Thursday, October 24, 2019

Kumzits followed by kibitzing: End-of-holidays round-up

First, we went to an Erev Hoshana Rabbah kumzitz/sing-along in the Sukkah at Beloved Brooklyn, with singer/songwriter Deborah Sacks Mintz and percussionist Sam Weisenberg, and had a delightful evening (not to mention an opportunity to make a b'rachah in the sukkah)!

Then, there were shenanigans in shul on Simchat Torah.

In the evening, we were happy, indeed, to see some of our younger members and friends--folks in roughly their thirties--show up to make a minyan for hakafot despite the fact that they had all worked that day.  Since they were enthusiastic singers, I had fun leading them in some new tunes that I've just recently learned from YouTube, namely, Nava Tehila's "Oseh Shalom" and Elana Arian's "Hinei Ma Tov."  I can't remember the last time I had so much fun on Erev Simchat Torah!

In the morning, my husband, with much "assistance" from me, alternated between goofing off and singing just about every song we knew for the psalms and other texts in P'sukei D'Zimrah, including all of Salamone Rossi's "Halleli Nafshi," but only the alto part, 'cause that's the only part I know.  :)

Then my husband started singing the High Holiday tune for the Avot section (first paragraph) of the Amidah, and drove the cantor crazy.  :)

During the Musaf service, I did my usual shtick of spraying water in people's faces when we said "Mashiv ha-ruach u'morid ha-gashem (God makes the wind blow and the rain fall)."

But probably the best part of the morning was putting a smile on the face of one of our congregation's favorite 90-something-year-olds.

A simchah was had by all!


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Getting--and missing--the point: Women's shiurim for women on Simchat Torah

A recent minhag (custom) among some Orthodox Jewish women (encouraged by the OU) is to have women give shiurim (lessons on Jewish religious texts) to other women while the men are doing hakafot, getting aliyot, etc., on Simchat Torah.

This solves the problem that, for women in many, if not most, Orthodox synagogues, the festivities of Simchat Torah are reserved for the men, leaving the women as spectators.  I've been told that some Orthodox women who, due to circumstances, have no man (father, brother, husband, son, etc.) to watch during the Simchat Torah services simply stay home from synagogue.

Whoever came up with the idea of women giving shiurim to other women gets the point--they realize that some woman want something that they can do on Simchat Torah, independent of the men.

That said, I'm not quite sure that this minhag suits the occasion.

Having the women give and listen to shiurim while the men are doing hakafot, having aliyot, and enjoying, perhaps, a nip of scotch is rather like having a teacher reward female students for doing well in their lessons by offering them more lessons, while rewarding male students for doing well in their lessons by letting them go out to the school yard and enjoy themselves.

In other words, the men are enjoying Simchat Torah while the women are, essentially, having something resembling a Tikkun Yom Shavuot.

Where's the simchah for women?

Update, 10:03 AM
We got home so late from a delightful Sukkot sing-along/kumzits with Deborah Sacks Mintz and Sam Weisenberg (and an opportunity to make a b'rachah/blessing in a sukkah) at Beloved Brooklyn that I was too tired to search my e-mail for the link to the Lehrhaus article/d'var Torah "The Inverted Halakhah of Simchat Torah," by Chaim Saiman, which I should have included in this post.  (Thanks to Beloved Brooklyn's co-founder Rabbi Sara Luria for encouraging me to write down and publish this post post-haste, after I told her that I'd been "writing it in my head" all Shabbat.)  This is what I'm talking about:

". . . for all the minhagim developed over the centuries, Torah study was never one of them. Whereas Shavuot commemorates Torah as an idea that is celebrated by scholars engaging in its study, on Simhat Torah the Torah is democratized and treated as a thing—a heftza (in the pre-Brisker sense) that is held, touched, paraded around, danced with, hugged, and kissed, but not learned. The teachings of the Hasidic masters as well as the Vilna Gaon and R. Soloveitchik add that we dance in a circle to emphasize how every participant is equidistant from the spiritual center,[33] and another ma’amar explains that Torah scrolls remain closed to demonstrate that scholars and am ha-aratzim share equally in the Torah. To the extent formalized learning takes place, it is primarily through the very recent minhag of instituting shiurim by and for women designed to recognize women and offer appropriate programing during the holiday’s largely male-centric activities. The net result is that while men are functionally patur [exempt from their obligations?], women are encouraged to learn Torah: an inversion indeed!

In addition to offering a release, Simhat Torah reaffirms the community’s dominant values. The celebrations, whatever their excesses, literally and figuratively revolve around Torah."

Essentially, unless the women also get to dance with a Torah scroll before or after a shiur, the women get the Torah, but not what Chaim Saiman calls the "release."

