Synonymous in Hebrew with “Shofar” is the word “Jubilee,” which signifies the liberation of people physically and spiritually. In fact, Leviticus 25:10 describes Jubilee and commands the Israelites to “proclaim liberty.” In 1751, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, the Pennsylvania Assembly commissioned a large bell to hang in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall.) They ordered cast on to the bell, those very words given by God to Moses in Leviticus 25:10 to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It is said the bell was wrung to summon the masses on July 8, 1776 to hear read for the first time the epochal Declaration of Independence.
The story of the Liberty Bell is not the only occasion in the history of our nation’s birth when the founding fathers referenced their interest in Hebrew and described their motivations and goals as being inspired by the “Hebrew Bible.” Thomas Jefferson referred to God twice in Hebrew terms in drafting the Declaration of Independence. A co-signer of that great document, Dr. Benjamin Rush, later wrote, "The Old Testament is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings, and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind." Another signatory, James Witherspoon, president of Princeton and a teacher of the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, published a popular sermon used in rallying the cause of Revolution by identifying the American colonists with the people of ancient Israel.
One of the principal freedoms sought and secured in the foundation of the United States of America is that of religious liberty, and we cherish and celebrate the many contributions of people of all faiths to our great nation. On this special day in the Jewish tradition, I thought it would be of interest to share a few more details about Yom Kippur that I, as a Christian, find instructional and inspiring. For this education I give thanks to a former Consul General of Israel, Yoram Ettinger, and his Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed.
Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri, whose astrological sign is Libra which symbolizes some of the key themes of Yom Kippur and icons important to me in my capacity as the chief law enforcement official of Utah: scales, justice, equality, truth, sensitivity and optimism.
The central theme of the Day of Atonement is the plea for forgiveness from God and others. “It highlights humility (admitting fallibility), faith, soul-searching, thoughtfulness, being considerate, compassion, accepting responsibility and magnanimity.”
“Yom Kippur is a Happy Jewish Holiday, replacing vindictiveness and rage with peace-of-mind and peaceful co-existence between God and human beings and, primarily, among human beings.”
The Hebrew word for “fast” is the root of the Hebrew word for “reduction” or abstinence from wrong-doing. It is also the root of the Hebrew words for “slave;” and through the process of fasting, soul-searching and trusting in God, true freedom and independence are gained.
The Book of Jonas is read during the day’s services. It demonstrates that repentance and forgiveness are universal to all people, and teaches that we are to assume responsibility and get involved socially and politically; speak out when we witness wrong-doing; display compassion for all and face all obstacles with faith and optimism.
Yom Kippur is a Jewish festival that can teach all of us, regardless of our faith, valuable lessons that are uniquely applicable to our rights and responsibilities as Americans.
POST SCRIPT: When I first ran for attorney general in 2000, one of my greatest supporters and hardest working campaign volunteers was a beautiful eight year old girl named Alyssa. All elbows and knees and tall like her parents; she was energetic, bright and hard-working. Her smile could make the darkest day seem brighter. Even at that young age, she clearly loved America, enjoyed the political process, and was committed to service. This past Sunday, Alyssa Nicole Isom, daughter of my friends Eric and Ally (Governor Herbert’s Deputy Chief of Staff,) passed on and celebrated a Heavenly Jubilee after years of battling juvenile diabetes. Her parents ended her moving obituary (which can be viewed here http://obitsutah.com/obituary/15773/alyssa-nicole-isom.htm) with these inspiring words: “Our hearts yearn for the brilliant day, Alyssa, when we are reunited with a loving embrace and again bask in your light.” I too look forward to that day.