Sam Lipski gets it wrong about the Australian election date

[Disclaimer: as always, these views are my own. They do not represent my employer or any organisation with which I am affiliated or a member of]

In an article in the Australian Jewish News, the erudite and respected figure editorialised that it didn’t bother him that the Australian Labor Party through the Prime Minister Julia Gillard had chosen Yom Kippur as the election date, despite having other possibilities. Amongst his points Lipski argues that as far as he knew Halacha knew no difference between the voting on Shabbos and the voting on Yom Kippur. Despite Sam’s Orthodox roots and his current alleged membership of the (small) Conservative Jewish Community, it shocks me that he would make such statements. Granted, the job of an editorial is to be somewhat left (sic) field and sensationalist, but in this case he has taken his license too far.

The implication that once you drive on Shabbos, you may as well drive on Yom Kippur is a nonsense, and Sam knows it. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and even those who might infract on other days, attempt to refrain from doing so on Yom Kippur.


On Yom Kippur evening after davening at Elwood Shule, there are many people who walk back to their homes even though they drive on Shabbos. Are we expecting Sam to knock on their window and say “Hey Buddy, what’s the point, you already drove last Shabbos”. It is well-known that the Conservative movement’s attempt to purify driving on Shabbos was an abject failure. Even its own leaders now acknowledge this fact.

No Sam, your role isn’t to find special meaning on the “wonderful” conjugation of the election and Yom Kippur. That, is distasteful, disrespectful, and frankly grandstanding. You already have a good name. There is no need to engage in this populist, sensationalist nonsense that strikes at the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar.

Michael Danby a Labor MP, a member of Elwood Shule, put it respectfully and rightly when he expressed disappointment over the date and announced that extra polling days would be available in Jewish areas.

I urge all people to not even remotely consider the possibility of casting your ballot on Yom Kippur. Do it before, or by postal vote. All Orthodox Shules should contact their members in this regard, in my opinion. I’d venture to say that even the Conservadox, Conservative or Reform movements should do the same.

I’m told that on another blog, there is an article whose title suggests it is “Great” that an election is held on Yom Kippur. Whether this is sarcasm, wit or a real opinion, it’s a great shame that writers and thinkers even have the temerity, let alone the Jewish vacuity, to evince a view that is remotely positive about such a sad conjunction.

Gartels on Yom Kippur

It is questionable during the year whether one needs to wear a Gartel. Let’s assume that it is your family minhag or acquired minhag to continue to do so even today. This article is not about the need to wear one.

On Yom Kippur, certainly those who wear a Gartel also wear a Kittel. Almost every Kittel I have seen, includes a white gartel, made of the same material as the kittel. If so, on a day when we are meant to wear white (via a Kittel) largely because it reminds us of the deathly shrouds (which is why Shulchan Aruch paskens that even women can wear a Kittel) why is it that people also put their black gartel on top of their kittel. That is, a gartel on a gartel?

On Rosh Hashana, when I am the Ba’al Tefila for Musaf, I wear a Kittel. I don’t wear an extra Gartel. On Yom Kippur, I confess that I also wear a black gartel over my kittel. The reason that I do so has nothing to do with Halacha. It is an emotional expression. My Zeyda Yidel Balbin passed away on Yom Kippur. As a young man, when I entered the room that he was in when he passed away on Motzoei Yom Kippur (he had already been removed by the Chevra Kadisha). I stood there alone for quite some minutes feeling the emptiness of the room. His hat and walking stick were in the room. As I walked around, I also found his Gartel. I took that Gartel and I wear it on his Yohr Tzeit (Yom Kippur).

Why do others wear a black gartel on top of their kittel? If they do so because their Rebbes did so, then why did the Rebbes do so?

Along these lines, why don’t some Chassidim substitute their black yarmulkas for white yarmulkas?

Does anyone know?

Typical Kittel

Look what they’ve done to my song

It’s Erev Yom Kippur. I’m at work. I’m finding it difficult to focus on work. It’s my Elter Zeyde and namesake, R’ Yitzchak Amzel’s ז’ל (Bogushitzer) Yohr Tzeit. Tonight, on Yom Kippur, is my Zeyde, R’ Yehuda Balbin’s  ז’ל Yohr Tzeit. Elwood Shule will be pretty much full. Just before כל נדרי I’ll be sitting on the Bima saying תפילה זכה. Only this time, it will be different.

