This week, for our high holidays special episode, Lulav and Jaz talk about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Apologies: how do we feel about them? (Answer: we feel a lot of different ways, actually!) Plus some wacky noises, antisemitism-derived liturgy, and one of our many ways of marking novelty.
Transcript available here.
On this episode, we talk about the Ashamnu and the blessing over the lulav. Jaz also references the books This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared by Alan Lew, Return and Renewal by Aharon Lichtenstein, and A Mosaic of Israel's Traditions edited by Esther Shkalim. Thank you to Ada (@klezmerwitch on Twitter), Seth, R (@r3fin3 on Twitter), and an anonymous listener for answering our survey and being part of the podcast!
Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Ezra Faust, and our transcript was written by Reuben Shachar Rose. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.
Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions. Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They're Jaz —
Jaz: And she's Lulav.
Lulav: — and we're here to joke about Judaism and talk Tanakh together. Today our chevruta is learning about Rosh Hashanah.
Jaz: And some other high holidays thrown in there.
Lulav: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
Jaz: We're just kinda doing a medley. We are doing some texts this week, but were not doing a comprehensive text study of all of the possible texts that you could associate with these holidays. We just (Lulav laughs) picked a couple and were going to talk about some of them.
Jaz: More for next year I guess.
Lulav: So, check our episode notes, but the main things we're going to be talking about - textually speaking - are the Ashamnu from Yom Kippur and also the Blessing over the Lulav- what? For Sukkot. And you can find links to those in our episode notes.
Jaz: We're starting with some symbols and stuff about the New Year for Rosh Hashanah.
Lulav: Yeah! We're kinda winging it for Rosh Hashanah.
Jaz: Not that there aren't texts for Rosh Hashanah, but… anyways, shana tova Lulav.
Lulav: Shana tova, Jaz. Did you have a fun thing to say?
Jaz: I was going to ask if you had any cool, queer or Jewish stories about the high holidays and your life that you wanna share with us? They don't need to be what's happening right at this moment.
Lulav: So, I am generally very anxious around paying for food, and the one high holiday celebration that I went to last year through shul was like, catered and I didnt pay an entry fee or anything but they were just like "yeah, eat whatever you want!" —
Lulav: — and that felt really nice. I think this was actually Yom Kippur.
Jaz: That, that's confusing to me.
Lulav: It was like, after the stuff was done.
Lulav: Like, after sunset. So it was technically Yom... after Kippur (both laugh). But yeah, everybody else had been fasting all day. I... forgot to eat mostly, so it was approximately the same effect but with less like, worshipfulness to it? And yeah, it was a really nice meal and I got to have what I want and chill out because there was definitely enough food for everyone so I wasn't like, mooching mooching, I was just normal mooching (laughs).
Lulav: Also all of my gay Jewish friends were there.
Jaz: That's so nice!
Lulav: Yeah! We just sat around a table that we had picked out.
Jaz: That's so lovely.
Lulav: And I think most of what I knew about the high holidays, transitioning from a secular Jew into a practicing Jew —
Lulav: — was the dipping on apples in honey, and the blowing of the shofar. I had no idea what Yom Kippur was for a while there.
Lulav: (laughs) Did you have any particularily gay stories, or particularily Jewish I guess? Stories about high holidays?
Jaz: I've had lots of high holiday experiences in my life because I grew up in a household where we did things for it every year.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: So, I will say that the High Holidays are important to me and Yom Kippur is particularly important to me, but last year for Rosh Hashanah I had a really nice time with some family who I never really spent time with before.
Lulav: What remove of family are they?
Jaz: So, they are my cousins. My mother's first cousin and her husband and children.
Jaz: And, I didn't grow up with them. They grew up on the other side of the country but my mom's aunt had died in the summer and we had all met in the funeral and then realized we actually all lived quit close to each other —
Jaz: — because we're all in New York.
Lulav: Baruch Hashem.
Jaz: So, I went and spent Rosh Hashanah with them a few months later and that was really nice.
Jaz: I'll also say that because Yom Kippur is a thing that impact me quite powerfully —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — I have quite vivid memories of a year when I quite conscious that I had done something during the year that I like, really wanted to atone for and that I was aware that like, I wasn't always gonna be able to talk things through with the person so I was like "the least I can do is try and really commit myself through this religious ceremony", that that can be meaningful anyways, even if I can't always patch things up with a person.
Lulav: Mmm. Yeah.
Jaz: However, my body wasn't really prepared for me to walk to synagogue in the hot sun and not eat and not drink and I haven't quite figured out my med situation yet for my stomach condition so it was just like a whole time.
Lulav: Woof. Yeah.
Jaz: And I on the way back from synagogue in the afternoon, got like, a little dizzy and like lay down on the grass somewhere for a while and I remember somebody stopped and was like "hey, are you okay?".
Lulav: (Laughs) Define okay?
Jaz: I was like, I think this is maybe how it's supposed to work? I'll be fine. I don't necessarily recommend this path (Lulav laughs) as a way to treat your body, but I do think that I have retained still that Yom Kippur is really important to me and setting it aside as a day that's separate remains really important to me.
Lulav: Uh huh. Jaz are you saying that aesthetic gnosticism isn't a major part of our Jewish modern faith?
Jaz: I, uh- I mean I still fast on Yom Kippur (Lulav laughs) but I don't think the point of it is performative bodily suffering in the same way.
Lulav: Right. So, there's a lot of talk about, do you want to take one minute to write some brief summaries of these three festivals?
Jaz: Oh no. Okay...
Lulav: It's going to be real fast. Don't spend too much time, as they say on the SAT. So let me know when you're ready?
