A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur

I've consistently wished my readers of various faiths and backgrounds greetings on major holidays, so naturally I must do so for my Jewish readers on the holiest day of the Jewish year. But there's an irony here: for those who are observant in the Orthodox tradition, I'm pretty sure surfing the web on Yom Kippur is out of the question, so they probably won't know about it till tomorrow. For those of more secularist inclination who are checking the Internet anyway, best wishes.

Yom Kippur is an ancient and solemn holy day, a day of Atonement for all one's sins, particularly those of the year just ended, since it falls on the tenth day of the new year. It is called a "sabbath" in Leviticus, but the things abstained from are even greater than those on the sabbath, so I'm pretty sure reading blogs is included.

Although today it is hard to discern some of the close links between Judaism and Islam, given the heritage of political and ethnic conflict, it is also worth remembering that the Muslim feast of ‘Ashura also falls on the tenth day of the new Muslim year, and before it became a major Shi‘ite day of mourning, it was already a day of recommended fasting; the Prophet fasted on ‘Ashura, and recommended that other Muslims do so; Islamic tradition identifies it as the day when Moses fasted to give thanks for the liberation from Egypt. (The Jewish tradition is linked to Moses as well: it is the fast in honor of God's showing his forgiveness for the Golden Calf by replafing the tablets of the law that Moses had broken in his fury at discovering the apostasy of the Children of Israel.) Since the Imam Hussein was martyred on ‘Ashura, however, it has become so profoundly identified with a Shi‘ite day of mourning (Atonement?) that it has become less marked in the Sunni tradition, though not forgotten.

I hope no Jewish readers take offense at my linking Yom Kippur with ‘Ashura. Yom Kippur asks believers to reflect on their sins and atone through fasting, and it is worth remembering that atonement (Arabic ghafur and Hebrew Kippur are seemingly cognates) is common to the Abrahamic religions. It is a reminder of the common origins of so much of the Abrahamic heritage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The link certainly is real - see the hadith:

According to Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 202 - Narrated Ibn Abbas:

When the Prophet arrived at Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on 'Ashura' (10th of Muharram) and they said, "This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh," On that, the Prophet said to his companions, "You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses' victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day.