Ask the Rabbi: ‘I’m praying for a shorter service on Yom Kippur’

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Ask the Rabbi: ‘I’m praying for a shorter service on Yom Kippur’

Ask the Rabbi with with rabbi Yitzchak Schochet… 

Ask the Rabbi

Pulling a fast one every year?

Dear Rabbi,

I’m bothered each year by how we mark Yom Kippur. It occurs to me that the whole business of fasting is a farce. People are unobservant all year round then for 25 hours they starve themselves. For what? The very next day they go back to their old ways.


Dear Zena

Imagine a Jew sitting at home eating breakfast while watching the news. The broadcaster mentions it’s Yom Kippur, reminding him he has a ticket for services.

So he hops in his car and heads to synagogue, takes his seat and prays – only for his phone to vibrate 15 minutes later, resulting in him leaving and heading to the office.

If you knew how precious those 15 minutes are before God! So how does it work?

Well, to be sure, fasting and self-mortification may be means through which man can express remorse.

They may be acts of purification, of self-cleansing. But they do not constitute absolute repentance. Everything in Creation is categorised in terms of matter and form (body and soul). The act of sin – its external manifestation – is the matter (the body) of sin.

The underlying thought, the will or passion that generated the transgression is the form (the soul) of the sin. Fasting and self-mortification on Yom Kippur might attack the body and purify it from the sin.

However, it does not hit at the very root – the soul of the sin. Thus, while the exterior associated with the sin is no longer, the essence still remains, allowing the sin to resurface. Why is it that many people, however much time they may spend in jail, emerge and reoffend?

Because inasmuch as the punishment is self-mortification – it strikes at the body – it does not get to the soul. Apart from leaving the guy hanging around riffraff, who actually sits down with him to discuss the motivation; to get to the core?

Only the elimination of the thought, intent and desire that caused the sin, which is the essence of repentance, will eliminate the soul of the sin.

When you deprive the soul, when you strike at the roots, then and only then does the sin cease to exist in its entirety.

So, to be clear, no one starves themselves for 25 hours just because that’s what grandpa used to do. That would be madness.

At the core, there is something much more, however subconsciously, motivating every Jew who fasts, to do so. And again, even if he’s actually in shul for however short a time, in that moment he is there because he wants to be there. That is deeply precious before God.

However, it is especially worthwhile to consider that in our pursuit for genuine repentance we need to do more than fast.

We need to turn inward and introspect with a determination to aim higher in the coming year. Wishing you and all Jewish News readers well over the fast and well over the past.

May we all enjoy a truly happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead and may all our dreams come true!

I’m praying for a shorter service

Dear Rabbi

Why are High Holy Day services so long and tedious? Wouldn’t they be more inspiring if they were shorter?


Dear Sam,

One day a year when most Jews turn up to synagogue and you think the best exposure we should give them is an abridged version of spirituality? It’s not the quantity, Sam, it’s the quality that matters.

If the services are led beautifully (maybe even explanatory), the sermon is meaningful and the overall atmosphere is dynamic, then the few hours that people are there will pass quickly, because if time can fly when you’re having fun, then you can literally transcend time when your soul is on fire.

New year, new resolution!

Dear Rabbi,

I write to you each year with the same request: a new year’s resolution! (Please don’t ask if I kept last year’s, as you do every year!).


Dear Howard,

You remind me of the guy pondering aloud before Rosh Hashanah: “Wow I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person!” And the other who made a resolution…to stop lying to himself about making lifestyle changes!

Here’s what you’re going to do Howard (and anyone else out there looking for some guidance): You’re going to undertake something that speaks to your soul and you’re going to stop making excuses for yourself because success occurs only when your dreams get bigger than your excuses. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take a moment and make it perfect.

Even if you lack the self-belief to be able to do great things, that’s OK.

Just do smaller things in a great way. Wishing you and all readers a truly happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead. May all our dreams come true!

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