This evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I find myself thinking back.
One memory is from my childhood – my sister walking into the kitchen and asking our mother to show her some chocolates. Not the most obvious way of coping with a total fast, but hey…
Another memory is from later – my very early 20s – a rebellious meirav going to the beach and having a picnic, wanting to make my rebellion totally public. Just as I had a habit for a while of going to a non-kosher burger place in Tel Aviv during Passover and ordering a cheeseburger so that I could break three rules in one go: eating non-kosher meat, eating meat and cheese together (combining meat and dairy products is not allowed), and eating bread during Passover, when we’re supposed to eat only unleavened bread.
Why such rebellious acts? who was I rebelling against? not against God – I didn’t even know he existed. against my parents? not against my dad – he was a devout atheist and would have probably been proud of me. and I don’t think my mum would have been all that bothered, she has kept these customs mainly because that’s the tradition, not out of a serious belief that it’s important. so who was I rebelling against?
When you grow up as a Jew in Israel, you grow up with the tension between the religious minority and the secular majority, and if you are – as I was – part of the secular majority, then there’s a sense of injustice at how the religious minority force their customs onto you. This is down to our voting system – proportional representation is a great idea in theory, but in practice what it means is that no party has a large enough majority to form a stable government, so they’re at the mercy of the smaller parties; so after the elections we have a period of unpleasant horse trading, in which the religious parties, representing a small minority of the population, are able to dictate terms to the larger parties. So in the interests of forming a government, they agree to pass laws which the majority of the population do not want and did not vote for.
And so this afternoon a whole load of secular Israelis will have been rushing to get their shopping done before the shops close, and the shops are obliged to close whether the people working there observe the Yom Kippur fast or not. The same goes for every weekend – Friday afternoon the shops close early, and stay closed for the duration of Saturday. Public transport stops, so if you don’t have a car you can’t take the family on a fun day trip to enjoy the sea or the beauty of nature, so families stay cooped up at home getting bored. (Am wondering if now that there’s cable and satellite maybe at least there’s the option of watching TV – in my days we had only Israeli TV and that stopped for the Sabbath.) Lots of restaurants and cafés are forced to close for the Sabbath not because of a legal requirement but because the rabbis threaten to revoke their kosher certificate if they don’t comply, which would mean losing the custom of anyone who won’t eat in a place that doesn’t have a kosher certificate. And there’s a whole load of complex issues as a result of marriage regulations – if you’re Jewish then you’re under the rabbis’ jurisdiction for anything to do with marriage, and there are all sorts of reasons why they won’t allow some people to marry, so some couples end up going off to neighbouring Cyprus to get married there.
Looking at all this from where I stand now, it saddens me because of how this stuff gets in the way of people getting to know God and finding out how wonderful he is – because forcing stuff onto people is a sure way of getting them to rebel, to turn away, to want nothing to do with any of it.
My prayer for my people on Yom Kippur is that some will, despite all the obstacles, come to know God for real.