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Dancing in the streets on Yom Kippur?

10/02/2019 09:31:17 AM


Jeffrey B. Remz

Rosh Hashanah kicks off the Jewish year with thoughts of a healthy and fulfilling year along with hopes for being inscribed in the Book of Life. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, could best be described as serious, pensive, somber. Or is it?

That serious notion was turned on its head starting about a dozen years ago when my daughter was in Jerusalem for a gap year and told us about dancing in the streets on Yom Kippur. Same report a few years later from my son, who was near the Kotel/Western Wall when black-hatted Jews were dancing away, and he joined them. That hadn't been my understanding of how it went down on Yom Kippur.

This concept apparently is not a 21st century invention. Dancing on Yom Kippur is mentioned in the Mishnah Taanit (a written collection of rabbinic literature from about 200 CE about fasting) where single women were said to dress in white and dance to attract men, also decked out in white. That’s hardly the reason for the dancing today. Some posit that the dancing is really between people and G-d.

Instead of bleak feelings about the day (and perhaps the year), Yom Kippur can be a day to be uplifted. We are freed of our sins to G-d on Kol Nidre (however temporary that may be given our failings as human beings) and have a chance to redeem ourselves and live a more ethical life not only in our relationship with G-d, but other people. Yom Kippur is the chance for new beginnings. Why shouldn’t we be inspired and spiritually moved, overjoyed at that prospect?

I’m not so sure I will witness dancing in the streets en masse next week in Newton like my children did in Jerusalem. But if so moved...

May the prayers, rhythm and spirit of Yom Kippur serve to uplift our souls and actions in the year to come.

Jeffrey B. Remz is the Temple Director of Communications and Marketing.

Fri, July 30 2021 21 Av 5781