More to Judaism than Hanukkah

17th September 2004 at 01:00
This month contains the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashana, September 16 to 17) and other important Jewish festivals including 10 days of repentance, the day of atonement (Yom Kippur, September 25) and the festival of tabernacles (Succot, September 30 to October 8 ).

These are the most auspicious days in the Jewish calendar and sacred to the majority of the Jewish faith. Are you teaching this to your pupils? It is certainly in the heart of the Judaism section of your agreed syllabus.

Or, are you tempted to take the easy way out and "teach Hanukkah" (festival of lights)?

Hanukkah is a minor Jewish festival; post-biblical in origin, and not included in The Torah, the Jewish bible, the sacred holy texts. However, because it comes around Christmas time, involves a miracle, the lighting of candles and the giving of presents to children, it appears to be favoured in many schools, within their RE scheme of work.

It is Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that are really at the heart of the Jewish faith. Within the Jewish calendar, the date of the Jewish new year falls on the anniversary of creation. It is the birthday of the world, and as in other faiths, it is a chance to make a fresh start. A time for reflection and renewal. Rosh Hashana is the first of the 10 days of repentance culminating in Yom Kippur. As we do on any birthday, we take stock of the past year, have a party, eat sweet foods, and look forward to a better year.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish year. It is the day when many Jews fast and pray in the synagogue for most of the day. There are no special foods, costumes or exciting rituals, particularly for the children.

However, for children to see their parents engaged in serious prayer and reflection sets an important example for them. We are helping to nurture the spiritual life of our children. They day ends with a triumphant blast of the shofar (a ram's horn) which is heard by the entire congregation.

A far cry from just "lighting candles".

Sandra Teacher

Education officer

Board of Deputies of British Jews

Bloomsbury Square

London WC1

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