Poor Glenn Beck. The pitchfork pundit from Fox News is used to getting into trouble for talking about what he hates. But now he's even getting hammered for what he loves -- in this case, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur falls on Monday, Sept. 28, and it marks the end of the High Holy Days that began at sundown Sept. 18, last Friday, with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
On Yom Kippur, Jews across the globe (even many who wouldn't normally darken the temple door) spend the day in fasting and prayer at synagogue. The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are the most sacred period on the Jewish calendar, the "Days of Awe" during which, by tradition, God writes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life and then "seals" the book on Yom Kippur itself. Hence the focus on repentance and seeking forgiveness for sins against God and neighbors.
Certainly not a bad idea any time, and perhaps this year more than most.
Beck, who is a convert to Mormonism, clearly likes the idea and last Saturday sent out a Tweet
to his 132,906 (at last check) followers to that effect:
"Sept 28. Lets make it a day of Fast and Prayer for the Republic. Spread the word. Let us walk in the founders steps."
Then on his radio show
on Monday, Beck followed up with this appeal:
"By the way, I just thought I would put this out there, and what you do with it is your own business. But, this weekend, I put out a tweet on Twitter that September 28th is the Day of Atonement for the Jewish faith, and I thought it would be a good day for all of us to fast and pray, you know. And I got this idea from Thomas Jefferson. After they put together the Continental Congress, the first thing they did was put together a day -- a national day of fast and prayer, and I thought the Day of Atonement would be a good day to do it."
Not a bad endorsement of Jewish tradition from a guy who was able to get tens of thousands of anti-government protesters to the Mall in Washington a couple weeks ago. (Besides, fasting would be a good way for the pudgy Beck to lose a few pounds.)
But it turns out not everyone is so happy with Beck's embrace.
"Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, prayer and fasting," said Ari Rabin-Havt of Media Matters
, the liberal watchdog and fact-checker. "Glenn Beck's attempt to politicize this holiest of days with his far right agenda is not only disgusting, but shows a profound disrespect for the Jewish people." Aaron Keyak, press secretary for the National Jewish Democratic Council, weighed in at the Huffington Post with a spirited analysis titled "The Grinch Who Stole Yom Kippur."
So is this just more liberal whining about a guy whose profile and popularity are growing every day?
Maybe not entirely. First off, there is the obvious problem of using the most solemn day of an ancient faith as a means to advance a political agenda, even if it is under the guise of praying "for the Republic." Americans have from colonial times viewed the national project as akin to the journey of the Israelites to freedom, with the United States representing a "new covenant" (Bill Clinton's slogan) similar to that between God and the Jewish people.
Beck seems to be taking the parallel way too literally.
Then there is Beck's apparent insensibility to the past, say, 2,000 years of Jewish-Christian history, and especially the last century or so.
Christianity, like Jesus Christ, was born from the Jewish womb, and Judaism's DNA remains coded in Christian scripture and liturgy and beliefs. Yet like any siblings (the late Pope John Paul II called Jews the "older brothers in the faith") the inevitable split between Judaism and Christianity was bitter, and Jews wound up on the losing end.
Christians grew in power and numbers, yet anti-Semitism (racial or ethnic hatred) and anti-Judaism (hatred of the Jewish religion) remained part of the Christian psyche and bred all manner of persecutions, including the worst of the pogroms, the Holocaust.
More recently, however, American Christians, especially conservatives, have done an about-face.
First they embraced the refounded state of Israel as proof of God's enduring covenant and the truth of the Bible (and, some of them pray, a sign of the Second Coming of Jesus). And now they are rediscovering the "Jewishness" of Jesus and Christianity with a fervor a Jewish mother would envy. The problem is that this newfound "philo-Semitism," this devotion to all things Jewish, is threatening to smother Judaism with love.
Some Christians, for example, are holding seders -- the Passover meal -- that "Christianize"
the Exodus story
, while others are adopting (and adapting) the Jewish mysticism of the kabbalah much the way Americans took over yoga from Hindus. There are even Christian bar mitzvahs
, and now we have a growing trend toward appropriating the sacred observance of Yom Kippur. "As Christians, we are encouraged to observe the Day of Atonement also in remembrance of Christ -- our own High Priest, who became the ultimate 'sin offering' for us -- guaranteeing our eternal 'atonement' and salvation," the popular prosperity preacher Paula White wrote to her followers last September.
The fear is that all of this does not so much compliment or support Judaism as much as it represents a way to co-opt Jewish traditions and convert Jews.
As a Mormon, Glenn Beck (he was raised a Catholic and as an adult joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) walks an even finer line as regards Judaism.
Not only are Mormons dedicated missionaries -- some would call them proselytizers -- but Mormons believe in the doctrine of "proxy baptism," which means that a Mormon can stand in for a deceased non-Mormon in a service that aims to win that person's soul even thought the person is dead.
Most non-Mormons might shrug their shoulders at the practice. But when Jews discovered that Mormons were using lists of Jewish Holocaust dead to baptize those victims -- Anne Frank was baptized a Mormon by proxy -- it touched off a passionate dispute that continues to rankle the Jewish community.
Then again, Glenn Beck isn't one to bow to what he might consider "political correctness." Besides, the Holocaust has been a useful for for him; witness the number of Tea Partyers holding up signs comparing Obama to Hitler and Democrats to fascists.