The Emotional Experience of Yom Kippur

October 4, 2022 | Joseph B. Soloveitchik
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In his writings and lectures, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the greatest rabbinic minds of the last century, often contrasted the rational and experiential aspects of religiosity. He begins with this contrast in this 1976 High Holy Day sermon, reminiscing about the awe and ecstasy he witnessed praying on Yom Kippur with his older relatives and teachers in prewar Europe. Key moments of the liturgy—such as the description of the priests and people falling to their knees in reverence when the high priest uttered the ineffable name of God during the Temple service—produced, according to Soloveitchik, profound feelings that even the most adept teacher cannot transmit to his students.

Yet, he argues, a careful analysis of the minutiae of the law (halakhah) can serve as a way to reconnect with this lost sense of religious enthusiasm, as he demonstrates in the second part of the lecture. (Video, ten minutes. Yiddish with English subtitles.)

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