The Religious Desire To Afflict Oneself

In a 2009 lecture on Leviticus 22-23, Dennis Prager said: Why does the Torah say to afflict oneself on Yom Kippur?

I never look forward to fasting. Perhaps you can tell.

I’ve done it since I was 12 (except for two occasions when I was sick).

This is the only time the Torah says to afflict yourself. All the other holidays you are to enjoy yourself.

The Torah confined a common religious instinct to one day a year. It is common for religious people to think that self-punishment and aescetism are holy. The medieval world had Christians wearing hair shirts. In the Shiite world, they whip themselves till they bleed.

When I was in yeshiva, [I was told about] a very very pious rabbi who on Yom Kippur was so careful not to drink that he would not even swallow his own saliva. He would spit it out. I remember thinking the man was an idiot. The thought of a guy spitting all Yom Kippur, what’s so pious about that? I would leave shul.

The Torah is saying that one day a year, oppress your soul. That’s it. Otherwise, enjoy your life.

This is very common among religious people, the harder it is to be religious, the closer you get to God.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Dennis Prager. Bookmark the permalink.