Yom Kippur Is For Everyone – OpEd


The Jewish New Year is celebrated on the 1st day of the Jewish month of Tishri. The first 10 days of the Jewish New year are considered days of spiritual  awe and self introspection, when Jews should turn inward to examine how they can plan to make self improvements so the new year will be a better year than the past year. 

The tenth day of the new year is Yom Kippur, a day of prayers for repentance, improvement and atonement. On the Day of Atonement [September 24th from sunset to the 25th at sunset this year] Jews pray [like Muslims] at five services, which all together last for about 8-10 hours.

Jubilees is a second century B.C.E post-Biblical book connecting Yom Kippur with repentance (5:17): “It has been written and ordained that he (God) will have mercy on all who turn (away) from their errors once each year.” Jubilees elsewhere reveals the conceptual link between repentance (“turning away from their errors”) and Yom Kippur, when it describes Yom Kippur as a day of “mourning on account of sin” (34:19). 

Fasting and other forms of self-affliction, of the sort commanded in Leviticus (16:29) “you shall afflict yourselves” shifts attention away from the high priest’s Temple rituals of purification to the drama of repentance unfolding among the people, a move suitable for a group at odds with the Temple in Jerusalem and/or the post-Temple reality of rabbinic Judaism.

It also represents an interpretation of fasting in keeping with the importance attributed to repentance starting in the Second Temple period, as a form of self-monitoring for the righteous and, and for converts to Judaism who have adopted a new religious identity. What matters in the performance of fasting is not the physical state of deprivation that it constitutes; but rather the inner feelings of remorse that it seeks to express. 

As the Bible states: “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray, seek My presence, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [their remorseful words] from heaven, and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

Even God’s Prophets and Messengers who are very righteous and pure used to acknowledge their mistakes too, and turned to Allah in repentance all the time. Prophet Adam and his wife accepted their mistake and said: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers..” (Qur’an, 7:23). 

Similarly Prophet Moses said: “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” (Qur’an, 28:16) and Prophet Muhammad said: “Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart, and ask Allah for forgiveness one hundred times a day.” (Muslim, 2702)

We should learn from them that, as the Bible states: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is [always] righteous, no one who [always] does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

We need God’s mercy and forgiveness all the time. It is wrong to assume at any time that one will find eternal salvation without the forgiveness of God. Just as it is important to believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness, it is also necessary to base human relations on forgiveness. 

We cannot expect God’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies is one of the most important of Islamic teaching. In the Qur’an, God has described the Believers as: “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies, and when they are angry they forgive.” (42:37)

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting for 24 hours; and during that fast all Jews will hear the words of Prophet Isaiah read during the service in the synagogue as follows: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens [of the oppressed]

To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover them, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily and your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as noon-day. The Lord will guide you continually, satisfying your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)

The Talmud (Yoma 86b) reports Rabbi Reish Lakish said; repentance is very important because remorse can make intentional sins seem to be less vicious and more like an accidental stumble. (Hosea14:2). 

If everyone, over the years, goes through this process both as individuals and joined together as religious communities, we can help bring closer the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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