Jaz: To write?
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: Do I have one minute to summarize all three?
Lulav: Yes. (Laughs) Would you like more time?
Lulav: You're half of this experiment.
Jaz: Nope. Let's go for it.
Lulav: Okay. Three, two, one, go.
[Fast music plays over typing sounds]
[Alarm goes off]
Lulav: Okay. Fingers down.
Jaz: Ahhhh. I'll go first.
Jaz: The New Year starts, one of four but who's counting, and then we work really hard at becoming good people in ten days and then times up and you're either in the book of life or death but have to fast anyway, and then we celebrate wilderness by being in little booths that intentionally don't have ceilings so we can see the stars.
Lulav: Nice! I like all of that. Mine is; doo doo doo! It's the New Year. We eat sweet things and get awe'd, then comes the day where we have probably statistically done some bad stuff so have a whole day to promise to do better about it. Later there's a festival with huts and fronds.
Jaz: Okay! (Lulav laughs) that's all great.
Lulav: So let's talk a little bit about the doo doo doo at the beginning.
Jaz: Lulav, what's Rosh Hashanah?
Lulav: Do you want like, a more serious explanation?
Jaz: Give a serious explanation, just so that we have a baseline for some folks.
Lulav: Yeah, so, you gotta start the year somewhere and so this is where we start the festival calendar year I guess? Is that fair?
Jaz: Sure. The Jewish year has four beginnings? (Lulav chuckles) This is one of them, and it's the one that we like, colloquially now call the new year.
Lulav: Mm hmm. And it's also how we number Hebrew years. For instance, as we record this it is 5780 but when Rosh Hashanah happens it'll be 5781.
Jaz: That's right!
Lulav: Which I'm hype about. And, part of it is sounding the shofar. I must confess I'm not totally sure why? But that's definitely one of the big things that I think about when people say Rosh Hashanah like "oh yeah, getting out the rams horn and tootin' it".
Lulav: It's, to be fair, not a doo doo doo, it's more of a *bzzzzzzzvvvvvvvvv*, is that fair?
Jaz: There's three different kinds of ways to blow the shofar, but that's one of the kinds.
Lulav: Cool (laughs).
Jaz: Any other things to say about Rosh Hashanah?
Lulav: I mean, you eat sweet things because it's a Rosh Hashanah!
Jaz: Okay, well Rosh meaning head and Shanah meaning year, so head of the year and you often wish people a shana tova ume tuka, a year that is good —
Jaz: — and sweet.
Jaz: Yeah, we eat sweet things. Around the world different Jews eat different sweet things. Apples and honey- honey especially, is like, pretty standard but then some of the other things (Lulav giggles) vary by different places like, ashkenazi Jews, like I grew up with round challah (Lulav giggles) as part of Rosh Hashanah, and other places, they make other fun sweets.
Lulav: Assume a spherical friction-less challah? (Jaz groans) Are we doing physics problems with it?
Lulav: (Laughs) Okay.
Jaz: I refuse.
Lulav: Good call. Yeah, so in your particular practice it has been like, you make a special round challah and have apples with honey?
Jaz: Yeah. And sometimes like, honey cakes and stuff.
Lulav: Yay. Have you heard of other traditions around food that appeal to you?
Jaz: Mmm. Okay, so let me pull up this book. The book I'm pulling out, for listeners reference, is called "A Mosaic of Israel's Traditions" by Esther Shkalim, who didn't like, write it but compiled it from Jewish children from around the world talking about what their families practices are on a bunch of different holidays, but including Rosh Hashanah.
Lulav: Heck yeah.
Jaz: So, this person from Iraq was talking about how they have a seder on Yom Kippur like we do on Pesach and like some people do on Tu B'Shevat. They have like a special Rosh Hashanah seder and there's all sorts of different symbolic foods that also includes apple, baked apple with sugar, but also pumpkin, and squash, and leeks, and beans, and dates, and lamb, and beets. A lot of them are puns. That's fun.
Lulav: Are you Brian Jacques? Because you are saying a bunch of words that sound delicious.
Jaz: (laughs) In Morocco, I don't know all of these words, I don't know all of the foods there, but there's a thing with like, quince jam, and a thing with sesame and anise and sugar, and uh, puruparsa? Which is this thing with cooked vegetables. I don't know all of the foods from all around the world, 'cuz I mostly know the ones that my family grew up with —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — but there's lots of cool foods all around the world.
Lulav: Bless the Name which has given us proliferation of foods.
Jaz: Yeah. But, like you said there's other traditions on Rosh Hashanah besides special foods. There are special Rosh Hashanah services and Rosh Hashanah services have their own tunes that are different from the rest of the year and there's the sounding of the shofar. There’s three ways to sound a shofar. And you demonstrated one of them for us earlier (Lulav laughs) and it's called "tekiah".
Jaz: So, somebody will call out "tekiah" and then, the other person will go- I don't have a shofar here to demonstrate and —
[Lulav makes tekiah noise]
Jaz: Great! And then somebody will call out "shevarim!" and then this one is three short blasts.
[Lulav makes shevarim noise]
Lulav: Like that or a little longer?
Jaz: Kinda like that.
Lulav: I'm really glad I have a pop filter by the way.
Jaz: Yeah. And then somebody will call out "t'ruah!" and that one is like nine very very short one. So it does like "do do do do do do do do do". (Lulav laughs).
[Lulav makes 10 t'ruah noises]
Lulav: Was that nine?
Jaz: I don't know.
Lulav: I was trying to count on my fingers but I can't. That's so fast.
