The Watching

Morning dawns.

It is Sunday, but not just any Sunday morn – it is the dawn of the Hallowed Day. America a secular land? Hah! Silly Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, et al – sacred devotion is so very much alive in America.

There are, of course, those who are deeply faithful throughout the year, who perform the Ritual of the Watching and all the ancient rites attendant thereto each Sunday, in Temples throught the land. The most pious of these even make the Pilgrimage to the Sanctum Sanctorum itself and partake of the sacred parking-lot Feast that precedes it. But on this Hallowed Day, we are all, men, women and children, part of — to coin a phrase — a “kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

Rise, then, with alacrity, tend to what chores need be done, for the afternoon cometh speedily, when all thine work need have already been done. And there is much to be done in anticipation of the Watching.

Much of the beloved work has been done in advance, of course, and pity those foolish souls who’ve waited until the Hallowed Day to prepare; do they not know for what it is we are on this earth, that in important matters we dare not tarry, but plan well ahead of time?

There is, first, the Convening of the Faithful, in which one summons by personal invitation one’s kith and kin, to gather as a group, at the appointed time, in the designated Temple and, to perform, as one, the Watching. Most often, each group consists of those who belong to the same Sect, who venerate the same Saints and who have studied in depth the most intimate details of these men, their great acts and truly wondrous deeds, for the Faithful do not well suffer infidels in their midst.

Next, there is the Preparation of the Sacraments, those sacrosanct foods and beverages that will be ritually consumed prior to and during the Watching. Most often, these portions of meat and fowl and strong drink are prepared by others in bulk for the Faithful of each Temple as a whole, and delivered thereto, with great attention paid to ensure each worshipper receives a ritually sufficient portion of the holies to consume and imbibe.

And of course, the host (whose patron god is, presumably, the Lord of Hosts) must see to it that the Temple is in proper condition for the Watching, with ample seating, rubberized walls and, of course, an appropriate Shrine, before which to kneel, perform the Watching and, if things go not well, supplicate and remonstrate.

Then, and depending on one’s level of religiosity, there are additional rituals in which to engage, each man according to his faith and temperament. Some don the hallowed Vestments of their particular Sect, so as to announce without fear, indeed, with pride, to all the world: ‘Behold, I am faithful to my chosen Saints and will remain thusly loyal to them come what may.’ Others adorn the Temple, the walls and doorposts thereof, with a variety of cherished symbols and depictions of their heroic leaders.

In truth, religious observances are best performed in the family abode, so that thine children might learn from thee what is truly important and to what might they devote their hearts, minds and resources all the days of their lives. And thankfully, most of the Faithful indeed perform the Watching at a Shrine in the very center of their homes.

A lesser number, however, who are perhaps mimicking the unfortunate modern tendency to relegate one’s faithful acts to a house of worship outside the home, flock to special Temples wherein Congregations of the Faithful gather to worship at a common, huge Shrine. Here large amounts of intoxicating drink flow , the better to rejoice in the good fortunes of their sect’s Annointed Ones or, Heaven forfend, to drown one’s sorrow at the descent of one’s Saints to ignominy. Woe, woe to those who care not enough to raise their offspring to appreciate the meaning of life itself.

Finally, the hour of the Watching draweth near.

First, however, the faithful gather to feast, watch and listen as Elders of the Faith speak to them from the site of the Sanctum Sanctorum itself about the upcoming Confrontation of Faith to take place therein and give their views based on their many years of study and contemplation of prior Confrontations. Every last minute detail of the Confrontation and the saints of the respective sects who will vie for greatness therein is dissected and studied closely, pondered and argued over by the assembled, as it is stated: For it is our lives and the length of our days.

And then, suddenly, as wintery afternoon sunlight turns to dusk, the Ritual of the Watching is upon us.

It will last for several hours, holding tens of millions of the Faithful in its mesmerizing thrall. As one traverses the length and breadth of this great land, two types of fearsome sounds are to be heard rising up from countless Temples dotting the landscape.

Some are great and ferocious cries of exultation and oaths of undying allegiance to and profound pride in one’s chosen Sect and its towering Saints. Others are the gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and wailing and bemoaning of one’s fate and that of one’s beloved Sect, whose Saints have suffered so in expiation of their sins.

Salvation for some, suffering for others, a deeply meaningful time for all.

Life itself.

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17 comments to The Watching

  • Yeshivishe Liberal

    It sounds like you are poking fun at people (and the country as a whole) who watch the Superbowl religiously. But you are coming dangerously close to making fun of all organized religions, their rituals, dogmas and superstitions.

  • S.

    I’ll have what he’s drinking.

  • mb

    No Saints this year, just mere Cardinals.

