Torah from Terror: Sermons from September 11, 2001
By MARK MIETKIEWICZ
Cleveland Jewish News
The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center have inspired of High Holiday sermons, now preserved on www.torahfromterror.com.
In 2001, September 11 occurred less than one week before Rosh Hashana (as it does again this year.) Rabbis dispensed with the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur sermons they had prepared and wrote new ones to help their congregations grapple with the horrors they had just witnessed. Theirs were words of grief, anger and consolation.
Thanks to the efforts of two men, we can still learn from those words today. Rabbi Neil Gillman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Jason Miller in the rabbinical school at JTS, have preserved over 100 sermons on the Web site, Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11. Reading through these sermons is a sobering experience. Three years ago, we vowed that things would never again be the same. For most people, life has returned to its familiar rhythms. Not so in this Web site where you feel the raw emotions and hear the questions which had so few answers. Some excerpts from Torah from Terror:
Rabbi David B. Cohen, Congregation Sinai, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: When the children of Israel defeated the Canaanites, Deborah composed a song to bless God and the Jewish people. Near the song’s end, Deborah spoke of the mother of Sisera, the murdered Canaanite general. The Midrash states that the mother of Sisera cried, screamed, and moaned one hundred times while waiting for her son to come back from battle. According to the Bible, the shofar is sounded only nine times on Rosh Hashana. The rabbis of the Talmud expand the number to 30 times.Yet for 2,000 years, the tradition has been to sound the Shofar 100 times on Rosh Hashana. Whence the number one hundred? Every Shofar blast, we are told, corresponds to one of the 100 anguished cries and moans of Sisera’s mother.If the Bible bewails the death of one of Israel’s enemies, how much more might we cry out for friends and neighbors we’ve lost this past week? How many agonies will our hearts have to bear?
Rabbi Wayne Dosick, The Elijah Minyan, San Diego, California: My holy father used to tell the story of Yom Kippur, 1942, the first Yom Kippur after Pearl Harbor, the first Yom Kippur that America was at war in World War II. In the small Orthodox shul which he attended, the men sat downstairs, and the women sat upstairs in the balcony.As the chazzan chanted the Kol Nidre prayer, when he came to the words, M’Yom Kippurim zeh ad Yom Kippurim habah, alenu l’tova … ” From this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur, may it be for us for good …,” a great cry arose from the balcony and washed across the whole shul. The wives and mothers had just sent their husbands and sons to war, and they greatly feared what would happen from one Yom Kippur until the next.Then and now, the days that unfold, one by one, from one Yom Kippur until the next, tell the tale of our lives. And the great question always looms, “Who shall live, and who die? Who shall live out the measure of days, and who will be cut off mid-way?”The answers to those questions, we know, are in God’s hands. Yet, this year, as we gather for our Yom Kippur worship and meditation, we are filled with wondering. For the Divine response that was given to us this year is bewildering, and overwhelming, and filled with pain.
Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11 contains 138 sermons from rabbis in 25 states and three provinces. If you have access to a sermon delivered following September 11, 2001, the Web site’s creators would like to hear from you.
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.