And wishes for a sweet, peaceful, just new year to everybody and a meaningful fast to those who are fasting.
(h/t to Zak)
And wishes for a sweet, peaceful, just new year to everybody and a meaningful fast to those who are fasting.
(h/t to Zak)
Friday October 7th, 7:15 AM: I wake up to a text message. It’s Eli Kasargod-Staub. He wanted to see if we could get together a kol nidrei service like the one being planned in NYC by Mobius et al. We had less than 10 hours before sunset.
8:30am: The facebook invite goes up.
Mid-day: E-mails zip around, people keep inviting folks, RSVPs roll in.
5:30pm: People start rolling in. A torah arrives from the Religious Action Center. A table pops up from the AFL-CIO. Max Socol brings a table.
6:00pm: People are still streaming in as Alys Cohen starts to sing a niggun.
With just a few hours to prepare, like other OccupyJudaism events, we thought we’d be lucky to get a minyan. What ended up happening was truly shocking. Within a few hours 69 people RSVPed and roughly 200 showed up. The ages ranges from a baby (9-months) to many folks in their 70s (perhaps even 80s). We had professional activists, students, people living in the OccupyKst camp, Jewish communal workers, think-tank-types, and even a few corporate lawyers. Some donned kittels, white kippot and/or tallitot, others attended in none of the conventional trappings. Since we were in McPherson Square, a busy plot right, smack, in the middle of downtown DC, there was a lot of bustle around us. We drew in near around the table (thanks AFL-CIO!) on which the Torah (thanks Religious Action Center!) sat. Used to praying Kol Nidre in straight rows of chairs, being so closely packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, with fellow supplicants was a new experience.
The davening was powerful. We used much of the same material as the Kol Nidre service happening at OccupyWallSt (thanks team NYC!). Speaking personally, I think of Yom Kippur as a time to disrupt our lives so we can gain a deeper understanding. This Kol Nidrei did a lot to disrupt people’s understanding of Judaism and what it could mean in their lives. Many came up to me afterward and shared that it had been the most powerful, meaningful, exciting, or surprising YK experience they had everhad . It was certainly all of those things to me.
As the word spread like wildfire that a band of intrepid progressive Jews were organizing evening Yom Kippur services at Occupy Wall Street, there was some skeptical push back. “Politics doesn’t belong in religion.” “Will it be a scene?” “Sounds cool but services might be bad.” Even, yes, “I don’t want to get arrested.” But for those who stomached the risk all the same, Friday night in the plaza beneath ambient lighting through the offices of Brown Brothers Harriman appeared simple, even quaint. It was in people’s hearts that wonder and transcendence were found.
Organizer Daniel Sieradski, flanked by service leaders Avi Fox-Rosen, Sarah Wolf and Getzel Davis, huddled at the center of a crowded seated circle counting 500, 700, by some counts even a thousand people. At the same moment, friends in Boston, DC and Chicago’s solidarity camps were gathering simultaneously with unexpected hundreds more. Hollering announcements though the Occupy Wall Street main camp, I found dozens more last minute participants, “What? Really? Where!” What was intended to be a small and symbolic gathering of perhaps 10 men and 10 women, called barely a week ago, had become a phenomenon. More »
This guest post is by Alex Sugerman-Brozan. Alex is a labor lawyer and part-time activist and tries hard to be a mensch. Photos courtesy HowardC. (This is the second of two Occupy Boston reflections. See the first by organizer Jocelyn Berger.)
Tonight, I attended Kol Nidre services at the site of Occupy Boston. It goes without saying that of all the services, Kol Nidre or otherwise, I’ve ever attended, this was in the unlikeliest setting. Occupy Boston is situated at Dewey Square, a park near Boston’s waterfront, and in the heart of Boston’s financial district. It is right between on- and off-ramps to several major highways. At least 120 people davvened in the midst of rush-hour traffic, trucks honking, commuters streaming toward South Station, and the hustle and bustle of the experiment in radical community that is Occupy Boston.
