“In surprise, we hope you find possibility,” were Sh’ma’s Efsharoot/Possibility High Holiday edition’s exact words. How fitting, for the star season of a religion which has been gently exploring its boundary lines for fourscore times fifty years, give or take a Rosh Hashanah. There have been a few surprising additions to the gamut of Jewish religious experience, and I’m not talking about the golden calf. A publication like Sh’ma, encouraging reflection through questioning, especially via The Forward--seems rabbinically approved, right? What about a jazzy Yom Kippur service that’s then broadcast online from a Manhattan music venue or the ritual of tashlich while on the go?
Whether you’re Orthodox, a “High Holiday Jew,” a self-proclaimed “bad Jew,” “Jew-ish,” or just have a Jewish relative or friend, you might find this season a suitable time to reflect on some spiritual possibilities. It’s first helpful to take a spoonful of Jewish history. So, what about those good, old post-Exodus-from-Egypt, golden calf-worshipping days? Back then, in Moses’ day, Jewish worship of and communion with God were based on animal sacrifice in a holy, designated place. Yom Kippur was a day originally designated for the high priest to make a blood sacrifice on behalf of the Israelite nation. Since then, there have been two temples built: the latter was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. So, assuming Jewish people still need forgiveness from God and a relationship with Him, what are the possibilities today? There are two options. Three if you’re really creative.
The first option is modern Judaism in all its various forms: likely keeping kosher, maybe attending temple regularly, possibly being agnostic. You can sit through (or watch online) a few temple services and feel your duty is done. You can even repent and hope your efforts are enough to cover you for another ancient calendar year. Much of it leaves to chance the kind of thing over which most people would forgo uncertainty: life after death.
The second option is quite unconventional, for Jews and for non-Jews alike. What you may have gathered from this organization’s namesake is that there are some descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who are passionate in their full embrace of the following possibility as truth. The God of the universe—the One that Hebrew Scriptures reveal as the Creator and the one who provides absolution from sin—provides permanent forgiveness and access to Him through His own sacrifice (through death). This was the natural continuation of temple sacrifice in a naturally conclusive way. Belief in this atonement plan relieves individuals of the need to cover their eternal bases.
Thirdly, it is possible to disregard all spiritual truth and embrace new experiences or old traditions simply for their own enjoyment. Many have pursued this route, particularly those with an existential bent. For some, it offers enough comfort for long enough. For others, it’s a good enough distraction from decision.