Some Post Yom Kippur Thoughts

If you were to see me during the High Holyday Services, you wouldn’t see me reading the prayerbook. That’s because much of the language in Gates of Repentence does not reach to me. I’m too much of the scientist and objective thinker to connect with the notions of a God that judges actions or actively curses or rebukes. The notion of prayer doesn’t do that much for me. Instead, I connect to the holiday through history, so during the service you’ll find me reading Gates of Understanding 2 (the companion volume with backnotes to Gates of Repentence) and S. Y. Agnon’s Days of Awe. I find it interesting to read about practices of old, why particular prayers are in the prayerbook, how the structure of prayer was chosen to influence thinking, the conscious decisions that go into prayer.

For example, just yesterday I was reading in Days of Awe about the custom of Kapparot, where the very traditional transfer their sins to a chicken, swing it around their head, kill it, and then donate the chicken to the poor. I read that some communities don’t follow that custom, and donate the money that would have gone to the chicken to the poor instead. Later that day, I happened upon an article about how some communities in Israel are now rethinking the practice, realizing it is a form of animal cruelty that God would not want, and are (in turn) stopping the practice and donating money instead. To me, reading something like this demonstrates what the holy days are about: realizing you are doing something wrong, and taking some action to correct the practice.

I relate this not only to pass on some news chum, but to explain why I still go to HHD services even without an active belief in God (my belief in God is more of a Deist approach). Where I find the beauty in Judaism is in the traditions and practice, and more importantly the moral and philosophical teachings, as well as the analytic approach. For example, Judaism has the tradition of preserving the minority opinion, finding value in all views even if they are not accepted. Judaism also acknowledges the people are not perfect, and will continually make mistakes. I find the beauty of the HHD in this acknowledgement—in a sense, Yom Kippur is a day of continuous process improvement. You reexamine yourself, and ask yourself: where am I doing the right thing, and where can I do better. It also teaches you to acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. It is this process that, to me, is the value of the high holy days.