World issues should be at top of prayer list during Rosh Hashanah

www.bethyam.orgSeptember 1, 2013 

20110725 Israel

A Shana Tova, a happy new year


This week Jewish communities will welcome in Rosh Hashanah, the new year. These days are the holiest of the year. They are a time of joy, hope and spiritual renewal.

The Holy Days begin a 10-day period of soul-searching and communal prayer, culminating on the Day of Atonement when we atone for transgressions we have committed against ourselves, each other and God. We pray recognizing God's role as arbiter of human actions, as the judge who balances compassion with judgment in decreeing whether, as our traditional literature says, each of us will find peace of mind and spiritual redemption.

Listed in our special prayer book are all kinds of transgressions that point directly to the moral failings of humans. There are, however, other kinds of confessional transgressions in our liturgy that focus on the community as well as the individual. Since my branch of Judaism tends to be more social justice orientated, there will be confessions that will focus on modern issues, such as the environment, interfaith relations, and racial and gender issues. Other prayers will serve as pleas to God for divine compassion on behalf of the state of Israel, which still remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks from the Arab nations and especially the imminent nuclear threat from Iran. Yes, Jews are concerned about what is going on around the world, which will affect our prayers this year.

One such current issue deserving our prayers is Syria. There is an influx of thousands of radicalized jihadists invading the nation and no apparent trajectory for how this conflict ends. American public opinion is resolute against committing U.S. troops to make the peace. More than 100,000 people have died in this struggle between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Some of us will search our souls, pondering if we should have intervened by now or stayed the course to work behind scenes to clear the pathway for peace. Others will ask themselves if we have transgressed for not being more proactive in stemming the tide of so much violence as the world stays relatively silent. Jews understand well enough from their recent history how it feels when the world is silent to the slaughter of a people.

I can think of another group of people in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, who deserve our most fervent prayers at this hour. The fate of Egypt's Coptic Christian population is hanging in the balance right now. Cable news has given modest attention to the brutal violence perpetrated by Islamists against the Christian community in Egypt with more than 50 churches being firebombed. The Coptic community has existed in Egypt since the second century of the Common Era and makes up about 10 percent of the total Egyptian population. The violence has led to the burning of churches, the killing of innocent worshippers and the harassment of their clergy.

It is my hope that Jewish houses of worship worldwide will pray for their Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt. The time has come for more Jewish temples, Christian churches and Islamic mosques in America to condemn this kind of terrorism against the Christian community. America's religious community should raise their voices and speak out against the brutality. Of course, we should pray for the end of all violence in Egypt and for the restoration of a democratic process of government. At the same time the Christian community in Egypt has been careful not to engage in violence and because it is a minority population they deserve and desperately need our support.

Remember what is written in chapter six of the Book of Proverbs: "Seven things are an abomination to the Lord: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; a mind that makes wicked plans, feet that are quick to run to do evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who sows discord among brothers and sisters."

These are Scriptures people of faith should invoke to send a message from our shores and from our national conscience to Egypt to stop all the violence and in particular to halt the terrorism against the Christian community. What good are our faith traditions if these words only apply inside the tranquil walls of our houses of worship?

In the liturgy of the Day of Atonement we read a litany of possible transgressions. One comes to mind: "For the sin we have sinned against you Oh God, for the sin of silence and indifference."

I can only promise that I shall include my deepest prayers for the Christian community of Egypt and that soon they shall see the peace and security that will enable them to continue to carry on their thousands of years of existence and their beliefs without the fear of annihilation. This should be a moral imperative for Christians, Jews, Muslims and all people of faith throughout the world. And if our prayers are answered with peace then the New Year will surely be a blessing for the Jewish people and for the rest of the world.

A Shana Tova, a happy new year.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.

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