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Liberal rabbis give Yom Kippur advice

20th September 2015

Working with The Jewish Telegraph, we asked four Liberal rabbis for their tips on ‘how to survive Yom Kippur’.

Below, they give their advice from both a spiritual and fasting point of view.

Rabbi_Rebecca_Qassim_Birk_2Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk (Finchley Progressive Synagogue):

Despite what you may imagine, Yom Kippur is actually my favourite day in the Jewish calendar. No one is concerned about timing, sermons that might be too long or the length of cantorial solos.

It is the greatest Jewish blessing that we have this 25 hours of reflection and invitation to take responsibility for our lives and souls.

Contrary to expectations, fasting is easier as a rabbi, focused on prayer and congregational needs other than one’s own.

I adhere robustly to the example set by Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883) when he ate challah in front of his community during a raging cholera epidemic. He modelled that in illness, eating is as important as fasting.

I guide those who are ill to follow such sensible advice and find alternative way to ''afflict the soul" (Lev 23:27). But for me the fasting helps.

Concerned with the spiritual nourishment of the community, my own is heightened over those 25 hours. I don't need sustenance. Indeed the gates at Neilah sometimes close quicker than I am ready for.

pete-tobiasRabbi Pete Tobias (The Liberal Synagogue Elstree):

Yom Kippur is often regarded as a challenge to get through the day without eating, as though that were a laudable achievement. The ‘distraction’ of leading religious services can make it easier – though continuing a course of antibiotics on an empty stomach made me faint one Yom Kippur afternoon.

Finding spiritual sustenance among readings that liturgist Rabbi Larry Hoffman has described as “…great gobs of the standard material that we now drone through” is more challenging.

But a single word, phrase or melody can give spiritual uplift that transcends 100 pages to remain long after one’s fast has been broken.  (100 words)

aaron-goldsteinRabbi Aaron Goldstein (Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue):

Yom Kippur does not need surviving, indeed that would defeat the object. The intention of fasting and being in synagogue all day is to not have worldly concerns.

A Progressive community considers how this is best achieved to alleviate the burden from its members.

For me, as a rabbi of Liberal Judaism, this means being informed by traditions but not bound by them. If someone needs to eat, drink or take meds to concentrate, let them. Far more important is the resolution for the year ahead and self-improvement attained.

danny-richRabbi Danny Rich (Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism):

Like anything of significance, Yom Kippur requires some preparation in order to get the best out of it.

The service will go on around you but commit yourself to being in synagogue (or in nature) for the whole day and take some reading material, or use the machzor, to reflect on the more meaningful aspects of you and your life: what goes well and is opposite.

Before you know it, it will be time to begin to build the sukkah.