This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Where should Jews of Conscience be on Yom Kippur? Should we fast as we are commanded to on this day of confession and judgment?
The most soul obstructing place for Jews to observe Yom Kippur is in our lavish synagogues. When fasting masks injustice it is false piety, a barrier to God.
Unaccountability and pretense is the norm in synagogues across the nation. The most pressing issue facing Jewish life – the willfully ignorant and terribly belligerent attitude toward Palestinians to whom we owe justice as justice was once owed to us – remains unspoken.
In synagogues on Yom Kippur the oppression of Palestinians is unspeakable.
What is the confession Jews need to make on Yom Kippur? Simply put and without equivocation: What we as Jews have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong. What we as Jews are doing to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong.
Jews are not alone in our vehement ignorance. By our side are our new found friends, enabling Christians, erstwhile lovers of the Jews after more than a millennium of hate. Today we are joined at the empire hip.
This form of Jewish-Christian rapprochement means that the most soul obstructing place for Christians to observe Christmas and Easter is in their lavish churches. Like synagogue for Jews, Christians attending church fulfill their religious obligation by remaining willfully ignorant and terribly belligerent toward Palestinians to whom they owe justice as they once owed justice to Jews.
Some Christians of Conscience have finally arrived at a mature and, for them, revolutionary reflection about Jews. Even more revolutionary, Christians of Conscience have arrived at this reflection in dialogue with Jews of Conscience.
Christians of Conscience differentiate between myths of Jewish conspiracies and the reality of what Jews are doing to Palestinians. They come to this distinction belatedly but their arrival is important. Arriving together, a new stage of the Jewish-Christian journey is at hand.
The dual confession that Christians need to make is incredibly difficult. First is their crime against the Jewish people. Second is their crime against the Palestinian people.
The startling feature about Christians is how they are able to deal with the endless hypocrisy of Christian history and still attend Christian worship. Jews are different. Once religious hypocrisy enters the Jewish realm, it’s over. Jews leave Judaism, never to return.
For most Jews of Conscience exile from synagogue is beside the point. When the subject of worship and God is broached, Jews of Conscience flee the scene.
Nonetheless, Yom Kippur remains the day of days. The Jewish calendar haunts Jews who haven’t set foot in a synagogue for decades. By refusing to pay lip service to Yom Kippur, Jews of Conscience display their primal colors.
As has often been the case in Jewish history, Jews need to mourn and move on. Jews of Conscience might have been able to benefit from Christians of Conscience and how they reacted when their ethical tradition came to an end. But since that end occurred more or less in the 4th century when Christianity became the religion of the empire, many Christians have never experienced a vibrant ethical tradition.
Ironically, Christians look to Jews for guidance. At least, they did. Now we seek them out. But it’s too late. Our Arks are empty.
There’s no use looking to Islam for help. Like Jews and Christians, Muslims have little left of their ethical tradition. The interfaith dialogue that seeks to incorporate Islam is a ruse. Who will benefit if the Muslim clergy end up like the rabbis, priests and ministers Jews and Christians are stuck with?
Some say that our religions have been hijacked by neo-conservatives and extremists. This holds open the possibility of a return to a sense of innocence and redemption if right thinking can be restored. Unfortunately, our religions haven’t been hijacked. They’ve been squandered.
What to do at the end? On Yom Kippur, Jews of Conscience should marvel at how close people of conscience from every faith and secular orientation are to one another. We should appreciate and embrace those we find around our ethical table.
Instead of fasting on Yom Kippur, perhaps we should break bread with those we journey with. After all, the Biblical injunction against false sacrifice as idolatry, always linked to injustice, remains.