A New Digital Kapparot Before Yom Kippur

Background

The custom of kapparot dates back to the Talmud. According to this tradition, on the day before Yom Kippur, people take a chicken, swing it three times above their head, symbolically transferring their sins to it before the chicken is slaughtered and then donated to charity. 

There is something powerful about observing the ritual slaughter, something that few do nowadays. While there is little doubt that partaking in such a ritual can be a humbling reminder of humanity’s place in creation, it is also a barbaric ritual. This does not even mention the trauma it can create, especially in children. 

Just because something has been practiced for thousands of years does not mean it must continue as it has been. This is especially timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced our community to redo many of our rituals anyway. 

A New Kind of Giving

It is not a new idea to suggest that money can take place of chickens in the kapparot ritual. What I am proposing takes the tzedakah piece of this ritual and embodies it with additional meaning, adding a more personal and more meaningful touch into something many people would be doing anyway.  

At High Holidays, many synagogues hold food drives. It is far more efficient for food pantries to receive monetary contributions which do not have to be sorted, do not expire, and the food pantry can stretch the dollars to purchase even more than what the individual donations can. 

Eliminating the food drive and giving people the opportunity to donate through a modernized kapparot would provide for an enhanced experience. Ironically, with some people moving to an online format for worship, this ritual has even more potential and a greater reach.

Implementation

The ritual of kapparot is actually quite simple. One takes the money (check or the intended amount written on a piece of paper), places it in a handkerchief or pouch, waves it above the head three times and says: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my expiation. This money will go to tzedakah and I will enter and proceed to a good, long life and to peace.”

So how would this work as a digital ritual? Here are seven proposed steps:

 

    1. A short explanation of kapparot and this event will be advertised through various channels. Participants will register and receive a Zoom link.
    2. The program will begin with soft music, introductions and then participants sharing what they are hoping to get out of this experience. The enclosed texts could be used as a guide:The facilitator can adjust this opening text study according to the backgrounds and needs of the participants.
    3. The chat should be utilized in addition to people just speaking aloud.
    4. The facilitator will then ask the participants to place their “offering” in an envelope, handkerchief, sock, etc. This can be done creatively. They could even a hold a phone to represent an online donation! The facilitator will provide the information (i.e. website, mailing address) for the food bank. 
    5. Swing the pouch or handkerchief over your head three times as you recite the following blessing:
    6. Participants will then be asked to prepare their donation to be sent to the food pantry.
    7. The ritual will end with the group offering each other blessings for the new year.

This digital ritual gives everyone a chance to get “in the mood” for High Holidays, and it provides everyone the joy of doing a mitzvah for others, even those who do not typically lead services and/or read Torah. This online kapparot is qualitatively different from an onsite kapparot because Zoom allows for people to connect with each other face-to-face and heart-to-heart even as we also focus inward on the work of the season.

The silver lining to this digital / hybrid / multi-access moment is that it allows us to experience an intimacy we might not otherwise. Ironically, we are now in smaller groups online, we have the chat feature, and instead of being at a large service where we are passively listening to prayers which may or may not speak to us (and some people may opt out because of it), we have the newfound opportunity to explore these prayers, discuss their meaning, and also reinvent what we do… including the ancient ritual of kapparot. We can productively raise money for the food pantry, include everyone whether they can physically be in the same place or not, and give new ownership to an ancient ritual. The chickens will thank us!

 


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg, MSW, MAJCS is a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion (NY). She has a love of Jewish learning and making ritual meaningful to the modern world. She earned her MSW from University of Maryland at Baltimore and her MA in Jewish Communal Service from Baltimore Hebrew University. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and their two daughters.

Go to Nineveh: A Two-Jonah Duet for Yom Kippur

Here is a new retelling of the book of Jonah, for three voices, drawing on the past year’s events to open up the book’s timeless wisdom. Here’s how it begins:

 

Jonah 1, God and Jonah 2 face the congregation in a line, from stage-right to stage-left, so Jonah 1 appears to be standing on the left with God between them.

GOD: 

The word of the Eternal came to Jonah, son of Truth: Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment on it, for their wickedness has come before Me.