Reciting the Vidui and the Al Chet has special resonance in light of the Occupy encampments. “We are the 99%” is the motto of Occupy Wall Street and its now-global offshoots. The 1% are the wealthiest in our society – the big banks, the investment firms, the global corporations and their CEOs – who possess an enormously disproportionate share of the wealth and who do not contribute their fair share to our common good.
But the confessional prayers of Kol Nidre reflect a different light on the 99%. These recitations of a litany of sins, mistakes and misdeed hold us all responsible, whether we partook in the particular act or not. When we read Isaiah on Yom Kippur, he inveighs against the sins of our society, in which we all bear a hand. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” The sins of Wall Street and corporations are all our sins – we buy the consumer products, we put our money in the banks and the mutual funds, we elect the leaders who fail to remedy corporate excesses. We are all the beneficiaries of these sins, even when we protest against them. Tonight at Dewey Square we inveighed against – and sought forgiveness for – and forgave sins like foreclosures, inadequate health care, cuts to social services, climate change, and countless other crises born of and worsened by corporate greed, we were forced to acknowledge our own role in them, and the benefit all of us derive from them (some of us much more than others — depending on the color of our skin, our gender, where we were born, our sexual orientation, and many other things). More »
This guest post is by Jocelyn Berger, former Bay Area Program Officer for Pursue: Action for a Just World, a project of AJWS and AVODAH, is now a graduate student in International Affairs at The Fletcher School of Tufts University (orgs for identification only). Photo courtesy Dory Dinoto. (This is the first of two Occupy Boston reflections. See the second by attendee Alex Sugerman-Brozan.)
What do Yom Kippur and the Occupy Wall Street movement have in common? Both are about imagination. On Yom Kippur we imagine that a better self is possible. At Occupy Boston, we imagine that a better country, a better world, is possible. And although these are individual imaginings, we come together in community to make them collectively realized. By moving Yom Kippur from a sequestered, individualized experience in a synagogue out into the public square (literally!), we transform the purpose of the holiday from simply imagining a better self to imagining an whole better world.
Undeniably, one of the most exciting things about this movement is how democratic and collective it is. This rang especially true as we recited the Sh’ma together at our Kol Nidre service, proclaiming oneness – of our voices, of our values, of our aspirations, of Hashem, all one and the same, unified. My emotional climax occurred during the Al Chet – we invited folks to call out sins, personal, political, economic, social, all repeated through “the people’s mic,” adding even greater resonance: “Racism. Turning our backs on the old. Turning our backs on the young. Climate change. Defunding women’s health programs. Putting profits before people (aka capitalism). Citizen’s United. Private health care. Eroding the social safety net. Blaming victims. Katrina. Sexism. Homophobia. Anti-Semitism. Islamophobia. High interest rates. Student loans. Unemployment. Not taking responsibility sooner. Not speaking out sooner. Not showing up sooner.”
We concluded with the same reading as our sibling minyan at the Occupy Wall Street, and I felt the deepest sense of truly crying out to God, wailing for forgiveness, supplicating and begging – I burst into tears and saw that many in the crowd were similarly moved. Such immense sins, such huge problems – how can we ever forgive and move on and build something better?
We all said the Mourners’ Kaddish together for the values and virtues we’ve lost, for the American dream that now seems dead, for the lost livelihoods, safety nets, and security. For the victims who have been crushed by this oppressive and unjust system. For all that we’ve lost, individually and as a society. Adding on this additional level to the already solemn prayer further increased the deep meaning and significance. Yet with all the despair, the service left me with a distinct feeling of hope at what is possible. None of this existed before 30 hours prior, when a few of us starting getting in touch to organize the event. In such a short time, we convened a congregation and created a sacred space of prayer, repentance, imagination, passion, emotion, mourning, idealism, and hope. More »
Jewschool founder Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.
I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.
This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.
