We Have to Rethink Elul

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog.  As Saturday and Sunday begin the month of Elul, I offer this blog by Alon Goshen-Gottstein which was originally published in the Times of Israel (ToI). The ToI describes him as the founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading figures in interreligious dialogue, specializing in bridging the theological and academic dimension with a variety of practical initiatives, especially involving world religious leadership. to give a deeper framing of the month of preparation for the High Holidays.






Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris

1 comment

Walter Schimmerling

Goshen-Gottstein brings up a straw man – and not even a Jewish straw man! The notion that we should spend 30 days repenting is news to me, and the notion that repentance leads to some form of absolution (say 10 Hail Mary’s and you’ll be forgiven?) seems foreign to Judaism. My understanding of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that they provide a space for self-examination and, given the central importance of time in Judaism, a Yom Hazikaron a Day of Remembrance, because we cannot know who we are without knowing our bond with history. Furthermore, the notion that Elul as an occasion for feeling virtuous is only Jewish in the sense that Portnoy claimed that being good was what the did for a living. My understanding of Judaism is that a Jew is what a Jew does and that the high holidays are also a time of atonement, occasions to use to do the right thing, like making up with people we have offended or who have offended us, regardless of how virtuous that makes us feel; those of us who fast actually do not eat instead of eating only at night. Praying for Putin to receive enlightenment is not likely to prove very effective and is not a very Jewish idea, because we believe in having free will, and in holding human beings responsible for their actions. “… praying for humanity…” is not what these holidays are all about. In Thomas Mann’s formulation, the love of mankind is often an excuse to love no individual in particular. As best as I can tell, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not about global warming, but they are the days when we have an individual performance evaluation with our G’d and we have to face up to who we are and who we want to be. Rather than pray for world leaders to be enlightened (saved?) the Jewish thing is to make sure we vote.

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