Jaz: Yeah, it's very fast. Then this whole thing is repeated over and over again, and then you end with a "tekiah gedolah!" which is just people blowing the —
[Lulav makes shofar noise]
Jaz: — shofar for as long as they possibly can.
Lulav: (Laughs) Yeah, good. I was basing that on, it sounds like "tekiah big".
Lulav: Just a big ol' tekiah. (laughs)
Jaz: Yeah! I was taught a couple things about the sounding of the shofar.
Jaz: One, that it's like a call to spiritually awaken. To be called loudly and summoned so that you'll sort of enter the new year like, really awakened to yourself.
Jaz: And the other one is that it sounds like it's crying, and so there's also a mournful aspect of like, the year is ending and you're setting up the past year and Yom Kippur in particular which were about to head into, when Yom Kippur is finished is supposed to have enshrined like, here's the book of life and the book for death for the year. The universe has set here's the people who will live and here's the people who will die in the next year and the Days of Awe are like, the time to be really reckoning with your own mortality and the kind of person you are.
Jaz: And so, there is also like, a mournful aspect.
Lulav: And, speaking of that like, mourning sense of mortality, another one of the symbols is wearing white, right?
Lulav: Which is the same colour that you tend to be buried in.
Jaz: Yes. This is also specifically an Ashkenazi thing, is to wear a kittel, which is a particular garment that you're also buried in.
Jaz: But the white itself, for Rosh Hashanah is a more widely spread symbol, not just an ashkenazi thing.
Lulav: Mmm. As opposed to just the specific garment of the kittel.
Jaz: And Rosh Hashanah, it's not quit as emphasized the like, wearing all white, but —
Lulav: So, it's mostly Yom Kippur when it's like you definitely should be wearing white?
Jaz: Yom Kippur has the most emphasis on different laws of lots of things, so —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — Yom Kippur is sort of, most well known for no eating, but also like, no washing, and no wearing leather, and no colours, and no cosmetics, and so there's just like a lot of things you're not doing on Yom Kippur. It's very focused on, you're thinking about your soul and your life and the world and you're sort of like, not doing all the more mundane things that you might do on a regular time.
Lulav: Yeah. And this is kind of where we do get aestheticism in Judaism, right? 'Cuz one of the central motivating things around the deprivation is like, not doing pleasurable mundane things to distract you? Is that a fair interpretation?
Jaz: It's not even just about pleasure, like I do think it is in some ways like a reflection of mourning rituals and I wouldn't describe those as just like, uh, restriction of pleasure —
Jaz: — but just the recognition that you're living in kind of a different atmosphere and in a different atmosphere different things are appropriate, and so there is a sense of structure to hold onto of like, here are the things we do and don't do, when we're grappling with really hard things.
Lulav: Yeah. Also, I am very excited to be spending Yom Kippur with you because when I'm on my own, figuring out how to make that a meaningful holiday tends to be very hard?
Lulav: But because it's a big one for you, I will probably have a good example to follow.
Jaz: Hopefully. I mean I think different people can relate to a holiday differently and that's alright too.
Lulav: Oh yeah.
Jaz: I've been doing alot of reading about Yom Kippur. I have borrowed a book called "This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared" by Rabbi Alan Lew about Yom Kippur in particular, but about all of the High Holidays.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: And I've also been reading a book called "Return and Renewal" about the idea of teshuva, which is in particular what the days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur —
Jaz: — are focused around about making amends for your actions from the past year. Okay, we were supposed to be doing a brief overview and instead we sort of went into the things with the different holidays.
Lulav: I guess we can talk about the shehecheyanu.
Jaz: Yeah! So, the shehecheyanu is a feature of all of the high holidays but starting with Rosh Hashanah. What is your thoughts about that? What is it?
Lulav: It is a prayer where you say "thanks, you're really cool Oh Name, who has"- it's like, blessed us and kept us and brought us to the season?
Lulav: I'm not sure if that's the right order but...
Jaz: Close enough, uhm, and to this particular time.
Lulav: Mm hmm. Ah, here we go, who has granted us life and granted us sustenance and permitted us to reach the season. Lazman hazeh.
Jaz: Yeah. that's also an outside translation, zmon is just, time so...
Lulav: Okay, youre saying that "season" is an outside translation because of how it tends to involve particular changes to weather?
Jaz: Yeah, and I mean you can say the shehecheyanu for anything that is significant and it's the first time it's happened in a long time, of at least a year, so we say it on a variety of different holidays ‘cuz we haven't done them since last year, and you can also say them at important moments, like if you're a child and you've lost your first tooth, or if —
Lulav: You're a podcaster and you just recorded your first episode?
Jaz: We sure could! Yeah!
Lulav: (chuckles) and then another one that Shachar told us about was they like, excreted on the side of a highway for the first time, and I was like, you could say shehecheyanu for that and they were like "yesssss". (Laughs)
Jaz: Sure could. Yeah. (Lulav laughs) Or on the flip side, one of my friends told me that it was the first day that xe had told people xer new Hebrew name!
Jaz: And I was like, you could say a shehecheyanu for that.
Lulav: Yeah, that's cool.
Lulav: Anyway, I really like it because there's the idea of like, marking novelty?
Lulav: Beyond just, it being novel it's like "oh hey, this is something so novel that I want to say this script about it being novel".
Jaz: Yeah. And special, and worth noting.
Lulav: Yeah, and I also like how the novelty is marked by like "hey thanks for letting us survive this long". (Laughs)
Jaz: Yeah. Yeah.
Lulav: 'Cuz like, in order to experience things, you have to be alive. *Sighs* So.
Jaz: And it's particularly a propos for this holiday (Lulav laughs) which is about like, we made it through another year. I hope we're going to make it through another one.
