What to Wear on Yom Kippur?

Image: Air Force Captain Rabbi Gary Davidson is wearing a kittel and puts on a tallit to lead Yom Kippur services for Air Force personnel stationed in South East Asia. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Central Command)

(If it’s not Yom Kippur, see my other article What to Wear to Synagogue?)

I noticed that the third most popular article on this blog on Rosh Hashanah was What to Wear to Synagogue. I suspect there may also be folks who wonder what to wear on Yom Kippur – or who get to synagogue and worry that they have worn the wrong thing.

Yom Kippur is a complicated day for clothing choices for Jews, because there is a wide variation of practice. For a visitor to an unfamiliar synagogue, you are unlikely to go far wrong with clean, tidy business attire. 

However, what you will see upon arrival at the synagogue may cover quite a range. Here are some choices you may encounter at a Yom Kippur service:

  1. Many people will wear “nice” business attire.
  2. Some may choose to wear canvas or plastic shoes, since traditionally there is a prohibition of wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur.
  3. Some may choose to wear a white garment that looks a bit like a modest lightweight bathrobe or a lab coat. It’s called a kittel, and it has multiple connotations. Bridegrooms may wear a kittel for weddings. A kittel is part of the tachrichim, the traditional burial shroud. It conveys a sense of both purity and mourning.
  4. Some may choose to observe the prohibition against “anointing” on Yom Kippur. Interpretations of this practice vary: women may refrain from wearing cosmetics, men may forgo scented products. Some individuals interpret it as including deodorant.
  5. Washing for pleasure is forbidden during Yom Kippur, but washing for hygiene is permitted. Individuals decide on precisely where to draw those lines themselves. You may see someone who appears to be having a “bad hair day” because they still have “bed head.”

Why would civilized people show up for a major religious observance with such grooming? This has to do with the five “afflictions” of Yom Kippur. Traditionally, on Yom Kippur Jews abstain from:

  1. Food and drink
  2. sex
  3. washing for pleasure
  4. anointing
  5. wearing leather shoes

In my own experience as an American Reform Jew, I’ve seen a few people groom themselves differently for Yom Kippur, and some people wear canvas shoes. A much smaller number wear a kittel. Most people wear tidy, clean clothing but nothing unusual.

The last thing that’s different about clothing for Yom Kippur is that you will see a number of people in synagogue wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, at the evening Kol Nidre service. At no other time does the Jew in the pew wear a tallit at night.

In most Orthodox synagogues, the tallit and kittel are seen as males-only attire. I say “most” because even in Orthodoxy, customs vary from shul to shul. Women dress as they do for any other service at that synagogue. How dressy they will be depends on the culture of that particular community. In general, women at an Orthodox shul wear skirts, not slacks.

For a visitor in any synagogue, the same rule applies as for other services: you are likely to fit right in wearing business attire. The important thing is that one be clean, tidy and modest. You want to dress in a way that will allow you and those around you to pay attention to prayer and the service, because after all, that’s the point!

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How was your Yom Kippur?

How was your Yom Kippur?

There are no “correct” answers to that question.  Some of us fasted, some didn’t. Some had great insights, some didn’t. Some had an easy time of it, some found it very difficult.

As for me, different parts of the day were, well, different. Kol Nidre reminded me again how beautiful Jewish liturgy (services) are to me. My entire congregation gathered together at one time and prayed as one. Our rabbi gave a wonderful sermon, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Yom Kippur day was long and tiring and good. A lot came up for me that I need to ponder. I had a lot of ideas that I didn’t write down, because it was Yom Kippur, and maybe they’ll come back to me later. The outside of me was still and the inside of me was busy.

Yizkor was hard. My mother died in June. A dear friend died last week. I cried. That’s OK, it’s exactly what I needed to do. I am sad about Mama and I miss Mike.

The end, Neilah (“locking”) was a rush. It always give me a rush: us all standing together and chanting and the gates slowly closing. I couldn’t stand as long as I’d like to, but I stood for the final words.

And now…. Sukkot is coming!

How was your Yom Kippur? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Essence of Teshuvah

Image: A portrait of Maimonides, also known as the Rambam.

“I committed iniquity before You by doing the following. Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again” (Hilchot Teshuva 1:1).

Everything else is commentary.

Questions for Yom Kippur

Image: A group of Jews, walking towards dawn and dressed for prayer. (Afuta/Shutterstock)

What kind of person am I?

That’s the question at the bottom of Yom Kippur. We pause for a day and confront the unadorned self.

