New Prayers for Ancient Jewish Holidays

Late 19th century shofar with Hebrew excerpt overlay.

Photo Credit: Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University

Aug. 31, 2021

The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as the Ten Days of Turning, or Returning (Aséret Y'mey T'shuvah in Hebrew). In just over a week, Jews pass from celebration of the New Year to atonement and a confrontation with mortality.

In her 2014 book, "The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season," the feminist scholar and writer Marcia Falk ’68 offers a radical reworking of the liturgy for this timespan.

Her poems rewrite well-known prayers to get at what she considers the true purpose of the High Holidays — "meeting oneself face-to-face, opening the heart to change."

For some, the absence of any mention of "God" in the volume will be a bridge too far. Others may find her focus on self-reflection, our obligations toward others and self-transformation a liberating break with tradition.

Selected Readings from 'The Days Between'

Rosh Hashanah | Shofarot: Calls

In the clearing, where the mind flowers
and the world sprouts up at every side,
listen
for the sound in the bushes,
behind the grass.

     The shofar takes us into the self
     that is hidden from the self,
     then returns us to the world.

     In the silence we hear the voice of the other,
     we hear what has gone unheard.

Tashlikh (the symbolic casting off of sins) | Casting Away

We cast into the depths of the sea
our sins, and failures, and regrets.

Reflections of our imperfect selves
flow away.

     What can we bear,
     with what can we bear to part?

We upturn the darkness,
bring what is buried to light.

     What hurts still lodge,
     what wounds have yet to heal?

We empty our hands,
release the remnants of shame,

let go fear and despair
that have dug their home in us.

     Open hands,
     opening heart—

The year flows out,
the year flows in.

Yom Kippur Eve | Kol Nidrey: All Vows

All vows —
all promises and pledges —

that we have made to ourselves
and that no longer serve
for the good —

may their grip be loosened

that we be present of mind and heart
to the urgency of the hour.

Yom Kippur | Confession

In the mirror of our eyes,
the other is reflected;

in the eyes of the other —
ourselves.

We look outward,
inward,

see how we have hurt
and harmed,

how hurt embeds even
in the smallest wounds.

We give ourselves over,
begin to make amends,

begin
to make ourselves whole.

About Marcia Falk '86

Marcia Falk

Marcia Falk is the author of "The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival" (CCAR Press, 2017). She is currently working on a book, "Night of Beginnings: A Passover Haggadah," to be published in 2022 by the Jewish Publication Society/University of Nebraska Press.

Excerpts from "The Days Between" are reprinted with permission from Brandeis University Press. Copyright (c) 2014 by Marcia Lee Falk.