Wednesday, September 25, 2013

End-Of-Sukkot-O-Gram, Sept. 28


This Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by the Zweibel family in honor of Matthew's Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat  



With the exception of a slight hiccup of rain last Shabbat, this might have been the most beautiful Sukkot weather-wise since the invention of the lulav.  Check out our album of photos taken at the Sukkah hop and other Sukkot events.   You can also take a virtual pilgrimage to Jerusalem on this pilgrimage festival by watching this trailer for the new IMAX film about Jerusalem (truly spectacular) and reading the WSJ's recommendations for the best hummus in Jerusalem (a list that of course includes my personal favorite, Abu Shukri)

If that whets your appetite for Israel (and how could it not?) go directly to our interactive itinerary for next year's TBE Israel Adventure and sign up now!

We've reached the end (at last) of the long holiday season.  A look back and a look ahead:

First, looking back:

  • My Rosh Hashanah sermons have been downloaded over 3200 times, an unprecedented number, indicating to me that there is an enormous interest in our sustainability message (and Senator Blumenthal's stirring endorsement of the solar panel project), along with my second day message about children.  The Yom Kippur sermons have also been viewed many times.  The sermons for Yom Kippur can be found here and Rosh Hashanah's here.  Feel free to share!
  • Our live-stream High Holidays webcast has been viewed and shared around the globe.  I received an appreciative note from a resident of Atria in Stamford, informing me that over 40 people watched our Yom Kippur service on their large screen. I've looked at the archived webcasts and the quality is excellent.  With minimal glitches, we are now ready to take the next step.  Within a few weeks, our Friday night services will be live-streamed and available to everyone online. Webcasts and archiving will also be available for life-cycle events, including Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Not only will you now be able to invite far flung or infirmed relatives to enjoy the service, but you will also have a permanent, high quality, video record of the event, all without disturbing the immediacy of the service for those in the room.  The camera is stationary, unmanned (programmed by a timer) and virtually unnoticeable.  Thanks again to Harlan Neugeboren for his expertise in setting this up and to Sheila Romanowitz for her contribution toward the equipment, in memory of Dr. Hesh Romanowitz.
Before we move on, a few more photos from our Sukkot album:
Now, looking ahead:

  • Simhat Torah on Thursday night!  Don't miss it!  Our religious school students will be sharing some songs, there will be candy and other goodies galore, and this year, we are honoring Sisterhood with the final aliyah to the Torah (this year at night) - represented by Stacey Essenfeld.  THIS SERVICE IS FOR ALL AGES! A great way to end the holiday season. (we also have services on Thursday morning for Shmini Atzeret - including Yizkor - and Friday morning for Simhat Torah.
  • Then we plunge right into a very busy fall, beginning with Shabbat services on Friday night at 7:30 and Shabbat morning at 9:30 (and mazal tov to our first bar mitzvah of 5774, Matthew Zweibel).  
  • Several very important community events occur next week: The Hoffman lecture, featuring Jeffrey Goldberg takes place next Thursday, Oct. 3.  Goldberg is one of most astute (and highly quoted) journalists in Washington, especially on matters related to Israel and the Middle East. For instance, yesterday's Bloomberg column, "Five Reasons Not to Trust Iran on Nukes" is must-reading.  On Friday night, Oct. 4, we are hosting a community interfaith event on conflict resolution, followed by a our Kabbalat Shabbat service, which next week will have a special interfaith flavor.  See the details here.  And first but not least, on Tuesday the 1st, we'll have the first organizational meeting for our new CSA (see flyer below) - something that has been drawing tremendous buzz throughout the community.
Time for another photo break...

Here's our new 8th grade group, as they visited my Sukkah last week:  


INNOVATION NATION... and Kindling Shabbat Kindles

Long before Israel became the start-up capital of the world, Jews were all about innovation.  Even in the area of ritual - in fact, ESPECIALLY in that area - Jews have always adjusted with the times.  It is precisely that ability to adapt and innovate, which has become so ingrained in our culture, that has enabled Judaism to stay relevant even as other traditions have lost their power to move the masses.   

The evolution of this week's mini-festival-within-a-festival, Simhat Torah, is case in point. If you look at this source sheet on the development of the holiday, you will see that Simhat Torah never existed in biblical times, the idea of setting aside a holiday for the completing the Torah and beginning it again postdates the rabbinic period, various aspects of the current observance (e.g the haftarah, circling the sanctuary and calling up the children) didn't begin until the Middle Ages, and throughout Jewish history, controversies about the innovation abounded, BUT INNOVATIONS WERE ALWAYS ACCEPTED.

