High and holy days - A book of Jewish wisdom

Limbering up for Rosh Hashanah


By Andrew Goldstein and Charles Middleburgh
Canterbury Press £14.99

The month of Ellul is traditionally a warm-up for Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis of old knew that it can be difficult to get in the mood for the Days of Awe without some kind of preparation: hence the twice daily recitation from the beginning of the month of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light", the blowing of the shofar at the end of shacharit and the saying of selichot, penitential prayers, the week before Rosh Hashanah.

If you don't want to enter synagogue on the big day spiritually cold, then you might want to dip into this new anthology of poems and passages compiled by two senior Liberal rabbis.

Rabbis Goldstein and Middleburgh got the idea for the collection while researching supplementary readings to include in the Liberal High Holy-Day machzor, which they co-edited seven years ago. Having found far more material than they had space for in the machzor, they have built on it to produce their new handbook.

The extracts are thematically arranged in 40 short sections under such subjects as "hope" or "reconciliation" and reflect an eclectic range of sources: from biblical Job or Jeremiah, Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides and Chasidic masters to Martin Buber, modern poets and Progressive rabbis past and present.

Two of my favourites come from Abraham Joshua Heschel -"Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living" - and Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein, who writes of Neilah, the concluding service for Yom Kippur, "The day is departing with a quiet kiss."

While intended mainly for home reading, I imagine some will find this a handy companion to have in synagogue in case their attention to the service starts flagging.

    Last updated: 10:37am, September 8 2010