Yom Kippur, October 11, 1913
This will be my last Yom Kippur before I become a Christian, thought Franz Rosenzweig as he entered an Orthodox synagogue on the Day of Atonement. He cast curious glances at the men sitting around him, each clad in a kittel—the white ceremonial garment that symbolizes purity, holiness, and new beginnings. Franz had never seen anything like this, and he marveled at the sea of whiteness that surrounded him. The congregants smiled politely, but they remained aloof from the young stranger who, they noticed, frequently fumbled with his mahzor while looking for the correct page.
These pious Jews could never understand the religious doubts that have tortured me, Franz thought, nor would they have tolerated the endless discussions about Jesus that I’ve had with my cousin Hans, who converted to Christianity. “Judaism is a relic of the past,” Hans had always insisted. Ultimately, Franz agreed, and on Rosh Hashanah, he waved a New Testament at his mother, saying, “This is the truth.” But because he vowed to enter the church as a Jew—like Christianity’s earliest founders—he decided to stand one last time with the Jewish people…at least, that’s what he intended.
“Avinu Malkeinu, haneinu v’aneinu,” pleaded the exhausted congregation as it stood in the evening twilight at day’s end. “God, be gracious and answer us!” The gates of teshuvah were closing, and Franz felt as if he alone were standing before the Divine Judge. At this moment, he realized, I feel as close to God as humanity can ever be.
Franz Rosenzweig, an influential philosopher, dedicated the remainder of his life to Judaism and Jewish education.