Yom Kippur (and the Mormons): Pt. 1September 21, 2007
An unusual Shabbat (sabbath) starts this evening. The Torah (in this context, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) describes it as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” It’s a more or less accurate translation to call it the “day of atonement.” Sabbaths are usually quite joyful and full of fun and learning. This one is a day long fast (Something Mormons are rather used to) and is the culmination of ten days of serious internal reflection and repentance that started on the (otherwise joyful) holiday of Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish spiritual New Year.*
On Rosh Hashanna, the “shofar” (a ritual horn made from a Ram’s horn) is blow both to announce the start of the New Year and as a general call to repentance. This is not to say the Jews aren’t able to repent all year, just that this is sort of the “last call” for the year before Yom Kippur. This Yom Kippur, I’ll try to make special note of things that I think might be interesting to my Mormon readers.
All Jewish services are based on the services in the courtyard of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. On weekdays, there were three set daily sacrifices, Ma’ariv, Shach’rit and Mincha. On Shabbat there was an extra sacrifice, “Musaf.” We follow the same pattern and our prayers relate to the intent of the various daily sacrifices. However, this is not obvious except on Yom Kippur. The prayers are obviously from the Temple area (it might surprise LDS readers that the interior of the ancient temple was almost completely silent with the exception of a single prayer from teh High Priest that was said on Yom Kippur — Tomorrow, we will say a prayer commemorating it but not quite duplicating it). There is also a lot more ritualistic action on Yom Kippur that continues right from the temple to the present.
Finally it is one of the few services in which the Aaronic priesthood is quite actively exercising their office (We usually call them “The Kohanim” – i.e. “the Priests” in Hebrew. In fact many if not most are named “Cohen” in English. All of them have “HaKohen” appended to their Hebrew names). Most services are simply prayers and readings and anyone can do that. On Yom Kippur, there some specific ritual actions that the Aaronic priesthood must perform.
As a side note, we also have a service in which we “redeem” our firstborn sons from the Aaronic priests, the Kohanim, because the original plan, apparently, was that all first born males would be ordained as priests. It was the incident of the Golden Calf that transfered the priesthood to the Tribe of Levi as a biologically inherited office — that tribe refused to worship it. We sill however, have a brief ritual that transfers the responsibility from our sons to a Levite. We recently performed this ritual, the “Pidyon HaBen” for our son. In actual practice, it’s an excuse for a party to celebrate the birth. It’s also a lot more fun for the baby than the circumcision!
Anyway, I’ll fill you in with a report, designed especially for Mormons, by Monday some time.
Tzom Tal! Le’shana tova tikatevu ve’techatemu!
(Have a Good fast! To a Good year! May you be inscribed [in the book of life]! )**
*There are two other “new years” in the Jewish calendar. There is the “new year for Kings” which is essentially the political calendar and the “New year for trees” or Tub’shavt. This was the year for determining a full tithe and corresponded to the first new produce of the year (which were nuts, I believe). As in early Mormonism, all tithing was of course, paid “in kind.”
**Mormons: You have my permission to use this phrase on Fast Sunday. :-)