A passage in the very ancient text Pirkei Avot (Fundamental Teachings) highlights the problem in trying to see ourselves clearly:

There are four temperaments among people: the one who says “what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” – that’s an average temperament. And there are some who say that is the temperament of Sodom. A second type is one who says “what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine”– that is an ignoramus. A third type is one who says “what is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours”– that is a pious person. A final type is one who says “what is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” – that is a wicked person. – Pirkei Avot 5:10

Extremes are easy.  The ignorant, the saint, the wicked person – those are caricatures, really. I suggest that the rabbis only bring them up in order to make a point about the first “temperament” they list.

The “average” person seems pretty reasonable and simple: they say, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours.”

The mindset “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” can be seen as a reasonable, even as a healthy way to see the world. The phrase “good boundaries” comes to mind.

Then the rabbis toss in a grenade: “And there are some who say that is the temperament of Sodom.” Wait – what?

The rabbis’ understanding of the people of Sodom was that they were a deeply selfish, inhospitable people. Unlike the Christian commentaries on the story of Sodom, which focus on sexual sins, rabbinic commentaries on Sodom focus on the way the people of Sodom treated visitors and poor people.

After a while travellers avoided these cities, but if some poor devil was betrayed occasionally into entering them, they would give him gold and silver, but never any bread, so that he was bound to die of starvation. Once he was dead, the residents of the city came and took back the marked gold and silver which they had given him, and they would quarrel about the distribution of his clothes, for they would bury him naked…

The cause of their cruelty was their exceeding great wealth. Their soil was gold, and in their miserliness and their greed for more and more gold, they wanted to prevent strangers from enjoying aught of their riches…

Their laws were calculated to do injury to the poor. The richer a man, the more was he favored before the law.   – from Legends of the Jews, by Lewis Ginsberg

The rabbis are raising making a point: living a good life requires periodic questioning. Where is the line between “good boundaries” and cruel selfishness? When I say, “That is not my problem” am I practicing reasonable self-care or am I being selfish?

The Torah recognizes that it is not easy for people to share with others. It sets measures for what must be shared, setting certain minimums of sharing as commandments:

When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield — in the third year, the year of the tithe — and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, orphan, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements, you shall declare before Adonai your God: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments – Deuteronomy 26:12-13

By setting minimums, it allows a Jew to say, “I have fulfilled the commandment.” This way the anxiety about “how much is enough?” is laid to rest. However, it can also offer a shelter in legalisms, against which Isaiah and the other prophets railed:

Cry with full throat, without restraint; raise your voice like a ram’s horn! Declare to My people their transgression, to the House of Jacob their sin. To be sure, they seek Me daily, eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, that has not abandoned the laws of its God, they ask Me for the right way, they are eager for the nearness of God: “Why, when we fasted, did You not see when we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! – Isaiah 58:1-7

For the prophets, it was not enough to follow the letter of the law. The spirit of the Torah was even more important, and that spirit insisted that our willingness to share should be limited only by the need before us.

It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to ignore your own kin. Then shall your light burst through like the dawn and your healing spring up quickly; Your vindicator shall march before you, the presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer; When you cry, the Lord will say: Here I am. – Isaiah 58:7-11

Centuries of living in the real world taught our ancestors that a balance had to be struck between needs and resources. Maimonides recognized that limitless giving was a problem, inserting the qualifier “providing the giver can afford it”:

It is a positive commandment to give charity to the poor, as is appropriate to the poor person, providing the giver can afford it, as it says, “You shall open your hand to the poor,” and “You shall strengthen the stranger who dwells with you,” and “Your fellow shall live with you.” – Matenot Aniyim, 7:1

He also raised the issue of the responsibilities of those asking for support:

One should always push himself, and live in straits rather than rely on others and not impose himself on the community.

Anyone who takes charity without needing it will come to need it before she dies…Anyone who is unable to survive without charity but refuses it is guilty of bloodshed…And anyone who needs charity but holds off as much as possible and takes as little as possible will come to see the time when she is able to sustain others from her own wealth. Concerning such as her it is written, “Blessed be the person who trusts in God.” – Matenot Aniyim 10:18-19

The 20th century brought a magnitude of need to the world that we had never seen before. Populations exploded. Ideologies abounded. Even for those who were secure, there was a feeling that there was not enough: not enough to share, not enough to go around. Some minority groups were scapegoated: “If it weren’t for them, we would feel secure!” We all know where that led.

After suffering through the travails of a POW camp during WWII, as well as the Holocaust (in which much of his family was murdered and all were threatened)  the great French philosopher and Talmudist Emmanuel Levinas rejected the notion of “mine” altogether:

… the problem of a hungry world can be resolved only if the food of the owners and those who are provided for ceases to appear to them as inalienable property, but is recognized as a gift they have received for which thanks must be given and to which others have a right. Scarcity is a social and moral problem and not exclusively an economic one. – Emmanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings, p. 132

Levinas suggests that we should all strive to have a pious temperament (“what is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours.”) I do not know if that is a reasonable expectation, but I know that Levinas developed his thought not in an ivory tower but in the cauldron of the Shoah. I have to take him seriously, whether ultimately I follow his path or not.

