In his recent opinion piece, Dr. Jack Wertheimer describes a new Yom Kippur custom that has swept non-Orthodox synagogues in which the congregants make their way to stand for a few moments before the ark (“Before the gates of prayer close,” Sept. 18). It certainly seems commendable that this new custom enables congregants to bring their concerns together with their religious traditions.
I’d like to focus for a moment on a question raised, but not answered in the piece — from a traditional perspective isn’t the purpose of the day to mesh individual petitions with the outpouring of collective prayers?
It seems to me that this question goes to the heart of the tension between Western liberal thought, with its focus on individual rights, and traditional Jewish thought, which places a greater emphasis on our obligations to the community and God.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes two covenants between the Jewish people and God. The first is the Covenant of the Forefathers: all the Jewish people would share the same fate. (Hitler did not differentiate between religious and non-religious Jews.) The second is the Covenant of Sinai: the Jewish people who elect to continue this covenant would share a common destiny (ie., the chosen people are chosen for a mission with the responsibility to continue Abraham’s work of revealing God to this world in order to bring redemption.)
I would urge those congregations adopting this new custom to encourage their worshipers to focus not only on their individual needs, but also on their complete role as part of the chosen people. This impacts both their current activities (such as tikkun olam, which starts at home but certainly extends past the home) and their roles as part of the people chosen to transmit the message of Jewish destiny to future generations.