I wish my phone did this….
Technically Yom Kippur doesn’t begin until sundown, but we’re getting pretty close to sundown here on the west coast and I figure that many of you are already well past that. So, happy Yom Kippur! (Or, is it “merry” Yom Kippur? Blessed Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur greetings?) Anyway, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown tonight (Sep 17) and ends at sundown on Saturday (Sep 18). So, it’s time to get your Yom Kippur on.
To be honest, I don’t normally notice when it’s Yom Kippur. But, the following article was sent to me by Dr. Carl Laney, one of our Bible professors. I thought the article was quite interesting in that it doesn’t focus on the theology of Yom Kippur, with which I’m already familiar (see esp. Lev. 16:1-34; 23:27-32), but it describes the traditional practices associated with its celebration. I found that quite fascinating. So, I’m passing it along to everyone else for your personal edification. The article was originally written by Professor Yagal Levin.
Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath: no work can be performed on that day. It is a complete, 25-hour fast from eating and drinking (even water) beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions: washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.
Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. It is customary to wear white on the holiday which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that Israel’s sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18).
The liturgy for Yom Kippur is much more extensive than for any other day of the year. The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. Perhaps the most important addition to the regular liturgy is the confession of the sins of the community. All sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.
It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address ritual sins. There is no “For the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat”. The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, tale-bearing and swearing falsely, to name a few).
The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne’ilah, is one unique to the day. The ark (a cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept) is kept open and most people stand throughout this service. There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service. The service is sometimes referred to as “the closing of the gates”; think of it as the “last chance” to get in a good word before the holiday ends. The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar. After a festive (as we are sure that God has indeed forgiven our sins) “break-fast” meal, it is common to go out and immediately start constructing the sukkah, to show that we are serious about obeying all of God’s commandments.
Despite the outpouring of support for the previous title “Flotsam and jetsam” (yes, in my world four comments qualifies as an “outpouring”), I’m going to stick with a simpler title for a while and see how it works.
We had a great response for our giveaway of Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans. Sadly, though, I was only dumb enough to have acquired one spare copy. So, that’s all I have to give away.
The winner of our little contest was Kevin Sam who runs an interesting blog over at New Epistles. If you’re particularly frustrated that you didn’t win the commentary, you can probably go over there and leave him hate comments or something. I’m sure that’s what Paul would have done anyway.
I’ve also been contacted by someone who liked the idea of sharing the wealth by giving away duplicates of good books, and that person has contributed another really good book for us to give away next. Keep an eye out for that announcement soon.
The Chronicle of Higher Education had a good article last week on the importance of writing well, or at least less badly, in graduate school. Michael C. Munger, the author, starts by arguing that writing is the single most important factor in separating good students from mediocre ones in graduate school.
Many of the graduate students who were stars in the classroom during the first two years—the people everyone admired and looked up to—suddenly aren’t so stellar anymore. And a few of the marginal students—the ones who didn’t care that much about pleasing the professors by reading every page of every assignment—are suddenly sending their own papers off to journals, getting published, and transforming themselves into professional scholars.The difference is not complicated. It’s writing.
I’m not as convinced that good writing is the only factor separating good and mediocre students, but it certainly is an important one. The good news is that you can always learn to write better. Indeed, Munger’s whole point is that grad students need to keep working on their writing skills.
To that end, he offers the following advice:
His reflections on each of these points was far more helpful than mine. Check it out.
Okay, I finally got one too many comments from people who either couldn’t figure out what “flotsam and jetsam” means (originally a nautically term referring to the debris left after a shipwreck, it’s also used to refer to “odds and ends” in general), or who wondered if I’m just a big Little Mermaid fan (which, by the way, says more about you than it does me). So, I’m going to drop that title for a while and go with something that will hopefully be a little clearer. But, just in case there’s still some uncertainty out there, let me explain:
Now, that we’ve taken care of that business, here are some links for this morning.
I recently had to perform a diagnostic on my racionator (i.e. that part of me that thinks and draws “logical” conclusions). I had picked up a journal article and was just starting to get a feel for the author’s thinking when he revealed that he would be critiquing the position of someone I really don’t like that much. He bugs me. He doesn’t bug me in the same way that Paul Tillich does. I’ve never met Paul Tillich (mostly because he died before I was born), so Tillich doesn’t bug me on a personal level. I just don’t care for his particular approach to pretty much everything. (That’s not entirely fair given that he bugs me so much that I haven’t read enough of what he’s written to know if he really should bug me as much as he does.) But, this guy’s not like that. I don’t have a theological problem with him. And, he doesn’t even bug me in the same way as that jerk in Barnes and Noble who keeps jabbering on his cell phone while I’m trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and sponge some free reading from the magazine section. He’s not rude or anything. No, for some reason I just don’t like this guy. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s still there.
So, as soon as I saw his name in this journal article, I immediately found myself gravitating toward the conclusion that his position (whatever it is) must be wrong. It was fascinating. It’s like a found myself on that slippery slope everyone keeps worrying about, inevitably sliding toward the conclusion that this guy just has to be wrong. Please, oh please, let him be wrong.
Then I came face-to-face with how easy it is to oppose someone just because you don’t like them. Often it is someone you don’t like for theological reasons. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found students unfairly criticizing someone who is in a different theological camp than they are. They’re more than willing to be fair and give the “benefit of the doubt” to people on their side of the fence. But those other guys, forget it. They’re definitely wrong. Other times you might not like someone for more personal reasons. Was Luther an anti-Semite? That’s a question for another post. But, if he was, would that impact how you assess other aspects of his theology? Could Terry Jones be right on something other than whether we should threaten to burn the Qur’an? Probably not, but it’s at least worth considering. Because, of course, the fact that I don’t like what you have to say about X – or even the fact that you are just flat wrong about X, which is basically the same thing – does not necessarily have any bearing on what I should think about your opinion of Y. If Y is a separate issue, then Y has to be evaluated separately. Even if I don’t like you. That is inherent in the task of good academic discourse.
So, was he wrong? Do I get to bask in the joy of knowing that someone I don’t like was wrong yet again? I don’t know. I haven’t finished reading the article yet. I stopped to write this post.
(By the way, this doesn’t hold when I’m grading papers. It’s perfectly okay for me to grade you down on a paper just because I don’t like you. I do it all the time. That’s one of the privileges that comes from being on this side of the desk. That and not having to play the “What does this essay question even mean?” game anymore.)