My Reason/Excuse For Not Caring About Yom Kippur

9 Oct

I think one of the main lessons of the story of Yonah that’s read on Yom Kippur is that even the greatest men, with the greatest intentions, can’t understand God’s master plan because of their own biases. (You know, the Navi Yonah didn’t want to prophesy in Nineveh and give them a chance to repent because they were Israel’s enemies, but was forced to and was then taught a lesson by God to help him understand.)

Anyhow, I think the same thing is true with our tefillos. Just because the people who wrote the prayers saw Yom Kippur a certain way, doesn’t mean that that’s how it should be for us. The piyutim especially, begging God to spare us for one more year, save us from our enemies, calling up merits and mercy and promises and tears in exchange for salvation. These don’t apply to us, in my opinion. They were written by Jews who feared for their lives from peasants, cossacks, lords, etc, and truly put their faith in God. And it’s wrong for us to shtup our own thoughts into these prayers like some people tell us to do. Unless you mean it, don’t pretend to- God probably isn’t that stupid.

These prayers were written by fearful oppressed people living in horrible conditions. It makes sense that they bargained with God as if he were a dictatorial king- that’s what their entire reality was. We, however, don’t live in fear. And since we don’t have to, why would a person intentionally put himself in a scary, unhealthy environment like old-country religion? Approaching God, religion, spirituality with such a mindset doesn’t work for most people in America because it makes God seem like an out of touch, paranoid, insecure, control-freak. He doesn’t belong in reality, and he doesn’t seem real. If you want to gain benefit from faith -and I think that there can be a lot to be gained by having faith, even today- you can’t use the old way. It’s false, it will always feel false, and it will be extinguished if made to face reality.

Here, the old problem of Mesorah comes back. The tefillos are part of our heritage. You can’t throw parts of the religion out because they don’t make sense to you. You’re separating yourself from the rest of the Klal. You need to reach a consensus with representatives from all groups of Jews, which will never happen, because you’d have to meet with people who still isolate themselves in communities that haven’t left the feudal ages. What do you do? Cut out the rotten branches, and with it, your ties with the community; or leave the pieces in that threaten to destroy you and the whole tree?

I wish someone in the frum community had an answer, or at least the guts to deal with this elephant in the room.  As of now, I just read over the tefillos mechanically to be yotzeh zein and not exclude myself from the tzibbbur. Sometimes I’ll selectively pay attention to a sentence that catches my eye and ignore the concluding part that makes me think, Wow, that’s unhealthy. But honestly, it’s a very screwed up way to daven, and not prone to sustained fits of kavanah, which is what praying is supposed to be about.

If I were in charge, I’d either have the whole thing rewritten from scratch (in a non-dead/foreign language), or keep shema and then a whole bunch of topic keywords that everyone could skim and use as jumping-off points for personal prayer.

Anybody else have some thoughts on this?

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13 Responses to “My Reason/Excuse For Not Caring About Yom Kippur”

  1. anon October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Dan again.
    Yes, I totally associate with your “psycho in the sky” rant. I’ve even been repeating it.

    When I was younger in yeshiva, the asara harugei malchus were a big thing, where the chazan would cry, and I would sit there reading the artscroll which says we should think that if they deserved this, what do we deserve.
    Now, is that helpful? Do I really think I am so bad that I should those things done to me? No, I’m really not. And I really don’t think it helped me become closer to G-d.
    I don’t know.

    • itchemeyer October 10, 2011 at 2:51 am #

      Yeah, it’s the same rant pretty much just focused on the davening. I think it’s a mess, glad you think so too- it’s uncomfortable having anti-party line thoughts without support.

  2. anon October 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    hey, I just noticed. You linked sorotzkin.
    I love sorotzkin. he is so right on. I wanted to email him your psycho in the sky line.

    • itchemeyer October 10, 2011 at 2:48 am #

      Yeah, someone showed me his site like a a year ago, and I’m hooked.

  3. Anonymous October 11, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Excellent point.

    This is what infuriates me about Judaism. Over the past thousands of years we’ve collected so much debris on what being a “Jew” is coupled with the strong notion that nothing may be changed or taken away from what we’ve collected that we now have an end result that feels totally inapplicable to the current world we live in. *Sigh*

    • itchemeyer October 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

      Sigh back. We both cant do anything about it.

  4. Anonymous October 11, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    I hear your point and I think it represent a much larger issue with Judaism today.

    The part in Unetanneh Tokef that goes: “Who will die by water and by fire, by sword, by beast, by famine, by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning,” I couldn’t help but think: “…Uhm… Very few?”

  5. Gutman Braun October 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Amen, itchemeyer. I nominate you as the new Ezra – and when you’ve finished up the final touches on the updated Judaism, I’ll be your gabbai!

    • itchemeyer October 19, 2011 at 9:53 am #

      You know, that just might work… So youre the behind the scenes, mysterious, (chess playing) nechemiah. I see you taking a Rasputinish turn somewhere down the road. You ok with that?

      • Gutman Braun October 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

        I dunno about the Rasputin part; as i recall his episode didn’t end very well. Can I get a Josephus-ish turn instead?

        • itchemeyer October 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

          Ha yeah, forgot about that. Unless you want to take one for the team… I have to brush up on Josephus, anything happen to him?

          • Gutman Braun October 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

            He had to move to Rome, but Titus gave him money, land and prestige…

            • itchemeyer October 25, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

              Ok, ok. Can’t do the first two, but you can become grand vizier of yeshivaforum. How’s that sound?

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