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Jewish High Holidays and The "Book of Life"

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One of the most frequently repeated prayers made over the Jewish High Holidays is the following translated to English: 

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:How many shall leave this world and how many shall be born into it, who shall live and who shall die, who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by beast, who by hunger and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague, who shall rest and who shall wander, who shall be at peace and who shall be tormented, etc. But Penitence, Prayer and Good Deeds can annul the Severity of the Decree.” 

As a child who grew up with Orthodox Jewish parents, this prayer scared the daylights out of me.  When I became an adult, I would observe that when this prayer was recited, some of the members of the congregation would actually faint as a result of the fear and anxiety evoked from this officially sanctioned prayer.  While I never fainted, I certainly felt the significance of this decree by the god of Abraham.


Most Jews today are secular and recite this prayer without thinking about the message it portrays.  Perhaps many Jews see this as a benign and inconsequential form of Jewish tradition.  I personally believe it provides no solace and reinforces an image of a very harsh deity.  Compare this with the eastern religions and cultures, which provide wonderful images of consciousness and peaceful meditation that connects us with the Cosmos.  Furthermore, this image of god magnifies the cruelties and genocidal stories that are portrayed in the Scriptures including the slaying of Abel and the story of Noah. 


What I could never comprehend as a child reading scripture was an all-powerful deity that created “Man” in his image and then decided to destroy his own creation.  After god wipes out all the bad people, god promises not to do it again.  This genocidal view of god perpetuates the image of an irrational and unpredictable deity that could only create fear of others.  And the concept of sin and redemption reduces our self-esteem to the level of irrational guilt with only one source of redemption.  It also portrays god metaphorically as “concentration camp” guard who decides who lives and dies, as was done by the Germans during the Holocaust.

 I never enjoyed the Jewish High Holidays and I suspect I have a lot of company in the Jewish Community.  And I believe that the philosophical writings of some of the Jewish sages like Maimonides are wonderful and reinforce the positive philosophical aspects of spirituality.  However, these remnants of old Jewish Scripture that have been adopted by the successor religions have to be reviewed in light of the world we live in today.  And that should entail a revision of prayers and the hateful parts of the Old and New Testaments. 


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Sheldon Drobny was the co-founder of Nova M radio and Air America Radio. He has supported many philanthropic causes. Mr. Drobny specializes in business and tax matters and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court as a non-attorney. Less (more...)

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