In times gone by, people pass and shake my hand, wishing a גמר חתימה טובה and a גוט יום טוב. Some would peer into my מחזור to see what I was saying, and nod their head in acknowledgment. Then in Yiddish they would say

“Oy, תפילה זכה. I remember my father and zeyde saying this, with tears streaming down their foreheads. You can’t imagine the scene in Poland. The shule was overflowing and stifling. The air was electric and you could hear a pin drop. When the חזן started אור זרוע לצדיק we all trembled: man, woman and child.”

My father sang in the choir in the Chassidishe Shtiebl in Rawa. The בעל תפילה (not a חזן wearing a pointy white hat not intoning an operatic performance) was R’ Zishe Shoichet. הי’ד. Earlier that morning, the town was literally a mess after כפרות. Everyone rushed to R’ Zishe who would then Shecht the chickens, ostensibly for the poor. But who wasn’t poor? When a tired and awe-struck R’ Zishe cried out אור זרוע לצדיק the walls evinced shock and awe. Even the Maskil or Bundist would be at Shule, and they too would tremble before מלך מלכי המלכים.

Over the years, the remnants of that generation were liberally sprinkled among the pews. I remember when there were 40 or 50 people standing in aisles and at the door. I remember when there was even an overflow. This was the home of the survivor. This was a peek into their past. Yes, they drove to Shule (although those who had the strength avoided it on Yom Kippur or parked a distance away so that nobody would see that they were driving) but there they were, bedecked in a Tallis, and a tattered old Kapeloosh (fedora). Who wouldn’t come to Shule wearing a Kapeloosh? Comically, they would drive home wearing the Kapeloosh. But they were fasting. They were davening. It was Yom Kippur.

Someone always fainted (G’Chalished). They knew how to navigate a Machzor. They didn’t need Rabbi Artscroll’s English guide to tell them when to start, when to stop, when to sing or when to cry. It was imbued indelibly. There was nobody announcing page numbers. There wasn’t even a need to standardise on a single Machzor. You wouldn’t see one of those “new” fangled English Machzorim issued by the British Empire. There was Tabik (snuff) and smelling salts. By the afternoon, bad breath was the order of the day. Just before Yizkor, the Shule seemed to double in number. The air was electric. R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’ל mesmerised and enfranchised everyone: young and old, sick and healthy, man and woman. After Yizkor, when, as a boy, I’d return to the Shule proper to see men and women with red weeping eyes. Like a time warp, it looked as though they had travelled back into the bosom of their departed loved ones, and been touched on their foreheads.

The year after we were married, I was employed to daven in Wellington, New Zealand. It was a very English Shule (Routledge Machzor and all). No Piyutim were skipped. I had to say a separate Kel Moleh for each name on the Shule list. I can’t forget, though, the face of what seemed to be the only Poilishe Yid in the crowd. As I came down the steps exhausted from davening a Mussaf which finished at 5pm (they didn’t want a break because people might leave) an old yid, Mr Ryzman, in a tattered kapeloosh, smiled broadly revealing a motley set of teeth, and loudly said “Shekoyech”. I was later told that he rarely smiled, and had told others that he felt “in der heim”.

I didn’t think much of all this at the time. It just seemed so normal and expected. Fast forward. Tonight, I will do exactly what I have always done. Regrettably, there will be very few Yidden in a Kapeloosh. Instead, we will have a more modern array of psychedelic yarmulkes perched on coiffured heads bearing testament to attendance at a flashy Bar Mitzvah or the like. There will be page announcements and new innovative speeches designed to make sure that people remain interested. Woman somehow will have forgotten that it is customary to have a head covering; even those who didn’t have a fancy hat wore a white scarf.

But they are here. They have come. They have identified with their people.

ועמך כולם צדיקים

אנו מתירים להתפלל עם העברינים

Davening will be lonely. The singing won’t be spine tinglingly inclusive. I will wait for the עולם to say their bits in response to mine. Alas, there will be comparative silence and an eery feeling of emptiness will envelop me.

I’ve learned to cope emotionally somewhat, despite my perhaps extreme nostalgia, only by trying to daven in a more dispassionate way.

But it’s Yom Kippur. That doesn’t seem right, does it?