In Theory: Should the U.N. recognize Yom Kippur?

Although over the years the relationship between Israel and the United Nations has been somewhat rocky due to the Palestinian issue, 32 nations, including the United States, in late July sent a letter to a U.N. committee asking that the body recognize Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur, as an official holiday. Presently the U.N. recognizes the Christian holidays Christmas and Good Friday and the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It also sets aside the U.S. holidays New Year’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

Q: Give us your thoughts on whether or not Israel’s holiest day should be considered a United Nations official holiday.

Of course I feel very strongly that Judaism’s holiest day, the Biblical holiday of Yom Kippur, should be recognized as an official United Nations holiday. This is especially true considering that the holidays of other major religions have been officially recognized by the world body.

Unfortunately, however, this will probably never happen.

It won’t happen for the simple reason that the United Nations has effectively institutionalized anti-Semitism. The fact that only 32 countries of the 193 represented at the U.N. signed on to this request is very telling. The reality is that 30% of U.N. member states are Islamic, and history has shown that they will demonize Israel and align themselves against its interests regardless of circumstance. Furthermore, a full 55% of U.N.-affiliated countries are either authoritarian dictatorships or despotic regimes that will not side with the sole democracy in the Middle East — a country which stands out as a bastion of liberty, freedom, and human rights.

Currently in the Middle East — among many other horrific conflicts — hundreds of thousands of women and children have been slaughtered in Syria, while the terrorist group ISIS marches across Iraq indiscriminately butchering innocents by the thousands. Meanwhile, Israel is singled out for international condemnation for protecting itself from an enemy that has sworn to destroy Israel and kill all Jews. What country on Earth would stand idly by as a ruthless enemy like Hamas fires thousands of rockets toward its civilian populations and tunnels into its sovereign territory to kill and abduct its citizens? Judging from the recent response of the United Nations, it seems that only Jews are not allowed to protect themselves from annihilation. This is anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

It is also shameful to see how these issues are manifesting themselves across Europe. A mere 70 years after the Holocaust, when 70% of Europe’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis with the eager assistance of many local citizens, anti-Semitism has once again reared its ugly head. Major European cities are once more witnessing acts of hatred that target Jews.

So while I’m not especially hopeful that the United Nations will ever stand up for righteousness, morality or justice, I am nevertheless reassured by the few democratic voices of the world, such as the United States and Canada, which have always been vocal advocates for honesty, decency and the truth. The United States is steadfast in its support for her ally Israel despite the vicious diatribes and malicious acts of repressive regimes that seek to disparage the democratic Jewish state for no reason other than raw, anti-Semitic hatred. It is heartening to know that our great country will always stand by Israel and the virtues she represents.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


In light of the other political and religious holidays the United Nations already recognizes it seems odd that Yom Kippur isn’t already. By all means it should be. Its origin and celebration certainly predates all of the others. The Palestinian issue shouldn’t be a factor in the decision. Israel has the right to defend herself against her enemies who violate agreed-upon cease fires, who bring retaliation upon their own people and are bent on nothing but her total destruction.

On this, Israel’s holiest day, atonement is made for all sins that were committed during the previous year, whether or not they are remembered by the sinner. It prefigures the day of Jesus’ death for us on the cross, when He paid for our sins once for all. In fact, Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb and the final Day of Atonement sacrifice. He was chosen by God to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice and we, though deserving of judgment, were allowed to go free simply because we have placed our faith in what He did for us. Certainly the organization that represents the countries of the world should give honor to the nation that produced the Savior of the world.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


This question made me wonder if the U.N. also recognizes Christianity’s holiest day: Easter. Christmas may be most fun and celebratory, and somber Good Friday certainly recognizes Jesus’ murder on the Cross, but is Easter, where Jesus proves himself God by rising from the dead, a U.N. holiday? Maybe because it falls on a Sunday, and they don’t meet on weekends or something, is why I see no mention of Easter. Just thought I’d bring it up.

As for Yom Kippur, it would seem a no-brainer for a group called “United Nations” if one of its member nations celebrates this day. If all the important days of other members are officially recognized, then so too should this one of not just Israel, but of all the nations of the world where Jews are resident. So yes, of course the U.N. should add Yom Kippur to its list.

“Yom Kippur” is Hebrew for “Day of Atonement.” I might like to point out that the Jewish Messiah who was crucified, dead and buried, and who rose again on the third day, is the means of absolute atonement for all people of all times, and he is to what Yom Kippur prophetically points. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Rom 3:23-25 NIV).

Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


If the U.N. recognizes other religions’ holy days, why should it not recognize Yom Kippur? It would seem that what is fair for one is fair for all. Personally, I didn’t know that the U.N. recognized any religious holidays, but if it recognizes some, it should recognize all.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


My first thought: Could some of this be about a day off for U.N. workers, when their kids often have a school holiday?

Next I reflect on how nice it would be if we all observed our holy days in our own personal spaces, without demanding that anyone else join in. You don’t have to celebrate Rosa Luxemburg’s birthday (March 5), I don’t have to celebrate your holy days — unless I choose to.

