The Ancient Synthesis of Ritual and Ethics on the Holiest Day of the Jewish Year

On the morning of Yom Kippur, the Torah reading, from Leviticus and Numbers, details at length the rituals to be performed in the Tabernacle (and later the Temples) on that day. Shortly thereafter, a passage from the book of Isaiah is read, in which the prophet condemns those who fast with insincerity:

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?

Milton Himmelfarb, in a 1962 essay on the day’s scriptural readings, comments on this juxtaposition:

Isaiah appears to contradict the Pentateuch’s priestly ritualism, but that is a modern’s bias. The rabbis saw no contradiction, only completion. . . . The rabbis were serious about every last detail of the ritual, but they were as explicit as they could be that all that was nothing without the right inward disposition and the right conduct. So they made the reading about loosing the bonds of wickedness follow the reading about bullocks, goats, and incense; and in our rabbinic prayer service we say: “Repentance, prayer, and works of justice and mercy [ts’dakah] can avert the harsh judgment.”

Indeed, Himmelfarb concludes—after a dazzling analysis of the connection among paganism, sexual immorality, and Judaism’s fall holidays, followed by a novel reading of the book of Jonah—this apparent tension dominates the entire day. This can be seen from the two key parts of the liturgy:

The avodah—work, service, cultus—is a kind of long, versified paraphrase of [the talmudic tractate of] Yoma, recalling the Temple and the sacrifices in detail. To pious Jews through the centuries, its recitation this day in the synagogue, on the principle of “so will we render for bullocks the offerings of our lips” (Hosea), was an exalting thing, hard as that may be for us to believe. But over and over we also say the al et, the long, inclusive nostra culpa. The al et does not mention one ritual transgression. (“Eating and drinking” probably refers to intemperance rather than violations of kashrut.) The offense that recurs in it most often, under many synonyms, is lashon ha-ra, an “evil tongue.”

After 2,000 years of liturgical expansion, the basic structure and intent of our Yom Kippur service remain what they were in the time of the rabbis.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Isaiah, Jewish liturgy, Jewish ritual, Yom Kippur


Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security