Magic Jewball

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PSA: Yom Kippur

Filed under : Baseball,Judaism
On September 27, 2009
At 2:00 pm
Comments : 11

People always ask me, what’s the proper greeting for Yom Kippur? So if I see Suzyn Waldman, hurrying out of the WCBS booth at today’s delayed Yankee game to get to services, what should I say? Happy Yom Kippur? Happy Holidays? Seasons Greetings? (Well, it is a season, the season of repentance… but that’s a stretch.)

There are several options. Yom Kippur isn’t a holiday in the secular, Madonna sense. Celebraaaate! It’s a holy day, in the old-timey, Biblical sense. It’s the last piece in a period of reflection that begins over a month before, where we think about ourselves, what we have done wrong, how we can make those wrong things right, and hope that God shows mercy. On Yom Kippur, we fast and spend nearly twenty-four hours in continuous prayer. At the beginning we ask God to inscribe us in the “book of life” a metaphor for forgiving our sins and allowing us to have a good life for another year. At the end of Yom Kippur, the “book” is closed and sealed. So the most traditional greeting is:

Gmar chatimah tovah (Gmahr ha-tee-mah toe-vah) = may your finished sealing be good
That is, may you be sealed in the book of life with a good outcome.

This can be shortened to Gmar tov (gmahr tove), literally, “a good finish,” but really a shorter way of saying the above.

You can also still say, “Shana tova” (shah-nah toe-vah), or, a good new year.

There is also “have an easy fast,” which I’ve inherited a non-fondness for, because my mother used to say, quite rightly, that the point of Yom Kippur is to suffer so that one really turns inward to think of their behavior and past actions. So having an easy fast defeats the purpose, really. She used to say (and others do too), “have a meaningful fast.” Of course, you can cover all bases by saying, “have an easy and meaningful fast.” But it’s perfectly acceptable to go with the standard, “have an easy fast,” and I promise, no Jew will ever answer you, “don’t tell me what kind of fast to have!”

Not to mention, this is all easy for me to say, since I’m on medication that doesn’t allow me to fast. But I’m not eating steak frites either.

Anyhoo, thanks for the good wishes, and thanks to the Yankees for having an early game so Suzyn and I can attend evening services without missing the game. I’d also like to say that I’m sorry for anything I might have done to hurt anyone this year and I hope that you’ll forgive me. In conclusion, clinch early and clinch often.

Hothouse Flowers – I’m Sorry


11 Comments for this post

  1. Alex says:

    Seriously, I’ve always bristled at “Have a meaningful fast.” I’m sorry, but I’m really very superficial, and I’d rather just have an easy fast, thank you very much. Just goes to show, no matter what you do or say, you’re going to piss off somebody.

    Fortunately, the sun isn’t down yet, so there’s still time to ask everybody’s pardon.

    G’mar chatimah tovah, my friend.

  2. Becca says:

    I would argue, though, that Halacha goes against you, even if it’s your personal opinion that you’d like to have an easy fast. Because if you just want to have an easy fast, why fast? That’s the easiest, isn’t it?

    But it’s because people do have personal opinions that I say that it’s perfectly OK to say, “have an easy fast.” I tend not to say that myself, though.

    Anyway, please do use my blog to ask pardon, I think that’s OK, too. Everyone important reads me, right? 😀

    Gmar chatimah tova, may you have a wonderful year.

  3. Alex says:

    Oh, I don’t expect halacha to be on MY side on this question–or several others, for that matter. But I don’t think I’m particularly commanded to have a difficult fast, either. I just have to fast. And I do. But why not hope it’s relatively easy? Why borrow trouble? And besides, how reflective & introspective will I be if I’m constantly thinking, “I’m so damn thirsty! And I have a headache! And how many more pages until we can sit down?”

  4. Alfa says:

    Would it be wrong to wish you a Happy Sweep Day and a meaningful un-fast?

  5. Becca says:

    Alex, no, you are, you are commanded to have a tough time, to afflict yourself. I actually have Esther Kustanowitz to thank for this because someone on Twitter had a misconception about it as well. But this is her link:

    But speaking of personal opinions, I also happen to believe I’m more reflective when not constantly thinking about food. Sadly for you and I, the Torah thinks otherwise.

    Thanks, Alfa! And may the Mets fire all the right people and get good draft picks.

