The High Holy Days are just over a month away. The time of the New Year and, ten days later, the time of repentance at Yom Kippur are almost upon us.
As a Jew by choice who will be officially a member of the Tribe only sixteen days before Rosh Hashanah (if I’ve counted correctly), and who had a powerful, meaningful experience at last year’s Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days will probably hit me hard every single year. Last year, part of what hit me so hard was that we aren’t getting singled out for our sin. We are all confessing, communally, as a community, to grave sins.
This is on my mind today partly because of an article in this morning’s New York Times. This article is talking about the recent murders of Shira Banki and Ali Saad Dawabsheh by Jewish extremist fanatics. I could quote from all kinds of places in this article, but I think this is probably one of the best ones, from Donniel Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi:
“The interesting question for all of us is, ‘Is this going to be a growth moment or is it going to be another wasted Yom Kippur? Oh, we’ve sinned, and we feel so righteous for saying we’ve sinned.’”
Mouthing the prayers is not the same as meaning them. It’s not even close. It’s the difference between keva (saying the words) and kavanah (feeling the words). And although I have seen many Christians mouth the words of repentance and then turn around and hurt people (what are sometimes called Sunday-only or Christmas and Easter Christians), it never occurred to me that many Jews might do the same thing.
So what is Yom Kippur about? Repentance and atonement? Or feeling prideful that you’re at the service, and fasting, and look how impressive you are? That’s not attractive to me. I doubt that anyone at my shul does this, but I don’t know for sure. And I’m going to be remembering what the words mean when I say them on Yom Kippur, because on that day the community confesses together:
Ashamnu: We have trespassed.
Bagadnu: We have dealt treacherously.
Gazlalnu: We have robbed.
Dibarnu dofi: We have spoken slander.
He’evinu: We have acted perversely.
V’hirshanu: We have done wrong.
Zadnu: We have acted presumptuously.
Hamasnu: We have done violence.
Tafalnu sheker: We have practiced deceit.
Yaatsnu ra: We have counseled evil.
Kizavnu: We have spoken falsehood.
Latsnu: We have scoffed.
Maradnu: We have revolted.
Niatsnu: We have blasphemed.
Sararnu: We have rebelled.
Avinu: We have committed iniquity.
Pashanu: We have transgressed.
Tsararnu: We have oppressed.
Kishinu oref: We have been stiff-necked.
Rashanu: We have acted wickedly.
Shichatnu: We have dealt corruptly.
Tiavnu: We have committed abomination.
Tainu: We have gone astray.
Titanu: We have led others astray.
A couple of those are general enough that a lot of sins can fit into them. V’hirshanu, for example. Tainu, as another example.
And frankly, this year, given what happened to Shira and Ali, in a nation where the police could have stopped the man who killed Shira and the men who killed Ali, all of Israel should be admitting “Hamasnu, Tsararnu, Tiavnu.” Because those murders were violence, they were oppression, and they were abomination.
Now, as a Jew in the United States, do I bear a share of the responsibility for those murders? Yes. Every Jew does. Every Jew should be saying “The murderers were Jews, and how horrifying and shameful that they were Jews.”
But if we simply say “that was shameful and horrifying,” and mouth the Ashamnu on Yom Kippur, have we changed anything meaningful? Or are we just feeling righteous for saying we’ve sinned?
I don’t know how I can help as a non-Israeli Jew, but there has to be something I can do to bring about tzedek (justice).
Justice is one of the things that brought me to Judaism. It has to be one of the reasons I continue in it.
10 responses to ““A Wasted Yom Kippur””
Reblogged this on Coffee Shop Rabbi and commented:
Yasher koach, Adam!
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Thanks, Rabbi! Somehow WordPress decided your comments were spam – no idea how that happened! I hope I’ve corrected it. If I lost any of your comments due to the spam filter being too aggressive, I am so, so sorry!
No worries. I have to remember to check my spam filters too.
