These laws make using the Bible today more than a little problematic.
So, finally, I’m jumping on the “Jewish bloggers blogging about Pesach” bandwagon.
I know, I know–I’m late to the party. I can live with that. I’ve always been a bit of an outlier and, in the spirit of the festival, mah nishtanah.
And, like many, I’ve been seeing or receiving the various Haggadah supplements that are going around. I’m going to be a bit of a contrarian about Haggadahs for a moment. Specifically, I’m going to complain about text.
As in so many other things, Judaism has largely developed to have a “fixed” text for the Seder. A script, with stage directions. Many of these are important, of course–if you don’t know the Kiddush, you need the text, assuming that doing the Kiddush “right” is something you want to do.
But what if it isn’t? Or, put another way: should it be?
Rabbi Adam Chalom, rabbi at Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in the Chicago area and dean of the U.S. division of IISHJ, posted this entry about the Jewishness of food as well as fasting. As I “turn[ed] it and turn[ed] it” (Pirke Avot 5:22) in my head, as well as other Humanistic Jewish writing about the status of issues of food and kashrut, I was reminded of a discussion I had in graduate school with one of my professors about the effect of the laws of kashrut on non-Jews. This conversation stuck with me, and I’m going to reflect on that and the ethical problems associated with maintaining kashrut.
(For my more traditionally-oriented Jewish readers: by now, you must have figured out I’m more or less a raging apikoros; I’d have to be to cite Torah and Talmud to reach the results I do. You won’t like what’s after the jump; I think you need to hear it, but you’ll likely disagree. I’m not picking a fight; it simply is what it is.)
Just a quick note that in the next few days I’ll be posting a review of the new Koren Publishers Reference Guide to the Talmud. (I need a chance to actually use it with a sugya, first.)
The opening paragraph to an article on the YNet site reads:
In the next generation, a significant part – which may even be the majority of ‘US Jewry’ – will not be Jewish according to the Halacha, in light of the growing dimensions of intermarriage throughout the past few decades.
Delight in the scare quotes–‘US Jewry’–and enjoy the derision and condescension that shines through this article. And, while you’re at it, note the slight of hand YNet plays, saying that the diagnosis comes not from some Orthodox authority but from a scholar at Bar-Ilan University.
Let’s break this down a bit, shall we? Continue reading
Rabbi Gil Student has a post at his Torah Musings blog about the recent release of an issue of Tradition (a scholarly journal from the Rabbinical Council of American, the major Modern Orthodox rabbinical association) dedicated to analysis of the permissibility under halakhah of “partnership minyanim,” that is, minyanim that follow the requirements of halakhah as to gender roles but that allow women’s leadership in certain parts of the service.
Simply put, the opinion of the writers in Tradition and in other related documents is that partnership minyanim are not permissible. Continue reading
Over at The Atheist Rabbi, Rabbi Jeffrey Falick has a post addressing the sudden realization of Steven Cohen and Kerry Olitzky that maybe there’s a way to welcome people to the Jewish community and Jewish identity without forcing them to undergo a halakhic conversion.
I won’t add much to Rabbi Falick’s observations, except to say this: something like this has existed for at least two thousand years: the ger toshav. Continue reading
I posted earlier about Professor Joshua Berman’s essay in Mosaic Magazine, “What Is This Thing Called Law?,” about the reduction of flexibility in Jewish law. Mosaic has started (as is its format) to post responses to Berman’s essay, and the first one is from Rabbi Gil Student, entitled “The Art of Halakhah.” Accepting Berman’s common law/statutory law dichotomy, Student argues that the loss of flexibility is a result of both what those adhering to halakhah have actually wanted and the hybrid process by which poskim and dayyanim arrive at their decisions.
I like much of what Student says in response, even though, as I noted in my post on Berman’s essay, I don’t think the common law/statutory law distinction is particularly apt. But I like the response not merely for what it says, but for what I think it lays bare.
As most of us no doubt know, Hanukkah (I use the NY Times’s spelling of it for sake of my spellchecker) is coming to a close. (No, not Thanksgivukkah–because I like Thanksgiving way too much to blend it in with anything else. And also, I love Thanksgiving, but eight days of turkey is almost too much for me.)