Then it occurs to me that In Theory respondents shouldn’t be the only ones thinking. Israel needs to rethink killing in their beds Palestinian children who are taking refuge in a school on the same day that the U.N. is considering whether to honor a Jewish celebration of atonement.

Our question skirts the larger issues of the conflicts in the region.

But because it has forced me to think about the horrors happening there, and that is distressing to me, I get to express these additional thoughts.

Israel claims to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, however under their occupation Gaza is a hell on earth. And yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but if you don’t want the world to root for David, stop being Goliath, is my advice.

Let’s stop straining at gnats, like religious holidays, while we swallow whole the camel-sized lunacy of arming all sides in the Middle East. We need to ban all weapons there, period. Instead of arguing over days off, the U.N. with international support can enforce this ban.

If the countries in the region insist on behaving like humanoids, let them battle it out with sticks and stones.

Roberta Medford


Yes, without question, the U.N. should recognize Yom Kippur as an official holiday. Judaism is one of the great monotheistic faiths of the world, emanating from the tradition of Abraham, to whom we Muslims trace our religious ancestry as well.

It is surprising the U.N. has not recognized Yom Kippur up till now.

In this regard, Muslims and Jews are “cousins” in monotheistic faith, and to this end it makes sense for a Muslim to support his or her cousin in Judaism.

Omar S. Ricci


Given the tumultuous relationship Israel has had with the United Nations, the news that any U.N. committee seeks to add Yom Kippur to the list of world holidays comes as a surprise. But given the location, nature and meaning of Yom Kippur one can only say it is about time. Yom Kippur is mentioned in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 16:29-34. Thus, it is clearly part of Christianity as well. Further its idea of fasting to attain closeness to God and our fellows, its meaning in English. “Day of Atonement,” can also be read as “Day of One Ment,” resounds in the Muslim month of Ramadan. The joy of Yom Kippur is that one is freed from all sins as long as one repents, honestly and wholeheartedly, face to face with fellow humans. God enters the dialogue, when one cannot apologize to another due to distance: geographical, physical or communicative. Then God is asked to intervene in the forgiveness process. There is also a “united” aspect to Yom Kippur. Ninety-five percent of all prayers in Judaism are in the “we” mode: God to us is Elohainu (our God); especially on Yom Kippur, we pray not only for our salvation but for the salvation of all. In fact, one prayer lists all the sins one can conceive of, in alphabetical order. No one could possibly sin all of these in one year, so why say them? Because we are praying for each other. We are united in repentance to bring about a repentant world. The United Nations was formed to unite a world for peace. Yom Kippur, then, as a world holiday would be saying to the world, I am, in fact, my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.

Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet


A misunderstanding in the question about Yom Kippur being recognized by the U.N. as an official holiday is the conflation of this Jewish holiday and the country of Israel. There are Jews throughout the world. Just because Israel is a Jewish state does not mean that the recognition of a Jewish holiday should be judged by our agreement or disagreement with the military actions of that country. If so, Muslim or Christian holidays could be accepted or rejected based on the military actions of Saudi Arabia or the United States, whose populations are predominantly from those two religions. And yet Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha Christmas, and Good Friday have all been officially accepted by the U.N.

Is anti-Semitism involved in their recognition of holidays? Perhaps. But the real problem appears to be that members of the United Nations, a body that has dedicated itself to the “founding principles of coexistence, justice and mutual respect,” have used biased opinions to ignore the most important holiday of the Jewish calendar, whose primary focus is the recognition and atonement for harmful actions during the previous year. That is not to say that we should condone actions that kill innocent civilians, such as the bombing of a U.N. school building in Gaza, a place that was supposed to be guaranteed protection. But to ban the official recognition of a religious holiday on the basis of such an event does nothing to solve the root causes of hostility on either side of the Arab-Israeli war zone or anywhere else.

My belief is that we must find more effective ways to resolve the differences in our world other than continued retaliation and blame. Until we can live with integrity, fairness and empathy toward those who are different than ourselves, there is little hope that those in our world will be able to live in peace. But a world united in interdependence would inspire a holiday worth celebrating by all.

Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


Israel’s request for recognition of Yom Kippur by the U.N. appears to be reasonable and would highlight the importance of preserving religious liberty.

As far as I can tell, the LDS church has no official position on this issue. However, church leaders in recent years have expressed a growing concern that the right to freely practice religion is eroding worldwide. A Pew Research Center study published in January found that the number of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012. These conflicts include the civil wars in various Middle Eastern countries as well as increased persecution of religious minorities in that region, Africa and Asia.

The number of countries with high or very high governmental restrictions on religious activity also appeared to be on the rise, hitting 29 percent in 2012, according to the study. That compares with 20 percent in 2007.

Based on an explanation in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, U.N. recognition of Yom Kippur would ensure that Jews employed at the U.N. would not be required to work on their faith’s holiest day. As various news articles point out, the U.N. already recognizes the holy days of several other major religions. This act of goodwill would set a badly needed example of tolerance at a time when significant areas of the world are torn by religious strife.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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