Lulav: Oh boy.
Jaz: You know?
Jaz: That's part of the idea. (Lulav laughs) So, our Yom Kippur thing that we wanted to talk about is a specific text. There's a few things that are different about the Yom Kippur liturgy, and I picked this one because I have went to a few Yom Kippur services where leaders have skipped it or tried to downplay it and I really like it actually, so —
Jaz: — I figured maybe we could talk about it.
Jaz: So, we're talking about the ashamnu, which is part of the viduy which includes both the ashamnu and al chet, and I feel like "Jaz what are all of those words that you just said?". (Lulav laughs) A viduy is like a confessional, I guess is the english? It's like a taking responsibility for things you or you collectively have done wrong, so —
Jaz: — both the ashamnu and then the al chet which is just longer (Lulav laughs) are prayers that say "we communally-" theyre all conjugated in the first person plural "-have done wrong in these really long list of ways. (Lulav laughs) And the ashamnu is a shorter alphabetical list and the al chet is a longer and more detailed list.
Lulav: Ohhh, okay. Is it alphabetical?
Jaz: The al chet is not alphabetical.
Lulav: Okay (laughs). That's why it's not called the al bet (Jaz laughs), get- get it ...
Lulav: Aleph bet ...
Lulav: Anyway. Sorry. (Laughs) So, there's like the opening. Can I read my outside translation based on the translation that they gave on myjewishlearning.com?
Jaz: Yeah, go for it!
Lulav: Yeah, so it starts off "G-d of us and of our fathers, let our prayer come before you and do not ignore our supplication", and then it gets into the really meaty part which is "for we aren't us, so brazen faced and stiff necked to say to you 'Hashem! G-d of us and of our fathers! That we are righteous and without sin, but indeed we and our fathers have sinned'", and then it's a list of all the ways. And the like, middle part, the "for we arent so brazen faced" blah blah blah, that we are righteous and without sin, I was reading this Hebrew line by Hebrew line without looking at the transliteration as much as possible —
Lulav: — and so it took me a while, and I got to that we are righteous and without sin and was like "hey! why are they saying that in this particular thing?" and so I had to like, retrace it by a whole sentence and be like "ohhh, we start out by saying this isn't true".
Jaz: Uh huh.
Lulav: I just like all of the complicated grammar stuff going on here.
Jaz: It is, and I'll just note that one of the things that's nice about this is when we have the word here, tzadikim, —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — as like righteous —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — there are people in human Jewish history who we hold up as tzadikim (Lulav laughs) and all of those people would have said this too.
Lulav: Yeah? 'Cuz, you can't be righteous if you make a big deal out of being righteous.
Jaz: And also they would have said it because it's part of what it means to be in a community and part of what made them righteous was that they were so enmeshed in their community and these are communal prayers.
Lulav: Yeah. Do you have any thoughts about the particular verb used here for like, "and haven;t sinned", elochatam?
Jaz: So, chet can be translated as the word for sin. It can also be translated as like, mistake, or miss the mark, and miss the mark in like a quite literal, if you shoot an arrow, it hits not quit in the place where you wanted it to hit.
Lulav: That we were righteous and haven't oopsie-d?
Jaz: Is honestly better!
Lulav: Is that a fair translation?
Jaz: it's sometimes hard to move Jewish concepts into English which is so shaped by christianity?
Lulav: It sure is, when you said confessional earlier I was like "this too is an outside translation"!
Jaz: It sure is. So, it's a little bit tricky but the notion of sin is a little bit more complicated?
Jaz: It's like, this is a place where like, we didn't fully live up to everything.
Jaz: And I will note, we're not going in depth about this but one of the things that is characteristic of the high holidays is that for Yom Kippur we start with kol nidre- the evening before- an annulment of all vows you might have made in the previous year.
Lulav: Is nidre vows, or...
Jaz: Yes, it is.
Lulav: Okay, cool!
Jaz: It's like "our vows".
Lulav: Oh! Okay, so kol nidre is all our vows.
Jaz: Yeah. it's and interesting thing because we think that that particular prayer came about from the middle ages when there were forced conversions to christianity and that people would be able to come back and people took promises really seriously so there had to be built in, you could just take it back, and that vow wouldn't count against you and you could still be Jewish.
Lulav: Baruch Hashem.
Jaz: Yeah. Reform liturgy took out the kol nidre at one point because they were worried that it would be perceived as like, sneaky Jews are making a thing that they can go back on their promises! But then they put it back.
Lulav: Also, I think that this is like, people are going to be antisemitic whether or not your liturgy has cool sideway for you to come back to the covenant. (Laughs)
Jaz: Yeah, and also like, this is pretty explicitly, that's just about vows you make that are between you and G-d, like deals about conversion.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: It was never supposed to apply to like, between you and your friend.
Jaz: You still work that out with your friend.
Lulav: (laughs) So are there any more comments you have on the like, introduction to the ashamnu?
Lulav: Okay. Do you have thoughts about this alphabetical list?
Jaz: I do. (Lulav laughs) Do you have anything you wanna say first?
Lulav: One thing that I wanna note is that it's alphabetical except for there are three, what is that, a tav?
Jaz: Mm hmm. At the end.
Lulav: Yeah, so each letter has one of them and then there are three tavim, and that's just interesting.
Jaz: I will note a thing about this alphabetical list which is that like Hebrew much like English, this is harder for certain letters than for others and so some of them there's like, two words where they were pushing it a little bit.
Lulav: Oh, 'cuz theyre starting is with like, oooh! The conjugation?