The Conservative Yeshiva explains it as follows: 

Simhat Torah as a cause for celebration resulted from fixing the reading of the Torah annually, which was not always the case.  The Talmud makes reference to the triennial (3 year) cycle in Palestine, and Rashi notes there that the custom in his area was to do it in a year.  Maimonides, a century later than Rashi, (Source 2) is more specific - he considers the annual cycle the prevailing practice and Sukkot the date for its end and re-beginning.

The Tur (Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, 1269 - 1343, Ashkenaz and Spain) says the day is called "Simhat Torah, because we finish the Torah and it is appropriate to rejoice on the completion."  He notes practices which were apparently new or recent: the removal of three Sifrei Torah, the third for the reading of the beginning of Bereishit;  piyutim (liturgical poems) for the day; "there are places" where all the sifrei Torah are removed from the Aron; and, in Ashkenaz, special honors for the ones who end and begin the reading of the Torah (the Hatan Torah and Hatan Bereishit today). (Source 3, paragraphs 1, 3 and 4)

The Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th century, Cracow, Poland), in his gloss of Ashkenazic customs in the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 669), mentions elements which evidently had become popular in the intervening centuries and which seem "natural" to us today: removal of all the Torahs the night before as well;  circling the bima of the synagogue with the Sifrei Torahs "as we do with the lulav;" calling many people for aliyot and repeating the same reading many times "and this is not forbidden;" and calling the youths to the Torah and "some even call a youth for the final aliya." 

What is surprising is how smoothly it appears that these customs, some quite radical, were accepted; at least we don't see strong objections in the contemporary sources. The Rema's comment that repeating the reading to allow many aliyot "is not forbidden" hints that there was opposition to this.  R' Joseph Colon (the Maharik, 15th century, Italy) permitted dancing on Simhat Torah "though we don't (usually) dance on Festivals," but he forbade the burning of incense.  And the Magen Avraham (17th century, Poland, on Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 669) adds that it is forbidden to "burn pulvei (gun powder) to make noise, and I have seen important rabbis object to it." This is intriguing; apparently the use of fireworks for the celebration of Jewish holidays did not originate with Yom Ha'Atzma'ut.
What does all this mean for us?  Well clearly, there needs to be a balance between innovation and tradition. If nothing is consistent, a religion become untethered, and we float away.


On the other hand, when a religion becomes ossified, it quickly loses touch with the real lives of real people and it becomes irrelevant.  Cue the Pope this week, who said that the church has "sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules" and, if it doesn't change, would be in danger of falling "like a house of cards."

Our services aim for authenticity, but the default is on innovation; hence the eclectic mix of global and contemporary musical styles that has become our trademark.  Nothing we do could possibly be as radical as the creation of an entirely new holiday on the last day of Sukkot, one that has NOTHING TO DO with Sukkot.  And incidentally, the innovation of Simhat Torah continues today. This diaspora-only festival has been exported back to Israel, where the celebration now continues long into the night AFTER the festival is over.  

In Judaism, innovation has always been the rule, not the exception.

So now, what with our new live-streaming and such, there is much discussion in Jewish circles about the new electronic devices and in particular the role of e-readers on Shabbat.  

Should we allow and even encourage people to kindle their Kindles when they kindle their candles?  

It's the wave of the future, much as Gutenberg was centuries ago.  Even Artscroll has been digitizing their siddurs.  See this backgrounder from the Atlantic.  The Washington Post also chimed in on the topic last month.

In July, a major controversy was precipitated in the Conservative movement by a letter written by Rabbi Chuck Simon, inviting people to use e-readers at the upcoming convention of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs.  This letter, preceded by an article written by Simon, flew in the face of an official responsum written by Rabbi Daniel Nevins that effectively banning use of such items.  The virtual fur flew, and Simon retracted his invitation.

We'll talk more about that this Shabbat morning.

BTW, you want to read about crazy innovations?  Today is Hoshanah Rabbah, the day when Jews traditionally beat willow branches to a pulp.  Yes, we do. There is no rational explanation for this innovation. but that hasn't stopped lots of authorities from trying to justify it.  At least, to my knowledge, no willows have been harmed in the performance of this ritual.  Wish I could say the same for those chickens on erev Yom Kippur.

Have a joyous festival and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman 

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