Holidays Andregular Observances

What are the High Holy Days?

The autumnal holy days begin with Rosh Hashanah (“Beginning of the Year”) on the first and second days of Tishri, ushered in with the sound of the ram’s horn (shofar) as a symbol of divine sovereignty over the universe. This begins a period in which people make an accounting of how they have cared for creation entrusted to them. On the third day of Tishri comes the “Fast of Gedaliah” (Tzom Gedaliah), on which Jews recall the end of the first Jewish commonwealth (II Kings 25:25). But the culmination of the period occurs on the tenth day of Tishri in a major fast observing the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This day features five worship services and includes a communal confession. On the evening before, a cantor prays the very moving Kol Nidrei (“All the Vows”) which annuls all rashly made promises of the previous year. Emphasis is on forgiveness of all wrongdoing. Regular morning prayer begins the next day, followed by additional prayers later in the morning focused specially on this feast. Afternoon prayer is followed by a service that recalls the closing of the Temple gate in olden days and includes the Amidah, a litany called “Our Father, Our King,” the Shema, and a concluding sound of the ram’s horn. The five services virtually flow from one to the next, making for a very full day of prayer.


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