Conservative Movement: Hatikvah Instead of Shofar

The Rabbinical Assembly (the rabbinical association of the Conservative movement) distributed this letter today to its members, asking its rabbis to read the piece below in lieu of the Shofar service on Rosh Hashanah. (The shofar is traditionally not sounded when RH falls on Shabbat, as it does this year.)

Friends,

On this Rosh Hashanah our brothers and sisters in Israel face the threat of a nuclear Iran – a threat to Israel’s very existence.

Today, we Jews around the world also confront the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report which blames Israel disproportionately for the tragic loss of human life incurred in Operation Cast Lead, which took place last winter in Gaza.  This unbalanced United Nations sponsored report portends serious consequences for Israel and the Jewish people.

On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent.

Today the state of Israel needs us to be the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar!

We ask you to write to our governmental leaders and call upon them to condemn the Goldstone report and to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.

While the shofar is silent today, all Conservative rabbis, cantors and congregations have been asked to sing Hatikvah at this moment in the service.

We rise in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.

What troubles me most about this suggestion is how profoundly it flies in the face of the very meaning of the festival itself. On Rosh Hashanah, we affirm Malchuyot – God’s sovereignty over the universe. Rosh Hashanah is the only time of the year that Jews are commanded to bow all the way to the ground and pledge our allegiance to God and God alone. We acknowledge that our ultimate fealty lies with a Power beyond ourselves, beyond any mortal ruler, any government, any earthly power.

Beyond the political arguments over such a statement, it strikes me as something approaching idolatry.

I’m curious to know your reactions, particularly in regard to its religious implications.

21 thoughts on “Conservative Movement: Hatikvah Instead of Shofar

    • As a member of the Conservative Movement, I can say that I will be disturbed if this happens in my shul (as I believe it will), for the very reason that this holiday is meant to be a recognition of God’s sovereignty, not a trumpeting [a shofar-ing, if you will) of our own position. But how we respond in the course of the singing, or not singing, is up to us, I think. It can be an opportunity to consider why this sits wrong with us, and what needs to be done to change things in our community.

      If you’re in a community where they sing HaTikva and it bothers you, I guarantee that you’re not alone. It can be a chance to talk about that with other people, and find out who else has questions and would like to see changes.The anthem speaks of “our hope… to be a free people” — surely this can, and should, mean different things to different people.

      • As I reflect on this letter from the Movement, it does seem to me more directed at enforcing conformity among American Jews than at encouraging solidarity with Israel. After all, I’m very much in solidarity with some in Israel–not enough of the population to win an election at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

        No, this is meant to rally the troops and keep us in line. I resist, not just in this instance but in principle.

        Can you imagine what would happen at an American shul if, at this moment, some people rose, and some stayed seated, some sang, and some kept silent?

        On the one hand, the social opprobrium directed against those who refused (call them “refuseniks”) would be enormous.

        On the other hand, we’d have a living instance of that old Jewish joke about the congregation where half stood up for the Sh’ma, and the other half stayed seated, each rebuking the other, week after week.

        And we know, do we not, the punchline to that one?

        In the tradition,
        E

  1. It is interesting how it is common for Jews to crticize other Jews who are passionate about some issue within Judaism and the Jewish peope as “making idolatry” out of it. For example, Orthodox/religious anti-Zionists will call those who do support Zionism as supporting “idolatry”, as if building a state is some sort of simple thing that we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in. Similarly, we see that deep concern that Israel may face genocidal Judeophobia on the part of Ahmedinejad and his Iranian backers is dismissed the same way. Or years of indiscriminate rocket fire on Sederot and the other yishuvim of the western Negev, leading to a war meant to put a stop to it (and which was largely successful in doing so).

    I, for one, as a Zionist, am very glad to see the Rabbincal Assembly make such a declaration, and as an Israeli I feel very happy to know that Jews in the United States, are still standing shoulder to shoulder with us in this struggle for survival (and it is nothing short of this, in spite of what some American Jews may think). THIS, IN SPITE OF THE EFFORTS OF CERTAIN MARGINAL ELEMENTS WITHIN THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY TO DRIVE A WEDGE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY.

    Shana Tova greetings to everyone from Eretz Israel.

    • I’m an American-Israeli member of the Conservative Movement, and a Zionist. Rosh Hashana is meant to be about malchut shami’im, not about the governments of the earth. Any reading of any Jewish text will show you that. Adding HaTikva to the service may or may not be idolatry, but it certainly has nothing to do with the holiday as established in Torah and structured by hazelenu.

