September 2022

Mazel & Mishagoss: How Were the High Holidays First Created?

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By Stephanie D. Lewis

When my meshuga gentile friend asked me this question, (She was considering converting for all the wrong reasons!) I tried to dissuade her by painting a picture of how nonsensical and convoluted Jewish traditions/rituals actually are. I did this by concocting a historical (fictional!) board meeting depicting how Jewish laws for the high holidays originated. It went like this:

GOD: Alright, listen up people. Thus far we’ve thrown Purim and Passover at them. Which means they’re just coasting along shaking silly little noisemakers and asking four questions while reclining to the left. Too easy. Things must ratchet up by midyear, if you get my drift?

GOD’s Secretary: Oh my God. Are you saying what I think you’re saying? For September?

GOD: That’s right. Complicate it more! I’m thinking two huge holidays back-to-back so the women barely have time to clean, shop, and cook. One holiday should revolve around food, but not consuming it. Any bright ideas? Throw ‘em all at me right now. It’s Go Time, folks!

GOD’s Assistant: Donate food? Waste food? Play with food? A food fight? Um…lemme think.

GOD’s Secretary: Grow food? Organize food? A chili cook-off? A cookie exchange?

GOD: Good ideas! The last two, in particular, are getting warmer. Let’s go with No Food.

GOD’s Assistant: Did I hear that right? You want Zero food? Nothing at all? So they’ll basically starve? Brilliant, Sir. You’ve certainly outdone yourself this time. Wait till they hear!

GOD: I know. And I’d like to see some sort of an animal part used to link both holidays.

GOD’s Secretary: Hmm, let’s see … A bird’s wing? An elephant’s trunk? A horse’s tail?

GOD: Very close. But I’m feeling a ram’s horn. Only we won’t call it that. We’ll call it a shofar.

GOD’s Assistant: And why would we do that? Won’t that be misleading and confusing?

GOD: Need I remind you — these people are scholars. They have a need to argue and debate.

GOD’s Secretary: (excitedly) We could throw a dunking ritual into the first holiday. Like cookies into milk, young maidens into mikvahs, or even lobster into drawn butter!

GOD: Lobster? Who hired you? Clean out your desk drawer. You’ll never make it in this town.

GOD’s Assistant: Wow. That was weird. But I like the dunking gimmick. Any potential there?

GOD: Yes. Apples. Into honey. Now back to my fasting concept. Think of some valid reason they should all congregate in one large room, wearing white clothing, and stand up, then sit down. Hundreds of times. There’s gotta be a way to tie it all together, without leather shoes.

GOD’s Assistant: I’ve got it! Because they’re all going to build a little hut to hang fruit from!

GOD: No, no! I told you last week — I’m saving complex construction work for Sukkot.

At which point my meshuga friend interrupted me, saying Judaism made such good sense and was so logical, she definitely wanted to convert. I’d inadvertently sold her on the process. Oy!

So I told her switching to “one of us” required waving a lemon (that’s not really a lemon) with a tree branch, stepping on a glass to shatter it, singing a 25 minute song about making spinning tops out of clay, and always answering a question with more questions. She ran straight to a Rabbi to sign herself up! Go figure.

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