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Read President Obama’s Rosh Hashanah Message, One Not To Be Missed

Whatever one thinks of President Obama, his Rosh Hashanah message is a deeply Jewish, biblically aware, liturgically sensitive statement which cannot help but move any spiritually inclined person. Without stepping away from his identity as a Christian, president Obama addresses the Jewish community Jewishly, using themes and language which emerge from the people to whom he addresses himself.
Here is the exact text, as transmitted by the office of the White House Press Secretary:

As Jews in America and around the world celebrate the first of the High Holy Days I want to extend my warmest wishes for the New Year. L’shana Tova Tikatevu – may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the spiritual calendar and the birth of the world. It serves as a reminder of the special relationship between God and his children, now and always. And it calls us to look within ourselves – to repent for our sins; recommit ourselves to prayer; and remember the blessings that come from helping those in need.
Today, those lessons ring as true as they did thousands of years ago. And as we begin this New Year, it is more important than ever to believe in the power of humility and compassion to deepen our faith and repair our world.
At a time when too many of our friends and neighbors are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, it is up to us to do what we can to help those less fortunate.
At a time when prejudice and oppression still exist in the shadows of our society, it is up to us to stand as a beacon of freedom and tolerance and embrace the diversity that has always made us stronger as a people.
And at a time when Israelis and Palestinians have returned to direct dialogue, it is up to us to encourage and support those who are willing to move beyond their differences and work towards security and peace in the Holy Land. Progress will not come easy, it will not come quick. But today we had an opportunity to move forward, toward the goal we share–two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
The scripture teaches us that there is “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” In this season of repentance and renewal, let us commit ourselves to a more hopeful future.
Michelle and I wish all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah a sweet year full of health and prosperity.


Ironically, I expect that many of the same people who will appreciate the President’s comments the most, are also among those who have most sharply criticized him for using the same approach with the American Muslim community.
Jews who will delight in the President’s use of Hebrew, reference to the tradition of being sealed in the Book of Life, awareness of the rabbinic teaching that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, and his contemporary rendition of the traditional triad which carry us through hard times – repentance, prayer and charity – when he refers to our need to “repent for our sins; recommit ourselves to prayer; and remember the blessings that come from helping those in need, should appreciate that is the same approach he has taken with the Muslim community.
Like him or not, the President has been consistent in his efforts to reach people where they are – itself a biblical principle found in Genesis 21:17. Ultimately, it seems that any confusion about the President’s religious identity or sympathies flows from one and only one question: do you think that someone can truly empathize with those who do not share your particular beliefs? The president’s answer is that we can and that we must.
There is much that President Obama has done about which decent people can disagree, and sometimes I am one of them. When it comes to speaking in the language that people can hear however, at least on matters of faith, he has done a wonderful job of consistently applying the insight that one can speak in the language of another tradition without sacrificing one iota of one’s own religious integrity.
I can think of no message more appropriate for celebrating the birthday of the world – a world filled with diversity in which we must figure out how to create unity without imposing uniformity.
Thank you Mr. President and Shanah Tovah to you as well!

  • jestrfyl

    Thank you for posting this message from our president. We in the churches and elsewhere seldom see proclamations from the White House, unless they have upset someone. And then they only post the parts that have offended them. I think Obama and his staff have a clear sense of the role of religion in our multi-cultural nation. He was learned well the need to be president for everyone.
    I will be handing a copy of this proclamation to our Bible Study class this Thursday. One thier behlaf I extend to you and your family a community, L’shana Tova Tikatevu!

  • Roland

    He is politicizing the Rosh? When Jewish children are being targeted and Jewish couples are being slaughtered in their cars? I heard no similar lecturing in his message to the Muslim world for Ramadan. Where was his council on Islamic antisemitism, kaffirophobia, gender apartheid, Christians murdered, as well as Hindus and Sikhs, the worldwide persecution of non-Muslims, or the Jewish genocide? The brutality and oppression of the sharia was absent from his remarks.

  • Joel

    How about just “Happy Rosh Hashanah”? Or how about not saying anything? The Jews of all people don’t need your preaching — certainly not from someone who attended an anti-Jewish “church” for 20 years. Don’t tell us to “help the poor” and “embrace diversity” and “move beyond differences.” We have been commanded to help the poor, to have one law for the stranger as for the Jew, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you can’t control your preachy impulse (and it’s clear you cannot), go tell it to someone who needs to hear your message. Go talk to Hamas, go talk to the Saudi-sponsored imams in mosques across America, go talk to the hate-filled leftists on university campuses.

  • frank

    joel…jews are like mongoloid children, one has to remind to do the right things…instead of self indulgent capitalism.

