On Yom Kippur, who do we leave out?

Benjamin Ellis of Keshet UK dreads the exclusion and alienation of mincha on Yom Kippur

benjaminElisI haven’t been to Yom Kippur Mincha for years. Which to most people might not sound odd.

By late afternoon synagogues are quite empty. The dramatic morning prayers are over. Blood sugar and caffeine levels are low. Heads are sore, mouths dry. So while the story of Jonah is read to rows of unfilled seats, most of us are taking a walk or having a nap, seeing to our families, catching up with friends – recharging ourselves before the final Ne’ila prayers.

But that’s not why I’m not there. I can’t bear to stay in because I am terrified of Yom Kippur Mincha, the afternoon service.

I start to dread this service from the moment in the summer that the High Holidays appear on my mental horizon.

Specifically the Torah reading. And specifically one verse seared on my soul in letters of fire and smoke: Leviticus 18:22 – Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.

As these words are chanted I hear cruel undertones of rejection: you are wrong, you bring shame here, you have no place here, you are unwelcome here. For me and many others, these words and their alienating echoes permeate Yom Kippur, Ellul, and every minute of our Jewish lives.

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