Wednesday, October 12

The Day of Atonement Farce

Yom Kippur is upon us. For many, it is a time of reflection. The meaning of Yom Kippur is losing its relevance today. Fasting has become a competition or some kind of childish endurance race to see who can last out longer. It has also become the annual bicycle festival as kids flood the streets with their bicycles, many landing up in hospital because of injuries incurred. For many who do reflect on that day, fasting without prayer is meaningless. For the Jewish atheist, it is a frustrating day devoid of any meaning.

Orthodox Judaism, as practiced in Israel, has become the monopoly of the right wing. It is very Eretz Yisrael-conscious and unfortunately does not help towards any form of rapprochement with those in the Arab World who seek peace. The idea of atoning for one's sins,(if one believes in the idea of atonement) means that before one enters the synagogue on Kol Nidrei evening one must ask forgiveness for any wrongs committed against one's neighbour before forgiveness can be requested from God. It is a request for annulment of vows undertaken during the year from the last Yom Kippur to the present.

A question that remains in my mind is whether the forgiveness that one requests is for the wrongs committed towards everybody irrespective of race, color or creed or just those committed against our Jewish fellowmen. I think of the many innocents who suffered under the occupation as well. Who has given this a thought? Who has bothered to ask forgiveness from them?

Apart from that, there does not seem to be any improvement in behavioral patterns of many who purport to be religious and observant once the fast is over. People go back to their normal routines as if nothing was learned from Yom Kippur at all. The arrogance and short temper, so characteristic of many Israelis, remains the same.

What is the purpose of this fast? If one does not believe or is non-observant, the "reason" for fasting is to "identify with the people of Israel". This is the cliché often used as an excuse for fasting. When one "identifies with one's people" with what aspect of "one's people" does this entail – arrogance, ill manners, lack of consideration for one's fellowmen, even crime and last but not least, the eternal paper chase?The return to the faith (choser b'tshuva) has become rampant amongst many criminals.

The idea of Yom Kippur, with its outmoded rituals for many, is farcical and become devoid of all meaning. The idea of being a once-a-year-Jew defies all rationality. If one does not observe Yom Kippur in its spirit rather than its act then there is no point observing it at all. Many people fast while watching videos at home and boast that they "made it".

The oppressiveness of religious coercion and self-righteousness reaches its zenith on Yom Kippur. It has become an empty, boring day with very little substance for many people who find religiosity in Israel a hypocritical exercise in endurance. Driving on that day is taboo and in the case of an emergency, the chance of being stoned by "the observant" cannot be ruled out.

Nothing will change for the better at the close of Yom Kippur from a human relationship point of view. This being the case, why bother to fast?


Michael L. S. said...

Shalom Shimon, hope you don't mind but I replied to your Yom Kipur article and linked to it on my blog. Just thought to let you know. Again, I really hope you took no offense at anything I wrote. Have a shavua tov.

zac said...

Subseqently the following article by Gidon Levy of Haaretz was published which is a recommended read.