Check out the Facebook event for details and updates.
Updated, 10/5: Sieradski tell meWaskow is no longer coming for health reasons. Sad times.
Tablet Magazine and Marc Tracy did well with this parody of the instant classic Go the Fuck to Sleep.
It’s Yom Kippur, and you’re far away,
The last thing I want’s to be cruel.
I’m your mother, son, you know I adore you,
But please go the fuck to shul.
We don’t observe the birth of Christ, son,
This isn’t some lame fucking Yule.
It’s the Day of Atonement, a big deal:
Go the fuck to shul.
Go ahead, eat something beforehand.
Gay gezunt, no reason to drool.
I’m not asking you to believe in it,
Only to go to fucking shul.
It’s a depressing observance, I know.
Could make you want to hit the barstool.
It’s the day that you say you’ve been shitty,
Which is why it’s in fucking shul.
Cast me as some kind of tyrant,
Your very own lord of misrule.
Jesus, is it really so fucking horrible
For you to go the fuck to shul?
And yes I’m a big stereotype,
Or worse, just a big Jewish tool.
It doesn’t matter what you think of me, though.
Go. The fuck. To shul.
Tons of missing verses so you have good reason to visit the original post.
(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
The holiday season is now over. And something about it may have felt a bit out of the ordinary, unusual, abnormal. And based on recent experience, that feeling is accurate. But in the 2010s, abnormal is becoming the new normal.
In the last decade, as often as not, the Jewish calendar has followed the pattern in which all the fall holidays (except Yom Kippur) fall on weekends. This pattern is both loved and hated. People who work for Jewish organizations and observe 2 days of yom tov (so that the holidays are on Saturday and Sunday) dread this pattern because (unlike in other years, when the Jewish holidays are days off) they go from workweek to holiday to workweek to holiday, without a break to do laundry. People who work and go to school outside the Jewish world, whether they do 1 or 2 days, find this pattern easier, since it doesn’t require taking any days off of work/school, except for Yom Kippur (but that’s the one that your boss has heard of, and is much easier to explain than Shemini Atzeret).
Love it or hate it, we won’t see this pattern again until 2020. This Mah Rabu post from a couple of years ago covers all the details.
In its place, we see a new popular pattern emerging. This year, Yom Kippur was on Shabbat, but all the other holidays were on Thursdays (continuing into Friday for the 2-day people). This means that the 2-day people got a string of what are colloquially known as “3-day yom tovs”: when a 2-day yom tov falls immediately before or after Shabbat, resulting in 72 straight hours away from whatever one doesn’t do on Shabbat or yom tov. People working in the Jewish world appreciate all the 4-day weekends. Other people have to miss a lot of work or school: 3 or 4 days for 1-day-yom-tov people (depending on their stance on Rosh Hashanah), and 6 days for 2-day-yom-tov people, and that’s not including travel days.
Love it or hate it, this pattern is here to stay. We’ll do it all over next year, and then again in 2013, 2014, and 2017: half of the years in the 2010s.
The other half of the decade will see a different pattern that we haven’t seen in quite a while: Rosh Hashanah on Monday, with all the fall holidays falling on weekdays. This pattern also includes Shavuot starting on Saturday night, leading to another “3-day yom tov” for the 2-day crowd.
All told, the half-decade from 5771 to 5775 will include a total of 14 “3-day yom tovs”, and the decade from 5771 to 5780 will include 21. (But don’t worry, there’s only 18 more to go!)
This leads to my prediction (awaited since the title of the post): This decade, and especially this half-decade, will see lots of 2-day-yom tov people switching over to 1 day.
In a few years, we can come back and check this prediction and see whether the 1-day majority has gotten any larger. In the meantime, back to work.
Repentance shouldn’t be about wallowing in guilt. In his sermon last night, my rabbi spoke about this at length. It’s something I’ve thought about before, and it really speaks to me.
