Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle.
28 August 1970:
Why is the shofar blown during the month of Ellul?
Ellul, the last month of the Jewish year, is traditionally the time of preparation for the new, leading up to Rosh Hashana, the Solemn Season and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown in synagogue every day except Sabbath during that month as a reminder of the solemnity of the period. Psalm 27 is recited daily (until Hoshana Rabba) for the same reason. During the last week of Ellul, selichot (penitential prayers) are said at the weekday morning service.
5 April 1985:
Why do we celebrate Rosh Hashana in autumn? The first Rosh Hashana was in spring, going out from Egypt. What was the reason for changing it?
The first of Nisan (the spring month) is called the New Year because it is the month of the Exodus and the months are counted from Nisan, which makes the other Rosh Hashana, the first of Tishri, the “seventh month”―as it is called in the Bible.
The first of Tishri is thus not the new year for all purposes, only for some purposes, chief of which is that it is the “judgement day” for the coming year.
There is a debate whether the world was created in Nisan or in Tishri and the Jewish method of counting the years from Creation follows the second opinion. That is why this year is referred to as 5745 from the Creation, and this began on the first of Tishri.
24 July 1970:
My synagogue has asked that leather shoes should not be worn in synagogue on the Day of Atonement. What is the reason for this?
The Mishna (Yoma 8, 1) rules that in addition to the prohibition of eating and drinking it is forbidden to wear (leather) shoes on the Day of Atonement in order to practise “affliction” (see Leviticus 16, 31), i.e. self-denial. Two further reasons are mentioned in the post-Talmudic literature. Leather shoes are obtained by killing animals and while this is permitted it is not fitting that leather should be worn on the day on which Israel entreats God for compassion. Secondly, the shoes have to be removed when treading on holy ground (see Exodus 3, 5 and Joshua 5, 15) and the Day of Atonement is especially sacred.