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    Save us!

    An illustration from the Vienna Siddur showing the Hoshanot prayers

    There is a series of piyyutim (liturgical hymns) called hoshanot, recited as the procession of lulavim moves through the synagogue on the seven days of Sukkot (except on Shabbat).

    Punctuated by the cry, hosha-na, “O save us!”, these poems mostly recall the lives of our great Biblical forebears.

    There is a Jewish belief in z’chut avot, “the merit of the fathers”, which implies that when later generations are in trouble, their ancestors’ righteousness comes to their aid.

    Another Sukkot practice – ushpizin, the symbolic welcome to the sukkah of guests from the Bible – teaches the same idea. To have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David with us in the sukkah reinforces our faith in God and Judaism.

    A hundred years ago, Solomon Levy suggested that z’chut avot is the Jewish answer to the classical Christian doctrine of “original sin”, whereby the sin of Adam works against his descendants.

    In what Levy called a parallelism of opposition, “Original Virtue” is a contrast to Original Sin.

    The theory is not without its merits, nor without its problems. But it is beyond question that Judaism does emphasise the virtues of the great Biblical figures and uses them as an inspiration and reinforcement of faith for their descendants.

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