Friday night (9/29/17) at sundown begins the holy fast day of Yom Kippur, it is one of only two 25-hour fasts on the Jewish calendar (the other is Tisha B’av).
Yom Kippur is thought of as a “happy fast.” Jews give up nourishment, sex and some other things (but let’s face it after the first two who really cares).
While the media stories about the holiday call it the day of atonement, that is not the reason for the fast..we’re not fasting for atonement. We’re denying ourselves ice cream and connubial relations as some sort of sacrifice to God. The Rabbis say we are fasting because we are concentrating so hard on getting as close as possible to the Lord that we don’t have time for the other stuff. That’s why it is a happy fast because there is no greater joy than getting closer to God.
If you happen to see one of your Jewish friends walking to shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur there is no need to hide. Thankfully the caffeine withdrawal headaches Jews get on Yom Kippur are not contagious.
Should you want to know what to say to your Jewish friends allow me to suggest that you avoid, “hey you hungry yet?” Two good things to say are, “have an easy fast” or “may God Seal you in the book of life.” Of course, we don’t really believe the creator of the universe sits on a heavenly throne, writing people’s names in a book (if he did I am sure he would have a really powerful iPad).
The mental image God with the book of life is a theme throughout the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashana we say may God put you in the book…. and then on Yom Kippur we change it to may God seal you in the book, possibly with the assumption that God closes the book at the end of the fast and goes to a friends house for whitefish and blitzes at like the rest of us.
Thankfully its all symbolic because our belief is that God welcomes atonement at any time (but it is certainly easier to do it on Yom Kippur because we have the “help of the community ).”
Note to my Gentile friends if you see a Jew walking to on Synagogue on Friday night ” Hey wanna come over for a beer after temple, “is NOT a proper greeting either.
The fast will end an hour and ten minutes after sundown on Saturday night, but because this year falls on a Saturday it will end a few minutes later. I strongly recommend you stay out of the way of the throng of Jews leaving the Shul and heading for nourishment It more dangerous than getting between Senator Chuck Schumer and a TV camera. You will be able to tell the mob is coming because Yom Kippur ends with a loud blast of the Shofar (a ram’s horn converted into a very loud musical horn).
BTW to help Jews remember the day they spent in intense prayers, many synagogues (including mine) give the children plastic Shofars, louder than the real ones as the kids leave shul at the end of the holiday. Each time one a dear child blows that obnoxious sounding toy, their parents can be heard groaning, “Oh God!”
It is a tradition that after Yom Kippur is over Jews go to the homes of friends and/or family and consume large quantities of whitefish, bagels, and blintzes. There are three reasons for this:
- First of all, so we can play the time-honored game who’s fast was the worst? ” You think you had it rough this year? During my fast, I got such a bad headache that one of my eyes popped out of its socket.” “Oh yeah, my fast was so bad I passed out and went into a coma” “You think yours was bad? Heh! Not only do I have the Yom Kippur a headache but my Rabbi’s sermon was six-hours-long. A few congregants killed themselves because they thought it would never end.”
- The second reason is obvious; people are very hungry and need to eat. Not everyone has the strength to prepare a meal, so to be fair we switch it from family to family every year to spread the “burden” around.
- The final reason is we shouldn’t go near non-Jews after the holiday (NO this is not some sort of Hebraic bigotry nor is it a commandment). We are trying to do you Gentiles a favor. along with the activities I mentioned above, during the 25 hours of the fast, we are not allowed to wash, bath or put on any lotion or scent. We haven’t brushed our teeth or used mouthwash either. After almost a full day of hanging with other Jews in what always seems to be a hot Synagogue the Jews are no longer “God’s Chosen People.” Instead, we have become “God’s Rather Pungent People.” Therefore after the fast, we tend to hang amongst ourselves because no one else would be able to take the noxious aroma.
Before I end this Yom Kippur primer allow me to take this opportunity warn you that another Jewish Holiday, Sukkot starts on Wednesday night which means that Sunday, the day after Yom Kippur, is the most dangerous time in the Jewish calendar because we build those little huts called Sukkahs. And there is nothing more dangerous than the one day in the year where Jewish men use tools….but I will handle that next week
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish all my Jewish friends an easy and meaningful fast. And to all my friends, both Jewish and Goyish:
Gmar Chatimah Tova
May you be sealed in the book (or iPod) of life for a happy and healthy New Year.