Jaz: Well, 'cus like... all right for yud it's yatznurah, and that's like, we have given advice that's harmful, or that's evil, or that's wicked or what ever, but the word that makes it bad is rah which doesnt have a yud, so they had to have two words there to make it work.
Lulav: Okay. Side note, I don't love this transliteration. This is probably how some people pronounce it, and how it makes sense for people to read it, but the romantic syllabus dont match up with my understanding of how I would pronounce the Hebrew stuff.
Jaz: Mmm. So, also these are chanted so I'll link to a better version of the chanting that I am capable of doing —
Jaz: — but it's like, this sort of beautiful "yai da da dai, yai dai dai dai dai dai, yai dai dai dai dai dai", and then the words will start like "ashanmu, bagadnu, gazalnu, debarnudofi" and then you go back into the "yai dai dai dai dai, yai dai dai dai dai dai, yai dai dai dai dai dia".
Jaz: And then you go back into the words, so it's sort of all broken up into small pieces.
Lulav: Speaking of breaking up into small pieces, the version that we're linking has the daled line on the gimmel line?
Lulav: And doesn't actually give you the transliteration? Is that like, part of —
Jaz: No, I think that's unintentional.
Lulav: Okay. (laughs)
Jaz: But, so the reason I in particular wanted to bring this to our attention is because I've been in situations where people are uncomfortable with this. And, one of the things that I like about the ashamnu is that I feel like it holds a real notion of collective responsibility.
Jaz: When I think about what does it mean to like, move forward as a community I wonder if it presents a model for how like, we can reckon with having done things as communities that have hurt people in our communities.
Jaz: Like, we know the way that the different Jewish communities have acted towards more marginalized members of their community.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: And, there's community responsibility for that. Or there's going to be individual things that individual people will have done wrong and won't admit to, but that doesn't mean we're not as a whole community supposed to hold them responsible for it in some way.
Lulav: Right. There's a thing I think about which is like, we're heading into another great depression with no end in sight and often you'll get law and order type folks talking about like, "oh, how can we make sure that people arent committing crimes in our area? Lets take out the benches and make it so that nobody's sleeping in the parks" or whatever, and like, you know, individual crime is gonna happen but if you as a community work to make sure that people's needs are fulfilled in a way that we definitely in america and specifically in minneapolis just don't, that's what prevents crime, not just being like, "oh I only notice when things directly affect me and that's the only time that I take responsibility and the responsibility I take is to be mean at community organizations".
Lulav: That's not how any of this works.
Lulav: We're all responsible for each other.
Jaz: Yeah. And so, I think there's a really nice pairing of the shofar which calls you to wake up to what's really happening and the ashamnu that says we're all in this together, and we suffer and fall together.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: With that corollary of, we don't end with the ashamnu, you know? You do it in the middle (Lulav laughs) when you're in the stage of like, figuring it out and reflecting and then you can end with the like, clarion call of like, we're gonna do better in this next year.
Lulav: Yeah. So, is there more stuff that you wanted to talk about with Yom Kippur or should we move onto Sukkot?
Jaz: I think we can move onto Sukkot!
Lulav: Okay. This is the hut holiday.
Jaz: Please say more.
Lulav: I think the most inside translation is "booths", right?
Jaz: Uh huh.
Lulav: That's what usually people translate that as?
Jaz: Uh huh.
Lulav: But, a sukkah is like, an outdoor construction which is opened to the elements but still like, a place of shelter and you make them as a family or as a congregation. You stitch together these wreaths, is that fair?
Jaz: You can kind of make a sukkah out of anything? There are more and less traditional elements.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: There was once a really fun competition where some like, artists and architects were given like, here are the halachic restrictions of the sukkah —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — do whatever with it? (Lulav laughs) Within those restrictions. And there's some beautiful ones, I'll see if I can link to it.
Jaz: But, in general it's like a little booth, it's got three out of four walls art made, it has to have a —
Lulav: Like an open wall right?
Jaz: It has to have an open wall, it has to be partially open and it has to have a ceiling but you have to be able to like, see through it. You have to be able to see the stars.
Lulav: Yeah. Like, if you were able to see the stars standing outside of your sukkah, you should be able to see them standing within, right?
Jaz: Right, and it's not even just like, "okay put up clear plastic", like there has to be holes in it.
Lulav: Oh, yeah for sure. And sometimes it rains during Sukkot!
Jaz: Sure does!
Lulav: And, you just deal with it! (Lulav laughs)
Jaz: Last year, the sukkah that the synagogue I work for put up for literally like, blown away because there was a wind storm.
Lulav: (laughs) Woof.
Jaz: Yeah. So, Lulav what can you tell us about Sukkot?
Lulav: Right, so it is a holiday which celebrates agricultural products and part of that is you make the hut that's opened to the elements, but another part of that is you wave around a bundle of cool things that were produced. So, the way that we tend to do this is having these four symbolic Middle Eastern things. The lulav, or closed front of a date palm, the etrog, or like, very specific citrus fruit that is not a lemon but kind of looks like a lemon but definitely is not.
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: Hadasim, myrtle bows, and aravot. So, yeah you got all of these four things which is just like, fruits that smell good and taste good, branches that smell good but you probably shouldn't eat, and you know, the other way around where it's like things that you totally can eat but they don't smell like much. And also just stuff that like, don't put it anywhere near your mouth.
Jaz: Mm hmm. There's two, at least if not more, different interpretations of what all of these fruits can mean and you’re about to give us one of them.