JONAH 1:

I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re anti-maskers. They say COVID is a hoax.
Their disdain for science risks us all.

      JONAH 2:

I don’t want to go to Nineveh!
They’re like sheep. They want Big Government to control everything.
Their disdain for liberty risks us all….

 

Download the script here: Go to Nineveh – A Two-Jonah Duet (PDF)

Also available as google slides suitable for screenshare: Go to Nineveh (Slides)

 

 

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus are among the co-founders of Bayit: Building Jewish. 

Gates, Open and Closing – New Liturgy / Poetry / Art for Selichot and Ne’ilah

These offerings (new from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group) are bookends for the Days of Awe. Here are poems, prayers, and artworks for Selichot and for Ne’ilah, the near and far thresholds of this holy season. May they help these holidays lift our spirits and open our hearts. And may the new year bring blessing not only to us but to the whole aching world.  

Featuring work by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja K. Pilz PhD, and Steve Silbert. Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for screenshare. 

Download the PDF:

Gates Open and Closing [PDF]

 

Or access as google slides:

Gates, Open and Closing [Slides]

 

Here’s a glimpse of what’s inside:

Transformation, one of the illustrations by Joanne Fink.

For Selichot:

The gates are opening.
A transition in time:
notice and walk through.

Tonight we open ourselves
to possibility, to becoming
better than we were before…

— R. Rachel Barenblat, “Gates”

*

You search our souls. You know our secrets.
We walked through our lives half asleep.

We sinned before You. Please forgive us…

You search your souls, battered by secrets.
I promised you I’d never slumber nor sleep.

I sinned before You. Please forgive Me…

— R. David Markus, “Our Selichot to God / God’s Selichot to Us”

*

During the month of Elul we ponder and remember,
An illusion of thoughtfulness,
Because underneath the meek apologies lie
Obsession
Resentment
And embarrassments that do
Whatever it is that
Hate
Lies
And ignorance do
To help us create the past…

— Trisha Arlin, “Underneath”

*

This year has been my first one as a mother
I did so much
Most of it never mattered
Because nothing compared to my baby…

— R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD, “S’lichot: Enough? Enough.”

For Ne’ilah:

Bend the knee and leave the old damage behind.
It is resolved
Or it is not.
It is forgiven
Or it is not.
In any case
Those gates are shut…

— Trisha Arlin, “Aleinu 5782”

*

Keep open the gates
At this time of closing,
For day is turning

And so are we – after too many flew away,
Too soon, leaving too much unsaid and undone,
But for us it’s not too late – not yet…

— R. David Evan Markus, “Don’t Lock the Gates”

*

It is done.
Once again I sealed my destiny.
With the sound of the shofar,
In the red and pink and orange of the sky,
I stand breathless,
Again,
Before You…

— R. Sonja K. Pilz, “Ne’ilah”

*

The end of day.
That doesn’t mean
I’m leaving you…

— R. Rachel Barenblat, “The End of Day”

Download the PDF:

Gates Open and Closing [PDF]

 

Or access as google slides:

Gates, Open and Closing [Slides]

 

      

This collection features liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi David Evan Markus, and Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, and artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

New prayers, artwork, and poetry for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals

Judaism’s ancient New Year for the Animals — Rosh Hodesh Elul — can remind us that we’re all stewards of the Earth and all her life.  It can remind us that we too are animals, part of the web of life.  It can remind us of the special love we feel for companion animals – a heart-opening love we need as we prepare for the heart journey of Rosh Hashanah. Here are poems, prayers, and artwork for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals. May these offerings help us to draw near to our animals, our traditions, ourselves, each other, and our Source.

Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for screenshare.

