Friday, September 28, 2012

Yom Kippur Thoughts

In high school, my best friend was Jewish, and when we were together, people often thought that we were brothers. Having been born into Catholicism, I knew little of Judaism.  But by my 40s, I learned that my father’ father was a Hungarian Jew, and converted to Catholicism when they came to the U.S. in 1906 in order to “fit in.” 

Perhaps that explains my ongoing desire to learn more about Judaism and its ancient practices.
We just experienced Rosh Hashana, The Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where Jews seek to identify their misdeeds of the previous year, seek forgiveness, and make atonement for those sins.

It reminds me of Catholic Confession, whose efficacy is directly proportionate to the intensity of the feeling and desire of the confessor.

So, during the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur week this year, I listened to a Jew and a Christian discuss the idea of forgiveness. The Jew stated that he must ask forgiveness directly (or via telephone) to the person offended, he must receive forgiveness, do restitution as necessary, and only after that could God forgive him. The Christian stated that, according to his beliefs, it was not necessary to go to the person offended, but that one need only ask forgiveness from God, or from God through the priest.

I would often debate matters of religious belief and dogma with my mother as well as our local priest.  My mother told me that all I needed was to look in the Bible and that I should quit pretending that I know more than the priest or the Bible.  I told her that I wasn’t trying to act as if I knew more than the priest, that I was only asking the priest questions, and rather than consult the Bible, I was simply consulting my own inner sense of rightness, and logic, and what seemed sensible. It led to many lively conversations and some enlightening moments.

Though all religions seems to be able to back up their ideas with tradition, or written verses, I’d have to go along with the Jews on this one, that it is always best to seek forgiveness directly from those you’ve wronged, and to make restitution directly to them.  Certainly this violates no code of ethics on any side, and by so doing, I would think that God would smile down on you.

My mother always told me that I think about things too much.  Maybe she was right, maybe not.  But it is good to ask questions, and to seek answers.  While I have never been big on the dogmas which arise from traditions, I have loved the origins of most religions.  It is why I became a Buddhist at age 14, and still continued some connection to various Christian churches.  I studied the Sufi sect of Islam, and I have studied Hinduism.  I find that there is value in all these traditions, when seen purely.  When asked my religion, my answer is very much like the answer that Gandhi would give: “I am a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu.”  Properly understood, yes, it does make sense.

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