Religion and Soul »

Yom Kippur – Heaviest Day in the Jewish Calendar

If only forgiveness was to be asked of the right people.

Wake up in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re the lone survivor of a biological attack. No cars are in the street, no planes in the sky. Not a radio or TV set to be heard. The only sounds are of the occasional secular Israeli making the most of the empty streets to cruise around by bicycle.

But even for Israelis who usually party on the sabbath, scowl at the religious orthodox and maybe even eat a bacon bagle when abroad, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement when most of the population fasts. It’s a time for settling old grudges and asking forgiveness from friends and family. With the usual legal logic of the Bible, anyone who refuses to forgive after being asked 3 times has the burden of the sins passed onto them. You can see where modern lawyers learned to be so sneaky.

Whereas most Jewish holidays follow the logic of they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat, Yom Kippur has peaceful origins and only the memory of the 1973 war (when Egypt and Syria took advantage of the holiday to launch an attack) serves to reinforce the national state of insecurity.

Sadly, as Israel still has the mentality of a tribal society, the asking for forgiveness doesn’t usually extend beyond Israelis themselves. Not many Palestinians will be asked forgiveness for their dead children, their demolished homes, their relatives imprisoned without trial or legal representation in prison camps in the desert.

Would that Israel could learn from the example of Nelson Mandela’s “truth and reconciliation” campaign where offenders under apartheid were invited to come forwards and confess their crimes against humanity and request amnesty.

But that would require Israelis to recognize what their state has done and in the current political climate it seems that injustice doesn’t take holidays.