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WWYD on Yom Kippur?

October 2, 2012

Last week, as many observed Yom Kippur, there were discussions among Christians about Jesus.  Blogger James McGrath, for example, prompted this way in a post:

Christians, if you need some food for thought, then take a look at Paula Fredriksen’s piece in the Huffington Post entitled “Yom Kippur: WWJD?” (HT Brian LePort).

And Rod, blogging at Political Jesus, advised:

please see S. Mark Heim’s Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross.

He explained:

This goat in Jewish mythology and the writings of the Mishnah (scholars say starting around the 2nd Temple era), represents Azazel, (“a goat that departs”), a leader of angels that rebel much like some stories of satan. Here we have a religion where every year, the ritual life of a community is centered on the victim. The story of the victim told and told year after year decenters our stories of the victors of history so that the losers have a voice. May the words of the Pharisee and apostle Paul for us “to remember the poor” as he has come to our minds. May we remember the words of the rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth whom Christians call the Messiah, that there will be a day when the goats (who still participate in the scapegoating mechanism) will be separated from the sheep (those who obey God to fight against scapegoating) expose our violent ways.

Because of my own interests in Christian appropriations of Judaism old and new, I had already found myself over at Brian LePort’s blog (to the post that McGrath had pointed out); and left this comment:

Yes, Brian, great post! Jesus was no Christian. He walked around the Temple, circumcised. Did he metaphorically also need a “circumcised heart” or not? Did he need to make sure his bread – for certain times – was rid of leaven? Was he more special than his fellow Jewish sisters and brothers? How about Paul? Last year, at another blog, we asked about whether he observed Yom Kippur:

So notice how Rod calls him “the rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth whom Christians call the Messiah” and see how I claim, perhaps exclaim, “Jesus was no Christian.”  Let’s come back to Jesus with a capital Y, as in WWYD on Yom Kippur.

It was also interesting to see Jewish bloggers blogging how Christians and other non-Jews perceive and actually practice Yom Kippur.

My very very favorite post was the one by our BLT co-blogger, Craig R. Smith, which is mainly a “repost” of the essay by Adam Byrn Tritt entitled, “Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin.”  Craig entitled this post of his “Yom Tov.”  Notice who wears shoes when; doesn’t it remind us of Moses on holy ground?

And blogger Rabbi Rachel Barenblat at her blog The Velveteen Rabbi had a number of Yom Kippur posts.  The one entitled “One last post before Yom Kippur” gave links to a couple of past posts of hers that offered resources.  One of these was “Grab-bag of Resources for Yom Kippur“; in it, she says:

Looking for personal explorations of, and engagement with, this holiday and its liturgy? You might find meaning in Laurel Snyder’s To Pardon All Our F*cking Iniquities, an essay in Killing the Buddha that’s subtitled “A half-Jew writes her own Yom Kippur prayer.” Or A Christian Observes Yom Kippur, an essay by Harvey Cox, a Christian professor of divinity who’s married to a Jewish woman. (I reviewed one of his books here a while back.) Seeing ourselves through someone else’s eyes can be a powerful and transformative experience.

On a semi-related note, perhaps the most fascinating thing I found in my searches was this: Christians in Solidarity with Jews on Yom Kippur. A group of Canadian Christian and Jewish clergy came together to create a liturgy which Christians could use on Yom Kippur to help them feel more aligned with the Jewish roots of their tradition. This site includes an explanation of that process, followed by the liturgy, which features English translations of many of the YK prayers. It’s designed for Christians, obviously, but I think it’s an interesting resource for Jews as well.

When you read these posts that Barenblat links to, then you see the Christian concerns.  Synder writes of her parents (rather hypocritically) “muttering things like … ‘Jesus Christ'” when she was prohibited from saying “any of the really bad words (‘b*tch,’ ‘sh*t,’ the horrendous F word)” by the fear of the punishment of having her “mouth washed out with … mother’s green medicinal soap”; her parents (“Jewish father” and “Catholic mother”) were “both pretty unobservant” until her mom “started going to church, and … also started muttering ‘sh*t’ and ‘f*ck’ ” and nonetheless continuing to get “really upset” when Snyder let slip an “Oh, Jesus!”.  Cox writes as a Christian married to someone, “who is Jewish [who with him] decided to raise their son in the Jewish faith, and to participate in each other’s religion as their respective convictions allowed.”  A salient set of sentences from one paragraph to another suggest this:  “Might the day come when Jews can remember that Jesus of Nazareth was also a rabbi who was martyred by the Romans? … But if Jesus Christ was a human being, as all Christians believe, then his suffering cannot be completely severed from all human suffering.”  There’s this idea that observant Jews and Christians together ought to let Jesus do something on this high Jewish holiday; adds Cox:  “Jesus told his followers that if, on the way to the temple to offer a sacrifice, they remember something that has undermined their relationship with a neighbor, they should first go and make peace with the neighbor and only then go and offer the sacrifice. Jesus was never more rabbinical than at this moment.”  What’s the Christian Jesus have to do with Yom Kippur? is what the “Christians in Solidarity with Jews” seem to ask. They strongly caution: “This is not a Christian celebration of Yom Kippur; Yom Kippur remains a Jewish observance. To treat this event as a Christian celebration of Yom Kippur would be a glaring example of ‘appropriation,’ that is, taking as our own what belongs to another faith community and interpreting it as we please. No, in contrast to that regrettable practice, this is an invitation to ‘A Service of Christian Solidarity with the Jewish Community at Yom Kippur.'” And so the struggle for understanding of Jesus’s place in Yom Kippur continues.

