Yom Kippur: Why I'll be fasting and reflecting for the first time since I was 13

It wouldn't do any of us any harm to fast completely for a day - not just on the Jewish Day of Atonement

Related Topics

Good Roman Catholics go to confession, owning up to their sins and seeking forgiveness, at regular intervals. We Jews do it differently. Every year, we observe Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar), by fasting for 25 hours and spending that entire time in contemplation of our sins. This is the climax of a 10-day period of repentance which begins with the Jewish New Year.

I think I am allowed to say that this is a typically Jewish approach to the question of right and wrong: we even like to get our repentance wholesale. Yom Kippur starts at nightfall this Friday and while I am not in the least religious - actually, I am barely Jew-ish (itals) - I like to think I have a spiritual dimension, and, for the first time since I was 13, I am going to observe the strictures of Yom Kippur and will use the time for a little self-reflection. I don't know whether I'll be able to squeeze all my atonement into a day, but I'm prepared to give it a go.

Curiously, the Talmud, the prescriptive text of Jewish law, says that Yom Kippur is a day to lift the spirits. This idea recognises the sense of achievement that the day engenders - the honesty required to confront our demons, the bravery needed to change our ways, and the resolution we must show to abstain from eating for a day.

In truth, it wouldn't do any of us any harm to fast completely for a day - maybe it could start a new trend: the J-Plan Diet - and, in any case, the rigour of Yom Kippur is ended with a celebratory dinner. It's less a case of stick and carrot, more stick and chopped liver, chicken soup and roast chicken. The idea of denial and reward is something I, a non-smoker and non-drinker, have been thinking about recently, and this concept was further brought to the fore by one of my great heroes, Leonard Cohen (the clue's in the name).

Currently in Britain in the midst of a seemingly never-ending world tour, Cohen, 79 years old, told his audience in Birmingham that he intends to take up smoking again when he hits his 80th birthday. "It's been a long, barren time. I think it's the right age to recommence," he said. "A nurse would come on to the stage with a silver tray. On that tray would be an open pack of cigarettes - the little cylinders gleaming like the pillars of a great temple." Oh, Leonard. You can even be poetic when you're talking about 20 Marlboro Lights. "Then I'd take my first drag," he continued, "and I'd feel extremely relaxed and I'd be able to review some of the disasters of my shabby past, especially my relationship with a certain woman I regret having disappointed."       

Cohen, evidently, doesn't need the Jewish calendar to prescribe when he should seek atonement. And good luck to him when he takes up the fags again. Will he actually do it? I've got a feeling he might put it off until he's, say, 85. You can't look forward to the carrot if you eat it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas