How many times have people told me over the years, “I’m not so froom – but I keep the festivals”?
I used to have various ways of responding to such statements. “You keep the festivals – I’m so delighted!” “You keep the festivals – I hope you include Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot, not just Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur!” “I’m sure you’re telling the truth about not being froom… and you must also be telling the truth about keeping the festivals!”
Once or twice, when I was feeling less than charitable, I was tempted to say, “You keep the festivals? I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t see you in shule, I don’t believe you take the day off work, I don’t believe your children stay away from school, I don’t believe you make Kiddush, I don’t believe you have a sukkah, I don’t believe you even have a machzor… Do me a favour. Just say you’re not froom and leave it at that!”
Every time we read Parashat Emor with its guidelines for the festivals I think of these conversations. The fact is that the whole Jewish year is punctuated, enlivened and enriched by the sacred round of festivals, and life without them must be dull indeed.