I, personally, don't feel that a study session is the same thing as a celebration.  That said, if a shiur is the only activity that your synagogue offers you on Simchat Torah, I certainly hope that you'll take advantage of the opportunity.

Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday)!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In the Diaspora/Galut, scheduling conflicts can create religious conflicts

All of the following incidents happened in real life.

First incident
A parent told their rabbi that their child would not be attending synagogue on Sukkot because it was a school day.  The rabbi was appropriately unhappy.  The parent shrugged off the rabbi's unhappiness, clearly believing that sending a child to school on a Jewish holiday was simply normal and that the rabbi should just get used to it.

Second incident
I heard about the first incident from the parent's mouth, but saw this one with my own eyes.  Once, when we attended Kabbalat Shabbat services, the rabbi was at least honest enough to state, flat out, that it was too early to do Sefirat HaOmer, but that they couldn't imagine not doing the Counting of the Omer, so they did it anyway.  Did any of the congregants do the count after getting home, at the proper time?  Who knows?

Third incident
Sukkot having begun this past Sunday after sundown, a congregation built their sukkah this past Sunday afternoon.  They then ate in the sukkah and made the blessing over the lulav and etrog, despite the fact that it wasn't yet Sukkot, because that's when everyone was there.  The next day, one of the sukkah builders came to our synagogue and flatly refused to make the b'rachah over the lulav and etrog, adamantly insisting that they'd already done so. 

I'm not halachically observant by anyone's definition, both because I'm too much of a skeptic to believe in the binding nature of halachah and because, frankly, it's darned difficult for someone who wasn't raised that way.  That said, I do understand the "slippery slope" argument.  At what point do the religious practices of Jews who are not halachically observant stray so far from Jewish tradition that they become unrecognizable as Jewish?  And what would be an appropriate approach and/or response for those of us who take our Judaism seriously, but not necessarily literally?

These are not rhetorical questions--they come from someone whose congregation couldn't do the Hoshanot ritual yesterday because so many of our members went to work instead of coming to shul that we didn't have a minyan (despite counting women).  I invite responses from any and all serious Jews from any--or no--point along the "observance spectrum."

Monday, October 07, 2019

Rabbinic Poetry in the High Holy Day Liturgy

Ya'aleh Koleinu / "Let Our Voices Rise" (Piyut for Yom Kippur)


Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sing-along in a Sukkah, Sat., Oct. 19, 2019, 8:30 PM

My husband and I are looking forward to participating in this sing-along in a Sukkah!  Note that, since this concert will take place in a sukkah built in the yard of the Beloved Brooklyn house (or in the living room, if the weather is too inclement), the seating is probably limited to about 30 people, so make your reservations soon!  Here's what the Beloved Brooklyn living-room looks like, and what Deborah sounds like in it!  It's too bad that Elana and Chava won't be there, this time, so we'll have to sing our own harmonies  :).

For the curious, here's the website of the song-leader, Deborah Sacks Mintz.


"Thank you for your service. Goodbye," says God

Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, who's teaching my section of the first-year Context class, had something interesting to say about the nature of God's challenge to Avraham Avinu (Abraham Our Father) in ordering him to sacrifice his son Yitzchak (Isaac).  Her theory is that God wanted to know whether Avraham would challenge an unjust order.  If that was the test, Avraham failed.  There are three proofs, as Dr. Prouser pointed out.  The first is that an angel, rather than God, stopped Avraham from sacrificing Yitzchak.  The second is that Avraham's reward for almost sacrificing his son was nothing that God hadn't already promised to Avraham previously.  The third was that God never spoke to Avraham again.  Dr. Prouser sees God as having concluded that Avraham had reached the limit of his ability to develop morally.  Avraham is not punished for this moral limitation, but God doesn't have much to do with him after this incident.

Dr. Prouser pointed out that Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses Our Teacher) is, actually, punished for calling the people rebels and striking the rock while failing to credit God for the water that emerges from the rock--God takes away the privilege of entering the promised land.  Past service is not sufficient--if you fail Me now, you're out.

In similar fashion, said Dr. Prouser, Eliyahu haNavi (Elijah the Prophet) fails to respond to God's revelation in a manner satisfactory to God, so God tells him to cast his mantle of leadership on Elisha, and ends Eliyahu's life on earth.  Again, past service doesn't suffice.

Apparently, God has very high expectations.

What are your thoughts on Akeidat Yitzchak (The Binding of Isaac), which we read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year), or the story of Moshe or Eliyahu?  (Here's an old Akeidah post of mine for a little inspiration, I hope.)

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

“Shir Hama’alot” (2019) by Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble, featu...


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