Do You Call That a Fast?

2012-09-22 – Wednesday is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when Jews around the world will fast for a day and repent their sins. On Wednesday afternoon, when Jews are weak with hunger, the following passage from Isaiah 58 is read in the synagogue, a great moment of irony, in which the prophet castigates Jews for their meaningless fast (from the JPS translation):

1 Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!
Declare to My people their transgression,
To the House of Jacob their sin.
2 To be sure, they seek Me daily,
Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right,
That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.
8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say: Here I am.
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
The menacing hand and evil speech,
10 And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature —
The shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
12 Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
you shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”
13 If you refrian from trampling the sabbath,
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
If call the sabbath “delight,”
The Lord’s holy day “honored”;
And if you honor it and go not your ways
Nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains —
14 Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

For the record, I don’t fast anymore. I don’t go to the synagogue. In some ways I miss it. In most ways I don’t.

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