Aryeh Cohen: Prayer is not only the moment when we retreat into the security of the safe and familiar, but also an act of engagement and confrontation. It is the existential suspension of the ontological. To actually pray, I need to abandon the safe ground of “how the world is” and be open to experiences grounded in a very different world of assumptions. Prayer comes out of the struggle between these two places: the place I live and leave (and will return to with the three steps that I take to end the amidah, backing out of the place where transcendence is available) and the place I enter.
Meesh Hammer Kossoy: A few months ago, I changed my email signature to include this mishnah: “Pray for the welfare of the government. If it were not for fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.” (Mishnah Avot 3:2) Its tone and message are not as uplifting or inspirational as other quotes that I have used in the past. Indeed, friends questioned my choice. Governments are guilty of so much evil in our world — unnecessary wars, unfathomable corruption, waste. Why pray for their well-being?
David Ellenson & Sharon Brous Exchange Letters on Authority in Contemporary Times: Does the dissolution of communal and denominational commitments — which seems to be a natural and even healthy response to modernity — necessarily forecasts the dissolution of rabbinic authority altogether? In other words, could you envision a Jewish life that seriously challenges elements of an authoritative tradition, but at the same time is able to maintain its legitimacy, making very serious demands on its adherents?
Sue Fendrick, Michelle Friedman, Jeff Helmreich, David Ingber, and Or Rose: Addressing Collective and Individual Sin, A Sh’ma Roundtable
Our sages viewed repentance as a powerful tool that would help us wrestle with our failures and repair our wrongdoings. Resh Lakish wrote “Great is repentance; by it, intentional sins are made like merits…” A few years ago in these pages of Sh’ma, the philosopher Robert Gibbs commented on the talmudist’s writing: “Sins would become something held in my favor, something good….A mended relation can be stronger and better precisely because each party has had to transform the relation.” In this Roundtable, rabbis, a philosopher, and a therapist look again at teshuvah — focusing both on how individuals repent and how — as a collective — we address our communal sins.
Amy Eilberg My heart tells me there is only one authentically Jewish response to the immigration debate raging in our country. The story of the immigrant, the stranger, the “other,” is our own story. As Jews, we can do nothing less than champion the needs of the immigrants in our midst with the full force
REVIEWED BY ADENA BERKOWITZ
Who by Fire, Who by Water — Un’taneh Tokef, edited by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 253 pp, $24.99.
Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah by Louis E. Newman, PhD, foreword by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, preface by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 224 pp, $24.99.
1. Might contemporary changes in communal and denominational commitments forecast the dissolution — or at least the diminution — of rabbinic authority?
2. In an American Jewish setting marked by freedom and openness, where traditional modes of authority are constantly and rightfully called into question, how do we inspire our people so that they feel an obligation to live within the powerful Jewish dialectics of universalism and particularism, spirituality and corporeality?
3. One of the names for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Memory. What is the relationship between memory and teshuvah?
4. The liturgy for Rosh Hashanah speaks at times in the plural: “We have sinned.” What do you think about collective guilt and repentance?