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Why is there a moment during High Holiday services when some people lie prostrate on the ground?

Many of you are familiar with a prayer called "Aleinu", which takes place at the conclusion of most services. During the Musaf (additional) services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, we recite the prayer an additional time. This recitation is known as the "Great Aleinu".

When we say the "Great Aleinu", it is customary for service leaders - and anyone else who chooses - to fall prostrate to the ground in the middle of the prayer's first paragraph, at the point when most people simply bow. This recalls a similar action of many biblical figures - most notably Abraham and Moses - who fell on their faces during particularly pivotal moments in their relationships with God. It reflects a sense of humility and an acknowledgment of God's power.

Therefore, when we bow prostrate to the ground on the High Holidays, we do so to imitate our ancestors, as we too note God's power to judge us on our conduct throughout the year.

"The entire world is a very narrow bridge - the key is to not be afraid." -Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Why do we celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah? How will the second day of Rosh Hashanah be different at Emanu-El this year?

The Torah only refers to one day of Rosh Hashanah - a day when the shofar is sounded and work is prohibited. In ancient days, the Sanhedrin (Jewish congress) was tasked with announcing the beginning of the new year, since it was dependent on making sure that the moon was new (not visible to those on Earth), thus signifying the new month of Tishrei and start of Rosh Hashanah. But since the Sanhedrin's announcement of the new year didn't necessarily reach remote areas in time for the start of the holiday, the ancient rabbis didn't want a community to start Rosh Hashanah on the wrong day, which might lead its inhabitants to inadvertently work on the wrong day. Thus, as a safeguard, we began observing two days of Rosh Hashanah.

Even though the content of Second Day Rosh Hashanah services is largely the same as that of the first day, there will be several special reasons to make sure to attend on Day Two, Tuesday, October 1st:

  • A couple of sections of the early part of the service will be abbreviated.
  • Our guest speaker will be Yaron Ayalon, the new director of College of Charleston's Jewish Studies program.
  • We will read a story for kids on the bimah.
  • Our COSY kids will do a skit about the Torah reading.

We hope to see you on both days of Rosh Hashanah.

"The entire world is a very narrow bridge - the key is to not be afraid." -Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Why are we introducing a High Holiday niggun (wordless melody) this year?

Perhaps the most famous legend about the High Holidays is about the boy who sat in synagogue on Yom Kippur. This boy didn't know the first thing about Hebrew or praying, but he wanted to raise his voice to God on this solemn day. Near the end of the day, he took a small flute from his pocket and began to play. The men around him scolded him, but the rabbi corrected them and praised the boy for praying purely from the heart.

Sometimes, when we sit in services during the High Holidays, we don't know how to connect. We might not be proficient in Hebrew; the prayers might feel new and unfamiliar; or, we may be overwhelmed by the serious nature of these days. This is one reason why a niggun (wordless melody) can add to everyone's spiritual experience - we can raise our voices in song without worrying about technical precision, and sing along with everyone regardless of ability.

Therefore, we'd like to introduce a niggun that we hope you'll listen to a few times between now and the High Holidays. We'll also take a few minutes during services this Saturday morning to practice singing it together. The tune is called "Revelation Niggun", and you can click below to hear it.

We look forward to singing this niggun throughout the High Holidays, in the hopes that we'll be able to sing together in one voice.


"The entire world is a very narrow bridge - the key is to not be afraid." -Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780