Let’s talk about creating a High Holy Days altar. We’ll talk about why you need an altar and a simple and quick method for creating one using everyday items or things you can get relatively easily.
When I made my first altar I didn’t realize it could be done quickly, or that I could integrate it with my Jewish practice.I thought that Judaism and magic were polar opposites. Besides that, I thought that to make a great altar I needed lots of specific tools and a long lead time to get them. I was wrong.
And in this guide I’ll show you exactly how to go from no altar to one you’re proud of in the course of an afternoon.
What exactly is an altar?
In the most simple terms, an altar is a place where religious practices are performed. They can also be used as markers or memorials.
Noah created an altar when he emerged from the ark on dry ground. All of Judaism’s patriarchs built altars for various reasons. Some of these reasons included sacrifice, and others were created to mark a place such as when Abram created an altar to mark the place where G-d told him he would give him the land around him.
Altars were also used in the tabernacle for offering wine and grain or for burning incense as an offering to G-d. For more details on altars in Judaism, you can read this article.
Now that you understand what an altar is and the role it plays in Jewish tradition, it’s time for me to explain how to create your own for the High Holy Days.
Step One: Prepare the Foundation
Find a flat surface to use as your altar. It can be any flat surface. Coffee tables, shelves, or tv trays work great. Book shelves are awesome when you have multiple family members who want to create their own altar.
Once you’ve selected your location, take a few moments to clean the surface. Remove anything on the surface and run a quick dusting over the area. If you work with essential oils and have cedar oil, make a quick cleansing spray and clean your surface. You can also use a salt water spray to cleanse the surface.
Step Two: Dress the Surface
Now that your altar is clean, it’s time to dress it. You will need an altar cloth for this. Don’t worry if you don’t have one. You can use any pretty cloth that you like. I’ve even been known to use a pillow case as an altar cloth before.
White is a traditional color for the High Holy Days. If you don’t have a white cloth or are afraid of getting it dirty, you can use other colors. Really, the choice is yours. Blue is a traditional color in Judaism, or any earth tone colors would be great choices for this time of year.
Step Three: Make it Sacred
Once you’ve laid the altar cloth you’ll want to recite a blessing to make the space sacred. A good option is:
Blessed are You, oh Lord, our God, who separates between the holy and the ordinary.
If it’s your first time creating an altar, the Shehecheyanu is a great additionL
Blessed are You, oh Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has allowed us to live, has preserved us, and has enabled us to reach this season.
Step Four: Add Objects
This is where creating your altar gets fun and where you can really make it personal. Adding objects to your altar is all about what helps you do your work. For the High Holy Days that’s a lot of introspection. You’ll definitely want to include items that represent the four elements. Food and beverages and any other personal items are great choices.
Some of the items you may want to include are a shofar or a photo of one, a yahrzeit (memorial) candle (or any candle), a glass or bowl of water, crystals, a handful of dirt, and a jar with paper to write your intentions for the year. The High Holy Days are also a great time to add photographs of ancestors. It’s also a great idea to add any religious texts you find important.
If you want to include food items, feel free to include an apple and a bowl of honey. You could also add challah, raisins, or any other sweet treats. Make sure that if you add foodstuffs that you replace and refresh them often.
Step Five: Put Your Altar to Use
Mazel tov! You now have an altar for the High Holy Days. Now all you have to do is visit your altar each day. It can be as easy as a few moments of reflection. Come to your altar for prayer, introspection, and anything else you do to focus yourself for this time of year. It’s all up to you in how you practice.
Thanks to “A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a High Holy Days Altar” you don’t need to spend tons of money or time getting the perfect tools to create your altar. You now know just how easy it can be to get it done in an afternoon.
As you saw in the guide, an altar plays an important role in your practice. It’s the place where you do your sacred work during this holiday season.
Now you know you have or can easily obtain everything you need for creating a High Holy Days Altar. Before you get started, make sure to leave a quick comment with your #1 take away from this guide.