  • Bob Miller

    Eytan, do you view Astroturf as sacrilege or as a necessary adjustment to prevailing conditions?

  • dr. bill

    was not Moshiach suppose to arrive at half-time? Bob Miller: are we not endowed with tzelem Elokim to be be able to create (yesh miyesh at least) as well? I guess if we are not banning Lipa this year, humor is allowed again?

  • Chaim Fisher

    Yeshivishe Liberal:

    !

    We certainly don’t believe in other ‘organized religions’ or their dogmas or their superstitions. It is good to make fun of them, and of the Super Bowl, as Eytan does in this brilliant and entertaining piece.

  • Yehoshua Friedman

    Would you say that the idolatry of the Superbowl was a Cardinal sin?

  • LAWRENCE KAPLAN

    Can you believe it, but I wasn’t aware that the Superbowl was coming, and it took me a while to figure out what you were talking about. Such cultural isolationism–shocking. And they call me Modern Orthodox!

  • Ori

    Chaim Fisher: We certainly don’t believe in other ‘organized religions’ or their dogmas or their superstitions. It is good to make fun of them, and of the Super Bowl, as Eytan does in this brilliant and entertaining piece.

    Ori: The Super Bowel deserves the mockery, and I doubt that would hurt anybody. However, why do you think it is good to mock other organized religions? Do you think that will achieve anything other than enmity? For that matter, do you mock people for making mistakes in other fields of their lives?

  • Bob Miller

    I was having a conversation with a friend when the football Giants and Titans and the Nefillim (primordial giants) came up. He pointed out that the “root letters” of Nefillim are Nun Fe Lamed (NFL).

  • Chaim Wolfson

    Now that I stopped laughing, I can comment.

    “Eytan, do you view Astroturf as sacrilege or as a necessary adjustment to prevailing conditions?” (Comment by Bob Miller — January 29, 2009 @ 7:53 am).

    My two cents: Football has no tradition, so Astroturf is fine. But in Baseball, it’s definitely sacrilege. What really worries me, though, is that they’ll find a way to introduce it into the NHL.

    “was not Moshiach suppose to arrive at half-time?”.

    No, you’re thinking of “The Boss”. Last I heard, Obama is watching the game at home.

    All kidding aside, there is a very important lesson to be learned from Prof. Kaplan’s experience: If an event that is so much a part of the fabric of American culture (Eytan’s description is not that far off the mark) means so little to the rest of the world that someone living just a few miles north of the border can be unaware of it, what does that tell us about the intrinsic value of popular culture?

  • Bob Miller

    By the way, the connection of football to the Nefillim might also explain why so many football-related terms contain the work “down”.

  • Toby Katz

    It sounds like you are poking fun at people (and the country as a whole) who watch the Superbowl religiously. But you are coming dangerously close to making fun of all organized religions, their rituals, dogmas and superstitions.

    Comment by Yeshivishe Liberal — January 28, 2009 @ 5:13 pm


    To me it sounds like he’s making fun of people who make fun of organized religion, without realizing that they participate in precisely ordained religious rituals themselves. Their religion may be secular and the gods they worship may be grown men in funny top-heavy vestments running around and throwing a lump of leather around and pushing each other down, but it’s still a religion.

  • Bob Miller

    Chaim Wolfson asked,
    “If an event that is so much a part of the fabric of American culture (Eytan’s description is not that far off the mark) means so little to the rest of the world that someone living just a few miles north of the border can be unaware of it, what does that tell us about the intrinsic value of popular culture?

    It’s possible that many Jewish scholars in the US were also blissfully unaware of the Hoopla Bowl and its stylized folkways.

  • Moshe Schorr

    I can’t speak for Americans. But here in Israel, I had _no_ idea it was happening. I did live in USA long enough (29 years) to recognize the point of the piece. One of the many things I thank G-d for about my living in Israel, is that my children and their children have _absolutely_ no idea of such things.

  • LAWRENCE KAPLAN

    Since my attempt at humor has elicited some serious discussion, I want to say that from what I read in the Canadian papers, I think the superbowl was a very big deal here in Canada, though perhaps not quite to the same extreme extent as in the US. Speaking personally, it’s just that over the years I have lost whatever little interest I ever had in spectator sports. I watched some olympic gymnastic events and swimming on TV, and, every now and then, if I happen on upon it, I will watch some pro tennis. That’s about it nowadays. I do not believe it is possible to draw any broad conclusions from my own lack of interest.

    By the way, the interest in and excitment elicited by Obama’s inauguration were as great here as south of the border.

  • Bob Miller

    I did not watch the inauguration or the Super Bowl, and feel this was time well unspent.