Yom Kippur and Eid-al- Adha: commonalities and differences
Jewish Israel has just passed through the season of the High Holidays. We’ve celebrated the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which is not really the new year as it’s the beginning of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). These holidays, like the Moslem holidays, are both set according to the lunar calendar, but with differing dates. Israel’s Arab Moslem citizens have just celebrated, Eid-al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
It seems significant that the most important holidays of Judaism and Islam converged this year. While 80% of Israel celebrated Yom Kippur, about 18% of the country were celebrating Eid-al Adha. The holidays fell at the same time last year, but usually the two holidays only coincide every 33 years.
The Eid, a day of joyous feasting, both marks the end of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and, according to the Koran, celebrates the sacrifice of the Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael. Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and introspection, marks the great day of atonement for the sins of Israel. Eid al-Adha is a day of communal celebration and Yom Kippur is a time of personal and communal introspection. On the surface, these holidays seem very different, but a closer look shows that they have many similarities.
Both holidays are the culmination of a season of religious observance. Yom Kippur is the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe which began on Rosh Hashanah. Eid-al-Adha marks the end of the Hajj, approximately a six day event.
Both holidays involve the community and the individual with an emphasis on the community of faith together with the individual.
Both celebrate God’s justice and compassion, albeit in vastly different ways. Both have an animal that’s sacrificed as representative of the people – in Islam, a lamb replaced Ishmael. In Judaism there is the ritual sin offering of two goats that carried the sins of all Israel for which they were condemned to death.
Both holidays have a focus on sin, forgiveness and new beginnings. On Yom Kippur, the sins of Israel are forgiven. In Islam, according to Muhammed, a person who performs Hajj properly (including the celebration of Eid-al Adha) "will return as a newly born baby, free of all sins.”
Both the Eid and Yom Kippur commemorate man’s obedience to God’s commands. Abraham obeyed God by sacrificing his son and the people of Israel obeyed God by confessing their sins and sending a goat to atone for their sins.
Both holidays focus on personal spiritual preparation. The Hajj is a journey of a lifetime, during which one is reminded of death and the afterlife, and returns a renewed person. The Quran tells the believers to "take provisions with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is God-consciousness..." (2:197). According to Judaism, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life, and during which each individual searches his soul and seeks forgiveness for wrongs committed against God and other human beings. During the evening and day of Yom Kippur, Jews confess their sins to God both publicly and privately and ask God for forgiveness.
Jews and Muslims have much more that unites than divides them, both in their core beliefs and in their common humanity. Both faiths have a comprehensive belief system that permeates every aspect of their adherents' daily lives. Each has an all-encompassing system of religious law; halachah and shar'ia; both have dietary laws, and similar customs relating to circumcision, ritual purity, marriage and burial. They share many common prayers. Islam and Judaism are faith traditions that were separated at birth but they nevertheless have a huge amount in common, the most fundamental issue being that they are both rigorously monotheistic. Each tradition traces its origins to a common patriarch-Abraham/Ibrahim.
Christians too share much with Judaism and Islam. We also trace our origins to Abraham who was the father of our faith. As women of peace we stress our need to find common ground. We recognize our differences and we celebrate them. Our commonality in the finished work of the cross of Jesus is the solid rock of our common ground. But we have much other common ground upon which we can tread.
As similar as our faiths are in so many respects, tragically, Jews, Muslims and Christians are far apart. We are separated by animosity, hostility, miscommunication and mistrust that is not helped by the century-long, intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We can agree to disagree on aspects of our faiths and our conflict while resolving to learn about one another and reach out to each other on a personal level.
So, in the aftermath of our great holidays, Yom Kippur and Eid-al-Adha, my hope is that we can learn to respect one another and look beyond the differences that separate us. For more than that which separates us, we share a common humanity, created in the image of God who loves us all.