Righteous Jews, Save Your Yom Kippur Masks for Purim

Everyone puts on a disguise this holy day – the righteous man’s mask - except they never take it off

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A man wrapped in a prayer shawl walks through a deserted Tel Aviv street on Yom Kippur, Israel, 2016.
A man wrapped in a prayer shawl walks through a deserted Tel Aviv street on Yom Kippur, Israel, 2016.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

There is no longer, it seems, any way to avoid making a slight change in the Jewish holiday calendar and immediately replacing Yom Kippur with Purim. That is, turning the chest-beating and remorse-expressing day into masquerade day, and vice versa.

Donning a masquerade in Purim is a rather negligible matter. You take a moustache, a princess’s gown, a cowboy gun, a Wonder Woman shield, and that’s it, you’re in disguise. At the end of the holiday the masks drop and everything returns to normal.

The masquerade on Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is a much more serious business. Everyone puts on a disguise on this day too, but only one mask serves everyone – the righteous man’s mask. Not a moustache, not a cowboy, not a princess, not Wonder Woman. Only righteous people. But this time, when the holiday is over the masks don’t drop, and the people in disguise continue to believe that they are pious saints.

To be accurate, I’m not referring to secular folk who suddenly fast on Yom Kippur and even attend Kol Nidrei prayers. Those for whom the cantor says the phrase: “By the authority of God and the permission of the congregation we allow praying with sinners.” There’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, and they’re not really in disguise. As far as they’re concerned, this is merely traditional folklore, or a seasonal burst of the fear of God. I’m talking about those who take this business seriously, who see themselves as observing the commandments. Servants of God. Good Jews.

Some of them, of course, make their living off the public – synagogue bums and parliament bums. People who whitewash abominations, others’ and their own, fraudsters and money grabbers, religion scalpers, religion pimps and others who make a living off the Torah.

Those righteous folks should be reminded, somewhat briefly, of Moses Ben-Maimon’s penetrating words, that “anyone who sets his heart on dealing with the Torah, and does no work, and makes a living off charity, is blaspheming the Lord and desecrating the Torah, stamping out its light, and taking his life from the next world … this man is doomed to rob the public” (Maimonides, Laws of Torah Study 3).

But far, far worse are the pious people of the occupation. The thousands of empire thugs, whose brutality has no limits. The myriad of Torah-sanctioned villains, who live off the robbery and eviction, the exploitation and deceit, the trampling and oppression. All those malevolent souls, who even when fasting, their jaws continue to grind the flesh of the poor man’s lamb. There is no longer any hope for that lot. They are destined to drag us all to hell, and no disguise will help.

And every year on Yom Kippur, both kinds of men wrap themselves up in the masquerade prayer-shawl and shake their bones like palm fronds, beating their chest intently, convinced that their burning muttering and tearful eyes will whiten all their sins like the driven snow. For example, if heaven forbid they had listened to a woman’s voice. Or failed, God preserve us, to keep the ban on touching. Or tasted – gevalt! – something milchik too soon after fleishik, and other such dreadful crimes.

And when the Ne’ila, the concluding service, is done they return, pure, chaste and righteous, to the synagogue, or to the land, their neighbor’s stolen land, to continue living there, feeding off the public’s arteries and pocket.

The stomach turns from the intensity of the fraud, the hypocrisy, the self-righteousness and the sanctimoniousness. And the whole toadying, sycophantic business resembles a crime family’s gala performance in court.

Therefore and in honor of all these, I submit a proposal for a slight alteration in the prayer version. From now on, instead of the traditional version, the cantor will announce: “By the authority of God and permission of most of the congregation, we allow praying with the righteous.”

Happy Purim and easy fast.