Yom Kippur 5776

Yes, it’s time for Yom Kippur.  I sent out a couple of links about fasting last year but at the last minute, so here they are again:    “The science of Yom Kippur fasting” and “14 tips to make the Yom Kippur fast easier.” Alas, Stephen Colbert’s Atone Phone is no more.

There are five services on Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei (all vows) followed by Ma’ariv (evening), Shacharit (morning), Musaf (additional), Minchah (afternoon), and Ne’ilah (closing).  These services include prayers for forgiveness and communal confession of sins. 

Kol Nidrei is chanted to an evocative melody that summons a Pavlovian “it’s actually Yom Kippur” response on the part of congregants.  Kol Nidrei is not a prayer.  It is a legal formula in Aramaic and has been in and out of the prayer book.  From the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia:

“The tendency to make vows was so strong in ancient Israel that the Pentateuchal code found it necessary to protest against the excessive estimate of the religious value of such obligations (Deut. xxiii. 23). Rash and frequent vows inevitably involved in difficulties many who had made them, and thus evoked an earnest desire for dispensation from such responsibilities… The religious consciousness, which felt oppressed at the thought of the non-fulfilment of its solemn vows, accordingly devised a general and comprehensive formula of dispensation which was repeated by the ḥazzan in the name of the assembled congregation at the beginning of the fast of Atonement. This declared that the petitioners, who were seeking reconciliation with God, solemnly retracted in His presence all vows and oaths which they had taken during the period intervening between the previous Day of Atonement and the present one, and made them null and void.” 

Kol Nidrei “refers only to those which an individual voluntarily assumes for himself alone…and in which no other persons or their interests are involved.”  However, it has been widely used as a weapon by anti-Semites “to cast suspicion on the trustworthiness of an oath taken by a Jew.”  An unscrupulous or ignorant person might indeed believe that he is being released from all vows, not just the limited set intended.  Because of the trouble caused by Kol Nidre through the centuries, my father refused to attend Kol Nidrei services.

There are, of course, Shacharit and Minchah Torah readings and accompanying prophetic readings.  What are some logical choices for these?  Themes:  afflicting your souls, repentance, asking for forgiveness, judgement.  And people who’ve managed to wake up from their afternoon nap to drag themselves back to services at about 5 pm are going to want something short, so how about one of the little readings about holiday sacrifices and a short haftarah?  I therefore suggest:

Morning:   Exodus 32:30-34:35.  This is the aftermath of the golden calf debacle.  It includes sin, punishment, atonement, forgiveness; and a couple verses are actually in the High Holy Days liturgy (34:5- part of 7).  Then, for the second scroll, Leviticus 23:23-32, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur observance, with instructions for afflicting souls and doing no work at all on Yom Kippur.  Haftarah:  Maybe something like Hosea 13-14 (esp. 14:1-10), or something condemnatory from Jeremiah or Isaiah.

Afternoon: We really should include the Yom Kippur sacrifices, so how about Numbers 29?  Then a nice short haftarah, like Isaiah 54:1-55:5, one of the haftarot of consolation.

Just kidding.  Here are the actual readings:

Morning:  Leviticus 16:1-34, the Yom Kippur rites of the High Priest; and Numbers 29:7-11, the holiday sacrifices.  The morning haftarah is Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14, which insists on ethical behavior in addition to ritual. 

Afternoon: Leviticus 18:1-30, about forbidden sexual relationships (mainly incest).  That seems an odd choice, except that the afternoon of Yom Kippur in ancient times apparently involved a lot of celebration (after all, they’d just been purified), so these verses were to hold them in check.  Or maybe it was chosen because of the fundamental nature of sexual relations and their boundaries.  The haftarah is the Book of Jonah plus Micah 7:18-20 about casting sins away (also just read on Shabbat Shuvah and as part of Tashlikh).  The Micah verses make sense, but Jonah?  The original fish story?  Read the whole thing.  It illustrates the universality and forgiveness of the Lord.  There’s a Book of Jonah Study Guide  for Yom Kippur (thanks, Stanley) which you might enjoy perusing (Jonah as a parody of the golden calf story?).

G’mar chatimah tovah* and an easy fast,

* tph gmar  Literally: A good final sealing.   Idiomatically: May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good.  More at http://www.learnhebrew.org.il/print/gmar.htm.


Overheard in a synagogue:
A very well-dressed couple were whispering loudly together as the Kol Nidre chant began. “Kol Nidre, Kol Nidre. Every time we go to Temple it’s Kol Nidre. Why don’t they try something else for a change?” 



tph fast dry bones



tph whale



Thoughts on Sinning and Atonementwith thanks to George Relles

“A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those worth committing.” 
– Samuel Butler

 “Most people repent their sins by thanking God they ain’t so wicked as their neighbors.” 
– Josh Billings

 “Sin is sweet in the beginning, but bitter in the end.” 
– The Talmud

Sign on a synagogue just before Yom Kippur: “Your sins are not so many that you should stay out…Or so few that you shouldn’t come in.”

 “It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.” 
– Mae West

 “Should we all confess our sins to one another we would all laugh at one another for our lack of originality.” 
– Kahlil Gibran

 “Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.” 
– Mark Twain

Said one man to the other after the Rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon on the congregation’s myriad of sins: “Well, at least I haven’t made any graven images.”




  • Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20 % of all fatal accidents. 
  • Do not stay at home because 17 % of all accidents occur in the home. (that’s 37 % already!) 
  • Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. (now that’s 51%) 
  • Avoid traveling by air, trains or buses, 16% of accidents involve these forms of transportation. (that’s 67%) 
  • Of the remaining 33 percent, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals. Above all else avoid hospitals. 

You will be pleased to learn that only 0.01 % of all deaths occur in a synagogue!

…and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. (Hello hatzalah in the middle of Yom Kippur)

Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is in Synagogue. 

Torah Study is even safer! The number of deaths during Torah Study is too small to register! 
For safety’s sake, go to Shul as often as possible, and attend Torah Study!

It could save your life!   

This message has been brought to you by your local synagogue’s membership drive.

PS: You don’t have to be Jewish to go to shul. Sure, you may not understand what the old guys are saying but they sometimes they serve schnapps in mini paper cups.



Guilt and Confession of Sin

While attending a convention, three psychiatrists take a walk. “People are always coming to us with their guilt and fears,” one says, “but we have no one to go to with our own problems.” “Since we’re all professionals,” another suggests, “why don’t we hear each other out right now? “They agreed this is a good idea. The first psychiatrist confesses, “I’m a compulsive shopper and deeply in debt, so I usually overbill my patients as often as I can.” The second admits, “I have a drug problem that’s out of control, and I frequently pressure my patients into buying illegal drugs for me.” The third psychiatrist says, “I know it’s wrong, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t keep a secret.”




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