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Friday, September 13, 2013

For Non-Jews: A Yom Kippur Primer

Beginning late this afternoon and through Sunday afternoon there will be very limited (if any posting). Tonight at sundown begins the holy fast day of Yom Kippur, one of only two 25-hour fasts on the Jewish calendar (the other is Tisa B'av).

Yom Kippur is thought of as a "happy fast." Jews give up food or drink, sex and other things (but after those two who really cares). The truth is we are not fasting for atonement, denying ourselves as some sort of sacrifice to God. We are fasting because we are concentrating so hard on getting as close as possible to the Lord that we don't have time for the other stuff. That's why it is a happy fast because there is no greater joy than getting closer to God.

If you happen to be of a different faith and want to know what to say to your Jewish friends two suggestions would be, "have an easy fast" or "may God Seal you in the book of life." Of course we don't really believe the creator of the universe sits on a heavenly throne, writing people's names in a book (if he did I am sure he would have and iPad). But that mental image is a theme throughout the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur. We start with may God put you in the book.... and then on Yom Kippur we change it to may God seal you in the book, with the assumption that God closes the book at the end of the fast.

Thankfully this is also not true because we believe God welcomes atonement at any time (but it is certainly easier to do it on Yom Kippur with the "help of your community."

Note to my Gentile friends if you see a Jew walking to Synagogue tonight" Hey wanna come over for a beer after temple, “is NOT a proper greeting.

The fast ends an hour and ten minutes after sundown on Saturday and it is traditional that Jews go to the homes of friends and/or family and consume large quantities of whitefish, bagels, and blintzes. There are three reasons for this:
  • First of all so we can play the time-honored game who's fast was the worst? " You think you had it rough this year? During my fast I got such a bad head ache that one of my eyes popped out of its socket"
  • The second reason is the obvious; people are very hungry and need to eat. Not everyone has the strength to prepare so, to be fair we switch it from family to family every year to spread the "burden" around.
  • The final reason is we shouldn't go near non-Jews (NO this is not some sort of Hebraic bigotry nor is it a commandment). We are trying to do you a favor. You see along with the activities I mentioned above, during the 25 hours of the fast we are not allowed to wash, bath or put on any lotion or scent. We haven't brushed our teeth or used mouthwash either. After almost a full day of hanging with other Jews in what always seems to be a hot Synagogue the Jews are no longer "God's Chosen People." Instead we have become "God's Rather Pungent People." So after the fast we tend to hang amongst ourselves because no one else would be able to take the aroma.
While not officially a holiday Sunday, the day after Yom Kippur is the most dangerous day in the Jewish calendar )and it's not because God starts zapping those who didn't make it into the book of life).

Five days after Yom Kippur Jews begin the celebration of Sukkot. This festival is one of the three biggies (the other two are Passover and Shavuot).

I know what some of you are thinking and the answer is no, Chanukah is a very minor holiday. The three "biggie" festivals as well as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only holidays ordained by God in the Torah. All the other holidays such as Chanukah, Purim, and my birthday were either created by Rabbis, other great leaders or as in the case of my birthday, bloggers looking for attention.

Part of the Sukkot holiday observance is to create a flimsy "structure" with a semi-see though roof. The roof must be built from something that grows in the ground. 

During Sukkot we eat, entertain, and some even sleep in this structure.

It reminds us of the life of the ancient Israelites life, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years living in structures like this and arguing over whether or not Moses should stop at a gas station to ask for directions.

More importantly, existing in this kind of flimsy structure, reminds us of the frailty and transience of life and in the end our necessary dependence on God.

Sukkot is a happy holiday it referred to in Hebrew as Yom Simchateinu (the day of our rejoicing) or Z'man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing). From building the Sukkah, "living in it' for a week, to tearing it down, Sukkot is a fun and Joyous time for family and friends.

Oh and the reason Sunday is the most dangerous day on the Jewish calendar? Well, we are not allowed to begin building the Sukkah until after Yom Kippur is over. Generally Jews do not start preparing for any holiday before the previous one has ended. It's not a superstition thing, it's that we need focus all of our attention on the holiday at hand before we can move on.

Being the day after Yom Kippur and a Sunday, Jews all across the world will be building their Sukkahs on Sunday.

The problem is that most Jews aren't great with tools. And the last time we picked up a tool or stepped on a lader was the day we took down the Sukkah last year.

Tools, ladders (or chairs) that's why Sunday is the most dangerous day on the Jewish calendar (it may also be the day where you hear a frustrated Jewish neighbor cursing in some ancient tongue that even they didn't know they could speak).

Before I close down for Yom Kippur tonight, and sign back on with damaged thumbs on Sunday I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my Jewish friends an easy and meaningful fast. To all my friends Jewish or Gentile:

Gmar Chatimah Tova

May you be sealed in the book (or iPod) of life for a happy and healthy New Year.

1 comment:

Elke Blinick said...

there is a reason why I scheduled dental surgery for today. It makes fasting so much easier. But really one day of fasting is actually easier than Thursday, Friday, Shabbes. As this year's holidays are.