Which is one reason CK’s recent post at “Jewlicious THE Jewish Blog” is so funny. It’s funny in both that Ha Ha and in that “strange” way. The exclamation in the title is, “It’s a Yom Kippur Miracle of Forgiveness!” It’s nothing at all about Jesus really, but it is about elevating “Irish blogger and political consultant Leo Traynor” as the miracle worker.  It’s not really so much about the struggle between Jews and Christians over Yom Kippur and Jesus in it; rather it’s about keeping two other things in relationship.  CK concludes:  “And there you have it. This story is seasonally appropriate given that as I write it many of you are still fasting in commemoration of Yom Kippur. Traynor’s action was certainly merciful and magnanimous; and while some may be critical I find this story a perfect reminder that Yom Kippur is about both repentance and forgiveness. And that sometimes forgiveness is as hard if not harder than repentance.”  The Irish hero of the Jewish Yom Kippur is both humorous and peculiar.  It puts historical opponents as playing for the same team, as if Jesus were a rabbi leading goyim followers to join him in observing Yom Kippur.

So which team does Jesus play on?  And what about Jesus on Yom Kippur?

The questions take us back to the late great Hank Greenberg.  In his autobiography, Greenberg recalls:

The newspapers had gone to the top rabbi in Detroit and asked him if it would be socially acceptable for me to play on that day.  The rabbi was supposed to have looked in the Talmud and he came up with the theory that since it was the start of a new year, and it was supposed to be a happy day, he found that Jews in history had played games that day, and he felt that it would be perfectly all right for me to play baseball.  That momentous decision made it possible for me to say in the lineup on Rosh Hashanah, and lo and behold I hit two home runs — the second in the ninth inning — and we beat Boston 2 – 1.

Then he quotes one of those news sources:

On Yom Kippur, September 18 [1934], The New York Times wrote that the Tigers had the American League pennant all but “signed, sealed and delivered.”  And that Greenberg, who was batting .338 with 25 home runs, “was the most important cog” on the team. But this time, Greenberg chose not to play.

The New York Evening Post went to Greenberg’s parents in the Bronx for another angle on the story.

And here’s where that corrective news source makes things different.  The source goes on:

“We are an Orthodox family,” Mr. Greenberg was quoted as saying [to the NY Evening Post reporter].  “He [Hank] promised us when we saw him in Philadelphia on Detroit’s last trip to the East that he would not play on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.  He wrote us later that he was sorry he had played on Rosh Hashanah, but Mickey Cochrane said he was needed and Henry could not refuse very well.”  “It’s not so terrible either,” Mrs. Greenberg cut in.  “I see young men go to the temple in the morning and then maybe do worse things than Henry did.”

“Yom Kippur was different,” Mr. Greenberg said.  “I put my foot down and Henry obeyed.”

So Hank Greenberg continues in his autobiography:

It was big news.  I even received attention from Edgar Guest, the nationally syndicated popular newspaper poet.  He wrote a poem about me concerning the Jewish Holidays.

This is how it went:

by Edgar Guest

The Irish didn’t like it when they heard of Greenberg’s fame
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphys and Mulrooneys said they never dreamed they’d see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.
In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat
Or prayed to see a “double” when Hank Greenberg came to bat.

In July the Irish wondered where he’d ever learned to play.
“He makes me think of Casey!” Old Man Murphy dared to say;
And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made
The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.
But on the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat
And made two home runs off Pitcher Rhodes—they cheered like mad for that.

Came Yom Kippur—holy fast day world-wide over to the Jew—
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!
We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat,
But he’s true to his religion—and I honor him for that!”

It all makes us wonder how Jesus came to sound as Irish as Murphy, Mulrooney, and Dugan.  Or whether Joseph and Mary might have been as involved in a repentant and obedient Yeshua’s practice of religion the way Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg were in the repentant and obedient Henry’s practice at such a critical and high profile time.

I’ll just end this post with more from Greenberg.  As you read it, imagine what Jesus, or Yeshua, might have written about himself if he himself had written his own story.  How important might the Jewish identity, and practice, be.  Might he have observed Yom Kippur, one day, or more?  WWYD?

I was a hero around town, particularly among the Jewish people, and I was very proud of it.

On Yom Kippur, my friends, a family named Allen, took me to shul [synagogue].  We walked in about 10:30 in the morning and the place was jammed.  The rabbi was davening [praying].  Right in the middle of everything, everything seemed to stop.  The rabbi looked up; he didn’t know what was going on.  And suddenly everybody was applauding.  I was embarrassed; I didn’t know what to do.  It was a tremendous ovation for a kid who was only twenty-three years old, and in a synagogue no less!

People remember that I didn’t play on Yom Kippur.  They remember it as every year, but in fact the situation arose only once, in 1934.

It’s a strange thing.  When I was playing I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer period.  I’m not sure why or when I changed, because I’m still not a particularly religious person.  Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer….  I guess I was a kind of role model, and strangely enough, I think this may have begun in sports with Babe Ruth, though, of course, much of the interest in me had the special nature of my religion.

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