As we head into 5775, it's hard to escape the jarring dissonance between the language of our Yomtov prayers and the news coverage of our daily lives. We pray to a God of love and compassion, who shows mercy to the generations of those who are faithful.
The story of Hannah, which we read as the haftarah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, provides a much- needed moment of inspiration for us to begin a New Year. When we first meet Hannah, at the start of the Book of Samuel, she is a picture of desolation and defeat, due to her infertility.
Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us. 5774 has been a difficult year, riven by conflict and cacophonous with lies, half-truths and hostility. Like many others, the Jewish people are desperate to draw a line under the past and make a new start.
At the heart of the Rosh Hashanah service is a cry with no words. It isn't even a human cry, but the strangely evocative sound made by directing the breath through the hollowed-out horn of a ram. Scripture provides no reason for blowing the shofar on the New Year; it doesn't even name it as the instrument to be used on what it tersely describes as Yom Teruah, "a day of sounding the horn".
The year 1656 is usually remembered as the date of the readmission of Jews to England. But something else happened then, regarded by some as an infamous act that remains a lingering stain on European Jewry.
Amsterdam's Sephardi authorities pronounced a cherem, a ban of excommunication, on the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
International concern for the welfare and safety of innocent Gazans has morphed into anti-Zionism and from there, it’s been a short hop to antisemitism. With boycotts, desecration of communal buildings and antisemitic outbursts, the climate has turned increasingly hostile, leaving many of us feeling vulnerable, unsure of how to respond.
Tu b’Av, which falls today, is probably the least-known festival on the Jewish calendar. Probably only regular daveners of shacharit will notice because the prayers of supplication which would normally be said that morning are omitted.
The roads are blocked with broken masonry, the paths through the city are twisted: this sounds like a war-shattered city in the 20th century; in fact, it's Jeremiah's depiction of the desolation of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. The Hebrew Bible, which opens with a majestic paean to creation, is not afraid to describe the brutal realities of destruction.