Vox on the Jewish High Holy Days

Tara Isabella Burton, the religion reported for Vox, wrote “6 things you need to know to understand the Jewish High Holy Days.” It is an astonishing collection of errors of omission and commission.

 The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur

Incredibly, she omits the most important aspect of these Holy Days. God told Moses that on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, God will forgive the past year’s sins: “expiation will be made on your behalf to cleanse you, and to make you clean before the Lord from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). God reiterated this point: “This is to become a rule binding on you for all time, to offer for the Israelites once a year the expiation required by all their sins” (Lev. 16:34). God erases the past year’s sins for everyone in the Jewish (Mosaic) covenant.

How could someone writing about the High Holy Days omit this??? Christians have traditionally characterized Judaism as “legalistic.” They claim the Jewish God simply compares a person’s good deeds to his or her sins, and pronounces eternal judgment accordingly. But this is a fundamental misrepresentation of Judaism, and the Day of Atonement makes it obvious. God forgives your sins on this day, and erases them from the Book of Life. If you think of a weighing system, there are no sins to weigh against the good deeds. Whether or not Ms. Burton subscribes to this fundamental misconception about legalism, she goes out of her way not to correct it.

It is true that in point 3 Ms. Burton says that Jews have “the opportunity to atone for past misdeeds, seek forgiveness, and mend his or her behavior,” but she fails to mention that God forgives sins as a matter of course to all within the Jewish covenant.

What does she think people need to know about Yom Kippur? “4) Yom Kippur is a much more somber day than Rosh Hashanah. And its defining prayer has been controversial.” The Kol Nidre, Burton’s  so-called “defining prayer,” is used to “kick off” Yom Kippur. It is an ancient Aramaic vow -not really a prayer- that almost no one tries to understand. It’s just a beautiful, traditional song - and makes a great pretext for cantorial pyrotechnics.

The “controversy” Tara Burton refers to is a medieval Christian anti-Semitic slur. Wikipedia notes, “The Kol Nidrei prayer has been used by non-Jews as a basis for asserting that an oath taken by a Jew may not be trusted.” A similar slur of the same period is that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matzahs. Why would Ms. Burton think that everyone needs to know this anti-Semitic slur to understand the Jewish High Holy Days??? Clearly, she is not trying to end a controversy. She seems more intent on perpetuating an anti-Semitic slur. How could Tara Burton believe this is more important than God’s forgiveness of sins?

“5) Be prepared to buy a ticket for the service.” This is something everyone needs to know? How many Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. does Ms. Burton think are interested in attending these services? These are by far the best attended Jewish holidays. Often there are not enough seats for all those wishing to attend, and money is used to help ration the scarce resource. This is a standard use of money. What Ms. Burton fails to mention, but certainly should have, is that synagogues rarely if ever charge for standing room. You can fulfill your religious obligations free of charge, at the cost of some additional discomfort.

6) “This year’s Rosh Hashanah was a little awkward in the White House.” This is crucial information about the High Holy Days? Ms. Burton apparently thinks that this too is more important than the forgiveness of sin. Her discussion is even more bizarre, focusing on the political affiliations of various sects and denominations.


In her discussion of what every reader needs to know about the Jewish High Holidays, Tara Burton managed to omit the most important aspect of these days – God’s forgiveness of sin on the Day of Atonement. She emphasized a medieval anti-Semitic slur, a more modern anti-Semitic slur about Jewish pricing policies, and a totally irrelevant discussion about political diversity among Jews.

Does Vox have any quality control procedures? Evidently, they neither check credentials nor subsequent performance. Paging Jayson Blair!


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