Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

star-of-davidHappy Yom Kippur

This is the phrase you do NOT want to say to someone observing this holiday, well, Holy Day. Other wishes you want to avoid include: Celebrate! Rock on! and Woot!

Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. On this day, Jews ask God to forgive our sins and to write us into the Book of Life for another year.

Before God’s forgiveness may be asked, though, forgiveness should be sought from people whom one has wronged. In the Jewish religion, there is no intermediary between God and the person praying. Each person is responsible and accountable for their own actions and the only one who can forgive a wrong is the person against whom it has been committed.

I really like this philosophy

I like the idea that people can’t lay off their sins on someone else, that they must own up to their misdeeds and ask forgiveness of people they have wronged. I like the idea that nobody can get away with hiding in the shadows, that we each must step into the light and take ownership of our acts — bad as well as good.

Of course, philosophy is different from practice. I’m not saying that directly asking forgiveness is easy or simple or even practical, sometimes. It is something to aspire to, though.

Is it “kosher” to ask God to forgive our weakness in not apologizing to everyone on the list? Hmm… Maybe this is a loophole.

Yom Kippur is a day filled with prayer and contemplation. It’s a day of fasting, because our thoughts are supposed to be filled with God and atonement — and not with the distractions of the material world. Food and drink don’t touch our lips.

In reality, though, they often touch our thoughts. Growling stomachs are distracting and the knowledge that on Yom Kippur we do not eat tends to make us hungrier. The Hebrew letters in the prayer book begin to look an awful lot like a plate of alphabet stew. Which leads to thoughts of garnishes and …

The truly observant (I mean religious, not detail-oriented) will spend the day in synagogue, insulated from temptation and immersed in prayer. However, many people attend services for just part of the day.

When I was a kid, we spent the morning at the synagogue and went home in the early afternoon. We kept to the spirit as much as possible: no watching TV, although reading was okay; no talking to friends on the phone; no shopping or playing sports. Napping usually ended up in there somewhere.

On Yom Kippur (and on Rosh Hashanah), the frenetic daily pace gave way to a slower, more contemplative one. We dressed respectfully, in skirts or nice pants, blouses or shirts, sometimes ties.

It would not have been acceptable to wear a t-shirt like this:

higher power

Some interesting facts about fasting

Fasting is a core part of the Yom Kippur observance, but if fasting would adversely affect a person’s health,  drinking and/or eating are allowed.

Of course, this doesn’t mean rushing out to your favorite fast food place and super-sizing your meals. I was fascinated to discover that there are rules about the amount of food and drink that is permissible in extenuating circumstances. Basically, the guideline is about an ounce of food and the amount of liquid that would fill your puffed out cheek. Food and drink are considered separately and are not cumulative. This small volume may be ingested more than once — as often as every 9 minutes, as needed. The theory behind the rule is that these small amounts of food and drink are not sufficient to be considered a meal, and so fall somewhat outside the eating restriction. Of course, if you are really timing yourself so as to take a bite and a swallow every 9 minutes, it might interfere with the whole “mind-on-God” thing more than a less measured approach.

High Holiday greetings

Here some appropriate greetings for the Yom Kippur observance:

Wishing you an easy fast.
May you be sealed in the Book of Life
G’mar Hatima Tova [Hebrew version of above]
Wishing you a good year
L’Shana Tova [Hebrew version of above]
Wishing you a good holiday
Gut Yuntiff  [Yiddish version of above]

One last thing

When it comes to atoning, there really isn’t any way of getting extra credit.