On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Community Must Unite and Stop Judging Others
On Yom Kippur, we will hear the sound of the shofar and recite the following confessional in “Al Chet”:
For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins that we repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards God and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community, or the sins we bear as a community.
But the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur, is meant to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another and therefore need to take communal responsibility for our actions or inactions.
I recently commented to a woman whom I met for dinner how I liked the idea of communal break fasts that are common in Reform synagogues. More than just a glass of orange juice sometimes provided after a fast, I think this is a great way to build community. It seemed like a great way to meet others on a communal level (and eat too). To my surprise, this person started to talk about how “they probably eat pork just after their fast!”
The tirade continued on, despite my intentions to explain to her that Reform Jews see things differently than the Orthodox and celebrate differently.
On another occasion, I was in my gym and talking to a Jewish gentleman I met there. It happened to be a Friday morning, and he just came up to me and remarked, “I hate how Orthodox women drive so recklessly in the half hour before the Shabbos! They almost hit me in their cars. Why do they have to drive like that?” And with that trigger, he continued on his righteous tirade against the Orthodox.
In both cases, I was caught off guard, but not taken by complete surprise. Sadly, Jewish pride and communal responsibility for one another is not really in the consciousness of most Jews. We are so divided as a people that we only concern ourselves with our own small communities that we live in. We lack the sense of a greater responsibility to the community.
Is this the best we are capable of? Honestly, I felt more “let down” than offended by their remarks. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If you are religious and your training tells you what you must do, then do it! It is an affirmation of your love of God through his mitzvot. If you are not religious, but do certain practices because of the greater humanistic good to repair the world, then practice that! Why should we engage in such name calling and criticizing of other streams in the process?
I lament the fact that, as Jews, we have the need to find fault and judge others. Regardless if you are religious or secular, the fact is, we are all failing to live up to our communal responsibilities to other Jews.
It is easy to scoff at others. It is even easier to negatively judge other Jews by what they do and do not do. But challenge yourself to affirm your practices, whatever they may be. Do so, however, without feeling the need to speak negatively about other Jews who practice differently than you. Challenge yourself this Yom Kippur to call out your own prejudices for what they are. Banish the instinctive knee jerk need to speak negatively about “those Jews.”
Keep in mind — many Jews are so cut off from their Judaism that they don’t even go to a shul or temple on Yom Kippur. Our ranks shrink year after year, while we bicker and allow the internal strife to continue.
Make this Yom Kippur the time to challenge your mindset and start thinking how you can include other Jews rather than reject them. Our enemies, including the shooters in Pittsburgh and Poway, are a wake-up call. They don’t care what type of Jew you are. You are still a prime target simply because you are Jewish.
If we want God to forgive us for our sins, isn’t it high time we put into action the same qualities towards other Jews? A call for Jewish unity musters the qualities of mercy and compassion toward one another. Compassion demonstrated to other Jews helps us activate the divine compassion that God bestows on us, lovingly, on Yom Kippur. The question is, have we done enough to merit it?
Take the time to study the words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who was a key leader of world Zionism before World War II. If we can start to make the challenge for Jewish unity a personal challenge, we can truly atone for our Al Chets on the communal level this year in 5780.
Joshua Goldstein is chairman of Herut North America’s US Division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Joshua was a delegate at the 36th and 37th World Zionist Congress for Herut. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/.