Fresh take on Yom Kippur

I wish we saw more coverage of liturgical holidays but I get why we don’t. How do you write something fresh and new about something that’s been done … for thousands of years? It’s very difficult to transmit culture or tradition as “news” — since, by definition, they’re not. So that’s why you see news outlets focusing on progressive churches or groups that change, rather than retain, doctrine. It’s actually a fundamental flaw in the transmission-of-information part of the news process … but that’s for a lengthier treatment elsewhere.

But for fresh and new, let’s look at a couple of good treatments. First off is Religion News Service. And don’t be put off by the cliche’d headline of “For somber Jews on Yom Kippur, white is the new black.” Near the top it begins with a rabbi saying his congregation will be dressed in white for Yom Kippur:

Orthodox Jews commonly dress in white on this most holy on the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement – which begins the evening of Sept. 13.

In Reform and Conservative synagogues around the world, the picture on Yom Kippur is more colorful, with congregants dressed in suits and dresses of a variety of hues. Here, only the rabbis and hazzans, the musically-trained prayer leaders, will stand out in their white robes.

But in recent years, the tradition has spread to less observant Jews who make up the majority of world Jewry, and who find that wearing white is a way to connect to the message of Yom Kippur, which ends a month-long period of introspection and atonement for one’s sins.

It’s a trend piece without hard data, but nice anecdotes. We hear from members of congregations and rabbis. And it doesn’t shy away from some nice theological aspects — particularly for a brief piece:

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a member of the “Ask the Rabbi” team at Chabad.org – the online presence of the traditional Chabad movement, offers another Yom Kippur analogy.

“We’re wearing white, for the same reason a bride on her wedding day wears white. White is purity. We’re pure,” Freeman said.

And the groom? God. There may have been some nasty issues between the couple, said Freeman. But Yom Kippur gives them a fresh start.

“We say to Him, ‘We can’t live without you.’ He says to us, ‘I always loved you.’”

Another piece I enjoyed could not have been more brief and comes from Buzzfeed — a graph of people searching Google over the years for what time the sun sets. It peaks each year on Yom Kippur. See above.

Finally, there’s an interesting piece about an app that lets you digitally upload a confession and have it put onto a digital goat that is pushed over a cliff by an animated priest.

It’s called, of course, eScapegoat. It raises tremendously important theological questions and the Wall Street Journal explores some of those in a reported piece that ran in the editorial section. Fans of the app say that it provides more access to Judaism. The article looks into similar apps for others to “confess” their sins and the theological limitations of same:

Noreen Herzfeld, a professor of theology and computer science at St. John’s University, says she understands why religious leaders are so offended by these sites. “Confession is a sacrament,” she explains. “Online boards take God and the sinner’s community out of the equation, making the confession simply personal rather than sacramental.”

But many of these confessors aren’t looking to be absolved by a priest or by God. They’re seeking an outlet where they can share their secrets without feeling judged.

Social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are set up for users to post the shiniest version of themselves to the world—not to reveal vulnerabilities. “In the early days of the Internet, everyone online was anonymous or pseudo-anonymous,” Michael Heyward, the co-founder of Whisper, tells me. But as more people joined, “there was a big push toward posting single, public identities and logging into everything,” he adds.

What got lost in the process, Mr. Heyward says, was a space where people could safely share feelings they’d not normally express. He believes Whisper and similar apps are providing it.

The article is hooked to Yom Kippur but it shows how repentance and atonement are evergreen topics with universal appeal.


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