      It seems to me that you are trying to make a very big and not very subtle point out of the fact that you are in Israel while Rabbi Rosen is not, but that honestly has nothing to do with the religious intent of the holiday, or the fact that it is celebrated by all Jews, everywhere — or, indeed, that Israelis do not have a monopoly on what it means to be Jewish (in spite of the fact that we often behave as if we do).

      The “marginal elements” you mention are in fact 75% of the American Jewish people who believe a two-state solution to be the best resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Three-quarters of the community! http://www.jstreet.org/page/media-advisory-new-survey-american-jewish-community

      And you are wrong when you say that we are trying to “drive a wedge” — we are acting, by and large, out of a deep and abiding love for Israel and for our people, and a driving desire to see Israel have the peace and security it so deserves. Recognizing Palestinian suffering, and recognizing the role that the Israeli (my) government plays in that suffering is not a rejection of Zionism, Judaism, or our best selves — on the contrary, it is a recognition of Jewish values and eternal truths. It is also in Israel’s best interests, because it is simply folly to believe that leveling deadly collective punishment on millions of people over the course of decades can produce anything like safety for the people who live on the other side of the border.

      Shana tova to you, as well, and may God grant us peace.

  2. The “making idolatry” point seems to me fairly obvious: it’s a Jewish vocabulary term, and one that emerges naturally from the tradition. And it’s less offensive than “whoring after strange gods,” which was the preferred critique in prophetic times for comparable behavior.

    In this particular case, I think it’s very well chosen. At a moment when the community might be forced to give up its desire (to hear the shofar) and hear nothing but the silence of its own obedience to God, it will instead stand “shoulder to shoulder” and declare its allegiance to the Jewish nation-state.

    I’m not in the least surprised by this, but I am disgusted, not least by the letter’s conflation of the Goldstone report and the Iranian nuclear program. That’s not idolatrous, it’s just sloppy, lazy thinking, which offends me just as deeply.

    If we did this at my synagogue, I’d walk out.

  3. But YBD, there is an apparent conflict between our liturgy and seeking our security and salvation in political sovereignty and domination.

    The Alienu prayer begins “It is our duty to praise the Master of all, and ascribe greatness to the Author of creation, who has not made us like the nations of the lands nor placed us like the families of the earth; who has not made our portion like theirs, nor our destiny like all their multitudes. For they worship vanity and emptiness, and pray to a god who cannot save.”

    I think of this prayer as a thesis statement of Rabbinic Judaism. It fuses the concept of choseness with exile on the one hand and it identifies reliance on state power and state violence with idolatry on the other.

    For a Jew to pray the Alienu is not to deny the right of existence to Israel or the United States or any other country. But it is to proclaim that our allegiance is not to these countries’ governments when they advocate and carry out policies of war and violence.

  4. Shalom,

    It is always refreshing to witness efforts of some to return to – or at least to make aware of – the more original precepts and principles of one’s tradition, be it Jewish, Christian or Islamic.

    >the very meaning of the festival itself. On Rosh Hashanah, >we affirm Malchuyot – God’s sovereignty over the >universe….

    Otherwise there will be only a caricature left of what was once a pure message from the Divine.

  5. Read the report. Meditate upon it. Then speak your heart and your mind.

    Shana Tova
    May the whole world be written and sealed for a good year

  6. Pingback: 5770: Tshuvah or salve? « No thanks, I’ll speak for myself

  7. We did sing Hatikvah yesterday, at our rabbi’s request. Only after this did he read the letter and say that (1) this was irregular as part of the service, (2) he had not realized that the threat to Israel by Iran was “so dire,” and (3) while other countries have a march as an anthem, Hatikvah is not a march but “a prayer.”

    The whole thing struck me as strange. Why were we asked to sing before we knew the reason? Why, if the rabbi was ambivalent, did he require the singing of Hatikvah? And why describe Israel’s anthem as a prayer (it’s a poem or hymn, not a prayer) while describing others as marches (the US national anthem is not a march)?

    This entire affair has left a bad taste, and sent me directly to the web in search of the thoughts of others.

    RLS, Portland OR

  8. Rabbi Brian Walt, co-founder of the Jewish fast for Gaza posted the following paragraph on his blog.
    “Today the day before Rosh Hashanah, The Goldstone Comission Report presents us with a moral challenge: Will this report move more Americans, more American Jews and more rabbis to speak out against the present policy of the Israeli government in Gaza? Will it move more Israelis to demand a truly independent Israeli investigation into all the charges? Will it move more Israeli Jews to ask questions and open their hearts to the suffering that the policies of their government are inflicting? I truly hope so. If this does not happen, I am not sure what our earnest prayers over the coming sacred holidays mean.”
    Nowhere does he approach the concept of proclaiming G-d as our ruler during the Rosh Hashana prayer. In fact, he says that if we don’t raise the questions of the sufferings of the Gazan people, then he isn’t sure what our earnest prayers mean. Would you care to comment on whether his words border idolatry?

