Is environmentalism boosting Jewish observance?
On Yom Kippur, it is possible to say, without boasting and without exaggeration that for one day the state of Israel becomes a light unto environmentalists around the world.
On Yom Kippur, it is possible to say, without boasting and without exaggeration that for one day the state of Israel becomes a light unto environmentalists around the world. For one day, almost everyone, or at least the Jewish majority, celebrates an entire day without shopping and without cars. The country can chalk up a green achievement of international magnitude.
But Yom Kippur also raises the somewhat disturbing thought about whether and to what extent the green movement in all its variety offers an alternative to religion. Whether it does or not, one thing is certain: This trend gives a boost to Judaism and strengthens it, even among the resistant.
This claim is supported by the change in attitude toward Yom Kippur in recent years. Once thought to be the grayest of High Holy Days, it has been upgraded on little cat feet and turned from wretched to beloved, to a charming holiday breathlessly awaited each year, so much so that the very quietness stemming from numerous prohibitions, and formerly seen as a product of religious coercion, has turned into much desired phenomenon.
In the past quiet was a common commodity and so we failed to appreciate its value. Yom Kippur was understood as simply another Sabbath Saturday, but even quieter. Another boring day for the masses, free to all comers. The transformation of Saturday into a day like any other, combined with the culture of consumerism and waste, caused quietness to turn from a despised annoyance to something you had to make an effort to achieve. The green movement elevated quiet into a kind of miracle and caused Yom Kippur to be viewed as exotic.
The trend intensifies each year, and Yom Kippur has become a talisman for the secular. That's because we stop shopping and driving for 24 hours. How simple and how rare. In a culture in which the acquiring things has become the essence of life, Yom Kippur has turned, without trying, into an island of sanity. After 364 days of shopping til we drop, in every way, shape and form, we find it impossible not to be moved by the extreme experience of a day without shopping.
And not only without shopping; without restaurants, eating out and more acquisitions and without traffic jams. All of these upgrade Yom Kippur from just another holiday to a real holiday celebrating the quality of life. Children await it, teenagers long for it and adults recall with appreciation mixed with awe those far-off days when they were embittered by it and expressed their anger in feasting on non-kosher food and alcohol.
It appears we've chalked up another victory for Judaism and may rest now. But right at this time, and again on little cat feet, the new phenomenon of ecological conferences taking place on Saturdays has begun. These conferences elevate quietness and simplicity to a miracle and include, due to their very nature, the joys of working in groups, of common projects and of attachments formed in going beyond the here and now, beyond the self and family. New ideas take the place of shopping and traveling. These conferences are mainly about paying attention to nature, to its beauties and concern for its future.
The important point is that the Jewish Yom Kippur and Sabbath are now models worthy of imitation by those concerned with ecology all over the world. After all, in the rest of the world, they barely manage to have one day a year without shopping and cars, two of the most definitive green symbols. And so Sabbath-observant Jews are the greenest, even if they don't know it. They spend one day every week without electricity, traveling and shopping. The ecological revolution suffers a knockout. It's 1-0 in favor of Judaism.
The fact that the secular public in Israel has adopted the customs of Yom Kippur without being forced, of its own free will, gladly (and some within this group are gradually observing the Sabbath, although others are moving in the opposite direction ), raises a question: Is it possible that the environmental movement, which is increasing in influence and power and is identified with the secular community, is likely to find itself unknowingly playing into the hands of the religious and changing the approach of secular people to the Sabbath? Is the longing for quiet, plus the nausea caused by shopping malls, likely to or threatening to (depending on your point of view ) make the Israeli public, at least the Jewish sector, beg for Yom Kippur once a week, and create a situation in which they observe the Sabbath by choice and gladly, without being forced?
It isn't easy, if possible, to reconstruct the exact mechanism that caused secular people to gradually stop battling against Yom Kippur and in effect create a digestible excuse for it, a kind of Israeli synthesis of the Orthodox and the secular. In any case, it's impossible to ignore that in the contexts of the Sabbath and of Earth Day, more people each year enjoy the experience of darkness. And the environmental movement has in essence created an opportunity to merge contemporary ideas with religious holidays. This process not only shakes the dust off older concepts, but primarily also reveals the profound human need to define existence as part of a universal fabric of life. This is the place to stop and give thanks that we haven't invented anything new.