  6. Alex says:

    OK, Becca, I read Esther’s excellent post before the sun went down on Sunday, and I spent part of the day thinking about this whole “easy fast” dust-up (which, I suspect, may not have been in the foreground of the picture when this whole “Yom Kippur” idea got hatched eons ago, but I digress).

    I believe I have always just suspected easy-fast-objectors of being overly literal. Esther Kustanowitz seems to have a different experience of it, but in my book, fasting is afflicting myself, ipso facto. And I assume it is the same for others. Not afflicting myself would be NOT fasting. I’m not wishing others should take the easy way out. It’s just that it strikes me as verbose to wish someone, “Don’t have an unduly burdensome fast, that interferes with your experience of the solemnity of the day,” or, more colloquially, “Keep the affliction-meter in the yellow, but just on the edge of red.” Plus, I don’t know how to say either of those things in Hebrew, but I can say, “Tzom kal.”

    So, my friend, it’s not that I don’t think that your point (and your mother’s, and Esther Kustanowitz’s) is valid, but rather that I think you’re fixating on the words and not the intention of us easy-fast-proponents.

    But, as you’ve noted, easy-fast-objectors tend to accept easy-fast-proponents’ wishes with the same kind of polite “thank you” that I use when I accept the Christmas wishes of people who don’t know I’m Jewish. The intention was good, so thanks, and same to you. And I’m hoping that if I accept the wishes of meaningful-fast-proponents in the same vein, it’ll all be good.

  7. Becca says:

    First off, I should say, that’s not Esther’s post, it’s one she linked to on Twitter so that she could answer someone who disagreed with my statement that one should suffer on Yom Kippur. But it is excellent and it was a good find by her.

    And it’s interesting because I’m now having this discussion with two people, one over Twitter, one here, about how to interpret words. She thought that the phrase “afflict oneself” doesn’t mean suffering and you’re saying that easy means…. easier. But either way, although I always mention that the Torah is open to interpretation, I do take phrases at face value. I kind of think when people wish me an easy fast it’s sort of the same thing as saying, “hope you eat bread on Pesach!” because the rule is to afflict oneself and if you are wishing one doesn’t, you’re saying, “I hope you don’t do it right!”

    I mean, I see what you’re saying about intention but I think it’s time for people who have good intentions to revise their words to match. You really do have to think about how you phrase things. Easy is easy. There has to be a better way to express, “hope it doesn’t kill you” other than, “I hope it’s easy.” (I’m tempted to use Elvis Costello’s phrase re: Monday, “I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you,” but maybe not.)

    Perhaps the best phrase is what I think is a British one, “well over the fast.” That is, “I hope you get through it OK” and doesn’t so much sound like, “hope it doesn’t even bother you a bit.” Personally? I had a terrible “fast,” but I also found great meaning, so it was OK. And I am well over it. 😀

    But either way, I recognize that someone is wishing me well and I take that at face value as well. So this discussion shouldn’t frighten anyone away from using either phrase.

  8. Alex says:

    If you and I both started saying “well over the fast,” would that be enough to make it catch on in America? How many people make a groundswell? I think it’s more than two.

  9. Celia says:

    I was not unduly afflicted by hunger/thirst (due, I’m convinced, to my strategic pre-fast meal of pancakes, eggs, fried potatoes, and a lot of water), but I was FREEZING and sitting in a draft, which afflicted me greatly. Hope that counts.

  10. Becca says:

    Alex, I’ve told you, everybody important reads this blog.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Celia, I too was freezing. There is no need to set the A/C as if it’s 90 degrees outside; why do they do that?

  11. Alex says:

    1. Becca, I meant to say this last night, but somehow I forgot to. (I blame it on–and I never thought there was such a thing as this–too much cinnamon bobka. But, oh, was it good!) Thanks for pointing out the true authorship of the post in question, and my sincere apologies to Matt, who actually owns the blog in question.

    2. As a former vice president of a synagogue with a new, expensive, temperamental and inadequate HVAC system, I can tell you and Celia that controlling the temperature on the High Holidays can be hugely complicated. It all starts with all the twice-a-year synagogue-goers, and the question of whether you buy an HVAC system for two days a year, or for the other 363. If you ever need a guest blogger, I could explain at length. Your readers would be rapt, I tell you!

    Also, men are rarely cold in shul. I think it’s because we’re wearing shirts and ties and suit jackets and tallitot. In fact, the issue of being cold in synagogue makes me wonder: do you suppose the move toward egalitarianism in American Judaism since the ’70s is really to some extent about women wanting to wear the tallit–so they can add another layer?

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