These days I’m pretty much never at synagogue. Back when I was at school (I’m currently taking a year off), I participated in the Chavurah minyan each week, which I loved. But here, I find that praying congregation-style just doesn’t do it for me. And last night I realized for the first time that one of my personal sources of guilt on Yom Kippur comes from actually being at synagogue, precisely because I’m so rarely there. I feel guilt for not being more a part of the community. Guilt for being so unfamiliar with the liturgy. Guilt that my Hebrew is so bad. Guilt for not truly feeling that the path to repentance involves asking for permission to repent.
So, like last year at Brown, I didn’t go to services today, albeit for slightly different reasons. I’m at home, on my own. Here I can observe Yom Kippur guilt-free, thinking about ways in which I can repent for me, myself, and I. My lack of belief in G()d in the traditional sense of an entity or concept that has at least some manifest control of my life or the world leads me to understand that I repent for my own benefit, and for that of those around me. Repenting helps me become a better person. I take responsibility for my flaws, my problems, my errors, and I ask those around me to understand them, and join with me as I try to grow past them. That growth might involve additional involvement with the community. Or it might not.
This approach to observance is a source of conflict with my family, who feel strongly that going to shul is a family operation. And while I respect the desire to observe the day together, I can’t subvert my feelings on what it means for me to be a Jew to the family’s feelings on what it means to be a Jewish family. The same holds for a congregation. Yom Kippur is too important for me to follow anyone’s patterns of observance but my own. I’m sure that those patterns will continue to change, and as they do, I’ll do my best to understand and remain true to them.
L’kovod the aseres yamey tshuva, I present two interesting writers who converted from Judaism to Christianity. Let’s put it this way: They had to worry about a whole different kind of Tshuva:
Jacobo Fijman (1898-1970)
Poet and Madman. Born in Bessarabia, Fijman lived and died in Argentina. Spent much of his life in a state mental asylum. Surrealist poet, gnostic and anarchist. A taste:
el camino más alto y más desierto.
Oficio de las máscaras absurdas; pero tan humanas.
Roncan los extravíos;
tosen las muecas
y descargan sus golpes
dilatación vidriosa de los ojos
en el camino más alto y más desierto.
Se erizan los cabellos del espanto.
La mucha luz alaba su inocencia…
Nicolae Steinhardt (1912–1989). Theologian and Memoirist. Underground Favorite. Revered in Romania for his Jurnalul fericirii (The Diary of Happiness; 1991), an account of his journey to orthodox Christianity during the years he spent in Communist prisons. A Taste:
Outside a bakery, an old beggar, small, discreet. I give him 3 or 4 lei. He takes off his hat, respectfully, and thanks me for a long while. Why, I don’t know – the memory of my father, the physical resemblance (small and stooping) – his gesture – so polite, the shame of being saluted by an old man for a few lei, the onslaught of images of prison in my memory, revelatory of the human condition’s wretchedness – but I burst out crying in the middle of the street, like a madman.
Eight more states – DE, HI, MD, MA, NH, NY, RI, WI – have primary elections this week. (Hawaii’s is on Yom Kippur – DOHT!) Have you fallen into the trap of praying for peace and prosperity but haven’t checked your local polling location?
Rock the Mitzvote reminds you to get off your tuchas and get out there. Use their free High Holidays e-card to encourage everyone you know in these 8 states to hit the polls – let’s pray with our feet, people!
The wonderful Israeli poet Ruhama Weiss captures in this poem, I think, the deep sadness and the deeper responsibility of this moment. Its from her book Shmirah. When I read it, it touched me very deeply and I thought “This is part of what I mean when I say u’netaneh tokef.” This is my translation (with the permission of the author):
Things that I hope that you don’t yet know
for my child
That there is someone in the world who wants to kill you.
That there is not much to do about it.
That it is not wholly accurate that there will always be someplace to escape to.
That I was approximately your age when I discovered that home does not really provide protection.
What helps me fall asleep.
That you might not reach my age.