We have just begun the 21st century, and so far it has brought more challenges. All the things that were difficult in the 20th century (growing population, gaps between the have-nots and the haves, warring ideologies) are with us at what feels like an exponential increase. Add to that the influences of mass media and the internet: we live in a fog of words and we are afraid.

I am not offering answers today, I am raising questions. What do I owe others? What about people who scare me? What about people that I feel pose a risk to my security? What do I owe them? What do I owe my children? What do I owe myself?

Where are the healthy boundaries? When is it just fear and selfishness?

What kind of person am I?

Yom Kippur offers us time and space to consider these questions. Fortunately we do not consider them alone: we gather in synagogue to pray and to listen to the growling of our stomachs. The growls have much to tell us about our own fears and about the needs of others. Our fellows around us are there to remind us that we do not have to do this alone.

As a friend said to me the day I became a Jew: “The bad news is, you will never be alone again. The good news is, you will never be alone again. Welcome to the tribe.”

A High Tech Option for Cheshbon Hanefesh: AtoneNet.com

Image: Woman reading from her computer screen with cup in hand. (Shutterstock  377318731)

As the Days of Awe continue, sometimes we can get a kind of soul-freeze. We know we need to atone for something, but we can’t think what. Our minds go blank. What did I do? What did I fail to do? Why can’t I think?

One traditional approach to this situation is to look at lists of mitzvot or lists of sins. That is the way the Vidui is structured, for instance, to help us go through an “alphabet of sins” and realize our own. It is a prayer, but it is also a catalogue, designed to help us see ourselves more clearly.

I recently learned about an interesting resource online that can be a real help with heshbon hanefesh, the accounting of the soul. That resource is AtoneNet.com. It is a place where people anonymously confess their sins, which are then posted to the scroll of sins.

Some are heartrending. Some are trivial. Some aren’t really sins. But they can be remarkably effective at shaking loose that soul-freeze, showing us our own sins in the words of others.

For example, this confession gave me plenty to ask myself:

I’m sorry I wasted so much time on social media, engaging in bittul Torah, rechilus, lashon hara, and filling my own mind and heart with negativity that doesn’t actually help anyone.

Translated, it means:

“I’m sorry I wasted so much time on social media, engaging in timewasting that could have been spent learning Torah, gossip, spreading rumors and unnecessary talk about others, and filling my own mind and heart with negativity that doesn’t actually help anyone.”

As a person who uses social media a great deal, this one gave me a lot to consider. Do I waste time on social media? Do I talk more than I learn? Do I engage in gossip there? Repeat poorly-sourced rumors? What AM I doing with social media – am I spreading Torah or indulging an addiction? And what is social media doing to or for me? Could I make better use of my time?

Should you choose to confess a sin on AtoneNet, it is important to remember that when a sin is against another person, it is not enough simply to confess it anonymously. For sins against another person or against ourselves a complete process of teshuvah is important.

Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor. – M. Yoma 8:9

However we choose to do heshbon hanefesh, this is the time! Examine our hearts, check our calendars and checkbooks, think deeply about the patterns in our lives, and do the great work of teshuvah, which ultimately heals not only ourselves, but the world.

 

High Holy Day Services Online!

ClickImage: A video screen. A man touches the red arrow to start the video. (panuwat phimpa/shutterstock)

A number of synagogues now stream their services live online.  Schedules and links are listed below for eight different congregations.

Some caveats:

  1. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If you know of a congregation offering services, you can add that information with links and schedule in the comments.
  2. While I’ve done my best to verify all the information here, I don’t have all the information I’d like. Please forgive me if something doesn’t work out.
  3. I got the information from the synagogue websites. If you are confused about anything, the first place to look is at the synagogue website.
  4. I can’t help with tech questions.
  5. I recommend attending in person if at all possible. That said, not everyone can get to services or sit through them. I offer this list as a substitute for anyone who needs it.
  6. I understand some of the links did not work last night.  For more listings, take a look at the article in MyJewishLearning.com.

Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, Chester, CT (Eastern Time Zone)

Streaming at: https://www.youtube.com/cha…/UCSqzEsniCplf6GucRcFADVA/live

9/20 Erev RH 7:30pm
9/21 RH Morning 9:30am

9/29 Kol Nidre 7:30pm
9/30 Yom Kippur Morning 9:30am
9/30 Yom Kippur Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah 3:30pm

Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA (Eastern Time Zone)

http://www.bethelsudbury.org/wor…/services-live-streaming/

9/20 Erev Rosh HaShanah 8:30 pm
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – early 8:30 am
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – late 11:30 am
9/22 Rosh HaShanah (2nd day) 10:00 am