Lulav: Yeah, so my one that I like is that based on smells and tastes, you got kind of a mirrorism going where it is like, the things which smell and the things which do not. The things which taste and the things which do not. And so, you have these four species that stand in for the four types of Jews along the lines of doing mitzvot and studying Torah, specifically with tastiness being mitzvot and studying Torah being the nice smells. And so, I named myself Lulav because I am really good at thinking about things but my brain is pretty bad when it comes to actually doing things.
Lulav: So that's my name for now. That might change in the future, and I can change my name then.
Jaz: Sure could!
Lulav: (giggles) I just like that because all four of the species are necessary to make a cute bundle? Like, all four of those types of Jews are necessary to make a community of Jews.
Lulav: It's not that we are all either etrogim, those who study Torah and do mitzvot, or were not?
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: It's like, we're all a type in this mirrorism.
Lulav: Double mirrorism, I guess. (laughs)
Jaz: One of the other symbolic interpretations of these four species —
Lulav: Yes please.
Jaz: — is that they are all four different parts of the body. The spine is the lulav, the heart is the etrog, one of the other ones is the eyes —
Lulav: (laughs) Haddasah is eyes, apparently, and the willow is the lips.
Jaz: Yeah, or mouth. Great. So, those are all also like you were saying, all of those are parts of the body. It's not useful to rank the different parts of your body, theyre just different parts of your body.
Lulav: Yeah. If you've got a pile of ten spines, you have zero bodies.
Lulav: Sorry about that image. (laughs)
Lulav: Oh, the other thing is that we bind all four of these up- well, three of them into a specific bundle and it looks really pretty.
Jaz: Yeah! And so, there's a blessing that we said we were gonna talk about and it's the blessing over the lulav! Which is again colloquially what you call three of them all bundled together.
Lulav: Yes, it's the leafy ones.
Jaz: Yes, and in fact you actually do it with all four of them in practice you’re generally holding all four species but you call it the lulav.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: And the etrog is like a little bit different cuz it's not bound up with all of them in the same way.
Lulav: Yeah. So, this website says that the whole cluster is held in the right hand and the etrog is held in the left —
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: — and the two should be touching.
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: Do you know if left handed people hold them the opposite way?
Jaz: I think everybody holds them in the same hands no matter whether you're right handed or left handed.
Jaz: Partially because the way it's oriented is that you do it while facing in a specific direction, so you hold them —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: —such that when you wave it you're like waving it in different cardinal directions.
Lulav: Mm. Mm hmm. So tell us a little bit about this blessing?
Jaz: So this blessing is "baruch atah Adonai, elohainu melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vetzivanu al netilat lulav".
Lulav: Now Jaz, that sounds really familiar.
Jaz: It should! This is in fact identical to one of the shabbat prayers people do, except for the last word.
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: Even including the "al netilat" which we have as "al netilat yadayim" for the blessing over washing hands —
Jaz: — and here we have as "al netilat lulav" for the blessing over the lulav.
Jaz: And the sort of basic outline of this blessing which is a pretty standard formulation is like, uhm, some people switch up the language of it because—
Lulav: No kings?
Jaz: Right, because it inherently has this "melech haolam" which is often translated as like, king of the universe, or king of the world? There are different ways to read that and different interpretations that have been given over time. One that I learned that I particularly enjoyed is melech as an acronym.
Lulav: (laughs) You and your acronyms.
Jaz: Hebrew likes acronyms! It likes it much more than english. The thing I found was melech as acronym for moach, lev and kavod, which could all be for different parts of the body, so moach like mind, lev like heart and kavod like liver- kaved i guess, like liver, but also like strength.
Lulav: Oh! And those last two words when taken together are like "hardened heart"- right?
Lulav: (laughs) Wild.
Jaz: So there's lots of different ways to read the melech haolam, or there's people who have just said "I can't do melech as a word, so I'm going with ruach haolam".
Lulav: Ruach meaning?
Jaz: Like, spirit? Or energy?
Jaz: But also just, wind?
Lulav: Yeah. erlkgjrktjhgtke SOMETJING YIDDISH `
Jaz: Anyway, so blessed are you, our G-d, energy of the universe is how I'm rendering it for now, who sanctified us, b’mitzvotav- in G-d’s mitzvahs, and vetzivanu- andcommanded us? al netilat- on the like, shaking of lulav.
Lulav: (giggles) Which tells us that the hand washing prayer is commanding us on the shaking of hands?
Jaz: Kind of! Anyways, like the shofar you do the waving of the lulav many times. When you do this blessing you shake it in many directions. All of the cardinal directions, and also above your head and then down low, and also people do it for all of the days of sukkot, which is about a week long.
Lulav: Yeah. One thing that I do want to mention —
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: — is that we talk about the shaking the lulav, but it's not like, wibble wobble wibble wobble, like you might think just hearing shaking, it's a very concerted ritual shake where you reach out with the bundle and draw it back to you in kind of like a stylized 7 motion if viewed from the side? Is that fair?
Jaz: Sure, I mean people do also just shake the thing, so...
Lulav: Fair. But it does look really cool —
Jaz: It does look cool.
Lulav: — if you do the like, ritual shake. (laughs)
Jaz: So, there's other things that one might do for sukkot but I like this blessing because it highlights a blessing of a small action that you can do (lulav laughs) whereas, the ones that we had for Yom Kippur were like, accountability for past actions and —
Jaz: — big communal things, like this is a much smaller individual connection to the earth and the land and your specific body doing a specific action with a natural object.
Lulav: Yeah. Sukkot always feels very restorative to me.
Lulav: Partly that is because of the weather, cuz like, by the time Sukkot rolls around, you've definitely had the heat break in the midwest —
Lulav: — and so you got some like, cool nights out in the reed hut, looking at the stars.
