Columns - 2011

    The Low Holy Days

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    The High Holy Days culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this fast day, we don't care whether the glass is half full or half empty because, by about 3p.m., we just want to drink whatever it is already.

    Where does the name Yom Kippur come from? Conventional wisdom is that it translates into Day of Atonement. But unconventional wisdom is more fun, and the wisdom of the recently discovered Mishnah tractate Bava Gump is the least conventional around. (No Rabbinical Assembly or United Synagogue convention has ever featured Bava Gump. Yet.)

    Bava Gump, which is no Talmudic shrimp, offers two more literal meanings for the name Yom Kippur. To understand them both, you must know that "ki" is Hebrew for "because."

    Therefore, "kippur" literally means "because we were poor," or more aptly, "because we acted poorly." Thus Yom Kippur is the day to deal with how we acted poorly all year, though some seem to use it to plan how we will act poorly in the year ahead.

    However, because the only thing that all rabbis agree on is that for every two of them there's three opinions, Bava Gump offers another meaning. This one hearkens to the start of spring, and the turning of three-pointed hat tricks and indulgence of Talmudic inebriation.

    Purim means "lots," not as in "many" but as in "what you can't play legally in certain Southern states." So "kippur" literally means "because we played the lottery," which is another way of saying we were bad, according to a majority of Alabama voters in 1999. (This is related to the origin of the Yom Kippur confessional Ashamnu's middle line, "latznu," which means "we played the lottery.")

    But by the time you read this, the High Holy Days will be over. Or at least you'll want them to be already. So take a gander at the other end of the spectrum, the Low Holy Days.

    These are not the unobserved, obscure Talmudic holidays, which are predominately fast days for almost every day of the year in honor of some massacre or rabbinic leader.

    The Low Holy Days are the holidays that you'd think are on the Jewish calendar, which seem like they would be Talmudically ordained, but are not.

    Several of you know Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat, which immediately precedes Passover. Shabbat HaGadol once featured the longest sermon of the year. This sounds cruel and unusual until you consider that it gave men an excuse for not going home until the sermon ended on the following Tuesday so they didn't have to deal with readying the house for Passover.

    Several of you don't know Yom Rishon HaGadol, the Great Sunday, or as it's more commonly known, Super Sunday. (Not to be confused with Super Bowl Sunday, on which many people lose almost as much money as on Super Sunday.)

    Why is this Sunday different from all other Sundays? Yom Rishon HaGadol balances out Shabbat HaGadol by giving people an excuse to not be at home in case the phone rings. The most righteous have trouble saying no to donating to the community if asked, but the most righteous also are more aware of imminent Jewish community events, such as this day. So the less devout are punished for their lessness by unwittingly being at home when the call comes.

    (One moment. The phone's ringing. Oh, it's a temple board member. Never mind.)

    Some of you know Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai seven weeks after the second day of Passover. (It doesn't sound familiar because it's usually in June. You were at the beach.)

    Some of you don't know Chalushot, the Festival of Weaks. Observed just one week after Shavuot, it recalls the weakness already felt by all Jews dating back to Sinai upon trying to remember all the commandments of the Torah, let alone following them.

    There's numerous other Low Holy Days, such as Simchat Gefilte, but they must wait for another day. The Rabbinical Assembly is considering making the censure of this column the second thing that all rabbis agree on.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who gets increasingly atonal as Yom Kippur progresses. Just ask the people who hear him singing. It makes them weak, for weeks. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.