That you might kill children.
That what we saw today on the television was not a joke.
That the history that I know does not succeed in calming me down.
That you have no idea how scary it can be.
With one month to go until Yom Kippur, The Shalom Center and Jewish Currents have teamed up to create a video celebrating 10 contemporary martyrs who were killed in the past 50 years “because they were affirming profound Jewish values of peace, justice, truth, and healing of the Earth.”
This high holiday season was new for me in many ways. It was my first away from my family, it was the first time I fasted without drinking water, and it was also the first time I didn’t go to services during the day on Yom Kippur. This last one, and a related concept I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, are what I want to talk about here.
As anyone who’s done it knows, praying is not a simple concept. It’s a big category within the religion (as in it encompasses a lot of practices and ideas), and there are a myriad of opinions about every single aspect of it. When, how, where, and why you should do it, and so on.
Like many Jews, I’ve always had a complicated relationship to prayer. I was raised religious, but without much connection to a synagogue. Although very nice, the shul in our town never excited us that much (I think I’ve talked about my struggles with this a bit in a previous post), and I’ve looked for other options for a long time. More »
To those of you who were worried that I was unhealthily smug, worry not. My day of davening at Hadar was the most humbling prayer experience of my life. Many have complained, mostly in the comments here, that this High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure series has been rather smug. I’ve often been accused of smugness and I won’t go so far as to deny it.
First, let me apologize to anyone who was actually looking forward to my reflections on watching Kol Nidrei live streaming at Jewish TV Network. I couldn’t get it to work right, so I just went to bed frustrated. I was gonna live-tweet it and everything. But alas.
Uv’chen, I’ve been hearing about Kehilat Hadar since I moved into this part of the world and I’ve been told for a couple years now that I need to check it out. I dunno if Yom Kipur was the best day to make my first trip to Hadar or not, but I had a great time. And by a great time, I mean a deeply reflective time.
In recent years, I’ve had Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist prayer experiences, not to mention post-, non-, anti-, and multi- denominational ones. Hadar is the closest I’ve ever come to Orthodox. Despite the deeply various backgrounds of the people who come to Hadar, the founders and the feel is certainly as close as you can get to Orthodox while remaining egalitarian.
Which is to say that I can’t remember the last time I spent about 50% of Jewish service as confused and lost as I was for most of yesterday. I’m normally someone who prides himself on his facility with the sidur. Even the machzor, which I don’t know as well as the daily or Shabat sidur, has never been hard for me to navigate. So normally, when things in a service don’t got just the way I want them to, I’m frustrated or annoyed or exasperated.
I was certainly frustrated yesterday, but in a good way. I felt challenged yesterday by a lack of knowledge. And when it comes to gaps I discover in my liturgical knowledge, my instinct is always to fill the gaps. Mostly, I was humbled. Yes, you read that right. I said I was humbled. There were tunes I’d never heard before, sung loudly and raucously with clapping, dancing and podium-pounding. It was an attitude I’d never encountered before on Yom Kipur. There was excitement, but the proceedings still managed to remain as somber as I ordinarily think of Yom Kipur as being. These nearly joyous outbursts of song nicely paralleled Rabbi Shai Held‘s sermon, easily the highlight of the day, in which he spoke of a bizarre Talmudic verse which calls Tu B’Av and Yom Kipur the most joyous days of the Jewish year.
Aside from the new (to me) tunes, this was my first encounter with an entire congregation that prostrates itself during the Avodah service! Not to mention the part of the service when everyone at Hadar lays flat on the floor, face down. That one was new to me, so if anyone wants to leave a comment with an explanation, it’s much appreciated.
Yesterday was an endurance test. I arrived at 8:50 a.m. and shacharit has started five minutes earlier. Finally, at 7:30 p.m., about eleven hours later, we wrapped up Ne’ilah. (That’s eleven hours of davening, with only a one-hour break, for those keeping score at home.) Yes, I thought! Now I can go eat. Without skipping a beat, they launched right into Ma’ariv. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking around, but my grumbling stomach and aching head said otherwise. Luckily, Hadar was handing out candy, juice boxes and water bottles on the way out!