Lulav: I think that was the first J-Pride event that I went to —
Lulav: — was some people had a sukkah in their back yard and so the queer Jewish org for the twin cities had people come and hang out in the sukkah, —
Jaz: That's so nice.
Lulav: — and I got to meet a bunch of other queer Jews around my age.
Jaz: That's lovely.
Jaz: Before we wrap up for the day, we asked our listeners if anybody else wanted to talk about their experiences with the high holidays and a few people wrote it! Now, I didn't give people as much time to fill this one out which I'm rectifying for the next time we're sending a thing out (Lulav laughs) so, check our show notes for a survey for if you'd like to be a guest on the next season of Kosher Queers. It's coming up really soon. If you'd like to be a guest anytime next year, or nominate somebody else to be a guest, you can find that link to the application in our show notes this week.
Jaz: But I'd also like to hear what our listeners say, so can we hear some comments from our listeners, Lulav?
Lulav: Okay. We started off the survey with "what's your favourite high holiday memory?".
Lulav: So, we have a response here from R! Yay! R's a good friend. Ne says "standing in the near dark at neilah singing worless songs and swaying the whole congregation stomping and clapping in harmonizing. The headiness of having spent the whole day praying and fasting and being a part of a wall of sound I could almost taste. And then, everything stopping and the silence ringing in my ears."
Jaz: That's very beautiful.
Lulav: Yeah. Can you elaborate on what neilah is, Jaz?
Jaz: Neilah is the ending service on Yom Kippur. It's right before —
Jaz: — Yom Kippur is over and so there's like a sense of like, we're so close to getting there and also the liturgy is constructed around like, this is our last chance to get in our teshuvah and atonements for the year. It's a little bit of an intense service. I often don't make it there because often the way Yom Kippur works is that like, you go to services in the morning and then you can come back for neilah. I go to services early in the day and then they wrap up in the early afternoon and then by that point I am not usually super functional—
Lulav: (laughs) Oh G-d.
Jaz: — so I do something small at home instead. So, I did neilah for probably the first time last year.
Lulav: Cool, we had our first neilah together.
Lulav: Not literally, but.
Jaz: I don't quite know what it will look like this year but I really love this description of somebody who's experience of it has been quite different than mine.
Jaz: I loved this one that was given anonymously that said "my very first interaction with Judaism was tagging along with a friend to a Rosh Hashanah service. It resonated with me in a way I wasn't expecting and that led me to eventually pursue conversion.
Lulav: That's so fun!
Lulav: They just tagged along to a Rosh Hashanah service which is like —
Jaz: Very intense!
Lulav: — a bit much. (laughs)
Jaz: Jumping in the deep end.
Lulav: Yeah! Well done, anonymous person. We have one from Ada who says "I struggle with favourites, so I'll give my favourite from last year. There's one really nice spot by the local lake, and last year all the congregations decided to do tashlich there. So, it was just this revolving door of large groups of Jews walking to and from there. I think a few people stayed for extra tashlichs. There's not a lot of Jews where I live and our congregation is pretty small, so having this area that was just bustling and booming with people observing the high holidays was really special”.
Jaz: That sounds really special. We didn't even talk about tashlich. (Lulav laughs) We only have so much time, maybe we'll do more next year, but I love tashlich. It's like a practice of ritually throwing away things you did wrong and want to leave behind in the past year into a body of water and having it like, get swept away.
Jaz: And, I really love that. On a completely different note we had one person, Seth Trueman write in, and say that his favorite memory from a high holiday was having grandma over for Pesach and watching her get very wine drunk. (Lulav laughs) Now, this is definitely a holiday memory, it's not a high holiday unless you wanna say that getting drunk is similar to getting high.
Lulav: (snorts) Wait, so does Pesach not count as a high holiday?
Jaz: I don't think so, I think that's a descriptor reserved for these ones at the beginning of the year.
Lulav: Okay, these specific grouped up ones.
Lulav: Okay. I assumed that it was just like, one of the ones that you are obligated to observe by Torah?
Jaz: I don't think so because Rosh Hashanah isn't really in the Torah. There is a mention of it, they don't call it Rosh Hashanah —
Jaz: Because they don't think of it as the beginning of the year.
Jaz: So it's a slightly different type of holiday.
Lulav: Cuz like, the year begins in the middle of the year right?
Jaz: Kind of, yeah.
Lulav: Jewish calendars are so weird.
Jaz: This is both the beginning of the year and also month 7 out of the year. (Lulav laughs) it's great. It reminds me of how my mother, whenever there's like a good occasion too, like we're starting something or it's a holiday or whatever, will ask —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: — us to do reflections on how were feeling about time passing since last time we were at this particular landmark, and as a kid I think my brother and I thought it was kind of corny, and now I really like it that there's so many built in opportunities to like, sit and reflect and think about and re-evaluate and I like that Judaism has those built in too.
Lulav: Yeah. There's the "what's a notable apology in your life that you remember" question.
Jaz: Mm hmm.
Lulav: And I just like the answer that Seth gave, which was "apologizing to my mother after I moved out about all the things I did as a teenager to stress her out".
Lulav: That like, feels relatable.
Jaz: (laughs) I would say that the one of these that I most related to was the answer that Adah gave, that said "I think the most notable one is the apology that I desperately owe and will almost certainly never get to give, and I know the bulk of teshuvah is changing my behavior, and that I have done, but I would love to be able to apologize directly" and then noted "I can't really say more about the situation without the other persons okay, which isn't happening" and I also appreciated this because —
Lulav: Mm hmm.
