Jewish people across the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, commonly known as the ‘Jewish New Year’ in two weeks’ time, from the evening of Monday 6 September to the evening of Wednesday 8 September. The holiest day in Judaism, Yom Kippur, will be celebrated the following week, from the evening of Wednesday 15 September to the evening of Thursday 16 September.
Judaism is the fifth largest religion in Britain, with Christianity and Islam taking the first and second spots, followed by Hinduism and Sikhism. Despite this, according to the European Jewish Congress, there is only approximately 300,000 people practising the religion, with most Jewish people, around 200,000, living in London, around 30,000 Jewish people living in Manchester, 4,000 in Greater Glasgow, and 4,000 in Brighton and Hove.
In Leeds, there are roughly 8,000 Jews, with three dedicated schools and three major synagogues and a few smaller ones. Despite Bradford Reform Synagogue is the oldest place of Jewish worship in Yorkshire, with the first stone laid in 1880 and completed a year later, the community is small with around 300 people practising the faith in the district.
In Bradford, the main religions are Christianity, at 45.9% and Islam, at 24.7%, with more than 20% of people stating they have no religion in the last census. Even though the Jewish community is small in Bradford, it is well respected. Muslims in the area banded together to fix the roof of the synagogue in 2013, and tributes poured in for Rudi Leavor BEM, retired dentist, well-known Jewish community leader, and Holocaust survivor who died at the age of 95 a few weeks ago from people of all religions. Mr Leavor worked with other community leaders to promote cohesion and inspire friendship between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the area.
Laurence Saffer, a judge, trustee of the Bradford Reform Synagogue, and previous president of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council, explained a bit of the history of the synagogue in Bradford. He said: “The synagogue in Bradford has been around for around 140 years. In the religion, there is a split between Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism, also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism. The synagogue and people in Bradford follow the Reform perspective.”
Reform Judaism emerged in eighteenth-century Germany, as an adaptation of Jewish beliefs and traditions to accommodate participation in the surrounding culture. On the spectrum of Jewish denominations, Reform is considered among the most liberal and has come under criticism by other sects for deviating from Jewish traditions.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is one of Judaism’s holiest days. Meaning “head of the year” or “first of the year,” the festival begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls during September or October.
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion.
According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance.
As a result, observant Jews consider Rosh Hashanah and the days surrounding it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.
The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn.
It is a mitzvah (a commandment) to hear the shofar on both mornings of the holiday (except if the first day is Shabbat, in which case the horn is only blown on the second day).
The first 30 blasts of the shofar are blown following the Torah-reading during morning services, and as many as 70 are then blown during (and immediately after) the Musaf service.
Bradford Reform Synagogue only has a few active members, and the doors are open once a month. Mr Saffer explained: “The synagogue is open once a month, but you have to pre-book if you want to come in. This is not just because of Covid-19 guidelines but it has been common practice for synagogues in Britain and around the world, for the last twenty or so years. This is to make sure that we know everyone who is in the building, so there is no demonstrations or violence.
“Last year for Rosh Hashanah in my synagogue in Leeds, we had around 100 people turn up, socially-distanced split up between three rooms. I expect more will turn up this year, but people are still uncertain because of Covid-19 and will be celebrating at home.
“Progressive Jewish people are fine with technology so previous celebrations and Rosh Hashanah will be livestreamed over Zoom for people to watch. For example, last year my wife made all the food she usually would for the holiday and drove it to my parents, and then we watched the religious service streamed online.”
For non-Orthodox Jews, Friday night dinner is the most important Shabbat (the day of rest) meal which is normally shared by family and friends. Mr Saffar explains that “On Shabbat and Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the meal is usually celebrated with family, including extended family and friends which can be up to 20 people.
“We couldn’t do this last year, but this year is a bit different. People can go to their siblings’ houses, but they will still be cautious. Brothers might go over to each other’s houses, but in-laws may not.”
Asian Standard wishes all a very happy Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.