The Yom Kippur Monopoly

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Just before Yom Kippur, a popular Jerusalem shopping mall published a glossy magazine supplement advertising its latest glitzy fashion items, many of which are beyond modesty. In the centerfold of the magazine is a Hebrew article entitled ,”How To Make It Through the Fast–Day.“ Among the suggestions are the usual erev Yom Kippur precautions: lots of water, no caffeine, many carbohydrates, etc., etc.

Then comes the kicker, a sub-section called, “Additional Tips For An Easy Fast.” (Free Hebrew lesson: the word for “tips” is tippim.) It is possible, says the article, to have a pleasant Yom Kippur even without eating. Among the best ways to take your mind off food is to meet with friends and family; read light books; play enjoyable games like Monopoly, and watch some video. (It goes without saying that no mention is made of such ideas as repentance, prayer, tzedakah, books of life and death – or, God forbid, God.

My first reaction was one of shock and insult. If they don’t want to observe Yom Kippur, that is their problem. But why observe and desecrate at the same time? Does God really desire their fasting under such circumstances? Isaiah’s angry words (I:12) came to mind: “Mi bikesh zot miyedchem remot chatzerai” “Who asks this of you, to trample on my precincts?” It would be better if you ate all day to your heart’s content rather than to refrain from food without a thought of the larger issues that Yom Kippur represents.

But then a calmer reaction forced its way to the surface. Perhaps this is not entirely negative. At least, the memory of Yom Kippur is still alive in the hearts of Israelis, even the totally secularized ones. True, this makes a mockery of the sanctity of the holiest day of the year, but at the very least, they are maintaining something of Jewish tradition, even if they are doing it improperly. These people are not, after all, deliberately desecrating Yom Kippur. They know no better, and this is how they were raised and taught. Perhaps, in paraphrase of that old Chasidic tale, one can say of them that even while they play Monopoly on Yom Kippur, they still fast on that holy day. In fact, maybe this is an indictment of the inability of observant Jews to reach out and explain Jewish values to those who have been deprived of them.

Several questions come to mind:

a) Were it not so painful, it would be ludicrous to consider that among the same people of Israel, some Jews on Yom Kippur afternoon are reciting the Asarah harugei malchut while other Jews are playing Monopoly; some are recounting the awesome avodah in the Jerusalem Temple while others are watching awesome video films; some are beating their breasts in the Ashamnu, bagadnu confession, while others are engaged in light reading and chit-chat. What does this say about the one-ness of the Jewish people?

b) It is curious: what is the hold that Yom Kippur has over all Jews, no matter how far removed they are from tradition? Is it a manifestation of the Jewish inner soul that refuses to be extinguished? Is it fear? (Yirat shamayim in any form, remember, is not a bad thing) Has Yom Kippur become a kind of national holiday denuded of genuine religious meaning? It is said that 95% of Israelis fast on Yom Kippur. (At this writing, there are no stats on what percentage of the 95% are playing Monopoly.)

c) A similar question can be asked about Pesach. A huge percentage of Israelis do not eat chametz on Pesach. Why? Another national holiday? What is it about Yom Kippur, Pesach ( and, it should be asked, the mitzvah of berit milah) that retains the loyalty of even the most secular of Jews?

This is something to think about as we leave these awesome days of Tishrei behind and begin our journey onto the days of 5766.

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7 Responses

  1. ksh says:

    “But, ksh, the people following shopping mall tippim on how to fast are probably not doing it because of issurei kares.”

    Sure they are, they are doing it because their grandparents thought it was an issur kares and the memory has been preserved.

    “And the question of whether it is appropriate to foist 25 hours of meaningless annual starvation upon the next generation—and expect them to come out with a positive image of Judaism—is hardly open-and-shut. Or, if it is, it would have to fall in favor of eating. Don’t you agree? Aren’t the surveys pretty clear about that by now?”

    Fall in favor of eating on yom kippur? You can’t be serious.

    My problem is not just with the initial reaction, but also with the second thought. “In fact, maybe this is an indictment of the inability of observant Jews to reach out and explain Jewish values to those who have been deprived of them.” That is an appropriate reaction; it would be good to reach out. But does it not occur to anyone that it may not only be a failure to “reach out”? That the secular Israelis may look at the religious segment of society and the values it represents and be put off for legitimate reasons? Why is all the focus other-directed – they are doing wrong, and at most, our failure is to reach out and get them to see what “We” are really about. Maybe the problem is with what they *do* see, not only with what they don’t?