    • Dan,

      I don’t want to speak for Brian, but my sense is that he is referring to the High Holidays as a time of teshuvah and communal self-reckoning. He asks: how can we do a do an honest self-accounting of our moral failures of the past year and not question our treatment of the Gazan people? I think this is a justifiable and extremely important point – and am not sure how it might be considered “idolatrous.”

    • Dan,

      You ask Brant this: “Would you care to comment on whether his words border idolatry?”

      I wish that I thought you were asking a real question here, but it doesn’t sound that way.

      It does strike me that questions of human suffering are much less likely to be idolatrous than declarations of solidarity. Maybe than anything.

      Just a thought.

  9. Making a political statement during davening is a troubling way to go. There are times and places for bringing forth causes and other ideas, but the silence of the shofar already speaks volumes.
    To begin conflating parts of the service with a political agenda is a slippery slope if ever there was one. I don’t know what process was used to put this idea out there but I think this one isn’t ready for prime time. I would think it would be divisive and distracting for many if not most of those in attendance.
    What will be next? Maybe those few moments between shacharit and the Torah service would be a good time to promote a cause…

  10. A letter from Michael Oren was read in the Conservative shul in my community (JPEG of letter):

    This was read in shul, on the bima, to the congregation:

    “We are facing a critical juncture in our history. The Jewish community must confront this unprecedented threat before it is too late. I urge you as leaders of the Jewish community to impress this situation on your congregations. It is imperative to act now, at the start of a new year, and to join our voices in doing what absolutely necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear threat.”

  11. Brant,
    Thanks for letting us know about this.
    I hope that this missive was sent out by someone in the R.A. office in a moment of high emotion that he/she has come to regret.
    There are so many things wrong with this idea that it is hard to know where to begin! As a life long Reconstructionist Jew who believes critical inquiry is at the heart of a Jewish life of integrity, I found the strangest part was that folks are asked to write letters of protest about a report that they are not being asked to read.
    I am going to assume that most conservative rabbis adapted this unusual request and created something more meaningful for Rosh Hashanah than described here to respond to the challenges of our times.
    Keep up the great work, Brant.
    Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
    http://www.multifaithworld.org

  12. Brant, I was appalled and disgusted by the RA letter. Sing Hatikvah, indeed. It says it all, doesn’t it. Sing a Zionist anthem in shul? Pray to the State of Israel (not for — I can think about how that might be done, but to), and on this issue of all things? I agree with you, this is idolatry. We are in big trouble.

    It goes directly, directly, in the face of tshuvah.

    Not the shofar, but a great, piercing cry from Jews everywhere is called for at this juncture. I thank the RA for making so clear what we have to do.

    Perhaps the shofar is the very thing, the very symbol, in contrast to fasting. Fasting is so quiet, so passive. But the shofar — it shouts, can even be made to scream, it demands to be listened to. Let our voices go out. Let our screams of anger, protest, shame and pain be heard.

    Mark

  13. The objection to Hatikvah on the High Holidays, especially at this moment in Jewish history, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what Israel is and has been to Judaism. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Hatikvah is a prayer. The Bible a Zionist document. We say in the birkat hamazone bracha for Israel rasheet smichat geulatenu-the dawn of our redemption. You can try and claim Israel is a political, sovereign nation only, but that is not based on Jewish theology. For most Jews, the State of Israel is a valid, spiritual dimension of being Jewish and worrying about its security is a real as anything else. I understand there are Jews who do not accept this this.

  14. Although I am not a Jew, I am subscribed to this blog because I care about the plight of Jews and Palestinians.
    Rabbi Rosen’s words, as well as those of many here, are in accordance with what I understand the Abrahamic faiths stand about, leaving aside their outer difference, that human beings are created in the image of God, that they are by essence sacred, and that to destroy ONE life, is like destroying a whole universe.How is it possible to say we love God if we do not love human beings, His highest creation? How is it possible that ANY state, a political creation, may be more important than a single life? I refuse to believe it is God’s plan that some human beings use human lives on behalf of the “spiritual” rights of others, be they Jews, Christians , Muslims or whatever. That is a worldly scheme, a political agenda. There is nothing spiritual about it, just like ther is nothing spiritual about nuclear weapons, be they in the hands of Iran, the USA, China or Israel.
    If I were granted one wish, it would be that “world leaders” showed just a little of the compassion and sensibility people like Rabbi Rosen show towards humanity.
    Thank you.
    Shana Tova.
    Carlos Yantorno.

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