that’s the question people back home in Israel would be asking each other in the run-up to Yom Kippur (which starts at sunset this evening, hence my thoughts turning to this subject) – this is one of the things I remember from my childhood, the conversations revolving around the question: do you fast? and not because of wanting to find out how observant someone else is but because of wanting to know: can I phone you to chat? because we’d be off school for the day and there’d be no tv or radio and we’d be bored. (but if your family are fasting then phone calls aren’t acceptable.) (yes, the “you” in the “are you fasting?” would have been a plural “you” – meaning your family, not just you personally.)
in my case the answer would have been Yes – my mum fasted, so did my sister, and so did I. my dad, as far as I remember, didn’t, and nor did my brother – they were both atheists. does that mean that my mum and my sister and I all did it out of some devout religious fervour? no, not at all. we did it because, well, that’s what you do. custom, tradition, Jewish default setting – it’s what you do unless you have some reason not to. If you’re a devout atheist like my dad was, then that’s a reason not to. Or if you’re a rebel, as I later became – rebelling against the stuff I’d grown up with, because I didn’t see any meaning in it. All I saw was people observing traditions because that’s the tradition, with no reason, no passion, no real faith.
many years later I remember asking my mum once about why she kept kosher. did she really believe that God would be angry with her if she mixed meat and dairy? no, she said, she didn’t really believe that God minded. (my mum did believe that God exists, so this question was relevant to her.) so, if she didn’t believe that God minded, I asked, why did she keep kosher? it is quite a palaver, it’s not just about stuff you can’t eat but it’s about a whole system of separate crockery and cutlery and pots and pans for meat and for dairy – it makes life a lot more complicated, and my mum was the type who liked to simplify things. so why did she put herself through that, if she didn’t believe God would mind? because of friends and family, she said – because of wanting people who visit to be able to eat in her home. if she didn’t keep kosher, then those who are more observant wouldn’t be able to eat off her plates.
that’s the sort of stuff I was surrounded by when I was growing up (though I know that’s not the whole picture, but it’s what I saw at the time): people observing customs and traditions not out of conviction that it’s what God expects, but for all sorts of other reasons that don’t have much to do with God. so, as a teenager, I quite naturally rebelled. it all seemed so meaningless.
and now? I am miles away from where I was back then – and not just geographically :) the teenage rebel grew up and, at the age of 27, to her great surprise, met God and found that not only is he real but she could get to know him personally, and that he loves her! so now, my greatest and deepest desire is to please God. and if I thought he wanted me to fast, I’d do it with joy.
but I’m pretty clear he doesn’t. you see, the whole Yom Kippur thing was part of the sacrificial system that was in place as a temporary measure, before the promised Messiah arrived – he has made atonement once for all, for all the sins of any who believe in him. thanks to Yeshua, who is both the sacrificial Lamb of God and also Great High Priest forever, who offered himself as the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, thanks to him I am cleansed and forgiven forever, made righteous before God not because I’m particularly wonderful (I’m not) but because Yeshua’s righteousness is credited to me, and he is perfect and holy and lived a completely sinless life.
so I don’t need to do the Yom Kippur fast. (which in any case isn’t sufficient for fulfilling the biblical instructions, as those involved the sacrifice at the Temple. so why would God give us instructions and then leave us without a way of obeying those instructions? ah, interesting, he allowed the Temple to be destroyed just a few decades after the Messiah was crucified. It seems to me the message there is loud and clear: you don’t need that stuff any more, it’s sorted.)
I do sometimes do a partial fast on Yom Kippur, but not out of obligation – I’m free to fast or not fast or whatever in between. In any case, whether or not I’m fasting, I tend to focus on praying for my people on this day – my prayer, as ever, that God would help more and more of us to see the truth and to come to saving faith in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah who had been promised. God in his great mercy did that for me – opened my eyes and helped me see. I pray that he will do that for all my friends and relatives who don’t know yet.
May you come to the point of putting your faith in the Messiah, so that you will indeed be inscribed in the book of life – once and for ever.