Friday, April 11, 2014

"Outsourcing" our observance

Naturally, I can’t find that post (or that comment), but some years ago, I complained on my blog that our synagogue, which sets up its sukkah under an open skylight in the lobby, was preventing us from observing Sukkot by renting out the lobby.  One of my commenters took me to task, explaining that, since the obligation to eat in a sukkah applies to the individual, no Jewish community organization, not even a synagogue, is obligated to provide a sukkah—rather, it’s up to the individual to make arrangements for eating in a sukkah.  Since we’re apartment-dwellers and have nowhere to build our own sukkah, we usually end up eating out for most of Chol HaMoed Sukkot in whichever kosher restaurant(s) happen to have their own sukkot.

Sometimes, we “outsource” our Purim observance, as well, since observing Purim has presented its own interesting challenges.  We’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to two Seudot Purim in private homes , and to host a few ourselves, with greater or lesser success—there have been years in which none of our invited guests was able to join us, and others in which guests have brought way too much food and talked our ears off.  But we find ourselves in a bit of a scheduling bind—my husband’s always in the middle of tax season at Purim time, so we’ve occasionally found it easier simply to attend a Seudat Purim in a synagogue.  When Conservadox suggested that we join him at his shul’s Seudat Purim this year, we were happy to do so.

Pesach (Passover) is, of course tough to prepare for, all the more so when one party involved in the preparation is also busy preparing tax returns to meet the annual April 15 deadline.  This makes it a prime candidate for “outsourcing,” and, from our perspective, for even more reasons than mentioned above.  My Orthodox readers may be amused to know that Pesach sometimes presents a challenge for non-Orthodox Jews that it probably doesn’t present for most Orthodox ones, namely, the difficulty of finding knowledgeable people to invite to a seder.  Years ago, we had a few sedarim in our own home, and got stuck with guests who knew very few seder songs and/or didn’t know anything about a seder at all—one guest actually asked how long the seder was going to take because s/he had to get up early for work the next day.  Then there were the seder guests who left after dinner, before the second half of the seder, because their youngest child refused to nap on our couch and insisted on being taken home.  We stopped making our own sedarim because it simply wasn’t worth doing all that cooking if we weren’t even going to enjoy ourselves—why invite guests if we were going to end up singing duets with one another anyway?  In later years, we were fortunate enough to be “rescued” by invitations from various friends, in whose homes we had a wonderful time singing seder songs and, as the assorted children in attendance got older, discussing the magid/story of the Exodus.  Of late, though, seder invitations haven’t been a possibility, due to either health or (lack of) kashrut issues, so we’re now attending sedarim in the local Orthodox synagogue.

A couple of our previous rabbis complained that some of the observances now taking place in synagogues are really home-based rituals.  That’s certainly true of the seder, which has been family-based from the very beginning, as described in Sefer Sh’mot/the Book of Exodus.  In theory, we shouldn’t be “outsourcing” our observance by depending on synagogues to enable us to perform mitzvot (commandments) that we should be performing on our own.  In practice, though, that seems to be what works for us.


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