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I agree. there is no point in the practice of Judaism, without justice. V’ahavta, or forget it.
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It’s wonderful to see people thinking about Rosh haShanah and Yom Kipur so many weeks in advance and using that time for introspection. Clearly, you will not allow these valuable days to go to waste! What a bold decision to leave your inherited faith and embrace the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Your compassion is apparent in your statement of sympathy over the tragic deaths of Shira and Saad. Our Sages teach us that the signs of the Jewish people are compassion, modest and kindness! I like that you quoted an Orthodox rabbi reverently. It is so important to have respect for those with different streams of thought; it is so easy to be dismissive and condescending, and your sense of justice shines through with such displays of open-mindedness and respect. What an honor to welcome a person of such refined character to our nation!
On that note, and I know I’m about to open up a can of worms here, but I do so out of genuine concern for you, not to stir up controversy. Here goes… I know of quite a number of cases in which people who converted to Judaism through Reform were chagrined to learn later that their conversion was not recognized by some other streams of Judaism (particularly Orthodox). See this article on the subject: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Conversion.html
Importantly: “The Reform movement recommends that the potential convert be made aware of mikvah and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required.” (And, by the way, I do believe the Orthodox have the right to preserve Judaism according to their tradition by upholding strict standards for conversion. There’s nothing wrong with that.)
So, I’m telling you because I care about you. From your description, you and I share a fair amount in common, and you certainly seem like someone worth caring about. And this important information may influence how you go about conversion or your overall decision to convert.
Thank you for this uplifting article, and may God bless you in all your endeavors to come close to Him.
Wow. I know you meant well, but you made so many assumptions here that I must correct them.
Thank you for your compliments on the post. I appreciate them. But I do need to address your assumptions, because they really annoyed me.
I am well aware of the Orthodox position on my conversion, but this may surprise you: I don’t care what Orthodox Jews think of me. They don’t own Judaism, even though they think they do. Yes, they have the right to hold to their tradition. They do not, however, have the right to claim sole ownership of Judaism, any more than the Westboro Baptist Church has the right to claim sole ownership of Christianity.
I’ve written on this issue extensively in this blog already. I have a strong dislike of fundamentalists, and the Orthodox fit into that category. Yes, they’re Jews. But so am I. They can pretend I’m not a Jew, but they will be wrong. If the anti-Semitic pogroms came again, I’d be targeted right along with them.
This article may help you understand my position: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.670717
I am finishing my initial conversion process with my beit din on the 27th. It will include mikveh and hatafat dam brit. I say initial because conversion is a life-long process. A b’nei mitzvah doesn’t stop learning and growing after their 13th birthday; a Jew by choice doesn’t stop learning after their beit din. If I had doubts about the stream of Judaism I was joining, I wouldn’t be going through with this.
And as a matter of fact, knowing the Orthodox position has influenced how I went about conversion – I deliberately chose the Reform movement because the Orthodox make me ill with their continued fundamentalism. They can hold to their strict standards for conversion to their variety of Judaism. They cannot impose those standards on me. And when they try to impose their standards on others, we get stabbings at the Jerusalem pride parade (http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/02/middleeast/jerusalem-gay-pride-parade-stabbings/), and infants set on fire (http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/1.668871), and closer to home in the US, we get young women who commit suicide because their Orthodox communities hounded them into it (http://www.timesofisrael.com/ex-hasidic-woman-jumps-off-ny-rooftop-bar-to-her-death/). You can probably see that I’m not interested in their views after events like this. I hold all Orthodox responsible for those deaths (and by extension, all Jews including myself, for not putting the kibosh on the Orthodox and their hateful views).