  • http://shalom Andre John

    SHALOM! may the peace of YAHWEH be with us all.
    Happy Jewish New Year,
    Good luck (to Jerusalem & the Israeli=Palestinian peace process)
    and G=D bless us all…
    Read more:

  • withyobadself

    obama will bring peace to israel…

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  • Marta

    A lovely reminder, Rabbi. I also very much appreciated the way you talked respectfully about he president even when you didn’t agree with him. That’s too often missing (from both sides of the aisle).
    In the past I have been a bit offended when different groups coop religious language and customs of groups not theirs. Like, when Jews for Jesus refers to Easter as Passover, to make Christianity more familiar-seeming and acceptable to some Jews. (And I say this as a Christian; this kind of thing irks me whatever group is doing it.) I was a bit puzzled why the president’s communication style sometimes didn’t strike me that way, but your post has helped me understand my reaction a bit better. Particularly your bit about “creat[ing] unity without imposing uniformity.” It seems that language like this is finding what really is the same, rather than just renaming one concept a different thing so the foolish might think “gee, we really are talking about the same thing after all.”

  • Joy

    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your comments. Please, why did you feel the need to preface your remarks with the opening phrase?

  • Shan

    Ezekiel 36:4-5
    4. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
    5. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: …

  • Nicole D. Riddick

    In regards to the reference made in Ezekial, if you read the scripture in it’s entirety and in context, the message emphasizes God’s sovereignty and trustworthiness. When we throw scriptures out there to serious issues like what’s going on in that part of the world today, we lose our focus on trusting in God and the hearts of men who seek peace and understanding. People need to spend more time in their own Scriptures and Prayer life in order to grow and mature spiritually so that they can be bearers of light in the world and less time in their own ego…IMHO.

  • William Yosef

    Sounds like the kind of smooth talking that took place in the garden of Eden; a double talking serpent. I think the words were: no you heard wrong, G-d won’t mind what you do……
    Our Papa always taught us to watch what a person DOES not what thwey SAY.
    What say Ye Rabbi?

  • Dee Dymek

    I have heard the President’s speaches before…a lot of good things that do not come to pass. Do you not remember that he is the one that wants Israel to give up Jerusalem? That is not peace…the biblical command is that Israel is to not divide the land. If they give up Jerusalem, as they have given up parts of the land, what will G-d do? I don’t want to sound mean, but the President’s words do not match his actions. Also, just a reminder…he has a host of writers for these types of situations. He knows how to be politically correct and can talk sweetly to appease the masses. However, in the end, a wolf is still a wolf while wearing sheep’s clothing.

  • Hector

    ” Jews who will delight in the President’s use of Hebrew,”
    Eh, what exactly do you mean by “delight”?
    I thought it was a fine address. However, I can’t believe he didn’t review his address with a single Jew who knows how to say “l’shana tovah tikatayvu” and “Rosh Hashanah”. Rather the President said “lashanah tovah tikateevu” and “Rahsh Hashana”

  • Hector

    “But today we had an opportunity to move forward, toward the goal we share–two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
    I just wish the President understood what each side means by “two state solution” ’cause they’re NOT the same.
    Most Westerners believe that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict lies in the “Two State Solution.”
    The Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, also speaks about the desire for the Two State Solution.
    Westerners therefore assume that the moderate, mainstream position in the Palestinian world is the same as theirs.
    But what does the “Two State Solution” actually mean?
    For Westerners, one of these states would be a Jewish State, primarily inhabited by Jews, but also with some Arab citizens – after all, it would be unthinkable to expel them. The other state would be a Palestinian State, primarily inhabited by Palestinians, but also with some Jewish citizens.
    But when Palestinians speak about their desire for the “Two State Solution,” they mean something else entirely, as Abbas made clear today. See this article in Ha’Aretz, in which aside from refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and insisting on the “right of return” for all Palestinians, he also refuses to accept “any Israeli presence, whether civilian or military, on the Palestinian territories.”
    So when Palestinians talk about a “Two State Solution,” they mean one non-denominational state inhabited by Jews and Palestinians, and one Palestinian state inhabited solely by Palestinians.
    I wish that every time a Westerner would talk about Palestinians who are interested in peace, this would be pointed out.

  • Jeremy Davis

    He want’s jews to give parts of Israel away, and stop rebuilding jerusalem, there is nothing less supportive of the Jewish people or G-d’s will than that. Save your speeches for the labor unions…
    it’s annoying typing with my left hand on CHol Chamoed but this just couldn’t be passed up….

  • romanscapoegoat

    you jews are ignorant

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