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THE 7TH DAY SEALING

Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, is the solemn conclusion to the month of judgment. Like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it appeals to the Almighty to forgive us our transgressions.

Some versions of the High Holyday prayer Un’tanneh Tokef spell it out in detail when they say, "On Rosh Hashanah everyone is judged, on Yom Kippur they are inscribed in God’s book, on Hoshana Rabbah their fate is sealed".

In the Zohar the patriarchs are each linked with the process of pardon. Isaac is regarded as the symbol of judgment whilst Abraham and Jacob represent truth.

For these reasons it is customary on Hoshana Rabbah for the melodies we use in the service to remind us of Ne’ilah, and the officiant wears his Yom Kippur white kittel.

What a pity it is that the Hoshana Rabbah services are generally so poorly attended.

THE 8TH DAY BEGINNING

In English the name "Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly" is often used for Sh’mini Atzeret.

Presumably this tells us the obvious, that the day is connected with Sukkot, but in halachah the eighth day is "regel bif’nei atzmo", an independent festival. Though attached to Sukkot, it has a character all of its own.

After all those weeks of festivals, God says: "It’s hard for Me to part with you".

It is like the birth of a baby; after completing a viable week of life, a boy has his b’rit milah on the eighth day and though he doesn’t yet realise it, the eighth day is the beginning of his lifetime of growth. He has completed a week of private family celebration and is now ready for the wider community. His eighth day is a beginning.

Likewise, Sh’mini Atzeret is a beginning.


PRAYING FOR RAIN IN AUSTRALIA

Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2 says there are four seasons when the world is judged.

On Sukkot it is in respect of water. It is determined then whether mankind deserves ample rain during the winter season. This determination is in regard to Eretz Yisra’el.

At the end of Sukkot in Temple times people were getting ready to leave Jerusalem and make their way home. If assured of rain in the winter, their year’s agriculture would be blessed. Hence Sh’mini Atzeret was and is marked by prayers for rain.

In Australia there was a time when a leading rabbi (Francis Lyon Cohen of the Great Synagogue, Sydney) took it upon himself to change over the prayers for rain and dew to fit the southern hemisphere seasons. He ordained that the prayer for rain should be said on Pesach as the prelude to the southern autumn and winter, and the prayer for dew on Sh’mini Atzeret to mark the approaching southern spring and summer.

It is uncertain how long the Cohen innovation lasted; it probably vanished after Rabbi Cohen died in 1934.

Regardless of Rabbi Cohen, however, Jewish tradition has always linked the weather with the liturgy. The notion was that when the earth functions normally it is evidence of the Creator.

Is there an argument in favour of the Cohen position?

The answer must be that the prayers for dew and rain are focused on Eretz Yisra’el. It is good for there to be rain in Australia, but from the spiritual point of view it is more important to have rain in Israel.

Rabbi Dr SM Lehrman wrote that the prayers for dew and rain when said at their traditional time "linked the scattered fragments of the House of Israel into one corporate people".



DANCING WITH THE TORAH

Dancing with the Sefer Torah has been the practice for centuries. This applies to men and also to women.

As worded by Maimonides, the rule is, "Anyone who is ritually impure, even a 'niddah' (a menstruant)... is permitted to hold the Torah scroll and dance with it" (Hilchot Sefer Torah 10:8). Rashi notes that there are women who refrain from entering the synagogue when they are "niddot" (Sefer HaOrah 2:1).

It is not customary for women to follow public practices including dancing when the congregation is assembled, but these days there are increasing numbers of women who enjoy their own "hakafot" (Torah circuits) behind the mechitzah or in another room on Simchat Torah.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective..