Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Yom Kippur 2008

I take Yom Kippur seriously. Well, somewhat. I’m not going to synagogue this year, but I will fast most of the day. Am I religious? Not really. But unlike the other Jewish holidays, which revolve around food and family, this one is serious and solemn, and that makes me a little scared and anxious.

I kinda like that. You can feel the AWE.

On Yom Kippur, it’s as if the entire world is on your shoulders. The way I see it, on Christmas, Santa Claus may not give you a good toy if you were a bad boy. On Yom Kippur, God might just stick you with a really crappy year for the same reason.

From Wikipedia:

Yom Kippur (Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפּוּר‎, IPA: [ˈjɔm kiˈpur]), also known in English as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and important of the Jewish holidays. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day of the Ten Days of Repentance which begin with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a “book” on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Ten Days of Repentance, a Jew tries to amend his behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against his fellow man (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers himself absolved by God.

There has been debates FOREVER about the real meaning of this “book of life” and how God seals your verdict. Does God really decide who will live and who will die? What about free will? And during the service, why does every ask for repetenace for sins they didn’t even do – like murder and robbery? Are we responsible for everyone’s sins? And the biggest question of them all — why do bad things happen to good people?

Recently, I chatted with a blogger who is very into “the Secret.” She believes that we attract good things through positive thought. So, I asked her what the Secret said about bad things.

“What if you get hit by a bus?” I asked. “Are you attracting the bus to hit you?”

“In a way you are.”

“Why would you WANT to be hit by a bus?”

“Maybe there is some larger reason you don’t know about.”

I find that nonsense.

Last year, Kyran from “Notes to Self” wrote an interesting post about The Secret after she viewed the DVD. Even though she saw some merit in positive thinking, she came away with the same conclusion about using The Secret on a day to day basis:

What does The Secret have to say about all the bright and hope-filled children in the world who suffer?

Judaism is not The Secret, as much as Madonna might think so. The Secret is mostly about achieving personal success. Judasim is a covenant with God. But both have the same problem that all religions do –explaining the randomness of life, and all the bad stuff that happens in it.

That said, I am too afraid of ignoring Yom Kippur completely. Just in case.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

The following song about Elijah the Prophet by the Moshav Band is probably more suitable for Passover than Yom Kippur, but even on this holiest of days, it is still my blog, and I can do what I want.

30 Comments

  1. I never know what to say on Yom Kippur. But as a not-really-religious-catholic, I understand how important it is to repent. Just in case.

  2. I kind of like feeling the awe too. Anyway, thanks for this post – you reminded me to go downstairs and light one of those special candles for my dad. A little late, but still thoughtful.

  3. From one religion to another…Kyrie Eleison.

  4. May your name, too, be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may your fast be an easy one.

    Shalom out – B von B

  5. Happy fasting Neil :-). There is a lot to be said for a positive attitude, but there is also a lot missing from the secret.

  6. It’s only 5 hours in but I am totally kicking this fast’s ass right now.

  7. Cool video! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for explaining, and for sharing your own thoughts about the day.

    I hope you’ll have a year that is happy and full of good things. I happen to think you deserve them…

  9. What a heavy holiday. It sounds intimidating.

    I have some amputated shadow-church limbs but make me feel guilty and fear the wrath of god.

    The good thing about the whole predestination thing (where you can’t control what will happen next since it’s all written down) is it completely removes any sense of responsibility you might have. It *someone else’s* choice. Live it up! God wrote it (apparently).

  10. Ingrid — Actually, Rosh Hashana and You Kippur puts a lot of responsibility on the person. Too much. The whole point is that through prayer, charity, action, and redemption — you can help turn things around. But it still doesn’t explain why bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. One answer is that God puts this randomness into life to give us free will and responsibility.

    I don’t know if I believe this, but the rabbis from the past were not dumb. They had answers for everything.

  11. Have an easy fast, Neil.

    In honor of Yom Kippur, I went to confession this week.

  12. A Jewish friend of mine once told me that this day was similar to Confession for a Catholic.

    I wish you the peace of Absolution.

