Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Ramblings

The season is upon us. The High Holidays... I have been pondering that this morning. I have mixed feelings about the High Holidays because they are an irrational piece of a normally rational faith. I understand the purpose or self-examen and Teshuvah, of taking inventory of our lives and returning to a place more in line with our beliefs, but not the story that goes with it. I love the rituals but the whole premise that God is judging us and deciding if we get inscribed in the book to live and prosper for another year is contrary to everything I understand about God and Judaism. It makes no sense.

It does make sense of the Vulcan saying, "Live long and prosper!" accompanied by the split-fingered Jewish Priestly Blessing sign.  Both Leonard Nimoy and William Shattner are Jewish, and Nimoy made that up.

But Rosh HaShanah: "may you be inscribed in the book for a good year" is the standard greeting, usually shortened to l'shana tovah -- a good year. The image of a man with a long white beard seated on a cloud, writing in a huge and ancient tome comes to mind immediately. This is NOT a Jewish image. The God of Judaism has no gender, has no image attached, and has a never-spoken name which means "being" or "existence" or "living." The clash of these two ideas gets me every year about this time. We sing "Avinu Malkenu" -- our father, our king, but the letter shin on our mezuzahs stands for El Shaddai, the God with Breasts, a strong female image. (fundamentalist Christians have translated this into a bellicose male image, God Almighty) The spirit of God among us is the Shekinah, another female presence. Jewish identity is matrilineal, passed from the mother to her offspring. yet whether we live or die this year is consigned to a masculine king with a big book. Not buyin' it.

Another season of struggling with this stuff. I don't believe a word of the seasonal imagery.  It simply won't go in there and make any sense. I'll eat apples dipped in honey to make sure the year ahead is sweet, and bake a sweet raisin challah in the shape of a beehive. I'll probably show up at the synagogue a few times during the 10 days this takes to pass. Who wants to miss chanting "Ashamnu..." with accompanying breast beating, or singing Rock of Ages (NOT the same as the Christian version)... or hearing the wonderful choir at the only time of year we have one? Or dumping your sins out of your pockets (in the form of breadcrumbs) and casting them onto a running stream? Or best of all, hearing the raucous squawk of the shofar, the long wails and the staccato bursts... Yeah, that part I get. Just not the part about a man with a long white beard dipping a pen in ink and writing my fate, to live for another year or die trying.

Here is a jazz guitar version of Maoz Tzur -- Rock of Ages by guitarist Alex Bershadsky. Enjoy! L'Shana Tovah!