I began a tradition of reading a particular section of The Star of Redemption each year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Star of Redemption, which was penned on postcards on the Balkan front in World War I, is the magnum opus of 20th-century German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, who lays out the most comprehensive and complementary construal of Judaism and Christianity that has ever been written.

The year I was married, I read Rosenzweig’s reflections on the meaning of Yom Kippur—a mere two weeks before my wedding—and was struck in an entirely new way. As I entered into the difficult afternoon hours of the Yom Kippur fast, I was powerfully moved by Rosenzweig’s discussion of the white garment, called a kittel (kih’-tuhl), that is traditionally worn by men (and in some Jewish circles, by women as well) on Yom Kippur.

Like everything in Judaism, the significance of this act is layered. A kittel is the traditional Jewish burial garment; wearing it on Yom Kippur represents the Jewish people’s collective guilt before God, which is a main focus of this day. God cannot abide unholiness and impurity, and on Yom Kippur the Jewish people must stare into the face of their own sinfulness and shortcomings. “Forgive us, pardon us, atone for us,” the Yom Kippur liturgy repeatedly pleads. The Day of Atonement is a day of judgment, where each individual Jew (and the Jewish people collectively) must reckon with the weight of their sin before God.

However, wearing a kittel also represents the miracle of God’s forgiveness, another key theme of Yom Kippur. To don a kittel is to visually embody the notion that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” ...

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