Columns - 2010

    The Day of Aarrrtonement

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    In 2009, a calendar anomaly led to the first day of Rosh Hashanah coinciding with the lesser-known but less easily spelled biblical holiday: Yom Daber K'mo Shoded Yam. Talk Like a Pirate Day.

    The internet is replete with stories about the two guys who started this holiday way back in 1995. What they fail to mention is that it was actually 1995 on the Hebrew calendar, making the so-called Yom Pirate older than Rosh Hashanah, Jerusalem, and nearly half the jokes in this column.

    Flash forward to 2010, and an equally anomalous anomaly placed Talk Like a Pirate Day on the day after Yom Kippur.

    As those of you who file vacation in advance know, Yom Kippur falls on a Saturday this year. As almost several of you know, Yom Kippur has some changes in observance when it falls on Shabbat like this. Even fewer of you know that, as related in the long-lost Mishnah tractate Bava Gump, there are also modifications to Yom Kippur observance when it ends on Erev Yom Pirate. Avast number of changes, one might say.

    Yom Kippur, when before Yom Pirate, is the day when we're either sealed in the Book of Life or walking the plank. But don't sit shivah for ye timbers, it's not an eye-patch for an eye-patch. You might not get the hook.

    Upon entering the synagogue this Yom Kippur, people are to be greeted with the half-Piratial, half-Kippured salutation, "ah-oy!" Throughout the day, many parts of the service chanted by the Cantor are parroted by the congregation.

    As usual, the Torah is removed from the Aarrron HaKodesh, the Holy Aarrrk. The Torah reading and haftaarrrah both, of course, are parts of the biblical cannon. Many synagogues recruit teenagers to do the Torah reading, to demonstrate their ship-shape prowess.

    The Torah reading itself comes from Leviticus, beginning right after the death of two sons of Moses's brother, Aarrrron. In this paarrrshah, Achaarrrei Mot, he is commanded about offering a sacrifice, including the bull for the sin offering, the Paarrr haChatat. Details include restrictions about when to pass the tabernacle's curtain, the Paarrrochet.

    The final reading comes from the book of Numbers, Bemidbaarrrr.

    Several times in the service we recite the Vidui, the confessional. Most Vidui melodies involve the same reprise, with repeated chants of the traditionally nautical, "aye aye!" While the acrostic words remain unchanged, such as Ashamnu ("we were ashamed"), Bagadnu ("we begged"), Gazalnu ("we were gazelles"), and so on, particular emphasis is placed this time on the repentant chest-beating when we say Maradnu ("we were marauders").

    At this point you might wonder what legitimate theological reason there could be to link Yom Kippur with Yom Pirate. Bava Gump explains that this rarest of proximities makes some of the deepest Yom Kippur traditions even deeper to fathom.

    Look no further than the afternoon service, the only afternoon of the year in which a haftarah is read. This longest haftarah of the year has even more meaning before Yom Pirate, telling of the one and only maritime Jew in the entire Bible this side of the ante-deJewvian Noah or Moses in his baby basket... That whale of a tale, Jonah and the big fish.

    The end of Yom Kippur is noted with a single, long blast from a shofaarrr. To welcome Yom Pirate, this blast segues into another person picking up the pitch on a hornpipe, leading onward to the evening service, Ma-Aarrriv.

    On Yom Pirate itself, you wrap tefillin around your yardarm. Synagogues with flags in the sanctuary add the Jolly Rosen, which proudly displays the infamously revered and feared Skull and Starbones.

    On Yom Pirate, we are commanded to indulge in traditional libations, but when immediately following the long fast of Yom Kippur we are encouraged to go easy on the grog. But don't worry, there's plenty of time for groggers on Purim.

    Last comes the end of Yom Pirate. On Passover each year, we end the seder saying, "next year in Jerusalem." Unless we're in Jerusalem, in which case we say, "next year in Boca." And, actually, the seder usually lasts another twenty minutes of singing traditional Passover drinking songs, for the biblical command to drink until you can no longer tell the good food from the matzah.

    So, similarly, at the end of Yom Pirate, in one last and more specific indulgence of the theme of the day, we say, "just wait until next year!" Yes, talking like a Pittsburgh Pirate.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who, after this, will find himself swimming with the gefilte fishes. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at


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