  13. Judaism fascinates me. I was raised Catholic, even though my mother was raised Jewish. So I understand the guilt, but she never revealed any of the mysteries to me. It was like something so personal and private to her that she could not share it with us. (She moved to FL and found a Jewish boyfriend and now goes to temple every Friday. And I’m jealous.) I love learning more from people like you who try to live it. Have a good fast.

  14. Peace, absolution and an easy fast (although it’s not supposed to be easy, is it? That’s kind of the point — discomfort).

  15. Teahouse, Miss Britt — I always found the Catholic confession sort of cool. Saves money on therapy.

    The difference for Jews (via Wikipedia) —

    In Judaism, confession is an important part of attaining forgiveness for both sins against God and another man. However, confession of sins is made to God and not man (except in asking for forgiveness of the victim of the sin). In addition, confession in Judaism is done communally in plural. Unlike the Christian “I have sinned,” Jews confess that “We have sinned.”

  16. One thing – Catholics don’t confess to “man” – the priest just gives you someone to speak with, and it can be completely anonymous if you wish.

    “The priest’s words and physical presence are simply a tangible sign that an invisible (and supernatural) event (God’s forgiveness) is taking place; a sacrament is being given and received. The act of confession can be an indescribably cathartic and healing experience.”

    From: http://catholic-practices.suite101.com/article.cfm/why_do_catholics_confess_their_sins_to_a_priest

  17. I still feel a bit guilty for listening to Patti LuPone belt “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” last night instead of my cantor singing the Kol Nidre prayer, but on the other hand, it was truly a religious experience!

    Great seeing you and your mom yesterday, I so enjoyed meeting the famous Mrs. Kramer!

    Chag sameach.

  18. Happy holiday, Neil.

    I try to be positive because it makes me happier. I totally believe people can create their own hell on earth. I do not believe that by being negative, that you can cause bad things to happen to you. My whole town got hit by the flood. We couldn’t all have the same attitude about the world.

  19. Miguelina — You should write that in at Wikipedia — where I found the quote.

    And why does any religion need confessing anymore, now that we have blogging?

  20. Churlita — But that brings up uncomfortable logic. Did one town not get hit by the flood because their residents had a more positive outlook on life while your town was just a bunch of grouches?

  21. In college, I had a very good friend who was Jewish. She and I used to sing the Kol Nidre (I think it was called) around Yom Kippur. That song was in one of my piano song books, and I thought it had a haunting melody.

  22. Hope your holiday and fast went well. I couldn’t do the fasting thing because I like food way too much.

    I thought that when bad things happened to good people, it was all just a test of faith. At least that’s what I got out of my Presbyterian upbringing. They were big on Job.

    Crap. Now I might have to call my mom again. This is a question I have asked her numerous times over the years. Or maybe you could ask your mother. I know she has an answer for this question.

  23. Neil, thanks so much for “following” me. I am honored!

  24. I’m not sure why, but your post just made me a little teary. Maybe it’s this cold that’s kicking my ass. Or maybe not.

    I was raised Catholic, but I’ve always secretly been fascinated by Judaism. It’s just always seemed more accessible and “real” to me than RC.

    Oh, and I was told by a Jewish friend that the best thing to say is, “I hope your fast is easy.” So, I hope your fast was easy 🙂 And that whatever you ate to break it was good.

  25. I dislike the secret for exactly the reason you describe. People don’t ask for shitty things to happen to them. Innocents suffer. Tiny babies suffer. But, I do think positive thinking can help people be happier and get unstuck.

    May you be inscribed in the book of life as well, Neil.

  26. I was raised in a traditional Jewish household,but somehow over the years I drifted away from synagogue and tradition. But. I never seem to lose my connection with G-D.I guess I believe in the morals and laws that my religion instilled in me. “MAY HIS BLESSINGS SHINE UPON US ALL”.

  27. I like the style which makes this very readable and would work for anyone from any religion because it’s got the universal elements & appeal.
    Thanks for a good & informative read.
    Joy

  28. At least once a year a well-meaning non-Jew will tell me “Happy Yom Kippur!”

    I received no apologies this year, but gave way more than eight. It’s not like lots of people couldn’t have apologized for stuff they did….it’s just that those who needed to were all Christians and/or other.

    I did not fast, but felt guilty about it.

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