Yom Kippur Aesthetics (Politics)

Did any of this rigmarole that some of us just went through that we call Yom Kippur, did any of it have to do with politics or the larger social good?  By this I mean the fasting, the deal made with God to negate in advance the vows we might make with him in the months ahead, the memorialization of the old Temple cult, with its offerings and scapegoat, the breast beating, the martyrology, the memory of the dead, Jonah, the individual fates that hang in the balance for the year to come, our father in heaven.  My rabbi believes that it does. Otherwise, it’s “just aesthetics, “nothing more” than cuisine, or so he says. I’m not so sure. On the one hand, he’s right, absolutely. Yom Kippur tends to the social fabric, and Judaism looks to the common welfare, and makes demands upon the individual to meet that good. On the other hand, the language of Yom Kippur and its image-world do not belong to this world, not at all. It’s extra-terrestrial. It does not cohere. We go deep into Plato’s cave. And at the end of the day, we all retire to drink coffee, orange juice, or apple cider, to get the blood sugars up, and to eat smoked fish…because, in the end, religion is always about “cuisine.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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