Today’s post does not examine the rituals of the modern celebration of Yom Kippur, but the personal convictions of those who live in modern Israel. While many aspects of the feast have survived over the centuries, the concept varies with each individual. To accomplish this we will hear from two modern Israelis. In 1997 interviewed two Israelis about their view of Yom Kippur. Although from 13 years ago, I think they provide some insight to the variety of beliefs in modern Judaism.
Moshe is an Orthodox Jew who lives in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Moshe has just finished a seven year study of the Talmud and is intimately familiar with the tractates concerning Yom Kippur. However, Moshe prefers to call the day not the Day of Atonement, but the Day of Purification. Moshe uses terms like attempting and striving to describe the desired end of his prayer and fasting. He does not consider the day to be one concerned with sin, but with gaining a relationship with God. He is convinced that he can do nothing about his sinfulness, and is better off working on his relationship with God. He likens himself and others to small helpless plants in the hand of the Maker who need to be watered and nurtured.
On Yom Kippur he will recite four major prayers in which are the thread of confession. He does not see any particular power in the words of the prayers, but in their ability to make him look inward. Though he repeats the prayers every year, each year he considers something new.
At the end of the day he will participate in the closing hymns, dancing, and the statement "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem". Moshe believes in the fulfillment of prophecy and is living in the rebuilt Jerusalem waiting for the third temple to be built. He believes that sacrifice will be re-instituted, but it will not affect the way he approaches the holy day.
Jonathan lives in West Jerusalem and classifies himself as a "concerned secular" Jew. Jonathan will not celebrate Yom Kippur in the traditional manner. When he was a boy growing up in Canada Yom Kippur was a day that he celebrated because of the connection it gave those in the Diaspora to Israel. Upon coming to Israel in the early 1970's he began to find that for him the holidays were more a symbol of nationalism than religion. This is especially true to Jonathan and many others his age who remember the terror of the Yom Kippur War and the bitter days that followed. For him it is not a day of repentance, but remembrance.
Jonathan also has personal convictions that prevent him from participating in the holy day. He is unsure of institutionalized repentance. Many times he observes people at the wall praying, but the next day are living as if they have a new lease to sin. Jonathan approaches repentance as a daily act on a personal level. He would rather be constantly in reflection instead of only once a year. This year he enjoyed Yom Kippur as a quiet day at home watching videos with his family and eating a good dinner. In the evening he may go to the synagogue to expose his children to the heritage of the day, but he will not force them to participate in Yom Kippur.
In 1997 Lori and lived in the center of Jerusalem. We lived on a very busy street across from the Prime Minister’s office. The din from the traffic was constant! But on that day in September when all of Israel paused for Yom Kippur everything in Jerusalem came to as stop. Few if any cars were driven. Families went out for walks and children could roller skate in what was a very busy street 364 days of the year. We did not attend any services at the synagogue nor did we go anywhere since everything was closed. But I remember being impressed how an entire nation took time to pause and personally reflect on their lives individually and together.
Yom Kippur has gone through many developments from its invention till present. While as an institution it has survived the centuries, it has also developed to meet the needs of its era. Yom Kippur is a day for repentance. Regardless of how the act is carried out it is a time when all people can reflect upon their life, and that of their families. It is a time to ask God and others for forgiveness and a closer relationship with one another. It is a day intended to remind us of what we should do every other day of the year.