Jaz: You know, I feel like sometimes we don't get to give apologies, like, that Yom Kippur that I was talking about a few years ago that was hard for me, was hard for me because there was a person that I wanted to apologize to, and knew that they didn't wanna hear from me.
Jaz: And, like, sometimes that means like, you change your life and behavior going forward so that you're not in that situation again but it can be hard to feel like "I would really like to make up for this thing but I know that the only thing I can do is not talk to that person directly".
Lulav: Yeah. There's a thing with apologies, where like, sometimes you are actually apologizing and the person wants to hear that and you'll talk that through, but also sometimes the person just doesn't want to talk to you and apologizing to them even when they dont wanna talk to you would be an imposition that would require an apology itself, but also you shouldnt be apologizi- so just like, do better next time?
Lulav: It's so much.
Jaz: Yeah. And Judaism is contradictory about a number of different things, but it does have a built in sense of like, you do have to significantly change your behavior and also if like, you came back to somebody and apologized and have not significantly changed your behavior, they would be under no obligation to accept that in any way.
Jaz: Which I think is a nice thing. We also asked questions about places you felt connected to nature —
Jaz: — and I really liked R's answer on this one. Ne said "the land I have been learning to tend. It's a small front garden and I'm moving away but I'm hoping to build up this familiarity at my next place. Also, any time I can lay on my back in the snow, look up and see only dark branches and bright grey skies".
Lulav: Yeah. Wow, snow is such a thing and if you've never experienced snow, I don't know how to explain it to you, but like, in the winter the sky is just all the same colour a lot of the time?
Lulav: Because there is this, like, moisture that is not down near us, it's up getting ready to snow and so everything is just this bright grey, or dark grey depending on what time of day it is.
Lulav: I just think that's really beautiful. I love the pre-precipitation skies that we get in the midwest and presumably several other places.
Lulav: And then the other thing is, then there is snow? And it's just everywhere? And sometimes it'll melt before accumulating at all but sometimes it'll just be on the ground and you're like walking over the like, frozen equivalent of rain.
Lulav: Anyway, sorry to like, (laughs) wax nostalgic for winter but...
Jaz: No, that's lovely.
Lulav: (laughs) Yeah.
Jaz: The other one I wanted to highlight as a natural response was Seth gave a very specific place, Star Brook Trail in Chillicothe Ohio on the traditional lands of the Hopewell People, but I'm not one hundred percent on the pronunciation of that town name.
Lulav: It might be Chillocothe, I'm going to look it up. (laughs) Chillocothe. What the heck.
Lulav: Anyway, yeah, it sounds like that particular trail, and just like, walking around a place that has been reserved for not being developed is nice?
Jaz: Yeah. All right, so we also asked people "what are you blowing to the world on your shofar this year?".
Lulav: Yeah. Ada says "pay attention! We can have a better world!", which is just shy of nine words.
Jaz: That's great. I'm into that. Seth said "the renewal of each day as a new creation".
Lulav: Cool. We had some "anything else about your experiences" that I see Ada has a big one for.
Jaz: Yeah. Would you like to read it for us?
Lulav: Sure! So, she says "last year was actually the first time I went to the full slate of high holidays services at a synagogue. Growing up we had a small group of Jewish families that we did holidays with, but only occasionally would we make it to an actual service and while my experience last year was beautiful, I want to assure everyone who is struggle with missing in person shul this year that you can still have a meaningful and transformative experience even with no 'services' —
Lulav: — For me, this year is kind of a return to practices i'm more familiar with, which is itself strange".
Jaz: Yeah. And Seth said "the high holidays are my favourite time of year, bar none. I find Elul to be the perfect time to look inward and work on myself". And this ones resonating with me alot this year. The high holidays have been both very meaningful to me in the past and something that I've kind of struggled with a lot, but I am finding it this year to be a good time to look inward and work on figuring out who I want to be.
Lulav: Yeah. First bit of teshuvah that I should probably publicly do is to apologize to people from Ohio. (Jaz laughs) I know that I get so annoyed when people talk about the first mall ever, and they call it "Edina" instead of "our hated enemy, Edina", so Chillacothe is the correct name for that city, and I am sorry for mispronouncing it.
Jaz: I echo that. (Lulav laughs) Okay! I think that that's it for this week. We don't even have a rating for the texts and symbols and things we talked about for this week, so... (Lulav laughs) Lulav, I think we're ready to end the episode.
Lulav: Yeah, can you take us to the close?
Jaz: I sure can! Thank you for listening to Kosher Queers! If you like what you’ve heard, you can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/kosherqueers, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at email@example.com, and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. Also if you would like to apply to be a guest for next season, the link to apply for that or to nominate somebody else is in our show notes this week.
Lulav: Woah, we’re taking nominations, okay.
Jaz: Our sound production this week is done by our excellent audio editor, Ezra Faust.
Lulav: Our transcript team of Jaz, and Reuben, DiCo, and Khesed brings you full transcripts of every episode. You can find a link to those in the episode descriptions on Buzzsprout. And, I'm not sure this will be a thing by the time this episode comes out, but we are looking at making a website, so you may at some point be able to find the transcripts on kosherqueers.gay.
Jaz: Oh my G-d.
Lulav: The tld .gay is for sale starting on the 16th.
Jaz: Oh my G-d.
Lulav: So I can't wait to get a website with you.
Jaz: (laughs) I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Lanape people.
Lulav: I’m Lulav Arnow and if I had more wherewithall I would probbaly have my twitter at the url palmsmith.gay. You can also yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg.
Jaz: Have a lovely queer Jewish day!
[Brivele outro music]
Lulav: This week’s gender is speech without words, sound without hearing.
Jaz: This week’s pronouns are e/er.