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."


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I'll contribute a couple as well. A C synagogue I used to belong to had its Lag B'omer party on the Sunday closest to (but before) Lag B'Omer because no one would attend on held on the weekday on which Lag B'Omer actually fell. I could almost see it if they did it on the first Sunday afterwards, but doing it before seemed disrespectful to me.

A Reform shul I know of under a past rabbi would celebrate two days of Yom Tov if they fell on Saturday and Sunday, and one day otherwise.

I'm facing similar problems in my own life lately. It is comparatively easy to keep to the halacha, but once you start making changes based on feelings (especially feeling the cost of keeping the halacha is too high) it gets very hard to decide where to draw the consistent line. I'm eating out in unsupervised vegetarian restaurants now. Should I restrict myself to ordering dishes that don't raise the concern of bishul akum? Should I stay dairy free to avoid kashrut issues with cheeses and other milk derivatives? Should I ask if a dish contains vinegar? And so forth.

Wed Oct 16, 05:25:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The cost of being an observant Jew is one of our completely-non-observant son's objections to Judaism. He's cynical enough to theorize that halachah is a way of having Jews show off their alleged wealth. I can understand that attitude completely. I haven't forgotten the commenter who, when I posted about us renovating our kitchen, nonchalantly mentioned that their house had separate dishwashers for meat and dairy dishes. We can't even afford a home big enough to *house* two dishwashers, much less the cost of *buying* them. We keep our only dishwasher dairy and wash the meat dishes, pots, etc. in the bathroom sink.

Then there was the rabbi who ruled that, now that we're in America and can afford more than one set, we should buy each child their own lulav and etrog. What planet did he live on, that he had the chutzpah (gall) to assume such good financial luck and make such a ruling on behalf of the entire American Jewish community?

Wed Oct 16, 06:05:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Actually by 'cost of keeping the halacha' I meant personal costs such as inability to eat at friends homes, isolation from most people on Shabbat and Yom Tov since I am not living in a Jewish neighborhood, restricted range of restaurants (which means it can be hard to get non-observant friends to join me since they got tired of going to what were the only 3 kosher restaurants avaiable), using up most vacation days on Jewish holidays etc.

I agree the financial cost is a big deal for many people, and that is also something that we should be thinking about how to address.

Wed Oct 16, 06:06:00 PM 2019  
Blogger David Staum said...

Bat Mitzvah at age 13, rather than 12, simply because that way the kids can take the Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes together at the same age. At least that's the reason I was given.

Thu Oct 17, 10:14:00 AM 2019  
Blogger David Staum said...

Shira, out of curiosity, why wash meat dishes in the bathroom sink rather than the kitchen sink? We use separate in-sink racks and basins for meat and dairy in the same kitchen sink.

Thu Oct 17, 10:17:00 AM 2019  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

"Should I restrict myself to ordering dishes that don't raise the concern of bishul akum?”

Not sure how a menu would clue you in, but I’m guessing Moonrabbit’s Namaste Cafe would be a place to avoid (if it exists).

Thu Oct 17, 03:11:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Richardf8 said...

“A Reform shul I know of under a past rabbi would celebrate two days of Yom Tov if they fell on Saturday and Sunday, and one day otherwise.”

My jaw drops.
I’m Reform. The reason that Reform Judaism does one day yom tov is that we don’t rely on foot messengers to bring news of the sighting of the new moon anymore, rendering the reason for the two day yom tov.

So for a Reform shul to reject that in order to do a two day yom tov seems inconsistent. Unless it’s Rosh HaShanah which is two days even in ע״י. Then I can see it. But most just do 1Tishrei with the Akedah for the reading.

Thu Oct 17, 03:23:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

David, we have limited storage room in the kitchen, and have never been able to figure out where we'd put two basins. We have nothing but a rack in the sink, because it's flat and can be easily stored in a garbage bag during Pesach/Passover.

