Sundown tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year that begins with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The ten days from the start of this holiday until the end of Yom Kippur next week are known in Judaism as the Days of Awe. During this time, Jews are asked to reflect on their deeds in the past year and seek to account for them to their Creator as well as their fellow human beings. This period of introspection should cause all of us to think about what we have done or not done and to contemplate what can be done to do better. Indeed, as Americans contemplate the final weeks of the presidential campaign it is an apt moment for all of us to look at the issues facing the nation in a sober and honest manner.
Though we refer to Jewish tradition, the notion of accountability also speaks directly to any democracy based on the concept that elected leaders must be judged by the voters. While Republicans and Democrats debate whether we are better off than we were four years ago, the real question is whether it is possible to give our political culture the unsparing assessment it requires if we are to better our fate. Appeals to fear and mindless defense of the status quo are the antipathy of the heshbon nefesh — or accounting of the soul that Rosh Hashanah asks us to perform.
For those in both parties who have sought to demonize their political opponents, the dawn of the New Year represents an opportunity to step back and realize that attempts to brand leaders, parties and movements as being beyond the pale or even questioning the wisdom of democracy itself — that is to say, questioning the right of the voters to override the dictates of the politicians and the intellectuals — has done much to undermine any hope for a resolution of our national problems.
Abroad, Americans must also perform an accounting but should do so without a reflexive desire to appease those who hate. It also requires us to not try to evade the necessity to confront problems or threats. In the coming 12 months, one very specific threat to the world, the specter of a nuclear Iran, will become even greater. Regardless of who wins the presidency in November, it is vital that Americans not let the voices of isolationism or hatred cause them to shrink from the obligation to halt the ayatollahs march to nuclear capability. Nor should we allow those who seek to delegitimize Israel or its supporters have the last word on this subject.
The passage of the calendar also reminds us at COMMENTARY of the urgency of our four-fold task to speak up in defense of Zionism and Israel; to bear witness against the scourge of anti-Semitism; and to support the United States as well as the best of Western civilization. Our work is, as our editor John Podhoretz wrote back in February 2009, an act of faith in the power of ideas as well as in our own nation and as we take inventory of our personal lives we also seek to rededicate ourselves to the causes to which our magazine is devoted.
Jewish liturgy tells us that the fate of all humanity is decided during these Days of Awe but it also says that teshuva (repentance), tefilla (prayer) and tzedaka (acts of justice and charity) may avert the severe decree. In that spirit of reflection and dedication to carrying on our task of informing and educating our readers in the coming year, we at COMMENTARY wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. We’ll be back on Wednesday after the conclusion of the holiday.