I don’t like your implication that the Reform somehow hide this information from conversion candidates – that the Orthodox only accept Orthodox converts. It was never hidden from me. It annoyed me when I discovered it (on my own, before I even contacted a rabbi), and angered me when my rabbi and I discussed it, but I am not chagrined that the Orthodox wouldn’t accept me. I am chagrined that they’re too closed-minded to accept me, because that’s their loss. Their acceptance has zero bearing on my decision to become a Jew – apart from my sense of justice showing me that they have none.
I am a Jew who practices my Judaism in the Reform manner. If you wish to follow my blog, I’m fine with that. However, I’m not fine with commentary that says that only the Orthodox are real Jews, so if that’s your stance, I would appreciate it if you’d keep it out of my blog. Having looked at your blog, I doubt that you would be comfortable here, especially after seeing your recent attack on scientists.
Framing it as “caring about me,” when you’ve read one or two of my posts, sounds too much like Christians who have tried to convince me that Judaism is wrong and Jesus is the only right way. Don’t be one of those folks, okay?
Also, don’t take my quoting of an Orthodox rabbi as any indication that I think Orthodoxy is the only way, or the only right way. Rabbi Hartman said something smart and important, and something that more Jews need to think about. That’s why I quoted him – not because he was an Orthodox rabbi. I’ve found worthy information to think about in all kinds of books and from all kinds of sources.
I bid you good day.
Adam, thank you for your honest and heartfelt reply. If only most Jews had as acute an understanding of Judaism as you do, in your expression that a Jew’s journey does not end with Bar Mitzvah (or conversion, in this case), but only begins. I have a friend, a rabbi, who says, “There’s no such thing as Orthodox Jew, Conservative Jew, Reform Jew, etc. There are only two kinds of Jews. Growing Jews, and non-growing Jews. Where you are on the spectrum of observance is irrelevant. The question is, are you moving in the right direction?” I have heard this from a number of rabbis (who would be labelled Orthodox, incidentally). In fact, I had had plans with another rabbi friend of mine, a former colleague, to start a “movement” called “Under-Constructionist Judaism” (UCJ) based on this philosophy. We both left the organization we had been working for at the end of that year and went our separate ways, so nothing ever came of that.
However, on the topic of your anti-Orthodox diatribe, I would like to ask you a question. Have you ever met Orthodox Jews? Interacted with them? Spent time with them? Or are all your conceptions of what Orthodox Jews are based on their portrayal in the media, or otherwise secondhand sources? I ask because your statements about Orthodox Jews in this reply are broad, sweeping statements that lump everyone into one basket. Someone as intelligent as yourself certainly understands the error of this approach. Not only is it impossible to characterize all people within a group with one label, for certainly there must be exceptions, often “stereotypes,” and particularly negative ones, are built around the extreme behaviors of a very visible minority, but don’t represent the views of the majority, even the vast majority. Often, the characterization of a group by a small number of representatives COMPLETELY misidentifies the rest of the group. Antisemites have done this for millennia, as have other groups toward one another, and this has only yielded tragedy and destruction. I’m surprised that someone like you is not more sensitive to this. And as an Orthodox Jew myself, I KNOW you’ve mischaracterized me and my community, and I am personally hurt by your remarks. Sadly, this happens all too often. People are quick to judge one another, and I too, it seems I was too quick in my judgment of you as tolerant of other streams of thought, including “the hateful Orthodox,” which, apparently, includes myself. I once heard someone say, “When non-Orthodox Jews talk about ‘Ahavat Yisrael,’ they mean toward everyone but the Orthodox.” I would like to believe that was hyperbole, but it seems to reflect a real sentiment. I must admit that I have heard over and over from people who have interacted with Reform communities (including those who came out of Reform and became Orthodox) about the enmity toward the Orthodox, sometimes unspoken, sometimes overt, that exists among the Reform, though I have personally never encountered it… until now. From what I know, it is the people who have had the least contact with the Orthodox that have the strongest prejudices. