Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice at Rosh Hashana

September 5, 2023

by Rabbi Linzer for Religion News Service

The countdown is already underway to Rosh Hashana — New Year’s Day on the Jewish calendar, which, in 2023, falls on Sept. 15, ushering in the year 5784.

This countdown is a daunting one for congregational rabbis, who will be pressed over the next two weeks to compose soul-stirring sermons from the pulpit. As the leader of a rabbinical school, the approach of the High Holy Days is another kind of call to action. My yeshiva, a 24-year-old institution dedicated to training the next generation of Orthodox rabbis, is built on the belief that religious leaders have a duty both to their studies and to society. This Rosh Hashana, coming when the country seems to be on the verge of descending into tohu va’vohu — primordial chaos — it is incumbent on Jewish leaders to speak up about the issues of the day.

Never before have those issues been more urgent — a deeply polarized America, an Israel threatened with the loss of its democratic soul, the rapidly accelerating climate crisis, the rise of hatred and intolerance, antisemitism and poisonous sentiments given free expression on social media. For those in the pulpit of a synagogue and in other positions of religious leadership, passivity and silence are not options. Neglecting to speak out against this multitude of dangerous events and ideologies is a grave sin of omission.

Many Jews attending High Holy Days celebrations say that politics should be kept out of synagogues, and while I agree, I am also conscious that the Torah, its religious mandates and its moral imperatives have much to say about the urgent problems that face us. What does the Torah say about the values we should bring to bear? Our responsibility to the planet? To civil discourse and the honest search for truth? To minorities and marginalized groups?

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Photograph of Rabbi Aaron Portman. Image of a man, from the shoulders up, facing the camera with head slightly tilted to the right, smiling broadly. His eyes are dark, possibly green, and partly closed, he appears to be in his 20s-30s and he has light, pinkish sandy toned skin. He has short, dirty blonde hair that curls slightly upwards, he has stubble around the bottom half of his face. He is wearing bright red-orange tortoise shell, circular glasses. He is also wearing a navy blue collared shirt and a black suit jacket. The background of the image is blurry and indistinct and contains patches of forest green, pastel yellow, sky blue and pastel orange.Rabbi Portman appointed senior Jewish educator and campus rabbi at OSU Hillel
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur reader title page. A portrait style image with navy blue block font in the middle saying "YCT Presents", and below that in much larger, bold font, "Yamim Noraim Torah Reader" followed below by a slightly smaller and unbolded "September 2023 Tishrei 5784". The top of the image is of pomegranates all with shiny red exteriors. There are 3 whole pomegranates, though 2 are cut-off by the edge of the image, and facing the viewer so that the protrusion is pointed upwards. The other 6 pomegranates vary in size and are split open, revealing the 5 segments separated by cream colored fibrous flesh and each segment bursting with red seeds facing the viewer. The background of the image is white with YCT's dandelion pattern in faded blueish grey on the bottom. The pattern is 13 circles of varying size with a line of the same color attached to each of the two middle circles on the bottom. On the bottom right corner is the YCT logo. The left half of the logo is a circular radius of 54 circles moving out from the center. 27of the circles are radiating outward directly from the middle by attached lines (one per circle). All of the circles in the radius vary in size from significantly smaller to slightly larger then the average circle in the image. The center of the symbol and where the circles are radiating out from is a empty space in the shape of an implied circle (to match the shape of the radius but much smaller). The circles and lines fade in color from indigo blue on the top left, they then become a dark bluish-purple followed by a brighter indigo purple on the middle right and then a light blue at the upper right. The light blue section is disconnected and further towards the top right corner away from the rest of the image. There are 3 circles with attached lines in that corner and the two closest to the corner have there lines overlapping. The rest of the radius is made up of a repeating pattern of circles with 3 circles with attached lines followed by a larger line connected to a circle touching the edge of the radius. This pattern repeats 5 times and ends with the disconnected section that is then followed by one short line attached to a circle and one long one. On the right half of the logo, in indigo blue bubble letters are the letters "YCT". Below YCT are light blue block letters that says "VIBRANT TORAH" and below that in the same color and font is "LEADERSHIP". Underneath the light blue letters are the words "ישיבת חובבי תורה" in blue indigo block letters.Yamim Noraim Torah Reader