I’ve never felt so truly reached by the liturgy of the day, so I’m glad of Hadar’s part in helping the fast and the davening do their intended work on me.
I’ll now move on to a few thoughts about Hadar as a community. Keep in mind that I’ve never been on an ordinary Shabat, so I don’t know what Hadar is normally like.
I’ve heard the charge leveled at Hadar that it is elitist or cliquey. I suppose I can see that from this limited experience, but it is not as if I arrived not knowing anyone in the room. Within the cavernous, packed church multi-purpose room we occupied for the day, I spotted about five bloggers I know (including a few Jewschoolers, including our BZ and Jen Taylor Friedman). I also spotted Tamar Fox, who gave me my first break blogging anywhere other than my own blog, sitting directly in front of me. My boss, a former coworker and about a half-dozen of our volunteers were there too. I ran into a few other friends as well, some of them Yeshivat Hadar alumni and some current Hadar students. So I felt comfortable because of all the familiar, friendly faces, but I can see how others would not have the same experience.
All in all, a good gmar chatimah, I think. Hoping yours was good too.
Through writing I have committed many a wrong, but unlike those whose faces I see, I will likely never know the vast majority of people who I wronged via this blog. God cannot forgive these sins, only those whom I have wronged. If I can commit sin through the web, then surely I can also repent through it.
For the wrongs against others through hardness of heart, by not posting stories I didn’t like
without knowledge, of those who I knew personally and those I did not
with the utterances of my lips, and my fingertips
in public, where thousands of people read
through harsh speech, against those who simply disagreed with me
by deceit, for willfully withholding or ignoring information to press a point
through wronging a neighbor, by picking fights with others, their blogs, or their organizations
through insincere confession, by writing something not because it is important, but to get acclaim
willfully and carelessly, by writing sloppily and poorly without caring
by showing contempt for teachers and forebears, and not respecting those who came before me
by misusing (the) power of wide readership
through foolish speech and impure lips, by condemning things I have also done
against those who know and those who don’t even have internet.
For the wrongs I have committed against others through denial and false promise, by saying I would post things when I didn’t, or posting things when I said I wouldn’t
through evil talk, by slandering individuals and painting whole peoples with one brush
through scorning, and hypocritically treating others how I hate to be treated
in commercial dealings, by not declaring conflicts of interest, and by biting the advertisers that support us
through haughtiness, by meeting people not to befriend them, but to use their story for a post
with prying eyes, and nosy intentions, by using but not attributing others’ material
with idle chatter, by exaggerating stories or trumping charges
and with brazenness, treating myself and us as more important than I and we are.
For wrongs I have committed against others by being judgmental, evaluating every event, conversation, experience and person as bloggable or not bloggable
entrapping a neighbor, by writing posts just to agitate them
by holding a begrudging eye, and criticizing the form and not the content of someone’s comment
with obstinacy, by refusing to acknowledge when I’m wrong, by not posting corrections, or correcting posts only under duress
by rushing to do harm, and eagerly posting news damaging to individuals or groups
by gossip-mongering, and not fact checking
by vain oath-taking, by speaking for our blog and others without their permission
through baseless hatred, condemning people instead of their ideas
by not extending a hand to causes that needed press but I didn’t care enough
through confusing the purpose of this blog and my ambitions for myself.
For all these sins and more, forgive me, pardon me, accept my atonement. I am sorry, in the waning hours of this season, for all the feelings I have hurt online.
And for all those who hurt me through the words they wrote, or failed to write, on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and others, I do not hold a grudge. I forgive you and release you, so that we can all begin a new year fresh and clean and whole and living.
G’mar chatima tova, may you be inscribed for goodness.
Adapted from this version of the Al Chet.
