This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Yom Kippur arrives once again and, for the most part, the synagogues are silent on the continuing and deepening oppression of the Palestinian people. As if the oppression isn’t happening. As if Jews are innocent in our empowerment.
Omitting the most obvious transgression. What a strange confession!
In Israel, the situation is more obvious. With Palestinians, already walled in, a holy day closure is invoked. Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are sealed shut for Yom Kippur. The issue at hand? Not the oppression of Palestinians but the perils of fasting for Jews observing Yom Kippur.
Instead of the injustices committed, the Israeli authorities remind the public how many Jews are in need medical help during Yom Kippur. Keeping the roads open and clear for medical personnel is crucial. For the Palestinians in need during the Jewish holy day? On a case by case basis. To be decided by military officials on the scene.
What does it mean to fast, to ask God for forgiveness, when that very day symbolizes and concretely intensifies the suffering of those on the other side of Israeli power?
It’s a simple equation. When our repentance omits the very essence of our sin, why fast at all? Why not simply say aloud what we are doing and why? Why not dispense with the call to the confession that when made by Jews of Conscience is thought of as a betrayal?
Yom Kippur is the most hypocritical day of the Jewish calendar. Or is it Passover, where the liberation promised to us, is denied to Palestinians? No wonder why most Jews of Conscience avoid synagogues on Yom Kippur as if they carry the plague of idolatry.
Some years ago a Jewish theologian wrote about the Jewish return into history. His reference was the Holocaust and, because of the suffering in the Holocaust, the need for the Jewish state of Israel. He left out the cost of that “return.” To others, the Palestinians. And to Jews, who now observe Yom Kippur in a convoluted way.
Should Jews fast on Yom Kippur for the sins we are not confessing?
Instead, Jews should fast for Palestine. It’s the confession we need to make.