    I’ve written before about what I see as the triumphalist, smug attitude in many of the pieces on this blog, and in the charedi world generally. It seems that when we are not pointing at sins that “others” do – other movements of Judaism, secular Jews, those to the left of us in any way even within Orthodoxy – then we are deciding that what is necessary is to get them to be as “good” as us. Is this what tshuva is about? Figuring out how to get the next guy to be better? Outreach is surely an obligation, but so is introspection and *self-correction* for us as individuals, and in our own group.

  2. DovBear says:

    “Who asks this of you, to trample on my precincts?” It would be better if you ate all day to your heart’s content rather than to refrain from food without a thought of the larger issues that Yom Kippur represents.

    The TORAH tells us to fast. This is a chiyuv d’oyraysa, and you should be celebrating that fact that this obligation is still honored in klal yisroel. Perhaps they aren’t fasting as you might want them to; still they are honoring the letter of the law. Reflecting on the “larger issues that Yom Kippur represntes” are not chiyuvay d’oyraysa, and I’d wager that more than a few people fasting in shul have their minds on other things. Is fasting while playing monopoly, really so much worse than fasting while day-dreaming through musaf?

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Eliezer,

    It seems to me, from living in both countries, that you’re describing one of the great cultural differences between the countries.

    People in Israel tend to be helpful and involved in each other’s lives. However, this involvement also manifests itself in the belief that they know what you need, and a tendency to share that information in the strongest terms possible. When people reject that, it can lead to animosity. Most Israelis seem to assume the worst about at least one group in their society. I suspect that can also affect immigrants.

    I think that this tendency is an internalization of “Kol Israel Arevim Ze Laze” – all of the Israel are responsible for one another. If I am responsible for you, then I have a right to tell you what to do so I won’t suffer on your account. Even secular Israelies who don’t know what that phrase means have it as part of their culture.

    People in the US tend to be less involved in each other’s lives, although there is huge regional variation, at least between California and Texas, the two places where I lived. But they also tend to have a more relaxed attitude about what other people do, and seem to have more humility about their ability to tell what’s right for them.

    This attitude is also “infectious”, and seem to also be common among US Jews.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    ksh and Eliezer,

    This isn’t the first time that Rabbi Feldman has admitted on the blog to feelings he didn’t share “on the outside” — and that were, in fact, overwritten by second, more generous thoughts. Perhaps that is exactly how he built the Atlanta community, through a constant history of immediate self-correction — and is thus a model for all of us.

    But, ksh, the people following shopping mall tippim on how to fast are probably not doing it because of issurei kares. And the question of whether it is appropriate to foist 25 hours of meaningless annual starvation upon the next generation — and expect them to come out with a positive image of Judaism — is hardly open-and-shut. Or, if it is, it would have to fall in favor of eating. Don’t you agree? Aren’t the surveys pretty clear about that by now?

  5. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    I have been told that R Yisroel Salanter noted the same phenomena, specifying, as you did, Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Milah. He is quoted as having said that the interest that secular Jews show in a mitzvah directly reflects the zeal and love of that mitzvah shown by the religious Jew. His memorable line was that “shmiras Shabbos in Paris depends on how we are Shomer Shabbos here.”

    More interesting is that Rabbi Feldman, whose warm, wise, and non-judgmental personality enabled him to single-handedly build a beautiful Jewish community from scratch in Atlanta, seems to have been changed by his years in Eretz Yisroel. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps the most important job of the golus Jew is his ability to balance fervor with understanding.

  6. ksh says:

    Particularly on yom kippur, we should try not to be m’katreg on klal yisroel.

    I don’t know why it is surprising that people continue to avoid issurei kares (fasting on yom kippur, chometz on pesach) even when they are otherwise largely secular.

    I am taken aback by the “better they should eat” reaction. One could just as easily say “Better they should play monopoly, than be self righteous.”

  7. mb says:

    Any Jew that fasts on Yom Kippur is ,at that moment, being as religiously observant as anybody else doing the same Mitzvah. That a few maybe playing Monopoly or anything else you judge unworthy, makes them somewhat inconsistant. But there’s the rub. Aren’t we all?