Monday, 24 September 2012

YK with a Humanist Slant

Wishing an easy fast to all those who will be fasting. And, for the lighter side of Yom Kippur here's Guy Branum's take on the Holy Day . . . 

Also, The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism had an article on their blog re: humanist takes on fasting. The blog was removed, but I've copied/pasted the text below from Google's cache (here's a link). I don't fast, but here's food for thought re: why someone who is an atheist might . . .

What is the point of self-deprivation on Yom Kippur when God is not there to judge?
There are six fast days on the traditional Jewish calendar. The fasts on the seventeeth day of Tamuz (often late July), the fast on the tenth of Tevet (in early winter) on the ninth of Ab (usually sometime in August), and the Fast of Gedalyah on the day after Rosh Hashannah, all commemorate the destruction of the temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty. This leaves two other fasts, the fast commemorating Esther’s determination vis-à-vis King Xerxes (Achashverosh) when it came to saving the Jewish Diaspora from ruin, and Yom Kippur, which I spoke about in an earlier post. What I want to talk about is whether as Humanist Jews we should fast or not on any of these days. 

Fasting is difficult, and though the long-term health affects of fasting for one day are virtually non-existent, one may legitimately ask, if you take God out of the equation what’s the point? What is the point of fasting in remembrance of a destroyed temple dedicated to a God who demanded animal sacrifice? What is the point of self-deprivation on Yom Kippur when God is not there to judge? and - What is the point of commemorating the loss of Jewish Sovereignty when the Jews have returned to their ancestral homeland?

Well there is a point, and it’s a humanist point, five out of six of the fast on the traditional Jewish calendar are in remembrance of human tragedies. If one reads the book of Lamentations, written following the destruction of the first temple the temple is mentioned, but the focus is definitely the extraordinary human tragedy: the hunger, the sickness, the exile, and the death. The fact that the Jews have returned to Israel doesn’t mean we should forget our long and often tragic history.

One may legitimately ask, why should fasting be the way we commemorate these historical events, there are many other ways to do so. I agree that fasting shouldn’t necessarily be the way we commemorate these events but it should at least be considered; it is a tradition that is almost 2600 years old. Since hunger was one of the privations that Jews suffered during the days the fasts are commemorating, perhaps ritual hunger is a fitting remembrance. If one decides that fasting is a fitting tribute, I submit that it should not be the beginning and the end of one’s commemoration. The 6th century B.C.E (Deutero) Isaiah illustrates what an acceptable fast should look like:

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
 to loose the bonds of injustice,
 to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
 and to break every yoke? 
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
 and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
 and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
 and your healing shall spring up quickly;

Indeed, in recent history the hunger strike has emerged as a very potent weapon of the powerless and the disenfranchised all over the world in their struggle for social justice. Jews, throughout history have been on the disenfranchised side of the equation too many times to count, the loss of sovereignty following the destruction of the temples is just a local nadir. Thus, I submit that if one chooses to fast on these days (or others) one may want to focus one’s thoughts on improving the lot of the powerless - it is a humanist tradition.
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