An internet resource guide for the High Holy Days

Compiled and Edited by Bracha Yael Download printed version

QUICK LINKS

Elul: The Month of Spiritual Preparation
What is Elul and Its Customs?
In Approaching the High Holy Days, It Pays to Take Time to Prepare
Some Questions to Ask Yourself before the High Holy Days
Selichot: A Shift in Time
What is Hatarat Nedarim: The Release of Vows?
Rosh HaShanah: A Time of Renewal
A Fun Rosh HaShanah Quiz
What is Rosh HaShanah?
Traditional Words of Greetings for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur
What is Tashlich?
At the Water’s Edge: A Reading for Tashlich
Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
A Fun Yom Kippur Quiz
What is Yom Kippur?
What is Kol Nidre?
The Curious Case of Kol Nidre: Its Paradoxical and Controversial History
Should You Fast? If so, How Should You?
Three Yom Kippur Customs Explained

ELUL: THE MONTH OF SPIRITUAL PREPERATION

What is Elul and Its Customs?
Elul is the spiritual month that precedes the High Holy Days. It is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tradition teaches that the month of Elul is a particularly propitious time for repentance. This mood of repentance builds through the month of Elul to the period of Selichot, to Rosh Hashanah, and finally to Yom Kippur. More…

In Approaching the High Holy Days, It Pays to Take Time to Prepare
BCC member and author Jeff Bernhardt says,
Last year I decided to focus my preparations on a specific goal and aspect of my life that was troubling me. At the time I was feeling disconnected from friends and social relationships. It was taking a toll on my spirits, and I knew that I needed to do something to repair this. I decided each day to call a friend with whom I had not spoken for a while. By the end of the month, having spoken with or left voice mails for 30 friends with whom I had been out of touch, I found myself feeling much less disconnected and significantly more whole. And walking into services on the first day of Tishrei, I was ready to engage. I had done my homework. More…

Some Questions to Ask Yourself before the High Holy Days
1. Who have you disappointed, and how?
2. Where have there been gaps between your words and your deeds?
3. When have you negatively disrupted peace and harmony among people – family, friends, community members, strangers, society? More…

SELICHOT: A SHIFT IN TIME

Selichot marks the beginning of the High Holy Day cycle. Also, known as the The Prayers of Repentance service, in the Ashkenazi tradition it usually begins on the Saturday night before Rosh HaShanah. In the Sephardic tradition, Selichot begins on the second day of Elul and continues throughout the month.
It’s the first time we recite the Al Cheyt penitential prayer, the set of lines that starts “for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________ and for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________.”
Also, the repeated recitation of The Thirteen Attributes of God is a fundamental part of the Selichot service. More…

What is Hatarat Nedarim: The Release of Vows?
Almost everyone who is Jewish knows that Kol Nidre is about releasing vows and has participated in the ceremony. Few know the parallel ritual done in small groups before Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, right before Rosh Hashanah one performs this simple ritual with three friends, each in turn becoming the petitioner, while the other three act as the beit din, the judges in a court. The ritual is a wonderful way to enter the holidays as well as to prepare oneself for what will happen on Yom Kippur. More…

ROSH HASHANAH: A TIME OF RENEWAL

How Much Do You Know About Rosh HaShanah?
Test yourself with this fun and short quiz from myjewishlearning.com

What Is Rosh HaShanah?
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a fall holiday, taking place at the beginning of the month of Tishrei, which is actually the seventh month of the Jewish year (counting from Nisan in the spring). It is both a time of rejoicing and of serious introspection, a time to celebrate the completion of another year while also taking stock of one’s life. More…

Making Synagogue Meaningful: Or, How to Survive High Holy Day Services “… but Rabbi, even if I can read some of the prayers I still don’t understand what I’m saving… To tell you the truth I’d rather take a quiet reflective walk in the park this year than spend all that time in synagogue saying a bunch of words that don‘t really mean so much to me anyway…”
Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind this year that should help to make the services as personally uplifting as possible.
1) Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling, and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service. More…

A Survival Guide to the Rosh HaShanah Morning Service
Do you find yourself frequently sneaking a peek at your neighbor’s prayer book to figure out what page number everyone’s on? And, do you chuckle when you see your neighbor sneaking a peek at yours? This might help you (and your neighbor), an outline for the Rosh HaShanah morning service…

