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This Sunday evening marks the start of the two day Jewish New Year festival Rosh Hashanah. The Hebrew word Rosh Hashanah translates as “the head of the year” and commemorates the anniversary of the world’s creation and the beginning of humanity[1]. The essence of Rosh Hashanah can be understood as both that of rejoice and introspection[2]. A time where Gd’s conception of society is celebrated but equally where the actions of humankind within that society are recalled and reviewed with sacred judgment. It is at this time of sacred judgement that deliberation upon the inauguration of humanity’s role is encouraged and both the manner in which one’s life has manifested in the year passed and the form in which it can manifest in the year to come is also reflected upon[3]. Many observe this time of divine appraisal with customs of prayer and symbolic practice. Special synagogue services are run by some throughout the day in which prayers for peace, blessing and of repentance take place. It is during these prayer services that many will sound the loud blasts of the shofar[4] (ram horn), a ritual which (amongst other purposes) serves as a wakeup call to one’s moral and spiritual conscious[5]. Throughout the festival many will also consume sweet foods, such as apples in honey, to symbolise the sweet New Year that one hopes to have.

 

This notion of internal contemplation and reflection, embedded within the theme of Rosh Hashanah, resonates with much contemporary salience. This is because as the shofar horn is sounded, and its loud blasts ricochet, an alarm is raised[6]. An alarm with a purpose which transcends that of mere auditory arousal. An alarm which serves to stimulate the confrontation of one’s own moral and spiritual doings: “awakening the slumbering souls that have grown complacent”[7]. This urgency of the shofar to address the values of passivity and complacency is very much applicable to today’s social context[8]. We live in a time of global moral crisis. Egotistical cultures of selfishness and ignorance plague society, and the neoliberalisation of human suffering is firmly placing blame and responsibility at the feet of the individuals in need. Humanity is bleeding. Yet we have manufactured this phantomic narrative which is systematically undermining the notion of universal moral duty and is, in turn, legitimising and perpetuating an ethos of moral complacency.

 

We must challenge this harmful social fiction that is extracting unity and proactive collective duty from the framework of societal healing. We must apply the message of Rosh Hashanah and awaken our spiritual and moral consciousness. We must, as the shofar does, “sound an alarm” [9] by proactively speaking out against the evils that are injustice and suffering. As it is only through such active nurturing of the collective good of humanity that one is able to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice”[10] and subsequentially construct a society which “acts justly and loves kindness”[11].

 

Wishing those celebrating a meaningful Rosh Hashanah and a year ahead that is filled with healing, blessings and peace for all.

 

Esther Sills

Programme Manager

 

[1] Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 27a:15)

[2] Nehemiah 8:10-11

[3] The Religion of Israel Before Sinai, Jewish Quarterly Review 52, 1963, p. 52

[4] Numbers 29:1 and Leviticus 23:24

[5] Maimonides

[6] Numbers 10:9

[7] Rabbi Saadia ben Yosef Gaon

[8] Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

[9] Supra, 6

[10] Genisis 18:19

[11] Mikhah 6:8