When Holy Days Converge

This year’s overlap of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha offers Jews and Muslims an opportunity for common reflection.

image via wikimedia commons

On Tuesday evening, observant Jews will gather in synagogues around the world to hear kol nidre, the declaration chanted each year to mark the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. They will spend most of following day praying, seeking forgiveness for the misdeeds of the past year, all while abstaining from food and drink in order to focus on the solemnity of the occasion.

At the same time, observant Muslims the world over will begin celebrating Eid al-Adha, a commemoration of the biblical patriarch Abraham’s faithful willingness to offer his young son as a sacrifice to God, and the divine intervention which spared the child’s life. In addition to reciting prayers at local mosques, those celebrating the holiday are encouraged to gather as a family for a festive meal, the meat for which (often goat or sheep) is divided into thirds: One for the diners, one for extended friends and relatives, and one to be donated to those in need.

At first glance, the two holidays seem fairly dissimilar: One is a time for deep personal introspection, while the other is a festive celebration of family and community. And yet, this year’s overlap between Eid al-Adha and Yom Kippur–an event brought about by both Judaism and Islam’s use of the Lunar, rather than Gregorian calendar–offers practitioners of both religions–so often depicted as being at odds with one another–a unique opportunity to share their experiences as people of faith.

Marking this occasion in an essay for The Huffington Post, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the interfaith and intercultural-focused Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, writes:

Indeed, each of the two faiths is a complete belief system that permeates every aspect of their adherents' daily lives. Each has an all-encompassing system of religious law; known respectively as halachah and shar'ia; both have dietary laws, and similar customs pertaining to circumcision, ritual purity, marriage and burial, as well as many common prayers.

It is this same sense of shared commitment to an encompassing belief system which is at the heart of a new ad being run on Israeli television leading up to the holiday convergence:

The Abraham Fund, an Israeli not-for-profit group which focuses on coexistence and equality between that country’s Jewish and Arab citizens, is responsible for the ad. They write on their site:

On 23 September 2015, Judaism and Islam's holiest days, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, will coincide. Since these two festivals are observed so differently, and there is limited public awareness of either's traditions, this could be a cause for provocation in Israel.

Recent clashes between Israeli police and Arab protesters in Jerusalem have brought tensions to a boil between the two communities as each prepares for their respective holy days. And while the convergence of the two faiths’ holidays could, as the Abraham Fund fears, been taken as a cause for provocation, Gishurim, an Israeli mediation and community dialog organization, has created a similar video, highlighting the sense of faith-based significance shared between the two peoples:

Ultimately then, while the holidays of Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha may differ in both purpose and practice, their rare convergence offers Jews and Muslims an important opportunity to come together, appreciate one another’s traditions, and celebrate a shared commitment to the unifying human dignity in us all.

Julian Meehan

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