As we got ready to celebrate Hanukkah, on kind of a lark I started to read the laws for the holiday in the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh. (For rabbinical school, we were reading the laws on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the time, so I was already carrying the book around.) For those unfamiliar, it’s a Jewish legal code from the mid 19th century that is aimed at just the average (traditionally observant) Jew who wants to observe Jewish law and needs a relatively plain-language guide to doing so. It’s not generally used to reach new rulings as it’s not particularly detailed in terms of rationale and sources, but it’s pretty useful for day-to-day issues. For Hanukkah, it has information about things like what order to put the candles in and light them, what a Hanukkah menorah should look like and be made of, where it should be placed, how long the candles should burn, what blessings to say, who says them and when, etc. (It’s actually more involved than you would realize.)
Reading it, I realized that one of our menorahs was not, according to the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, kosher. That particular menorah has its candles in a circular shape–which is fine–but did not have all the candles except the ninth “helper” (shamash) at the same level. You see, the menorah goes up in sort of a spiral, so that each candle is higher than the next. According to the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, the eight candles of the menorah should all be level.
Now, this is an interesting dilemma for a humanistic Jew. Well, maybe not really, because we don’t recognize halakhah as binding for religious purposes. But we do recognize the cultural value of the observances, and that holds sway in deciding what we do.
So it still left me with the question: what to do? Should we use that circular menorah (which is beautiful), or do something else?
We ended up using a more traditional menorah. The circular one is part of the holiday display we’ve set up at my office, and it actually goes quite well there.
So, where am I going with all this?
Mrs. Secular Jew pointed something out to me that I hadn’t quite noticed myself. I’ve become more traditionally “observant” since coming to a place where I understand that I am–and have for a long time really been–a humanistic Jew. We light candles for Shabbat consistently when we never did before; my menorah decision was different than it would have been in the past (when I would likely have cared more that the circular menorah wasn’t kosher); and other smallish things have trended more traditional than they would have in the past. Some of this is modeling behavior or the result of spending more time thinking about Jewish things than I have for a little while–so, the natural consequence of embracing the Jewish part of things, particularly as a result of rabbinical study.
But that’s not all that’s happened. Coming to the understanding of where I am in terms of a Jewish identity–that I really don’t think halakhah has any divine component to it, that it’s not really binding–freed me up to make decisions without the “baggage” (sorry–it’s just the best term I’ve got) that comes from feeling like doing a thing means doing it right or just not bothering.
In a sense, this is the flip-side of the old saying, “If you’re going to sin, sin boldly.” Not being paralyzed by the necessity of doing it right, I find myself able to just do the thing. So, in talking about Hanukkah in the really limited way I can with our son, I don’t feel that I have to pitch only the “appropriate” message about it.
And so, given his communication difficulties, and the limited extent to which any nine year-old–of nearly any cognitive or communicative abilities–can wrap his head around such abstract notions, it was effective this year to explain only one thing about Hanukkah.
That Hanukkah is about freedom.
As the lights fade from the menorah on the last day of Hanukkah this year, a warm chag sameach to you.
(Mrs. Secular Jew has already heard this, so she can tune out)
For the current rabbinical school seminar at IISHJ, we read sections from the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (“KSA”), a mid-to-late 1800s halakhic collection compiled by R. Shlomo Ganzfried. It’s a code in the sense that it follows the general scheme of R. Joseph Karo‘s Shulchan Arukh, but KSA is not generally intended to be used in reaching halakhic decisions as much as it is intended to serve as a guide for the average person in observing halakhah.
In any case, KSA at 128:13 has a description of what one should do on Erev Rosh Hashanah when visiting the graves of tzadikim to seek additional merit for one’s repentance during the Days of Awe. Setting aside the complications involved with this sort of intercessory prayer (one isn’t supposed to pray to the tzadikim so much as to God seeking the benefit of their merit, or, if you’re a Chabadnik, to ask the tzadikim to pray on your behalf), there’s an interesting bit of minhag in there: “When placing one’s hand on the grave (i.e., the gravestone), one must put only his left hand (on it), and not his right.”
Neither printing of KSA that I own (the Metsudah version with English translation on facing pages and an all-Hebrew edition from 1987 or thereabout) has any annotation or commentary about this. Some online searches on this didn’t turn up a rationale either. Those searches actually turn up only KSA as the source for this practice. (See here and here.) And the cross-indexing in the back of the Hebrew edition of KSA, which points to the relevant sources in the Shulchan Arukh and Mishnah Berurah, didn’t lead to any enlightenment–those sources don’t give any hint.
Which means that this is likely entirely minhag. Not just that, but it’s kind of bubbe meise.
Ask yourself: why the left hand?
- Jewish Superstitions (thestarryeye.typepad.com)