Friday night (9/29/17) at sundown begins the holy fast day of Yom Kippur, it is one of only two 25-hour fasts on the Jewish calendar (the other is Tisha B’av).
Yom Kippur is thought of as a “happy fast.” Jews give up nourishment, sex and some other things (but let’s face it after the first two who really cares).
While the media stories about the holiday call it the day of atonement, that is not the reason for the fast..we’re not fasting for atonement.
We’re denying ourselves ice cream and connubial relations as some sort of sacrifice to God. The Rabbis say we are fasting because we are concentrating so hard on getting as close as possible to the Lord that we don’t have time for the other stuff.
That’s why it is a happy fast because there is no greater joy than getting closer to God.
If you happen to see one of your Jewish friends walking to shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur there is no need to hide. Thankfully the caffeine withdrawal headaches Jews get on Yom Kippur are not contagious.
Should you want to know what to say to your Jewish friends allow me to suggest that you avoid, “hey you hungry yet?” Two good things to say are, “have an easy fast” or “may God Seal you in the book of life.” Of course, we don’t really believe the creator of the universe sits on a heavenly throne, writing people’s names in a book (if he did I am sure he would have a really powerful iPad).
The mental image God with the book of life is a theme throughout the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashana we say may God put you in the book…. and then on Yom Kippur we change it to may God seal you in the book, possibly with the assumption that God closes the book at the end of the fast and goes to a friends house for whitefish and blitzes at like the rest of us.
Thankfully its all symbolic because our belief is that God welcomes atonement at any time (but it is certainly easier to do it on Yom Kippur because we have the “help of the community ).”