Tag Archives: Elul

Rosh Hashana and Eid ul-Fitr

Wishing you a happy and healthy 5771 and an Eid Mubarak!

This year, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Eid ul-fitr, the holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan coincide on September 10, one day before the ninth anniversary of 9/11. As a curious aside, UN employees get the Second Day of the holiday off, but not the first. Why? Because it happens to be also Eid, one of the ten holidays recognized by the UN. Mabruk!

In any case, the debate surrounding the proposed Islamic community Center in downtown Manhattan, combined with a sudden rise in attacks in the US on individuals and mosques (Queens, Tennessee) leaves many bewildered. Muslims of course have lived in and built the US practically from the first days onwards, and today’s  relatively small Muslim community, perhaps 3 million people, has made tremendous inroads in community building and outreach in the two decades, and in particular after 9/11.  Yet, if racism and anti-Semitism have taught us anything, it is that knowledge and familiarity do not automatically erase prejudice.  Since I started teaching in South  Carolina, I have been impressed by my students’ readiness  to defend  individual religious rights, including some many  fundamentally opposed or found plain strange–Hindu burial rites, gay and lesbian rights, and the rights of Christians of all stripes, but also Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims to dress, pray, and congregate as they see fit (and no, I don’t think they did this only to get a better grade).  Perhaps the rest of the country can catch up with my students from RELG 110 eventually.

Religious traditions seem to divide people far more swiftly than they can ever hope to unite them. Instead of accepting, in all particularity, the many parallels between the Jewish and Muslim holidays as a given, or between the two religions in general, it seems easier to focus on division and extremism.

The Torah and Quran contain many passages calling on Jews and Muslims to love and protect the stranger:

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger  as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev 19:34)

Those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves
. (Surah 59, (Exile) Verse 9).

And, classically, and at its heart part of every community: When Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the entire Torah, he said: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

Both traditions empower, indeed enjoin us to make a change for the better in the world.  So  maybe there is still hope.

To a happy & healthy 5771!


Psalm 27: the prayer of Elul

Traditional Jews say this psalm twice daily during the month of Elul.

Psalm 27 (in Amy Scheinerman’s translation & commentary )

(1) Adonai is my light and my life. Whom shall I fear?
Adonai is the foundation of my life. Whom shall I dread?
(2) When evil-doers assail me to devour my flesh,
It is they — my adversaries and enemies — who stumble and fall.
(3) Should an army besiege me, my heart would not fear.
Should war beset me
Even then would I be confident.
(4) One thing I ask of Adonai,
Only this do I seek: to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of Adonai, to frequent his Temple.
(5) For Adonai will conceal me in his sukkah on an evil day,
and hide me in the covert of his tent,
raise me up high on a rock.
(6) And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies all around me
And I will offer sacrifices in [Adonai’s] tent
with the sound of trumpets.
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to Adonai.
(7) Hear my voice, Adonai, when I cry out
have mercy on me and answer me.
(8) “For yourself,” says my heart.
“Seek My face.”
Adonai, I seek Your face.
(9) Do not hide Your face from me.
Do not push aside Your servant in anger.
You have always been my help.
Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O Lord my deliverer.
(10) For my father and my mother abandon me, but Adonai gathers me up.
(11) Show me Your way, Adonai,
and lead me on a level path
because of my ever-watchful foes.
(12) Deliver me not over unto the will of my adversaries
For false witnesses have risen up against me
and those who breathe violence.
(13) If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of God,
[I would no longer be] in the land of the living.
(14) Look to Adonai.
Be strong and of good courage.
Look to Adonai !

Here Paul Schoenfield’s Achat Sha’alti (the Psalm’s opening words  in Hebrew:

Why is this psalm an important part of the spiritual preparation for the High Holidays? Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal

Elul is the month of preparation and shofar blowing. The name of the month has been understood to be an acronym for the Hebrew verse “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” During Elul we read Psalm 27, “To David – the Lord is my light,” twice daily. This practice is relatively new, evidently some 200 years old. But it is a wise practice, even essential. More here on beliefnet…

Dodi li

I have written a few lines about this verse in an earlier post. Today,I would like to quote this article that talks about the verse’s special meaning for the month of Elul.

Tradition Today: A time of love

by REUVEN HAMMER, Jerusalem Post of August 6, 2010

‘I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.’ The Hebrew of this verse from Song of Songs (6:3) – ani ledodi vedodi li – has been understood to be the acronym of Elul, the name of the month that begins this coming week. Following the midrashic interpretation of Song of Songs, in which the two lovers are seen as representing God and Israel, this verse describes the intimate relationship between God – the Beloved – and the people of Israel. According to this understanding, the entire month of Elul is dedicated to strengthening the closest, most loving possible relationship between ourselves and God.

Elul, of course, is the month immediately preceding Rosh Hashana. There is something strange and paradoxical about using that verse describing love as characterizing the month leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe, the time of divine judgment. Fear and trembling would seem more appropriate.  More…]

I love schmaltz so here’s a particularly dripping version:

There is also a lovely version by Peter, Paul, and Mary, but I have not found it online.

Ramadan and Elul

This year, the holy months of Ramadan and Elul begin on the same day, this Friday, September 21. Muslims will fast for thirty days and, every evening, break the fast with a joyous meal with family and friends. During the course of this month, pious Muslims will read the entire Qur’an–a short book, about the length of the New Testament–pray for guidance, and purify their minds through self-restraint.This is a holy month, not least because the Qur’an is believed to have been revealed to Muhammad during one of the last ten days of Ramadan. If you have never observed Ramadan or never been lucky enough to have been invited to an iftar, a breaking of the fast, you can get a glimpse in a day-by-day blog on Ramadan  on Beliefnet.

For Jews, too, the upcoming month of Elul brings a time of reflection and preparation for the new year and for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. The Talmud explains that the Hebrew word “Elul” is an acronym standing in for “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me) of recent Victoria Beckham fame. A popular motto for weddings for obvious reasons, ani l’dodi stresses the relationship between the individuum and the divine. Elul is a time of intense chashbon nefesh, taking account of one’s deeds.

Having returned from Jerusalem just a few days ago, where the divisions between Jews and Muslims are particularly glaring, I remember that Muslim tradition holds that the holiday was reportedly established when Muhammad and his followers arrived in Medina, in 622 and fasted on the same day as the Jews, namely Yom Kippur or Ashura, as it was then called and prayed in the same direction, Jerusalem. It was only later, in the Medinan period, that these key practices changed.  Ramadan replaced Ashura and Mecca became the direction of prayer. Usually, this development is interpreted as a break with Judaism and the beginning of Islam as a religion in its own right.

Whether one follows this theory or accepts the parallels in observance, it is today easy to forget how close Judaism and Islam in fact are, in spite of all their obvious differences: both are strictly monotheistic, cherish the text and its interpretation, are governed by religious laws, follow similar dietary laws etc.

Ramadan mubarak & May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.