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]

 

Here are a few tastes of what’s collected here:

 

…I lay a blanket down on the grass.
We lose ourselves eye to eye,
Reflecting face to face like still waters

Restoring just a bit of something that
Sometimes I forget that I’d forgotten…

— “All Life,” R. David Evan Markus

This is a blessing for my old orange cat, Buster,
On the occasion of Rosh Hodesh Elul,
Rosh Hashanah La Beheimot,
The New Year of the Domesticated Beasts…

— “Blessing for Buster,” Trisha Arlin

We will blow the shofar,
And I’ll read Psalm 27
And if we’re lucky we’ll go for a swim together on Lac St-Pierre…

— “On the first of Elul,” R. Dara Lithwick

…I don’t believe in these separations anymore
whatever we do
we do it to you, too
we live on the same planet
we share the same earth…

— “Where We Walk,” R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD

God is as close now
as blood pulsing in our veins,
that animal rhythm…

— “We are animals too,” R. Rachel Barenblat

…This Elul may our animal friends teach us to live in balance, honouring the Divine
At home with you, Yah…

— “Closing Blessing,” R. Dara Lithwick

Read the full collection:

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]

 

      

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz.  Artwork by Joanne Fink. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

Tisha b’Av 5781: prayers, poetry, and art for our mourning year

 

 

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of liturgy, poetry and art for this Tisha b’Av. Here are poems, prayers, artwork, and readings for Tisha b’Av 2021, looking back on the last pandemic year as we sit with what’s broken and nurture the seeds of hope for repair. This offering is organized through the frame of four stages of mourning, evoking both our own personal losses and our communal journey of global grief. Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for streaming / screenshare.

Use them in community — use them to inform your own Tisha b’Av journey — share them widely — we hope they resonate.

(You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]

 

And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]

 

Here are tastes of what’s here, alongside artwork by Steve Silbert and Joanne Fink:

When my mother died,
I was 3000 miles away
On a teen study trip in England.
I’d said goodbye to her at the airport and never saw her again…

— from “Kria,” Trisha Arlin

So many died in isolation,
intubated, untouchable.
How did the doctors and nurses
bear their despair?
How can we move through the world
when so many are mourning?…

— from “Eicha / How?!,” R. Rachel Barenblat

Stop.
I need to stop. To sit. To feel.
I am not ready to go to a hockey game, or a movie, or a concert.

Not after this. A churban, a destruction…

— from “Shiva,” R. Dara Lithwick

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom…

— From “How To,” R. Rachel Barenblat

We are sitting on the floor
Crawling, playing rattle, monkey, super parents,
Move organizers, breadwinners, challah bakers,
Stroller pushers…
I am sitting on the floor, and the light’s turned off
As night falls…

— From “Rise,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

Glorious and holy are the possibilities of God.

We’re getting used to the losses
But that’s not the same
As being okay…

— From “Yahrzeit 2021,” Trisha Arlin

Birth pangs can’t hear
The toddler’s first words.
Earthbound magma can’t see
The saplings that will root in ash…

— from “After,” R. David Evan Markus

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]

 

And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]

 

 

        

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz.  Artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

A new tool for building Jewish: Life Lessons from Recently Dead Rabbis

We are SO excited to announce that Bayit will be publishing Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman’s forthcoming book, Life Lessons from Recently Dead Rabbis: Hassidut for the People

This is a book of Hassidic texts with contemporary commentary, meant for anybody who is seeking a little spiritual and moral guidance. The great Hassidic masters believed that all human beings were brought into the universe with purpose, and that a worthwhile life involves analyzing and reflecting on that purpose. The purpose of this book is to bring out these life lessons for the next generation – an independent and bold generation that is more diverse, more feminist, more queer, more individualistic, and perhaps more reflective than ever before.

Read all about it and its author — we can’t wait to bring this book into the world!

As Shavuot approaches…

As Shavuot approaches, pick up a copy of In the Light of Peace —  poems exploring liturgy, lifecycles, relationship with each other and with our Source — edited by Leiah Rubin Bowden with Abby Lynn Bogomolny, Sally Churgel, and Rita Rapoport Rowan.

And if you’re using the poems in this volume as part of your own spiritual practice or communal life, let us know how you’re using them and how they work for you!

Together, Becoming: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Shavuot 5781

 

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of liturgy, poetry and art for this second pandemic Shavuot. Exploring themes of standing together at Sinai (even when we’re apart), the harvest of first fruits, the mountain where we journey and the mountain over our heads, being “ownerless” in the wilderness, and more, these poems and prayers and illustrations are meant for personal and communal use. We hope they speak to you and open you more wholly to this year’s revelation.

(You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

The image at the top of this post is by Joanne Fink.