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because stereotyping is easy, but real life experiences shatter stereotypes. I have personally been mugged (while I lived in New York) multiple times by African Americans and have NEVER allowed that to create prejudices in my mind, despite the temptation. Will you really form your opinion of a whole by the behavior of a radical? Or was your opinion already made up? Is your picture of really formed by the images and headlines you are fed in the media? I know you are a good person, with a strong sense of justice, as you highlight in your article. Does anything I’m saying resonate right now that perhaps you have prejudged, and wrongly so at that? You see, I REALLY KNOW what Orthodox Jews are, and the reality on the ground does not comport with the image of the Orthodox you have presented here (which I’m certain is only a reflection of the twisted image that has been fed to you — you would never on your own paint such a character; it just surprised me that a forward thinking person like you did not see through it). Don’t you see that your condemnation of “the Orthodox” is the same crime that you accuse “them” of perpetrating? I’m not claiming every Orthodox Jew to be an angel, but they can’t be worse than any other demographic, none of which you would vilify for the actions of any of their individuals. And even if you fall back on the “hateful views” of the Orthodox as justification for your characterization of the people, I once again must assert that your impression of Orthodox views must be greatly misinformed. I humbly direct you to one of the best sources of information on the Internet for Orthodox ideology: aish.com. It is one of many mainstream Orthodox Jewish websites, none of which I think you could accuse of touting “hateful views,” quite the contrary, in fact. Why don’t you go ahead and check out ou.org, of the — GASP! — Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), and find a condemnation of the stabbing attack as well as the “pricetag” murders. I hope you will reconsider your evaluation of Orthodox Jewry. No, I am not trying to influence you to become one of us (you may well know the Orthodox do not seek converts, though we LOVE the convert, as the Torah teaches us to — you read that right, “love,” not “hate”), but I’m allowed to be genuinely caring toward others, even non-Jews, even though — GASP! — I’m Orthodox! (“No, it cannot be!”) This reminds me of a story told by Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, a prominent American rabbi of the 20th Century. (Ironically, he would declare that he was not an “Orthodox Jew,” but a “Torah Jew,” because the Torah was not something that could be contained within such a label.) Rabbi Gifter was friendly with community members of all streams — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform — within the Cleveland community. When he would find out that a Reform or Conservative acquaintance would be travelling to Israel, Rabbi Gifter would urge them to visit the great sage who was then alive, Rabbi M. Shach of Bnei Brak. Rabbi Shach was renowned for being an outspoken firebrand, and was widely labeled as “hateful,” even from sectors within the Orthodox community. Upon their return, Rabbi Gifter would ask his friends of their impression of the sage. They found themselves speechless in attempting to describe the boundless love that exuded from Rabbi Shach during their brief encounter with him. Rabbi Gifter would then inform them, “That Rabbi you met… is the head of the fanatics!” They refused to believe this. Rabbi Gifter would conclude, “And I am one of his fanatics!” The point Rabbi Gifter made to them is that the Orthodox are none of what people think they are, and in fact tend to be quite the opposite the more Orthodox they are, Rabbi Shach in point. This point is clear to me as an insider, but I emphasize the point here out of necessity for someone who may be an outsider, and yet, no matter how much I try to convey this, something tells me I won’t convince you. They say no one was every convinced in an argument, so I’ll lay off now.
Incidentally, Rabbi Adar just posted a great piece to her blog about being a Shabbat guest. Let me suggest another great “Orthodox” website (that is, created and run by an Orthodox Rabbi): Shabbat.com. It’s a free service that allows you (among other things) to contact a potential Shabbat host ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD to arrange to stay or eat for Shabbat. Why don’t you find yourself a nice Orthodox family near you to host you for Shabbat, and then tell me after your experience about your FIRSTHAND impression of the Orthodox? I think that’s the fairest way to judge, don’t you?
Thanks for your time and thought in responding to my earlier comment.
I’ve devoted an entire post to responding to this, here:
I want this yom Kippur really different, I want many things in my life to stop, a real changes. Lets all do it together,
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