Larry, it's not quite the same kind of isolation, but wondering whether there will be enough people in synagogue on Simchat Torah to have an actual Torah reading with a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) as opposed to just reading out of a chumash (printed Torah book) isn't any picnic either. :( That's what we did on the second day of Sukkot. We, too, don't live in a Jewish neighborhood, or, at least, most of the Jews in this neighborhood are not shul-goers.

Thu Oct 17, 09:47:00 PM 2019  
Blogger BostonPatriot said...

Until we made aliya, we never had two sinks, which are standard in Israel. We used dishpans, one for dairy and one for meat. No big deal.

As for the commandments, the halachas, not being binding, in that case, what is the Torah for? What the Torah is NOT, is simply stories. Rather, the stories comprise a manual on how to live. But as you may realize, the Written Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, was given at Sinai without vital details. For instance, in the Torah are the commandments for men to wear tzitzis and don tefillin (phylacteries). Nowhere in the Five Books do definitions of tzitzis or tefillin appear.

That’s where the Oral Torah comes in, given at Sinai along with the Written Torah. There are a host of examples in the Written Torah about which we would have remained in the dark had it not been for the Oral Torah. Without the explanations of the Oral Torah, understanding Judaism would be impossible. It would not make sense for the Writer of the Torah to have left out information on what His Book means.

Other religions acknowledge the Bible was given to the Jewish people yet reject the Oral Torah. That's one of the two primary differences between, say, Christianity and Judaism. We know we are bound by the explanations of the Torah—the Oral Torah (or “Oral Law”), now written down. Christianity, as well as supplanting the Torah with a replacement Bible, separates itself from Judaism in its nullification of the Oral Torah. We understand the Oral Torah gives flesh and sinews to the “bones” of the Written Torah.

Sun Oct 20, 09:19:00 AM 2019  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Richard. Shana Tova!

I thought the reason you cite for one-day observance in the diaspora might be only half the picture (i.e., foot soldiers no longer needed to check the lunar-calendar date). This is what I found on a Chabad site; it's in line with mainstream Orthodoxy, and has been my understanding. You might find it interesting.

"...[S]ince holiness is more revealed in the Land of Israel, the festivals can be revealed and received there in one day, as the Torah commands. However, those in the Diaspora are farther away from the revelation of holiness, and therefore, in order to absorb the spiritual emanations of the festivals, two days are required...

Andrea Eller

Tue Oct 22, 04:23:00 AM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

BostonPatriot and Andrea Eller, thank you for participating in this discussion. As you may have gathered, I'm not much of a believer, myself, but I welcome folks with different hashkafot (religious perspectives).

Tue Oct 22, 11:34:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Nu, does anyone have a reasoned response to my original questions, "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?"

Tue Oct 22, 11:38:00 PM 2019  
Blogger BostonPatriot said...

Hi, Shira.

Well, I don't know how one would prevent his/her own straying, and certainly that of any children, if the identification with Judaism is ethnic or cultural. In other words, what's the mandate if it's not real?

I do have a suggestion for at least a precautionary measure. All stripes of Jews --from the atheist to the non-affiliated to the religious--attend Gateways Seminars or Brownstone Seminars. (I think they're from the same organization.) If nothing else, you will meet others struggling with the same questions. Buy the way: All these seminars are fun.

The best seminar is reputed to be Arachim. I don't know where they have their events, but apparently there is a USA connection. Aruchim is based in Israel.

Best wishes! I hope you find answers.

Wed Oct 23, 05:18:00 AM 2019  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious why that individual would refuse to make a bracha on the lulav because of the reason that "they had already done so"
Didn't they realize that one makes a bracha on it every day of Sukkot (except Shabbat)?

Wed Oct 23, 03:09:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., I'm not sure.

Thu Oct 24, 06:27:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Regarding the mystical explanation for why 2 days of Yom Tov in the diasporah, I believe that comes from the Zohar. It is certainly not part of the discussion in the Talmud where they give a reason for keeping 2 days in the Diasporah even after the calendar was fixed. For older sources on this topic, see the nice summary at

Sun Nov 03, 08:06:00 PM 2019  

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