Download the collection:

Together, Becoming – Shavuot 2021 from Bayit [pdf]

 

Here are tastes of what’s here:

APPLES
I will hold you again.
I will see you play guitar.
I will sing next to you.
I will not be afraid to laugh…

— from “Yom Ha-Bikkurim, Day of First Fruits– A Ritual of Renewal,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

In every generation, we’re told to see
ourselves rising from Egyptian bondage,

gathered at the mountain wholly asmoke
as one spirit, one heart: for just an instant

murmured infighting would quiet
for the whispered whoosh of eagles’ wings.

What wouldn’t we do to ride that updraft,
soaring skyward, weightless and free?…

— from “What Wouldn’t We Do,” R. David Evan Markus

…This year
I go nowhere
except Zoom rooms.
I want to soak in presence
like a hot bath, but
digital is what there is.
This is wilderness…

— from “Hefker,” R. Rachel Barenblat

HaShleimut, Blessed Holy Wholeness
Bless those who got us to Sinai
The ones who fed us
The ones who kept us safe
The ones who healed us…

— from “A Shavuot Blessing For Essential and Sacred Workers,” Trisha Arlin

There’s always some mountain held over our heads.
Here ragged granite thrusts skyward from desert sands,
There petrochemicals punch holes in the ozone layer…

— from “Overhead,” R. David Markus (accompanied by an illustration by Steve Silbert)

This year, did we really need to count the Omer?
Between the election numbers
The popularity polls
The voting
And the dead millions
Haven’t we had enough counting?…

— from “Chag Ha-Atzeret (Day of Stopping),” Trisha Arlin

…suddenly
I am redeemed
like the booklets
of green stamps
my mother gave me
to tend…

— from “Weeks,” R. Jennifer Singer

We have journeyed together;
A journey with no ending;
And yet, after months turning into a year,
We see the mountain top
At the horizon.
Holding our breaths…

— from “An Ending,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

The collection also features artwork by Steve Silbert and Joanne Fink.

 

Download the collection:

Together, Becoming – Shavuot 2021 from Bayit [pdf]

 

        

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, and Rabbi Jennifer Singer.  Artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

Yearning For Our Plague to End: Lag Ba’Omer 5781 / 2021

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of poetry and art for Lag Ba’Omer. The 33rd day of the Omer is understood in Jewish tradition as the final day of a plague afflicting Rabbi Akiva’s students. What meaning can we find in that teaching this year, as COVID-19 continues to rage worldwide even as vaccinations in some of our nations crest toward safety?  Here are poems, reading, and artwork offering some answers to that question.

(We’re also working on a larger collection for Shavuot, and plan to release that soon, so stay tuned! You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

 

Download the collection:

Bayit Liturgical Arts Working Group – Lag Ba’Omer [pdf]

 

 

Here’s a taste:

After a month of mourning Mom
I took myself to the beauty shop
for a manicure and a trim

readying myself — mostly —
to enter the world again…

— “Haircuts,” R. Rachel Barenblat

What will be the first thing I do?
Getting a haircut.
Taking the subway down to Sunset Park to get a facial
In a basement beauty shop next to 8th Avenue.
Hugging friends; dropping the mask…

— “The Mark,” R. Sonja K. Pilz

I don’t know anything about Lag B’Omer
Except what I read on Wikipedia
Which tells me a few different things it’s supposed to celebrate,
One of which is the end of a plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students.
And I can’t write about that today, our plague isn’t yet over.

I like to think about Akiva though,
Because I had a crush on him when I was a kid.
Still do, sort of…

— “What I Know About Lag B’Omer,” Trisha Arlin

Day one of the Omer, Chesed within Chesed (lovingkindness). We play outside, celebrate freedom with matzah pizza. Case counts are rising again here, and the new variant is more infectious and severe than last year’s. How worried should I be?

— “Lag Ba’Omer – An Omer Journal,” R. Dara Lithwick

And the image illustrating this post is from Steve Silbert’s beautiful drawing “Ready for the Grief to End.”

Download the collection:

Bayit Liturgical Arts Working Group – Lag Ba’Omer [pdf]

 

        

Poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Artwork by Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.