9/29 Kol Nidre – early 6:30 pm
9/29 Kol Nidre – late 8:30 pm
9/30 Yom Kippur – early 8:30 am
Yom Kippur – late 11:30 am
Minchah – afternoon service 3:30 pm
Yizkor – remembrance 5:15 pm
Neilah – closing service 5:45 pm
Shofar 6:40 pm

Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington DE (Eastern Time Zone)

Services stream at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDGcjXfeW866IGiUCWEbkuw?fref=gc&dti=204851746220712

Erev Rosh Hashanah 9/20 8pm
Rosh Hashanah 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service

Kol Nidre 9/29 7pm and 9:15pm
Yom Kippur 9/30 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service
3:30pm Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah Service
Temple Shaarey Zedek, East Lansing, MI (Eastern Time Zone)
Schedule and Steaming link at http://www.shaareyzedek.com/
Both Reform and Conservative services.

 

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Baltimore, MD (Eastern Time Zone)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/baltimore-hebrew-congregation

Rosh Hashanah Sept 20, 8pm
Sept 21, 10am

Yom Kippur, Sept 29, 7:30pm
Sept 30 10am
Music and Meditation 12:30pm
Afternoon Service 2:45pm
Yizkor, 4:30 pm
Neilah, 5:30pm

Congregation Emanu-El, Houston, TX (Central Time Zone)

Streaming video: https://emanuelhouston.org/streamingvideo
Erev Rosh Hashanah Sept 20 6pm
Rosh Hashanah Sept 21 10:30am
Shabbat Shuvah Friday Sept 22, 6pm
Kol Nidre Sept 29 7:15pm
Yom Kippur Sept 30 11am
YK Afternoon 1:30pm
Healing Service 3pm
Yizkor/Neilah 4:30pm

Temple Beth El, San Antonio, TX (Central Time Zone)

https://venue.streamspot.com/49d0d7ff68

Rosh Hashanah
Wednesday, September 20
6:30 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (late service)
Thursday, September 21
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
12:30 p.m.–Tashlich Service with Apples and Honey at San Pedro Springs Park

Yom Kippur
Friday, September 29
6:30 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (late service)
Saturday, September 30
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.–Meditation and self-study with music for adults
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
1:00 p.m.–Yom Kippur Symposium
2:30 p.m.–Yom Kippur Afternoon Service
4:30 p.m.–Yizkor-Memorial Service
4:30 p.m.–Program for school-aged children
5:30 p.m.–Neilah-Concluding Service

Mountain Time Zone

Currently none listed – if you know of streaming services in the MT, please add that information with links and schedule in the Comments.

 

Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos, CA (Pacific Time Zone)

Streaming at: https://www.shirhadash.org/content/high-holiday-streaming

9/20 8pm Erev Rosh Hashanah
9/21 10am RH Morning Service
3:30pm Family Service

Erev Shabbat Shuvah 9/22 7:30pm
Shabbat Shuvah 9/23 10:30am

Kol Nidre 9/29 8pm
Yom Kippur 9/30
10am Morning Service
3pm Afternoon Service
4:45pm Yizkor
5:45pm Concluding Service
6:52pm Havdalah

Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA (Pacific Time Zone)

Services streamed on the Facebook page. Click “Videos” on the left of the screen.

SinaiSchedule

Unforgettable

Image: A person diving in deep water. Photo by unsplash via pixabay.com.

Two Days of Atonement I shall never forget.

One was my first Yom Kippur after ordination. I officiated at my first funeral about 1pm in the afternoon before Kol Nidre*. The deceased woman’s name was Ruth. Although I did my best to focus on her and her family, I could not shake the feeling that I was officiating at my own funeral, reciting the prayers in my own name. That feeling clung to me that evening and all the next day.

The second memorable Yom Kippur was last year. The morning before Kol Nidre I suddenly felt desperate for air. The feeling worsened, and I lay across my kitchen table gasping for breath. It crossed my mind that I might be dying, and as we sped towards the hospital all I could think was that I was not ready, definitely not ready to die. The ER staff ascertained that my lungs were riddled with blood clots; they administered medicine and treated my family gently. Later I learned that the survival rate for pulmonary embolisms is low; I am fortunate to be alive.

Every Yom Kippur we rehearse for our own deaths, eschewing physical pleasures to focus on the meaning of our mortality. The prayer Unetaneh Tokef reminds us that life is terrifyingly unpredictable. Those two Days of Atonement drove these messages home in a way even prayer and fasting cannot. I felt heaven saying, “Pay attention!” Perhaps it takes a brush with mortality to help us fully appreciate the time we have and value life’s potential. May we each rise from prayer after the holy day with a renewed sense of the urgency of life, the preciousness of every moment.

*Kol Nidre is the name of a recitation in the evening service that begins Yom Kippur. It has also come to refer to the whole service, and the evening it is recited.