Rabbi Elyashiv of the Lithuanian stream of ultra-Orthodoxy has ruled that it is best not to wear Crocs shoes on Yom Kippur even though they are not made out of leather and, therefore, would seemingly be permissible for the holiday. His reasoning behind the ruling is that they are too comfortable, and thus don’t provide the level of suffering one should feel on the holiday.
Do with this what you will. (Haven’t Crocs’ 15 minutes expired, even in Israel?)
G’mar tov, everyone!
Although most modern Jews have abandoned the practice of Kapores, in some parts of the community, it is still common. I’m not sure what the Masorti movement thinks it will accomplish by joining with the SPCA -Tel Aviv, ince the parts of the community that are practicing kapores aren’t the parts likely to care what the masorti movement does, but all in all, it can’t hurt.
In the story from which I took this post’s name ( an adapted tale based on the original story by Sholom Aleichem) the author in fact points out that the practice of taking a chicken (male for men, female for women) swinging it over one’s head to “catch” one’s sins, and then slaughtering it, is not exactly halacha ( Jewish law). And while in general one ought not to depend on fiction for accurate portrayals of Jewish law, in this case, it happens to be correct. Not only is “Where is it written?” a good response, but where it is written, the rabbis aren’t too happy with it, considering it (Like many folk customs which have become embedded in Jewish practice) akin to idolatry, or at lest very improper.
And reasonably so, while it might be a midat chesed (act of mercy) to buy a chicken which one will then donate to the poor to eat (although that does raise some questions about how that came about… really? We’re giving our sins to the poor to eat? Hmmm. I hear a sin eater story in here somewhere for those of us familiar with that southern custom), the problems with the ritual as a whole are numerous. For now, let’s set aside the problem of tzaar ba’alei chaim – the requirement not to be cruel to animals (in this case, by packing them in itty bitty crates sitting around in the sun all day until it’s time for them to be grabbed and swung around by the feet) and concentrate on the symbolism of the custom itself.
While there seems to be some kind of yearning for authenticity as played by certain elements of the Jewish community which favor dress styles not native to Israel, but rather early modern Europe, I’ve never been able to fathom why people attach their sentiments to these kinds of customs (including within the community, but without it as well). There’s somehow a sense that it looks or feels more authentic – but how could it be? If Judaism and our peoplehood is based upon our connection to God through God’s commandments, as the Torah tells us, then one couldn’t possibly repent by swinging a chicken around.
I far prefer the formulation of the Talmud (Brachot 17a) (See the bottom of the post) which likens the fat that one loses during a fast to the fat offered as a sacrifice in the times when the Temple stood. That makes far more sense to me.
Most importantly, if w are repenting, we cannot hope to shed our sins elsewhere without the ful act of teshuvah that goes with it. Whether we are speaking of ourselves as individuals, our individual communities, or Israel as a whole, our own sins cannot be displaced by any symbolic act, whether we’re talking about swinging a chicken or saying that the other party involved has done bad things and so they have to repent first. NO, we are responsible for the sins of ourselves, and the sins of our people. If we wish for peace, we have to act first to recognize and admit our sins; to make reparation to those whom we’ve harmed; to confess to God – because in doing so, we humble ourselves and take into our hearts that our acts, whether accidental or intentional, whether preemptive or retaliatory, were wrong; and then to not do it again when the opportunity presents itself.
Stop building settlements, stop demolishing homes, stop blaming others for acts over which we have agency. Goldstone isn’t our enemy, and taking on against him, as the Rabbinical Assembly has just, entirely ridiculously, done, will not bring peace.
As long as we treat acts for which we need to repent as thought they were public relations bloopers which can be addressed if we only change our spin, there will not be kaparah, atonement, no matter how long we fast on Yom Kippur, no matter how many chickens we swing. We have to do the work ourselves.
(From the Yom Kippur Haftarah Isaiah 58:2-7)
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.
When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me.. (Brachot 17a)
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