Why They Ate On Yom Kippur

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In the late 1800's, Judaism was transitioning in America. The religious were more observant than ever, and the "secular" Jews were finding new ways to connect to their faith while shunning religious traditions. One of their methods, popularized around 1880, was to eat during Yom Kippur. Not only did they eat, but they had huge festivals to celebrate the fact that they were eating.

A new article from Tablet Magazine explains the motivations behind such blatant and intentional heresy. "A range of leftists held massive public festivals of eating, dancing, and performance for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur," the article reads, "not only as a way to fight for the their right to party, but to unshackle themselves from the oppressive religious dictates they grew up with."

Moreover, the events were important community bonding opportunities for a wide variety of Jewish groups. The socialists and the anarchists used the meals to discuss matters like God, atheism, and politics, and the Free Thinkers and the Bundists undertook actions specifically designed to solidify their ranks while angering the religious Jews.

Most importantly, though, this institutionalization of Yom Kippur food represents an important trend in Jewish thought. Traditions change. Rituals evolve. Dramatically few religious components have made it through 3,000 years without changing. In fact, it's a uniquely Jewish perspective to allow such evolution. Most branches of Judaism encourage participants to adapt their religion to their modern lives. "Follow the spirit of the law, not the letter." "The past has a vote, but not a veto." "Interpret the ancient tradition in the context of our modern society." Although this particular Yom Kippur innovation has since fallen away, it made sense at the time, and it was a valid way by which one set of Jews chose to connect with their heritage.

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