Traditional Words of Greetings for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and is a major holiday on the Jewish calendar. Wishing your Jewish friends a “Happy New Year” is as easy as saying “L’Shana Tova,” which means “For a Good Year” in Hebrew.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement and is considered the holiest and most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. Because Yom Kippur is a fast day, it is appropriate to wish your Jewish friends an “Easy Fast” on Yom Kippur, or in Hebrew “Tzom Kal.” The traditional Yom Kippur greeting is “G’mar Hatimah Tovah” or “May You Be Sealed for a Good Year (in the Book of Life).” More…

What is Tashlich?
Tashlich (תשליך ) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh HaShanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. More…

At the Water’s Edge: A Reading for Tashlich
On this sacred day when the old year slips away and we prepare to meet the year ahead, we stand at the water’s edge our pockets lined with dust and bread, symbols of our shortcomings and regrets.
Many are the regrets and sorrows that weigh upon our souls, let us cast them off into the moving waters so we may begin anew.
Great is our regret for the harsh words spoken, the tender words left unsaid, for the anger that smoldered, the compassion withheld, for our greed and jealousy, our lack of generosity. for all that we could have done, all that we have left undone.
Many are the regrets and sorrows that weigh upon our souls, let us cast them into the moving waters so we can strive to become all that we were meant to be.
Great is our remorse for the energy we spent fighting instead of trying to make amends, for the times we could have lent a hand but kept our hands at our sides, for the times we looked away from those near and far who need our help and caring, when we turned away from the places in the world in need of repairing.
Many are the regrets and sorrows that weigh upon our souls Let us cast them into the moving waters so we can begin to build bridges connecting us one to another.
(Elizabeth Tragash)

YOM KIPPUR: THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

How Much Do You Know About Yom Kippur?
Test yourself with this fun and short quiz from myjewishlearning.com

What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is one of two Jewish High Holy Days. The first High Holy Day is Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Yom Kippur falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah on the 10th of Tishrei, which is a Hebrew month that correlates with September-October on the secular calendar. The purpose of Yom Kippur is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God. According to Jewish tradition, it is also the day when God decides the fate of each human being. More…

What is Kol Nidre?
For many Jews, the essence of the Yom Kippur service takes place at the very beginning of the holiday, at the evening service that ushers in Yom Kippur. It is called Kol Nidre, the name derived from the first major piece of the Yom Kippur prayers, dramatically chanted at the evening service. All the Torahs are taken out, the entire congregation stands, and the cantor chants this formula three times. While most people think that Kol Nidre is a prayer, it is actually a legal formula. More…

The Curious Case of Kol Nidre: Its Paradoxical and Controversial History
In our time, the best-known ritual of the High Holy Day services—not only among Jews but among Christians as well—is unquestionably Kol Nidre. Highlighted by its strategic location at the very inauguration of the 24-hour fast of Atonement, and chanted in a traditional melody of great spiritual force, Kol Nidre exerts an enormous impact. Yet few of the millions who experience that impact every year are aware of the paradoxical and controversial history of the Kol Nidre rite. More…

A Survival Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Services
The Day of Atonement contains more services than any other observance in Judaism. Here’s an overview of them…

Should You Fast? If so, How Should You?
Best Ways to Prepare for the Yom Kippur (or any) Fast
In Judaism, fasting is thought to have a significant spiritual benefit. It helps us focus on our mortality and the value of life, while freeing us of physical concerns for one day so we can focus on our spiritual wellbeing. However, the severe side effects of fasting can detract from the spiritual experience if they are too severe (or in the worst case scenario threaten our health). While discomfort, hunger pains, thirst and weakness are an expected side effect of the Yom Kippur fast, one need not dehydrate, faint or get sick while fasting. There are several ways to prepare yourself physically for a healthy fast. More…

Why Do We Wear White, Avoid Leather Wear, and Wear a Tallit on Kol Nidre?
Three Yom Kippur Customs Explained
Some say that we wear white on Yom Kippur to be like the angels. We yearn to ascend, to be lighter, more clear and transparent. More…
There is a custom on this day of avoiding wearing anything made of leather, because leather requires the death of a living creature. More…
Kol Nidre evening is one of the very few times in the Jewish year when a tallit is worn at night. More…

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