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    Speech, song & silence

    Yom Kippur has an amazing fascination. It draws to the synagogue massive numbers of Jews who show very little interest for the rest of the year.

    For some it is the day when one shouldn’t be absent; if one doesn’t come, family, friends and fellow congregants say, “We missed you. Were you well?”

    There are three serious reasons for the power of Yom Kippur – speech, song and silence:


    The language is old-fashioned but the themes are everlasting.

    Franz Rosenzweig never spelt out what tugged at his heart on that fateful Yom Kippur, but he drew back from the brink because he sensed that his life had been lacking.

    When we come to shule on Yom Kippur we sense that something is missing in our lives.

    In the classical terms of theology, we have sinned. Whatever the sins, they reduce the quality of our lives.


    Starting with the poignant Kol Nidrei, the day is full of melody, its minor keys moving to major, its major keys moving to minor. Often the melody outweighs the words.

    There are great cantorial pieces and a distinctive underlying chant, but the wise cantor often leaves it to the congregation to sing because that’s how they make the service their own.


    There are ups and downs in the service. One of its great points is its moments for meditation.

    Don’t fret if you miss out a few pages. If a thought catches hold of you, let yourself daydream about it. Tease what you can out of the words, the ideas, the moment.

    Don’t resort to chatting with your neighbour; chat to yourself, chat to the Almighty.

    Silence is speech. God is in the kol d’mamah dakkah, the thin, small inner voice.

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