The Jewish High Holidays are here again. 10 days of reflection and introspection. A chance to participate in Teshuvah, or “return” and to start the new Jewish Year with a clean slate, freed from the burdens guilt and broken promises which were just so “last year”. The theme of the Holidays is change and redemption. We Jews think of sins as specific acts we choose to do. We do not see humanity as flawed or born with sin, sin is a choice we make because we can, we have free will. Rabbi’s have broken this down a bit further to say that there are categories of sins;
- Sins which are committed intentionally, they are deliberate, you do them knowing exactly what you are doing, they’re pre-mediated and you are specifically defying G-d, the reason you do them. (I went to the store; I bought, cooked and ate a plateful of bacon. Planned it and executed on it)
- Sins of the moment. Things which are done in the heat of passion. You know they’re wrong when you do them, but you didn’t plan on them nor did you do them the specifically defy G-d. (I ate some bacon at a friend’s house because I was hungry and it smelled so good and, my goyisher friends tell me everything is better with bacon and G-d damn it they’re right. (There you go, two avon sins for your edification))
- Sins we commit unintentionally. An example of this would be I bought potato salad to bring the Temple picnic and didn’t notice that it had bacon in it until it was half gone and someone asked what the red specks were. I forgot to check. (a unfortunate, but real example which I still laugh about which means next time I do this it might move from Cheit to Avon given the circumstances)
Not that this matters for the course for my Yom Kippur observance, I’m just pointing this out because it’s interesting and you come here to learn, or so I’m told.
Judaism also breaks down sins into two kinds, sins against G-d and sins against people. This concept is critically important to Yom Kippur and to our wellbeing in general. The 10 Commandments, according to rabbinical scholars, is broken down into these two types of sins, the first 5 commandments deal with sins against G-d and can be roughly summarized as; Believe in G-d, acknowledge G-ds sovereignty and only worship G-d, don’t use of G-ds name wrongly, keep G-d’s holy day and honor your parents of whom G-d is one. The other 5 commandments are about getting along with others and keeping society friendly; don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t kill, don’t be slutty POS, that sort of thing.
In the tradition, Yom Kippur is the day when we atone for our sins against G-d. For sins against other people however, you cannot be absolved until you’ve made amends with the person you’ve wrong. This is the reason our family tradition at dinner the night before Yom Kippur is to generally seek forgiveness of the other family members of those things which we did to upset them and ask forgiveness. The Rabbi’s also tell us that if you go to a person for forgiveness are sincere in your asking forgiveness, if they do not forgive you, well the problem becomes theirs and not yours anymore. Not forgiving a person who asks seeks your forgiveness is a sin in its own right. Is there no doubting why so many psychiatrists are Jews? We were thinking about relationships 3000 years ago. Heh.
Putting my ownself here up against that Decalogue (10 Commandments) I give myself a score of 7 out of 10. I was spot on on seven of the commandments, I missed it the mark on three. I didn’t, for example, do so great a job keeping the Sabbath. Understatement this year because frankly I didn’t observe many of my religions tenants, thanks to misguided crisis of faith and year of melancholy “who gives a shit about this stuff” attitude. I own it and that’s what I’m thinking about this Yom Kippur.
Fact is, the 10 Commandments are only the beginning when it comes to Jewish law. We actually have a whopping 613 rules to follow and I guarantee you no one can hope to observe all them. But being a Reform Jew I happen to believe very strongly in the idea that these laws are in fact guide, the Mosaic Law is a creation of man, inspired by G-d to give us a guide to living in a just and lawful society. I also believe that these laws are not set in stone they can’t be, times change and that interpretation is required to make them relevant and applicable to today’s society. And this is isn’t some modern narcissistic libertine here. The Mosaic Law, the Torah and every holy book ever been written which has stood the test of time has been through some process of reinterpretation.
Fact is, in the Jewish tradition, the approach to bible has changed significantly over time. See Talmud. Example, in the Torah there are several laws which call for the death penalty. In the Talmud, the Rabbi’s, who were clearly disturbed by the idea of capital punishment, created such a complicated burden of proof before one could carry out a death penalty that the practice was for all purposes eliminated. If you look at biblical interpretations from the perspective of time, like long periods of time, they do change, this idea of a return to “biblical” strict interpretation is complete bullshit, there is no single biblical interpretation. Never has been. If there was we wouldn’t have countless numbers of Christian denominations, Jewish movements and Islamic schools. And we would probably would not be killing each other over our own specific interpretation. Just say’n.
I had a pretty mundane year. I didn’t do anything too wrong, didn’t do anything too great, I achieved mundane. Maybe that’s the sin I should be thinking about this year. I let circumstances dictate instead of dictating my circumstances.