Yom Kippur

Yachad: Connecting Jews to the High Holidays, their Heritage and Each Other The High Holidays are a time when Jews of all backgrounds seek meaning and opportunities to connect – even Israelis who identify as secular or who may feel alienated from synagogues and Jewish institutions they view as “religious.”  During this uniquely reflective time …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Yom Kippur 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“U’Netaneh Tokef: Living Our Prayers”

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“U’Netaneh Tokef: Living Our Prayers”

With all that is happening around the world, the prayer that continues to hold more meaning for me than any other is U’Netaneh Tokef, for the haunting questions that it poses, particularly in our reality this year:

מי יחיה ומי ימות?

Who shall live and who shall die?

מי בקצו ומי לא בקצו?

Who in his time, and who by an untimely death?

מי במים ומי באש?

Who by water and who by fire?

מי ברעש ומי במגפה?

Who by earthquake and who by plague?

For nearly a millennium, authorship of U’Netaneh Tokef has been attributed to Rav Amnon of Mainz, the leader of his German Jewish community, which experienced horrific destruction during the First Crusade. 

Yet evidence suggests that the words were most likely written by the great poet Yannai, who lived in the Land of Israel sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries.

If so, why do we generally identify Rav Amnon as the author? Especially when research shows that even those who related the story probably had knowledge of the prayer’s actual author and origin?

The answer is because Rav Amnon of Mainz and indeed his entire community personified the deeds and actions attributed to him in U’Netaneh Tokef. Bearing a name that derives from the word emunah, faith, Rav Amnon has been immortalized in the ancient prayer as a tribute to the countless souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the horrific years of the bloody Crusades.

So even if Rav Amnon did not compose U’Netaneh Tokef, he most assuredly “established” the text through his deeds and actions.

In the past and present, the words of U’Netaneh Tokef have captured the pathos and the promise of the Jews – an ancient people that has often paid the ultimate sacrifice for our commitment to the higher ideals of our faith and our peoplehood.

This year, its haunting words call us together not just as Jews, but as members of a global society searching for stability in a time of fragility.

Like Amnon of Mainz – who did not pen the prayer, but lived it and therefore became its author – we, too, have the opportunity to become the “authors” of the prayers we read and the Torah we study. This occurs when we internalize their messages, and their ideals to become true representatives of the vision of Judaism that we wish to study and celebrate.

In a world of so much uncertainty, we still have the capacity to be ambassadors of ideas and ideals that can transform the society around us. May we merit to author a path of purposefulness in life and good health throughout the coming year.

Wishing you and your loved ones a G’mar Chatimah Tovah.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52) / Yom Kippur By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – The climax of Yom Kippurim is its closing Ne’ilah prayer when the sun is beginning to set, when the day is beginning to wane and when we are nearing our last chance for the opportunity to receive God’s loving …

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Can You Hear Me? Multiple Meanings of the Sound of the Shofar Rabbanit Sally Mayer, Rosh Midrasha, Maria & Joel Finkle Overseas Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum The sound of the shofar is always shocking at first, piercing the synagogue during the month of Elul, reminding us that Rosh Hashanah is near. It seems like ages …

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From Soul Searching to Holy Joy: the Festivals of Tishrei in the Shadow of COVID-19 Rabbanit Devorah Evron, Director of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership One of the magical moments in the month of Tishrei is immediately following Yom Kippur, when we begin building the sukkah. The Holy Day is behind us, …

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Despite this Challenging Year, Still Seeking a Personal Rendezvous with God Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva There is a tradition to recite Psalm 47 as an introduction to the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, based on a statement in Masechet Sofrim (19:2) — כף תקעו העמים כל אומר השנה ובראש …

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Who by Earthquake and Who by Plague? Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin Founder, Chancellor Emeritus and Rosh HaYeshiva We enter this Rosh HaShanah 5781 with heavy hearts in Israel, in the midst of a second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic Plague which has, as of the first week in September, claimed the lives of more than …

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U’Netaneh Tokef: Opening our Hearts and Creating Hope Pnina Omer Director, Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center for Agunot For many months now we have been living with a sense of powerlessness in the face of a global pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 throughout the world has badly shaken humanity’s sense of …

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Believing in Ourselves: Yom Kippur as a Day of Joy Rabbi Shay Nave, Director of the Yachad Program for Jewish Identity We all seek Divine chesed and personal joy in our lives, especially during a time in which there is so much pain, uncertainty and apprehension about Divine judgment in the world. Given these feelings, …

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Prayers that Reflect our Reality: A Rosh Hashanah for all of Humanity Rabbi Shuki Reich Rosh Kollel, Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary Rosh Machon, Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership Senior Talmud Lecturer, Midreshet Lindenbaum Rosh Hashanah Prayers: The Universal and the Particular A common theme of the prayers on Rosh Hashanah is …

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Especially during this year of challenge, turmoil, uncertainty and heartbreak, we are pleased to be able to share with you this pamphlet of relevant and topical insights from the stellar members of the OTS faculty. Click on the image above to download a specially-condensed, halakhic machzor (prayer book) for Yom Kippur, that responds to the …

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