal, so there the difference was not so great.  The level of crowding, which everywhere tends to be bad on Ro’sh hashShanah, was worse than normal, with extremely little space available even for people willing to stand the entire service.  I sat in the back next to the partition between the men and women’s sections, and I was pressed for space enough that my left shoulder hurt.  During the musaf service, when we are supposed to prostrate ourselves on the floor, I only had room to crouch.

There are a lot of nice people in the community, and a local rav usually arranges for places for me to eat on Shabbath and major holidays.  (I am relatively new here, single, and without family in the area.  Eating alone on holy days is not ideal or fun.)  At dinner on Ro’sh hashShanah symbolic foods are eaten; this is a sort of prayer through action, though the symbolism is often based on puns which are quite untranslatable.  One of the more translatable symbolic foods is the eating of the head of a fish or mammal.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be to the head and not to the tail.”)  Among various other symbolic foods, on the first night we were actually served a fish head.  I found it too repulsive to eat any of it.  (And I watched a sheep get slaughtered without fainting or reverse peristalsis.  Go figure.)  Though I have often heard about the custom of eating a head on Ro’sh hashShanah, this is only the second time I have actually seen it practiced.  (The first time was years ago at Yeshiva University, where someone in the cafeteria had somehow gotten his hands on half of a sheep skull with some meat still on it.)

Another symbolic food, one much more commonly consumed, is pomegranate seeds.  (“May it be Your will, YHWH our god and god of our ancestors, that we be as full of miṣwoth as a pomegranate.”)  On the second night of Ro’sh hashShanah, I was at a communal dinner, and a number of the participants brought pomegranate seeds.  While many of these came from pomegranates purchased intact, there was also there a packet of pomegranate seeds without the rest of pomegranate around them.  This, I presume, was an attempt by someone to make a quick buck (or in this case, a quick sheqel) from people who are too lazy to remove the seeds from a pomegranate themselves.  I would like to note that as far as harnessing laziness for profit goes, this was a failure.  The pomegranate seeds which came packaged inside a pomegranate tasted better than the ones packaged in plastic.  The inclusion on a small black plastic spork with the pomegranateless pomegranate seeds, presumably to get them out of the package, did absolutely nothing to improve the taste or their convenience.

The Fast of Gedhalyah:  Nothing particularly unusual.  Then again, I spent most of the day in my apartment to avoid overheating.

Rain:  The Jewish liturgy includes praying for rain in the winter, but not in the summer.  This accurately reflects the climate in Israel.  We have not had rain all summer, and only recently did we get any again.

I think that’s about all I can produce right now.  Oh, and in the spirit of the season, I extend forgiveness for all those who have inadvertently sinned against me.

May you all be written for a sweet year.