The holiest day of the Jewish year is celebrated and imagined in many different ways. While I am scrambling to finish grading and cooking, I am posting a small crop of texts I found meaningful this year:
Jay Michaelson is a thoughtful writer on topics that touch on spirituality, sexuality, Judaism, and law. In his “Queer Repentance: On Not Surrendering to a Text, to Guilt, or to Habit” at Religious Dispatches reminds us that while Yom Kippur is particularly difficult for gays (the ur-anti-gay text, Leviticus 18, is customarily read on this day), the holiday in fact calls on all to take a good long look at ourselves. He cautions us to follow an “inner voice” that is all too often a construct, a social construct, or perhaps occasioned by guilt. He writes: There is no substitute for discernment. Not surrender to a text, nor zeal, nor the illusions of the “deep down.” Only the hard work of spiritual practice (meditation, contemplation, contemplative prayer, yoga, etc) to untangle the mind and try to see one’s values and one’s actions clearly. It’s not that everything is okay and all is permitted. It’s that the only way to sort wheat from chaff is to do so carefully, in a calm and composed mind, at once informed by sacred traditions and yet almost, it seems, from scratch.
Danielle Gelfand reflects on the ways in which her father’s suicide, a few days before Yom Kippur, has continued to cast a shadow on her and her mother’s lives. In a moving NYT piece, “Years of Atonement,” she talks about the family’s struggle with her father’s depression and eventual suicide, and how this holiday can, perhaps, provide some healing, and signal hope. After so many years of holding my breath through the months of September and October, she writes, I was also ready. The High Holy Days, after all, celebrate forgiveness, which, like everything else, starts with the self.
Bibleraps, a young group of rappers/educators have come out with a video on Jonah, another text traditionally read on Yom Kippur. True to form, they have added a sourcesheet for their listeners/students.
Jonah “Mr. Got a Pair of Eyes”
Lastly, of course, Leonard Cohen’s classic Who by Fire that makes extensive use of the day’s liturgy. We will be singing this song at the beginning of Yizkor, the service commemorating our departed loved ones.
This is based on the haunting U’Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom–Let Us Tell How Utterly Holy This Day Is, a central part of the liturgies of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (you can find more information about the prayer here). Ascribed to the otherwise unknown Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who composed this prayer under the threat of forced conversion, the prayer has been found in Or Zarua, a thirteenth century prayer-book and, I think, in the Cairo Genizah as well. It vividly describes that on this day, humanity is judged and our fate for the next year is sealed. Yet, there is always hope: But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.
In Columbia, SC, Yom Kippur begins at 6:43 p.m.