Why Fast on Yom Kippur?

Oct. 10 2016

In setting forth the rules of Yom Kippur, the Torah says nothing about refraining from food or drink, only commanding: “You shall afflict yourselves.” Examining talmudic passages in which the rabbis determine that the phrase in fact refers to fasting, Julian Sinclair finds clear hints at the purposes of the practice:

[After arguing over the exact way “to afflict” is to be interpreted as meaning “to fast”], Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi share a series of reflections about what happens when desire and fantasy slip out of control and restraints break down: you start to view anyone else’s property as legitimately yours, says Rabbi Ami; you see all the forbidden sexual relationships as fair game, claims Rabbi Assi.

This series of observations ends with a pair of comments about the snake in the Garden of Eden who is cursed that “its bread shall be the dust.” Rabbi Ami interprets: “even if it eats all the delicacies of the world, they taste [to the snake] like dust;” Rabbi Assi says, “even if it eats all the delicacies in the world, it isn’t satisfied until it eats dust.” . . .

I suggest that the rabbis interpret the snake, emblem of untamed desire in Genesis, as an image of addiction. One who surrenders to an insatiable lust for the food, drink, or substance that he craves is fated to a jaded state of sensuous degradation where everything tastes of that one thing or where only that one thing satisfies. . . .

On Yom Kippur, the Talmud is teaching, we withdraw from engagement in the world of eating, drinking, and bodily pleasure. This offers a chance to release ourselves from the thoughts, fantasies, and desires that can so preoccupy us, and rebalance our relationship to eating.

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More about: Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Yom Kippur

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations