“Remove From Your Midst the Yoke of Oppression”

2017-07-31 – I recently found a framed piece of my “calligraphy” in the garage. I put “calligraphy” in quotes because the actual lettering is just rough pencil. But the layout is nice and the matting is unusual. I need to clean up the glass so I can hang it on the wall again.

The text is a quotation from the book of Isaiah in Hebrew and English (Isaiah 58:5-12). Here it is:

IS THIS THE FAST that I have chosen? Is this the affliction of the soul? Is it to bow your head like a bulrush and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a fast that the Lord would accept? No, THIS IS MY CHOSEN FAST: to loosen all the bonds that bind men unfairly, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry and to take the homeless into your home. Clothe the naked when you see them and turn not away from people in need. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn and your wounds shall soon be healed. Your triumph shall go before you and the Lord’s glory shall be your rearguard. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, He will say, “Here I am.” If you remove from your midst the yoke of oppression, the menacing hand, and the tongue of malice and you show compassion to the hungry and relieve the wretched, then shall your light shine in the darkness and your gloom shall be as noonday. The Lord will guide you always. He will refresh you in the dry places, renewing your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a never failing spring. And you shall restore foundations laid long ago. You shall be known as the rebuilder of broken walls, the restorer of dwelling places.

This is a passage that is read on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I always liked the idea that the liturgy of the day criticizes the congregation on a day of fasting in the early afternoon when the hunger pangs are normally becoming insistent.

I post this today because today is also a fast day on the Jewish calendar. Today (before sunset) is Tisha B’Av—the Ninth of the month of Av—which commemorates the destruction of Judaism’s ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

My degree of religious observance has declined over the years to a point where, today, I do not fast even on Yom Kippur or go to synagogue. I have an abiding interest, but my observance is mainly limited to the ethics I learned growing up (hence the quotation). My only ritual observance is the Passover Seder—also because of the ethical content.

So I am certainly not fasting today. I never really fasted on Tisha B’Av. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I never really had a sense of mourning over the loss of the Temple. It never existed in my life and the rituals that occurred there were bloody—animal sacrifices—so I had zero interest (and still have zero interest) in their restoration. That was history.

Some people want this to return and they are currently acting out their ritual fantasy in Jerusalem.

To me this is just a fetishizing of ritual that is criticized in this passage from Isaiah.

It is interesting to me that these fetishists are demanding a rebuilding of the Temple when the Temple was not even commanded in the Torah. The Torah commanded a portable sanctuary, not one rooted to a specific place. The later books recount a reluctant god acceding to the wishes of kings to build a grand Temple. But the original design was portable.

Rituals often exist to aggrandize temporal rulers.

But Isaiah wasn’t buying it, but instead called on us to “remove from [our] midst the yoke of oppression.”

(This is not meant to be a denial of the Jewish people’s history in The Land. The history is real and something I write about elsewhere. This is about ritual.)

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