Pagan Rosh Hashanah

How a central prayer of the New Year liturgy reveals the day’s true spirit of awe and fear.
Rubus Incombustus (Moses before the Burning Bush) Salvador Dalí, 1967. Park West Gallery, Southfield (MI); © Artists' Rights Society, reproduced by permission.
Rubus Incombustus (Moses before the Burning Bush) Salvador Dalí, 1967. Park West Gallery, Southfield (MI); © Artists' Rights Society, reproduced by permission.
Atar Hadari
Observation
Sept. 22 2014
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


One of the things I miss about Jerusalem is the sense of living in a land where even the paganism is Jewish. What do I mean by paganism? I mean an entirely un-mediated relationship with the cosmos, one that does not require the intercession of a Temple sacrifice, let alone negotiating a maze of halakhic guidelines. Visit Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon and you can feel the sheer energy of the entire city buzzing as people rush about their preparations for Sabbath. I’m not talking about haredim, or Modern Orthodox, or secular—I’m talking about Jews, period, everybody running around as the sun starts to tip. The same goes for those who indulge in what seem to me the rather dubious outskirts of a monotheistic faith – going to lie on the graves of “righteous ones” or holding celebrations of the talmudic rabbi Shimon bar Yohai at Mount Meron: this, too, is for me the pagan underbelly of the country, and this, too, is Jewish in Israel.

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More about: Jewish holidays, Leonard Cohen, Poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur